Tag Archives: Audi

Lotterer Leads Audi to Silverstone Glory

Andre Lotterer’s immense triple stint in the middle of the race was the difference in a close battle between all 3 LMP1 manufacturers.  The German driver’s average lap times were a cut above the rest and ensured that even a late ‘stop-go’ penalty could not prevent the #7 Audi, co-piloted by Marcel Fassler and Beniot Treluyer, from taking victory.

Winners

There is a lot to like about the current LMP1 regulations, the hybrid technology is road relevant, they look and sound good and most importantly of all, they are fast; the power trains generating up to, and in some cases in excess of, 1000bhp!  And with pre season testing suggesting that Audi and Porsche had made large improvements for 2015, it was with great anticipation that we headed to Silverstone for the opening round of the World Endurance Championship.

From the outset it was clear that Porsche had the one lap pace and so it was no surprise that the 2 Stuttgart machines locked out the front row in qualifying with the #17 of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley ultimately ending up on pole.  Toyota and Audi however were stronger over longer stints which left expectations high for a close fight on race-day.

PolePosition

While the two Porsches in the hands of Mark Webber and Romain Dumas were able to make a good start and focus on building a lead, the Audi’s had a mixed start to the race.  In fact the #7 Audi had a poor opening lap with an apparent misfire causing the car to drop back.  However such was Audi’s pace that Treluyer had fought back to third position overall as the first hour drew to a close.

A full course yellow as a result of the Signatech Alpine going off at Copse was a good opportunity for the teams to bring in their cars for fuel.  Both Audi’s however were still in the pit lane when the track returned to green following their decision to pit on the second lap of the caution period.  This in effect cost the German team roughly thirty seconds to Toyota and Porsche who had pitted their cars at the first available opportunity, promoting the #1 Toyota to third position overall.

Porsche looked strong up front, but just as onlookers were contemplating a dominant win, Webber was back in the pits and out of the race with a drive train failure; an unfortunate end to the race for leading car.  The #8 Audi meanwhile was soon to be the second major LMP1 player to hit trouble; losing a lap after a collision with the #88 GTE-AM Porsche.  And so it appeared victory would be fought out between the #18 Porsche, both Toyotas and the #7 Audi.

The #7 Audi was setting the track alight and by the time the lead cars pitted for the second time Treluyer had reeled in the 919.  However it was the #2 Toyota who emerged from pit lane with a 40 second lead courtesy of electing to double stint tyres and to leave Wurz behind the wheel; The top 3 teams changing drivers with Fassler jumping in the Audi, Jani climbing aboard the Porsche and Davidson taking over the #1 TS040.

The pace just wasn’t there for the #2 Toyota though and Wurz was rapidly caught by the chasing trio.  Fassler and Jani were now putting on a real show for the fans as the two cars swapped positions lap after lap; the Porsche being much quicker in a straight line but the Audi having a significant advantage through the twisty sections.  This squabbling was also helping Davidson in the #1 Toyota as he closed on the two Swiss drivers.

After some twenty laps of lead changes between the two the duel was finally ended by the next round of pit stops.  Again Toyota jumped their opposition courtesy of Davidson staying aboard the #1 machine, with Conway second but dropping back partially as a result of picking up a track bollard.  Lotterer meanwhile had stepped into the #7 Audi and it wasn’t long before he had despatched both Japanese cars.

Consistently the fastest man on the track and losing very little time in traffic, Lotterer went about building a lead which was over half a minute by the time he handed the car over to Fassler with the race entering the final stages.  The German had blown the opposition away and was clearly the difference in what was essentially a close battle between the 3 manufacturers.

Fassler was then able to increase the lead to 40 seconds before the lead Audi was given a ‘stop-go’ penalty for an overtaking infringement.  This would make for a close finish as the Porsche had been able to eek out enough fuel to save it from requiring a final ‘splash and dash’; something which both the #7 Audi and the #1 Toyota could not avoid.

Indeed, Nakajima’s late stop caused the Toyota to drop back to third, however Fassler had enough of an advantage to make his splash and dash, take his penalty one lap later and still emerge in the lead of the race.  Both the Porsche and Toyota were gaining on the Audi but in reality Fassler was able to control the gap and take victory by 4.6 seconds as the 6 hours elapsed.  The #1 Toyota would take third just 10 seconds further back while the sister car would end the race in 4th, a full lap down by the chequered flag.  The second Audi of Lucas Di Grassi, Oliver Jarvis and Loic Duval rounding out the top five, 3 laps adrift, after a troubled day in the office.

LMP2

Nick Tandy managed to get the jump on both G-Drive racing Ligiers at the start of the race in the KCMG Oreca however the race pace of the Russian team was much stronger; both Ligiers managing to pass Tandy by the close of the first hour.

LMP2

And that was pretty much the story of the race as the #26 and #28 machines drove off into the distance while the rest battled it out for the remaining podium position.  Roman Rusinov, Julien Canal and Sam Bird finished the event in 6th position overall to claim LMP2 vistory with the sister car of Gustavo Yacaman, Pipo Derani and Ricardo Gonzalez, 1 lap further back in 7th.

KCMG had a difficult race, losing 18 laps to the class winners by the chequered flag.  However a solid performance for the #30 ESM HPD, on it’s WEC swansong, looked to have landed them the final step of the podium, only to be disqualified after the event for running too low.  Instead it was the  Strakka Dome which took third position; just reward for not giving up after a diversion into the Abbey gravel trap on the very first lap of the race.

GTE PRO

After dominating qualifying, Aston Martin held a 1-2-3 in the early stages however the team were unfortunate casualties of the full course yellows in the first hour of the race.  All three cars came in under green conditions between the two yellow periods while the other contenders managed to get in and out under caution.  In effect this cost them 1 minute and combined with the fact that the British marque’s race pace was not as strong as their one lap times meant they were now completely out of the running for the podium positions.

Instead it was the #92 Porsche of Patrick Pilet and Fred Makowiecki who now lead the race from the #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander, the #71 sister car of Davide Rigon and James Calado and the #91 Porsche of Michael Christensen and Richard Lietz.

As the race reached it closing stages, the #92 Porsche had dropped away courtesy of losing 4 minutes in pit road with problems and the experienced #51 Ferrari crew had gotten the better of their younger team-mates.  In fact the #91 Porsche had also managed to overhaul the #71 Ferrari, but Michael Christensen could do little about the pace of Bruni over the final stint.

GTEV2

And so yet again Bruni and Vilander stood on the top step of the podium, taking class victory by 10.6 seconds with 10th place overall.

GTE AM

GTE-AM

Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda were able to uphold Aston Martin honours in the GTE AM class however, with Lamy having built enough of a lead to make a late ‘splash and dash’ in the #98 Aston and still take victory by 13 seconds from the AF Corse Ferrari of Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Rui Aguas.  While the SMP Racing 458 of Victor Shaytar, Andrea Bertolini and Aleksey Basov were only 16 seconds further back in third.

GALLERY
FULL RESULTS
In Summary …

Overall it had been another great weekend of endurance racing and while it was disappointing that Nissan and Rebellion were not ready to take part in round 1, the closeness of the racing between the other top LMP1 teams suggests that this could be one of the best sportscar racing seasons on record.  Audi clearly had an advantage at Silverstone with their car working well in the high speed corners of Copse, Becketts and Stowe but it will be interesting to see the relative advantages of the other cars come into play at the remaining circuits on the calendar; Toyota seem to have a more all round car whereas the straight line speed of Porsche is bound to be a massive benefit on the Mulsanne!

In LMP2 it was pleasing to see more cars on the grid and nice to have a bit more variety of machinery.  It is a real shame about the ESM HPD project however we eagerly await the forthcoming arrival of the SMP Racing BR01.  It is great to see so many different brands across the WEC and ELMS grids and with this in mind I genuinely cannot see any positives from the potential limitation of this formula to 4 chassis manufacturers and 1 engine supplier for 2017.  I strongly believe in the saying that if it isn’t broke don’t fix it!

I would absolutely love to be at Spa for round 2 but unfortunately my holiday allocation has already been used up.  Surely Porsche will be a strong candidate for victory at the classic Belgium track, but the best thing about 2015 is that no-one genuinely knows who will have the strongest package by then!  Exciting, it most definitely is.

For JPEGS or any other enquiries please get in touch via paul.commons@yahoo.co.uk

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

Advertisements

The Le Mans experience 2014

With three major teams in with a shot at taking victory and an unbelievable weather forecast the 2014 trip to Le Mans was eagerly anticipated.  Annual leave restrictions and work load, although meaning a shorter visit this year, were not going to stop us heading to the circuit de la sarthe for the fourth time in as many years.

THURSDAY

StickeredUP

A 1.30am alarm clock was different to say the least!  However this was nothing compared to Dad’s 11.30pm Wednesday night buzzer in order to pick me up.  A quick driver change (not quite up to Audi’s efficiency) saw me take the wheel for the second stint and in little over 3 hours life seemed normal again after annihilating a McDonald’s breakfast at Maidstone Services.  There were 2 reasons for the ridiculously early start: 1> To make sure our diversion around the famously destroyed Rouen bridge would actually work and 2> I just had to make the thursday night pole position shoot out.

Travelling on the Thursday does have its benefits.  This happens to be the most popular day for Brits to make the journey down, and arriving slightly early at Folkestone for the Channel Tunnel allows time to have a good look around some of the stunning sportscars parked up ready to board the big train to Calais.  The ferry may be cheaper but with the crossing taking roughly 30 minutes I wouldn’t consider any other method of traversing the Channel.

Dad had pulled off a master stroke with his Rouen diversion and after a reasonable amount of Euros spent on the tolls, the consumption of two family sized bags of sweets and a couple of stops to prevent the old man falling asleep at the wheel we had reached our destination.

Having read the horror stories, on-track camping has never really appealed to us.  Instead, for the fourth successive year, we pitched up at the beautiful Chateau de Chanteloup (a mere 15 miles from the track).

Chanteloup

I cannot recommend this site highly enough.  It may not be the cheapest option but it attracts a friendly crowd of mostly Brits with the odd Dutchman and German thrown in.  The owners have massively bought into the 24 hour week.  The football is shown on a huge widescreen TV, there is a live band and they even put on a car show.  For people not wanting to drive to the circuit there is a meeting point to set up for taxi groupings, whilst on-site Brit Assist is available for any car related problems.  And most importantly there are a damn site more clean toilets and showers per head!

With what seemed like plenty of time to spare we headed off to qualifying.  MISTAKE – Having followed the blue car parks signs to our pre paid car park we got caught up in the queues for circuit camping.  Some 2 hours later we were parked up having missed the first 30 minutes of the first session.  However this was no real problem as the expected pole setting final session would not start until 10pm.

On track, early suspicion about Porsche going for pole was confirmed with both cars looking strong.  Early on in the final session however it was the super fast Kazuki Nakajima in the much favoured #7 Toyota who would head to the top of the times.

PoleSitters

After a mid session lull the final 30 minutes were eagerly awaited. Many crews not aiming for position but merely wanting to ensure that all drivers have done the necessary laps tend to call it a day by 11.30pm.  This leaves more space on track for the main players to battle it out for the top spots in the cooler, faster conditions.  It was therefore massively disappointing that ex Formula 1 driver Karun Chandhok would go off and cause a new for 2014 ‘slow zone’ for the remainder of the session.  This represented a huge anti-climax to a very long and tiring day.  It was however worth the effort to see Dad’s infamous falling asleep whilst stood up act, which was met with great amusement by several passers by.  He had been up for more than 24 hours however and did a great job of getting us back to base by 1am.

FRIDAY

After a very tiring day a relaxing Friday was definitely what the doctor ordered.  With no track activity we decided to head to the very popular ‘Great British Welcome’ car show at Saint Saturnin.

SaintSaturnin_Panorama

This was made extra special with it being a Porsche celebration year as fine examples of the German Marque were everywhere.  The race going 935 and the classic 356 were my particular favourites.  Not forgetting a fine set of TVR’s and a stunning classic Corvette Stingray.

356

With mad queues around Arnage we decided to head back to the site to sink a couple of Saint Omer beers whilst splitting our attention between the World Cup, the traditional on-site car show and the very good JC & The Two-Steps band who were playing live on the terrace.  The best Le Mans weather in ten years was only adding to the pre-race excitement.

CarShow

RACE DAY (S)

With an estimated 260,000 spectators attending the race, a grandstand seat is a must and the Ford Chicane gives a great view of the start and end to this marathon of an event.  Thus also allowing for a relaxing morning watching the support events and milling around the mechandise stands.  The total cost of entry including a guaranteed seat with an excellent view still amounting to less than general admission for the British GP!  Which just goes to show that F1 is one almighty rip off!

Having fond childhood memories of the Wheatcroft Gold Cup races at Donington it is always a pleasure to see the fabulous Group C machines on track;  I would have loved to have seen these in period at Le Mans.  It was a mighty shame however that Derek Bell didn’t get chance to get behind the wheel; car problems preventing the 956 from making the start.  We did however see a couple of Sauber Mercedes C11’s, a plethora of Porsche 956 and 962’s, the Nissan R90CK and of course a couple of Jags.

Merc_GroupC BigCat

There is nothing quite like the start of the 24 hour race at Le Mans.  The long formation lap and awesome atmosphere created by a huge crowd gets the butterflies fluttering in the stomach; everyone on their feet as the rolling grid appears at Ford Chicane, followed by the almighty roar as 50 odd drivers step on the loud pedal at the sudden appearance of the green light.

The ultimate pace of the Toyota’s was evident from the start, however Audi looked to be stronger in race trim and were not dropping back as quickly as expected.  Porsche however were struggling and were swallowed up by their sister marques.

Although rain showers were forecast no-one could have anticipated the velocity at which it came down.  With some cars trying to stay out on slicks or intemediates and others on wets the difference in speed on the Mulsanne Straight was massive.  It is questionable whether the #8 Toyota in the hands of Nic Lapierre and Sam Bird in the #81 AF Corse Ferrari were taking too much of a risk in the conditions as they went off; Bird’s Ferrari colliding with the slow #3 Audi of Marco Bonanomi.  The #3 and #81 would be out on the spot but the #8 Toyota somehow made it back to the pits.  It was effectively out the running for the victory though having lost several laps whilst repairs took place.

The remaining #7 Toyota managed to hold a healthy lead of roughly 2 minutes as the cars headed into the night with the two Porsche’s and two remaining Audi’s in pursuit.  When I left the circuit at roughly 3.30am for a couple of hours sleep It looked like the Japanese manufacturer was well on the way to victory.  But as we all know anything can happen in this long slog of an event and I awoke at 5.30am to the devastating news that the sole remaining TS040 had retired with electronic failure.

This however did throw the race wide open and there was little to chose between the two Audi’s and the #20 Porsche of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Mark Webber.  And it would be the latter crew who would find themselves in the lead after both the #1 Audi and then the #2 both suffered turbo failure.  The #2 managing to maintain an advantage over their team-mates thanks to the learning curve of the mechanics; shaving minutes off the time to replace the turbo at the second time of asking.

The Porsche unfortunately just didn’t seem to have the pace as the race entered the closing stages and it looked like the Audi’s would catch it by the time the chequered flag was dropped.   The spectators were in fact robbed of any battle taking place on track as Webber would soon have to retire the ailing #20 car.  This left Audi to take yet another 1-2 finish and their 13th victory in the last 15 years.  In my opinion this ranks right up there with their unlikely victories over the super fast Peugeot’s in the late 2000’s.

Winners_TRIM

It is refreshing that the new technology in the top LMP class has added back the reliability factor, with the race winning Audi still spending nearly 1 hour of the event in the pit lane!  The race this year bears a little resemblance to the story of the Tortoise and the Hare; Toyota may have the faster car, in fact I am sure they will claim this year’s WEC crown but that is little consolation for retiring from the one event on the calendar that really matters!  This may be a little cruel on Toyota but Audi know better than anyone that to finish first, first you have to finish.  I hope I am wrong but I am not sure the Japanese manufacturer will get a better chance of taking the crown.

The battle in GT was even better than the fight for overall victory.  For much of the race there was absolutely nothing between the #97 works Aston Martin, the #51 AF Corse Ferrari and the #74 Corvette.  By dawn the American muscle car had dropped back but Bruno Senna was flying in the Aston and took the lead just after sunrise.  It was short lived however as power steering issues would cost AMR the chance of victory.  This left the very strong #51 AF Corse crew of Gianmaria Bruni, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander to take the top spot in GT PRO.  The #73 Corvette and #92 Porsche would round out the podium.

#51

In P2, the #35 Oak Racing Ligier, #46 TDS Racing Ligier and #36 Signatech Alpine all looked fast and capable of taking class honours.  By morning however, the #36 had lost time, the Oak Racing car piloted by Alex Brundle, Red bull man Jann Mardenborough and GT Academy graduate Mark Shulzhitskiy was suffering with a misfire and suspension failure hampered the #46 Ligier.

The #38 Jota Sport Zytek meanwhile was going like a tank.  With all of silver driver, Simon Dolan’s, alloted driving time out of the way, it was left to the strong duo of Oliver Turvey and Harry Tincknell to bring the car home.  And that they did with a fantastic 5th overall!

JOTA

It was great to see just how much it meant to Tincknell and Turvey as they leapt onto the podium at the end of the race; Turvey being a last minute addition to the squad to replace Audi bound Marc Gene; who in turn was a late replacement for the injured Loic Duval.

In GT AM I was absolutely delighted to see the #95 (Dane Train) Aston Martin of Kristian Poulsen, David Heinemeier Hansson and Nicki Thim take a very emotional victory.  This was ultra fitting after the tragic loss of the super fast Allan Simonsen in the early laps of the 2013 event.

AMVictors

Early on Sam Bird had set the pace in the #81 AF Corse Ferrari only to be caught out by the rain.  The #98 Aston Martin was also in the mix but it was the #88 Porsche of Christian Ried, Klaus Bachler and Khaled Al Qubaisi who would come home second followed by the #61 AF Corse Ferrari of Luis Perez Companc, Marco Cioci and Mirko Venturi.

Another first for this year was getting on to the pit straight at the end of the race to see the podium celebrations.  This was particularly special given the reception the #95 Aston crew received from the many Danes in attendance.  I didn’t understand the winner’s speech but I imagine it contained some very nice words about their late, very rapid 2013 Le Mans team-mate.

Having got to the track early on Saturday morning Dad had managed to park the car on the second row, meaning we were back at the camp site in no time.  Just time to watch the France vs Honduras world cup game before a relatively early night in preparation for the long journey home.  By 8pm, after a couple of stops and again avoiding Rouen bridge, I was back in Birmingham.  This had been another great couple of days in Central France.

RESULTS

1 (LMP1-H) Marcel FÄSSLER, André LOTTERER, Benoit TRÉLUYER / Audi R18 e-tron quattro – 379 Laps
2 (LMP1-H) Lucas DI GRASSI, Marc GENÉ, Tom KRISTENSEN / Audi R18 e-tron quattro – 376 Laps
3 (LMP1-H) Anthony DAVIDSON, Nicolas LAPIERRE, Sébastien BUEMI / Toyota TS 040 – Hybrid – 374 Laps
4 (LMP1-L) Nicolas PROST, Nick HEIDFELD, Mathias BECHE / Rebellion R-One – Toyota – 360 Laps
5 (LMP2) Simon DOLAN, Harry TINCKNELL, Oliver TURVEY / Zytek Z11SN – Nissan – 356 Laps
6 (LMP2) Pierre THIRIET, Ludovic BADEY, Tristan GOMMENDY / Ligier JS P2 – Nissan – 355 Laps
7 (LMP2) Paul-Loup CHATIN, Nelson PANCIATICI, Oliver WEBB / Alpine A450b – Nissan – 355 Laps
8 (LMP2) René RAST, Jan CHAROUZ, Vincent CAPILLAIRE / Oreca 03R – Nissan – 354 Laps
9 (LMP2) Alex BRUNDLE, Jann MARDENBOROUGH, Mark SHULZHITSKIY / Ligier – Nissan – 354 Laps
10 (LMP2) Christian KLIEN, Gary HIRSCH, Romain BRANDELA / Morgan – Judd – 352 Laps

15 (LMGTE PRO) Gianmaria BRUNI, Toni VILANDER, Giancarlo FISICHELLA / Ferrari 458 Italia – 339 Laps
16 (LMGTE PRO) Jan MAGNUSSEN, Antonio GARCIA, Jordan TAYLOR / Chevrolet Corvette – C7 – 338 Laps
17 (LMGTE PRO) Marco HOLZER, Frédéric MAKOWIECKI, Richard LIETZ / Porsche 911 RSR – 337 Laps
19 (LMGTE AM) Kristian POULSEN, David HEINEMEIER-HANSSON, Nicki THIIM / Aston Martin Vantage V8 – 334 Laps
21 (LMGTE AM) Christian RIED, Klaus BACHLER, Khaled AL QUBAISI / Porsche 911 RSR – 332 Laps
22 (LMGTE AM) Luis PEREZ-COMPANC, Marco CIOCI, Mirko VENTURI / Ferrari 458 Italia – 331 Laps

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

A full Facebook gallery is available HERE. With selected better quality images on my  Flickr feed.

 

 

Easter Weekend Sportscar Egg-Stravaganza!

A jam packed Easter weekend schedule saw Toyota take a convincing WEC victory at Silverstone with Thiriet by TDS Racing coming out on top in the rejuvenated European Le Mans series event.  Spoils were shared at Oulton Park as the Oman Racing Team Aston Martin and Ecurie Ecosse BMW took the race victories in round 1 of the British GT championship.

Initial disappointment upon seeing the respective race calendars soon ebbed away on realising that, although the British GT championship, WEC and European Le Mans series all had their opening rounds on the same weekend, it was still possible to see all three races.

Saturday saw us head to Silverstone for WEC qualifying and the 4 hour ELMS race.  Against my personal expectations it was in fact the #7 Toyota of Alex Wurz, Stephane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima that took pole position with a 4 lap average just 0.005 seconds quicker than the #1 Audi of Lucas Di Grassi, Tom Kristensen and Loic Duval.  Whilst difficult to read too much into the relative race pace of the cars from the Paul Ricard prologue, it did seem that Porsche and Audi would be quicker over 1 lap.

IMG_5766_PRO2_LR-2 IMG_6369A_LR IMG_5892_PRO_LRB_B&W_LR3

Not that this was a disappointment as I am a big fan of the Toyota; not only does it look great but the 3.7 litre V8 petrol engine sounds fantastic too.  Whilst what Audi do with the Diesel engine is an engineering masterpiece it was a worry that the lack of sound would become the norm in sportscar racing.  It will be interesting to see whether Audi’s 4 litre Diesel V6 or Porsche’s 2 litre petrol V4 will be able topple Toyota at the next round in Spa or the 24 hour centrepiece in June.

IMG_6406A_LR IMG_6333_PRO3_LR-3A IMG_6251A_LR2

The four hour ELMS race turned out to be the highlight of the weekend.  While the WEC is struggling for entries, with just 27 at the opening round, the ELMS boasted a grid of 39 evenly spread across all 3 categories.

IMG_6184_LR-6184 IMG_6616A_LR

Having qualified on pole the opening hour of the race was dominated by the JOTA Sport Zytek in the hands of works Audi driver Filipe Albuquerque.  The Portuguese was driver able to build a big lead while those behind battled it out.

The sun had broken through the clouds towards the end of the first stints which coincided with James Littlejohn’s rise to 2nd overall in the #28 Greaves Zytek.  The ex radical racer had put in a stellar debut drive to get the better of some big name drivers including Jan Charouz and Christian Klien.  Meanwhile Michael Lyons had put in a great shift in the #54 AF Corse Ferrari to lead the LMGTE class.

IMG_6709_PROA_LR IMG_6763A_LR

With such a strong driver line up Simon Dolan, as the silver driver in the JOTA Sport car, had to do the majority of the driving.  And although Frank Mailleux was closing the gap, he wasn’t making significant in-roads into Dolan’s lead.  For all intents and purposes it looked like the #38 car had this in the bag with pole man Harry Tincknell set to take over for the final stint.  But disaster struck on the Dolan’s in-lap as a mistake in traffic lead to a large off and a high speed collision with the Hangar Straight concrete wall.  Fortunately, although taken to the medical centre, Dolan had only suffered bruising which is testament to the strength of the LMP2 machinery.

Following a lengthy safety car period, a sprint to the finish ensued; with three cars seemingly in with a shout of taking the overall victory.  With only a handful of laps remaining Tristan Gommendy passed the #34 Race performance Oreca of Michel Frey to ensure the Thiriet by TDS Racing team would stand on the top step of the podium.  Gary Hirsch, in the Newblood Morgan Judd almost snatched second from Frey soon after with a move down the inside at village.  The Race Performance driver however was able to keep his head, stay wide and take the inside line for the Loop to keep the position.

IMG_6899_LR IMG_6867A_LRIMG_6933A_LR

The increase in race distance from 3 to 4 hours combined with the linkage of driver grading to the required time in the car have really added to the overall spectacle.  I for one would definitely like to go and see another round of this championship.  It is great to see the entries so high and hard to believe that it was only 2 years ago that only 13 cars were attracted to the Donington round.

The day was rounded of in style by combining Stirchley’s best fish and chips with a couple of glasses of Belgium’s finest beer.  With photos downloaded, batteries re-charged, filters cleaned and cobs made it was time to look forward to Day 2 at Silverstone.

The WEC pit walk had attracted most of the 43,000 people who were in attendance for Sunday’s race, which while great for the sport did make it difficult to see anything.  While It works so well at Le Mans, with pit access available all day on the friday, the experience at Silverstone has always been a little underwhelming.  After 5 minutes of seeing very little we called it a day and headed to Luffield for the race start and a coffee break.

Although rain threatened the race commenced in dry conditions leading to an exciting opening half hour of the race.  The Audi’s seemed to have the early pace with the #2 in the hands of Andre Lotterer eventually getting past the #7 Toyota of Alex Wurz to take the lead of the race.

IMG_7079_LR IMG_7257_LR IMG_7297A_LR

But then the rain came down and carnage followed.  Toyota wisely brought both cars in for wets / intermediates relatively early while Audi stayed out in the hope of a shorter shower.  With the rain getting heavier, traction was becoming a massive issue.  Lucas Di Grassi in the #1 Audi was first to get caught out; losing control of the car through Woodcote and causing enough damage to put the car out of the race.  Meanwhile the #14 Porsche had lost a wheel and suffered suspension damage which would ultimately lead to it’s retirement as well.

It wasn’t long after this that the seemingly invincible Andre Lotterer would lose control of the #2 Audi at Stowe and fall a couple of laps back whilst being recovered from the gravel.  Effectively out of the running for overall victory Benoit Treluyer would later go off at Copse causing race ending damage to the car.  This rounded off a terrible weekend for the Audi team and left them with a big job on their hands to get both cars re-built in time for the next round at Spa.

By the time the the track had dried out, the battle at the front was effectively over with the #8 Toyota holding a 1 lap lead over the #7 courtesy of choosing wets instead of intermediates.  The #20 Porsche was holding onto third but was gradually losing touch with the powerful Japanese machines.  This remained the order until the race was red flagged following an afternoon rain shower of epic proportions!

IMG_7330A_LR IMG_7347A_LR IMG_7431_LR

Personally I expected Porsche to be faster this weekend but third represented a good result on their return to top level sportscar racing.  Debate surrounded whether they were running “skinny” aero to be used at Le Mans as opposed to a more Silverstone friendly higher downforce set up.  I just hope they are on the pace at the 24 hour main event later this year.

They did however have things more their own way in the GTE Pro class with #92 of Marco Holzer, Fred Makowiecki and Richard Lietz leading home a 911 1-2 finish.  The #51 AF Corse Ferrari did however keep them on their toes earlier on in the race but would ultimately end up fourth behind the #97 Aston Martin of Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke.

Having eventually dried out, Easter Monday saw us head up to Cheshire for the annual trip to Oulton Park.  Summer appeared to have arrived and this time I had come prepared with suncream!

A fantastic grid of cars had been assembled for the opening 2 races of the British GT championship and fans had flocked to the circuit in anticipation of a great days racing.  I personally have never seen so many people at a British GT event and I am pretty sure that a grid containing two Bentleys had something to do with it.

IMG_7570_PROA_LR2 IMG_7747_PROA_LR IMG_8074_PRO2_LR

Unfortunately, as is often the case at Oulton, both races were ruined by safety cars with the safety car in race 1 effectively putting half the field a lap behind.  When the racing got back underway Michael Caine was able to build on the good work of Ahmad Al Harthy to take the victory by just over 3 seconds from the AF Corse Ferrari of Pasin Lathouras and Richard Lyons and 2013 champions Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam in Beechdean Aston.

IMG_7493_PRO_LR2 IMG_7972_PROA_LR IMG_7905_PROA_LR

Having qualified on Pole on his British GT debut, race 2 saw the super fast Alexander Sims able to maintain the lead before the intervention of yet another safety car.  They were however caught out by the timing of the pit window opening.  With cars further back able to pit a lap earlier, Marco Attard (having taken over from Sims) would re-enter the race in third.

The safety car would soon be out again though following the coming together of Mark Patterson’s Audi and Gary Eastwood’s Ferrari as they battled for the lead.  This left Marco Attard to take the victory from John Minshaw and Phil Keen in the Trackspeed Porsche with Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam rounding off an excellent opening weekend with their second podium.

IMG_8148_LR IMG_8276_PRO_LR_B&W

Looking back I do wonder whether a single two hour race format would be better suited to Oulton Park especially with growing grids.  It would be even better if all races were three hours in length like the Blancpain series but maybe that isn’t want the competitors want and I certainly wouldn’t want to ‘fix’ something that isn’t broken.

On reflection it was a top weekend even if a little tiring.  Next up it is Donington and Rockingham on May day bank holiday weekend for the Historic Festival and the next round of the British GT championship.  Stay tuned for coverage ….