Greaves Motorsport claimed victory in the opening round of the European Le Mans Series at Silverstone following a close battle with the similar Jota Sport machine and the Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca.
For the third season in a row, the teams headed to Silverstone for the opening round of the European Le Mans Series; dovetailing with the World Endurance Championship to create a nicely dubbed ‘super endurance racing weekend’. And although the numbers are slightly down on 2014, we could be in for one of the best seasons yet courtesy of a gentle tweak to the driver time regulations which allow the Platinum and Gold LMP2 drivers to have more of an impact on the overall result.
Qualifying did nothing to disprove this idea as Jon Lancaster’s early lap proved just too good for pole favourite, Harry Tincknell, to topple. It didn’t help that the Nissan factory driver had flat spotted his tyres with a spin early in the session however a last gasp effort from the 2014 Le Mans class winner was good enough for second on the grid.
And while Gary Hirsch was able to lead the crews away from start in the #41 Greaves Motorsport machine, it was Audi loanee, Filipe Albuquerque, who eventually worked his way to the front of the field in the #38 Jota Sport car; gradually increasing his lead to 16 seconds by the time he handed over to Simon Dolan at the end of his second stint. Hirsch however brought his driving duties to a close with a stellar lap (fastest of the race) to allow Platinum rated co-driver Bjorn Wirdheim to leap-frog Dolan and build a strong lead over the English businessman, with the Thiriet by TRDS Racing Oreca 05 not too far behind in third.
A safety car, required for a collision between the Massive Motorsport Aston and the #63 Ferrari with 1.5 hours to go then closed up the entire field. A good pit call by Greaves however, with Wirdheim pitting just before the safety car appeared, allowed the Swede to maintain the lead after re-fuelling. TDS racing on the other hand had a different approach and used the safety car period to put Platinum man Tristan Gommendy in the car; A tactic which looked to be paying off as the Frenchman soon caught and passed Dolan once the track returned to green.
With Wirdheim’s tyres passed their best, Gommendy was also able to close on the lead Greaves car and it wasn’t long before the TDS Oreca was leading the race. However the boot was soon on the other foot as he now had the super quick and freshly shod Jon Lancaster and Harry Tincknell to contend with as the event headed towards the final stages; and crucially the team had elected to change the left sided tyres only at their driver change.
Lancaster and Tincknell were now significantly faster than Gommendy at this stage of the race and had they worked together they would have caught the lead Oreca much more quickly. However you can’t stop true racing drivers fighting for position and what lay ahead was an almighty battle between the two Gibson pilots.
With the TDS machine beginning to fall into the clutches of the two Gibson cars the battle for second really started to heat up. Tincknell clearly had the bit between his teeth, and after several attempts Tincknell managed to squeeze into second and now looked favourite for victory. However, as is often the case in endurance racing, traffic played a part; slowing Tincknell through Copse and allowing Lancaster to gain on the Nissan man heading into the Becketts complex. In what was deemed a fair move, Lancaster went the around the outside at Maggots, with Tincknell left spinning as a result.
Lancaster was now free to chase down Gommendy as the race neared its conclusion; and with traffic slowing the Frenchman, Lancaster saw his chance and attempted a pass down the inside of the Loop. Gommendy however had not seen him coming and contact caused the Oreca to spin, losing second as a result to the recovering Tincknell.
Whilst debate commenced over whether Lancaster’s attempted pass was legal, Tincknell rapidly approached the partially damaged Greaves machine; getting close to the #41 Gibson but ultimately crossing the line at the end of the 4 hours in second position. The press conference was interesting to say the least but ultimately this adds additional flavour to what is already building up to be a great championship fight.
The mid race safety car ruined what was turning into a great battle for GTE honours as the Gulf Racing Porsche was allowed to pass the safety car and almost gain an entire lap over the chasing JMW Ferrari and the similar #55 AF Corse machine. This left Michael Wainwright with a much easier task of finishing the good work started by Adam Carroll and Phil Keen to claim GTE top spot for the Gulf Racing 911 RSR
Behind, Sam Tordoff and George Richardson both put in solid drives to elevate the JMW Ferrari to a well deserved 2nd while Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott will have been content with third. Rui Aguas had been leading in the #81 Ferrari early on before ending the day in the turn one barriers following a collision with the #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Peter Mann.
Sir Chris Hoy and Charlie Robertson made an excellent start to their debut European Le Mans Series campaign in the brand new Ginetta Juno. Robertson started the car from the back of the grid having been penalised for a pit lane speed limit violation but was soon leading the class before handing over to Hoy. The multi Olympic Cycling champion put in a great drive which ultimately saw the the Scottish pair take class victory by the best part of a lap from team LNT team-mates Michael Simpson and Gaetan Paletou.
In a race of attrition where only 3 cars finished in class, the TDS Racing BMW Z4 of Franck Perera, Dino Lunardi and Eric Dermont took victory by 2 laps from the #64 AF Corse Ferrari of Mads Rasmussen, Felipe Barreiros and Francisco Guedes. To round of a good day for Gulf Racing UK, Roald Goethe, Dan Brown and Archie Hamilton came home third in the GT3 Lamborghini Gallardo, albeit 16 laps down on the class leader following earlier problems.
Whilst the mid race safety car closed up the field and helped provide an exciting finish it did however ruin a lot of the carefully thought out strategies being employed by the teams. I can’t help but feel that the full course yellow system employed by the WEC is a much better way of allowing the track marshals to clear up a wreckage, with the gaps being maintained and there being no chance of incorrect ‘wave bys’. We can only hope that the European Le Mans Series takes a serious look at this issue before round 2 at Imola.
Once again the European Le Mans Series provided some of the best racing of the weekend. In my eyes it has a lot to do with the extra strategy of when to play the silver/bronze driver card and together with the 4 hour format we have a brilliant series on our hands. It would be nice to have a few more entries in the GT classes but that would just be picky. I am more than tempted to try and find some extra days holiday to fir the season ending Estoril round into my schedule!
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All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)