Tag Archives: Oulton Park

Best of 2021 – Words and Pics From the Spectator Banks

After the lows of 2020, 2021 promised a return to some sort of normality in the world of Motorsport, however the elongated 3rd (I think) lockdown postponed any form of none signed-on attendance until late May!

Desperate to return to the circuits after 7 months of crowd-less sport viewing on the box an enormous entry list for the Classic Sports Car Club’s May bank holiday meeting at Donington was just the tonic I had been looking for. The 39 car Classic K race was a personal highlight which saw experienced historic racer Jamie Boot expertly guide his TVR Griffith to victory, however the moderate crowd were also treated to a trio of highly entertaining combined sprints for the Racing Special Saloons / Modsports and Bernie’s Sports Racing / V8 machines which contained everything from the whacky to the sublime!

So good in fact was my first taste of Classic Sports Car club action that a couple of weeks later I would find myself Cadwell bound for a second dose.  Unfortunately the grids were not quite so packed but this was more than made up for by perfect early Summer weather.  This time it was the Group 1 Swinging Sixties machines that stole the show with Ian Staines, aboard his MG Midget, managing to get the better of pole sitting Turner MK1 pilot Tim Cairns to claim an excellent victory at the undulating Lincolnshire track.

Late June saw a return to Donington for an excellent line up of Historic Sports Car Club grids with the added bonus of a 1 hour race for the GT & Sports Car Cup!  Despite a dull day weatherwise the on track action was as good as it gets with Michael Lyons lighting up the time sheets in the Aurora Trophy races aboard his F5000 Lola T400, Dean Forward delighting onlookers aboard his enormous Can-AM McLaren M8F to take a double Thundersports victory and Andrew’s Haddon & Wolfe claiming an excellent GT & Sports Cars Car Cup victory in their Lotus Elan.

After an excellent championship in 2020, a third trip to Donington, this time on the Grand Prix circuit, was lined up in July for the 2 hour British GT race. The series as a spectacle suffered in 2021 however with the removal of GT3 Silver Silver combinations which, combined with somewhat questionable driving standards and poor quality support races, lead to this being the only Modern event attended during the year!

Refreshingly it was back to old stuff in August with the Classic Sports Car Club’s Snetterton Sizzler meeting and the HSCC’s Oulton Park Gold Cup.  The Gold Cup meeting was back to it’s very best with Historic F2 machinery making a welcome return (something good to come out of the pandemic!) and it was Matthew Watts aboard his March 782 who claimed the prestigious trophy following an attritional second encounter of the weekend!  We were also treated to a pair of Historic Touring Car / Dunlop Saloon Car Cup races which are always worth a watch around the fabulous Cheshire circuit, and best of all the paddocks were finally open to the general public!!

Two trips to Mallory filled the first half of autumn’s action where a torrential morning downpour threatened to de-rail the Historic Sports Car Club meet.  Glorious afternoon sunshine and excellent efficiency ensured this only lead to delays and not cancellations however with Ben Simm’s charge through the field (only to be denied victory by Murray Shepherd’s excellent defensive display) in the Formula Ford 2000 race being the pick of the action. 

The excellent Classic Touring Car Racing Club would visit the same Leicestershire circuit in Mid October featuring a mouth-watering collection of machinery that included everything from the iconic 60’s Mini to the monster Aussie V8 Ford Falcon. Nothing quite beats a good old David vs Goliath pre-66 touring car race however and the two races on the day provided everything you come to expect from this era of racing; Alan Greenhalgh taking victory in the second race aboard his Ford Falcon after losing out to the much smaller engined Anglia of Robyn Slater (in part due to an off) in a damp race 1, brilliant racing!

Although far from a fan of Silverstone (not the circuit, more the unfriendly Security and archaic ticketing system) I could not fail to be drawn to the new standalone Motor Racing Legends meeting at the end of October. The 1 hour Historic Touring Car Challenge brought back many a childhood memory as Paul Mensley (RS500) managed to fend off not 1 but 3 temperamental Skylines to take victory whilst the excellent 43 car, 3 hour Pall Mall cup race met all expectations as the fabulous James Cottingham / Max Girardo piloted Lister Jaguar Costin managed to hold off a plethora of Shelby Cobra’s to take an unlikely victory. Maybe the unwelcoming nature of the circuit is a thing of the past as this had been a highlight of the season, partially aided by full access to the ‘Wing’ with less than a couple of hundred people in attendance!

And finally, after a pandemic induced year and 9 month period away from rallying, I eventually managed to see a live stage or 2 on the end of season Roger Albert Clark Rally. In an event unfortunately impacted by the devastating storm Arwen (Scotland’s stages completely cancelled), Ryan Champion and Craig Thorley remarkably managed to break the Blue Oval strangle hold on the event by claiming victory in their immaculate Porsche 911. Whilst disappointing not to be able to make the bi-annual trip into the Southern Scotland forests it was great to see action on the stages again.

All in it was year to remember and we can only hope that 2022 brings with it more freedom, definitely more rallying and a return to somewhere near the motorsport life we were all accustom to pre March 2020!

Smith Stars at Oulton’s Stellar Gold Cup

Already an excellent event, the Oulton Park Gold Cup stepped up yet another gear in 2017 with the addition of both the Historic Touring Car Challenge and FIA Historic F2 International Series.  And, when considering the ultra competitive HSCC Historic Formula Ford and Pre-66 Touring Car championship events featured heavily on the Bank Holiday Monday undercard, the more than respectable crowd were in for a real treat.

The HSCC organised Historic F2 championship appears to have suffered very little from the emergence of Peter Auto’s rival series in 2017 with some 25 cars taking to the Cheshire track over the weekend.  And whilst Darwin Smith dominated proceedings in race 1 to claim victory by 17 seconds, he would have his work cut out in race 2 as the event quickly turned into a two horse race.

Donington winner, Richard Evans is regularly a front runner in this category and on this occasion refused to let the Northern Irishman out of his sights as the two bright yellow machines pulled away from the pack.  But, despite Evans’ best efforts he never really got close enough to challenge; the series returnee, in his formidable March 722, appearing unbeatable around the picturesque parkland circuit as he went on to record his second victory in as many days.  The Gold Cup, awarded to the aggregate winner of the 2 F2 races, just reward for Smith’s utterly brilliant drive.

The Motor Racing Legends organised Historic Touring Car Challenge was a very welcome addition to the Bank Holiday Monday schedule where, for a trial period commencing with the Gold Cup, Group A RS500s have been allowed to join the party.  And whilst Chris Ward claimed pole position for the 50 minute race with a late charge in the JD Classics Rover Vitesse (shared with Steve Soper), it was the Mark Wright piloted RS500 which leapt into an early lead; his pace over the opening laps as he pulled away from Ric Wood’s Capri and the pole sitting Rover possibly the reason why these machines had previously been off the menu!

Having dominated earlier in the season at Donington Park, Soper was not quite able to deliver the same level of performane at Oulton.  Ward on the other hand is rapid everywhere and an early stop to get the ex Silverstone Chief Driving Instructor behind the wheel would pay dividends as Ward found himself in the lead of the race as the mandatory pitstops unwound.

Had it not been for fuel starvation issues, Dave Coyne, in the RS500 started by Wright, may well have challenged for victory.  However the intermittent problem would play havoc throughout the second half of the race with the 1990 Formula Ford Festival winner doing well to salvage fourth 4th with a last lap charge.

As it was, despite suffering a braking issue, Ward was able to take a comfortable victory in the end, with the Capri of Ric Wood and the late stopping M3 E30 of Mark Smith rounding out the podium positions.  This had been a classy drive by the JD Classics man and Soper was the first to acknowledge that Ward was largely to thank for their top step of the podium appearance.

This wasn’t the only touring car action of the day however with the schedule also including 2 historic touring car races for the pre-66 machines as well as a second encounter for the end of millennium Super Tourers.

The Honda Accord is often the car to beat in the HSCC run Super Touring Car Trophy and the second race at Oulton provided no surprise in this respect; Stewart Whyte heading a 1-2 for the Japanese brand to register his second victory of the weekend.  Meanwhile, Gianfranco Brancatelli claimed 6th position overall to take class A honours in the very same RS500 he drove to Spa 24 hour victory in 1989.

Qualifying for the Pre-66 machines saw Ford Falcon pilot, Jack Drury, require just 4 laps to take pole position by a massive 1.4 seconds.  It was to no avail however as a broken oil pump, which cut short his qualifying session, also caused him to miss race 1 whilst the engine was changed!  This left the door open for the smaller engined marques to flourish with James Clarke leading home Richard Belcher to complete a Ford Cortina 1-2 and Jonathan Lewis in his Mini Cooper S registering an excellent third.

The Falcon was fixed for race 2 however and despite having to start from the back of the grid, Drury was in the lead of the race before the end of lap 4; his victory by more than 13 seconds underlining his total dominance of the category on the day.  With such a performance gap, a double race victory should have been a formality and the ex BMW driver will hope his championship push is not impacted by the unfortunate reliability issues experienced in qualifying.

As has often been the case in 2017 a healthy grid of Formula Ford machinery had been gathered for the Oulton Park Gold Cup meeting and it was no surprise to find Richard Tarling and Callum Grant again battling it out for victory.  But whilst overtaking was plentiful at Croft, it was not so easy at Oulton and try as Grant might he could not find a way passed the Janum T2 of Tarling in either race; Tarling again showing his defensive skills to record a double victory despite suffering a broken exhaust in the days first encounter. And whilst Tarling’s two strong results kept him well in the title frame, a distinctly under the weather Grant (2016 champion) all but threw in the towel following another strong points haul for series leader Michael O’Brien.

Benn Tilley put in 2 strong Formula Ford performances to claim creditable 6th and 7th placed finishes but it was the Formula Junior category where the youngster truly excelled; the Lotus 22 pilot going on to record his first and second overall victories in the Silverline backed series as John Fyda and Peter De La Roche, on both occasions, rounded out the podium positions.

In the Second Derek Bell Trophy race of the weekend, a drive train problem with his March 79B denied Andrew Smith the chance of a double win.  Instead, Neil Glover powered his F5000 Chevron B37 to victory as the 2 litre F2 Chevron B27 of Mike Bletsoe-Brown and the March 712 of James King, fresh from his brilliant F2 performance to claim class A honours, rounded out the podium positions.  Behind, Julian Stokes came out on top of the Techno F2 battle to claim Classic Racing Car victory with race 1 winner, Daniel Pyett unfortunately ending the day in the Old Hall barriers.

And last but not least, there looked to be a huge shock on the cards in the Classic Clubmans race as John Harrison lead much of the early running.  Mark Charteris is very rarely beaten in this category however and would not be denied on this occasion either; the Watford man making the crucial pass at Cascades on lap 8 before going on to record a 3.6 second victory.

Was there a better way to spend August Bank Holiday Monday?  I think not.  Having absolutely loved the Gold Cup meeting last year I wasn’t sure it could be bettered.  I was wrong.  Witnessing historic F2 machinery lapping Oulton in sub 1.36 times is something else, as was the sound of many a V8 at full chat in the Historic Touring Car Challenge.  More of the same next year please!

FULL RESULTS

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

Plenty of ‘Hors’power at Oulton’s Gold Cup

After years of attempting to shoe horn the Oulton Park Gold Cup into my schedule, the 2016 rendition would be my first visit to the Cheshire circuit’s finest historic event.  And what a day and year to pick; glorious August Bank Holiday Monday sunshine the perfect conditions to take in 13 (yes thirteen) largely HSCC organised races.  And as a paying spectator on this occasion, £24 represented great value for money with a vast array of car and period military displays nicely complimenting the jam packed circuit schedule.

Whilst the F2 and F5000 cars in the Derek Bell trophy as well as a fine mix of 20th century touring cars were the big draws for me personally, the Gold Cup itself would be awarded to the aggregate winner of two 20 minute races for the HGPCA Pre-66 Grand Prix cars.  And after strong drive in race 1, Peter Horsmann in his Lotus 18/21, carried a 13 second lead into leg 2 of the event which would take place on Monday lunchtime.

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Any thought of another Horsmann whitewash in race 2 however was quickly dismissed when Rod Jolley in his Cooper T45 made the better start and leapt into an early lead.   And whilst few anticipated the class 7b machine keeping the more advanced Lotus behind for long, Jolley put up a great fight; twice holding top spot before Horsmann made the decisive move on lap 6 to take his Lotus 18/21 to victory by a mere 1.1 seconds and claim the infamous Golden trophy.  Sensational racing!

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As always the Historic Formula Fords provided great entertainment in their 2 twenty minute races.  After an opening lap collision in race 1 brought out the red flag it would be Sam Mitchell who claimed victory in the shortened race.  Lying third entering lap 7, the Cheltenham man was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of a final lap incident between race leading duo Benn Simms and Callum Grant.

The day would vastly improve for Simms however.  After claiming second in the Rear Engined Formula Junior event, the Jomo JMR 7 pilot would go one better in the second Historic Formula Ford race.  Lying at the back of a lead group of six in the early stages, the Leicestershire man would take an excellent victory; capitalising on the mechanical woes of others whilst throwing in some fantastic overtaking manoeuvres.

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The Historic Touring Cars never fail to catch my eye and whilst Warren Briggs in his Ford Mustang was able to take a couple of dominant victories the battle behind was far less clear cut.  16 year old James Clarke was in many ways the star of the day; consistently the quickest Lotus Cortina pilot, the youngster went on to claim a well deserved second overall in race 2.  It is a rarity for such a young driver to feature in this series; 3rd placed John Avill best summing it up by claiming all his grandchildren were older than the man standing on the second step of the podium!

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The largely 1990’s built machines in the Super Touring Car challenge were in fact the only field of cars that I was fortunate enough to witness racing in period; the very technologically advanced machines bringing back great childhood memories from the spectator bankings of both Donington and Silverstone.

After recording an impressive 7 second race 1 victory, Stewart Whyte was again in a class of his own in Monday’s second race of the weekend.  Not even John Cleland, again re-united with in the Vectra he once professionally campaigned, could stay on terms with his fellow Scotsman; the Honda Accord pilot going on to record another dominant victory.

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In fact double wins were the theme of the weekend as Andrew Park claimed two impressive Formula Ford 2000 victories whilst Mark Dwyer, in his F2 March 742 twice got the better of the F5000 runners in the Derek Bell Trophy.  Meanwhile Andrew Hibberd and Mark Woodhouse would claim double glory in the respective Formula Junior front engined and rear engined events.

Further 20 minute races for the Classic Racing Cars and Classic Clubman machines would round off the days entertainment where John Murphy proved just too strong for Julian Stokes and Mark Charteris was yet again the pick of the Classic Clubman runners; the reigning champion building a winning margin of over 38 seconds by the the time the chequered flag was waved!

In all there was little not to like about our relatively short Bank Holiday Monday trip across the A50.  The Cheshire circuit has long been a personal favourite and seeing some of the best machinery of yesteryear grace the undulating asphalt was a sight to behold.  Viewing is second to none at Oulton, partly as a result of being able to get close to the action without having ones view obstructed by thick catch fencing.  I will make every effort to return in 2017.

FULL RESULTS

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

Astons Star in Oulton Opener

Beechdean AMR pairing Jonny Adam and Andrew Howard ensured Aston Martin claimed both British GT opening round victories at Oulton Park following the success of Oman Racing Team duo Rory Butcher and Liam Griffin earlier in the day.

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As is tradition, the 2015 British GT Championship kicked off on Easter weekend with the opening two rounds of the championship taking place at Oulton Park; free practice and qualifying taking place on Saturday with the races following on Easter Monday.

After 6 months away from the race circuits, the years first sound of a Grand Touring car never fails to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.  Witnessing the 34 car cast of the 2015 rendition of the series thunder up Deer Leap during the opening moments of free practice 1 brought a smile to my face; it is difficult to argue against the view that this is the best national GT series on the planet.

Whilst missing some of the GT3 variety of previous seasons, there being no Porsche, Audi, Bentley or Nissan presence on the grid, a much bigger GT4 field more than fills the void.  Two fully competitive classes is exactly what the doctor ordered which should both be ultra competitive following some changes in the regulations for 2015.  Reiterating that Amateur drivers have a key part to play was made clear by the banning of gold/silver crews and, similar to the Blancpain series, ensuring Bronze drivers enjoy more track time in free practice sessions.  British GT is now a strictly Gold/Bronze, Silver/Silver driver combination series.

Free Practice / Qualifying

Friday rain had left the crews facing a damp track for the first free practice session where Jon Minshaw made the most of the drying conditions to go quickest with his final lap of the session.  The Demon Tweeks man, once again paired with the rapid Phil Keen and this year in a Barwell Motorsport BMW, will be many peoples favourites for the title; the duo quickest again in the fully dry 2nd session to reiterate this view.

As is often the case though, qualifying did not follow suit with the ten minute sessions giving little time to string together the perfect lap.  While Minshaw was only able to register 9th quickest time, Liam Griffin in the Oman Racing Team Aston Martin claimed pole for race 1 with a scintillating 1:35:858.  Dave Bartrum appearing to have pulled off another master stroke of a driver signing following the loss of Michael Caine as a result of the driver grading regulation changes.

Race 2 qualifying saw the Pros take to the wheel for what promised to be a classic 10 minute showdown starring the likes of A1 GP winner Adam Carroll in the FF Corse Ferrari and BMW works driver Alexander Sims in the Ecurie Ecosse Z4.   It was Jonny Adam however who starred, claiming pole with a stonking time of 1:33:877 on his first flying lap and showing exactly why he is a works Aston Martin employee.  The FF Corse Ferrari would join the Scotsman on the front row to match the efforts of team-mate Gary Eastwood in the earlier AM session with the BMWs of Phil Keen and Alexander Sims filling row 2.

Just like the predicted weather forecast race day was set to be a cracker with the remainder of the top ten separated by less than a second!

SATURDAY PICS

RACE 1

In what is becoming a more and more popular series with the fans, large crowds had gathered to take in the race-day action.  And with the sun yet to burn through, it was pole sitter, Liam Griffin, who maintained his advantage after an early safety car period with Gary Eastwood, Andrew Howard and Andrew Watson in hot pursuit.

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From fifth position on the grid, Watson in the #10 Von Ryan Mclaren had made an excellent start, getting as high as second before going off the road at Island bend following an over enthusiastic attempt for the lead on lap 7;  An unfortunate end to what could have been a race winning car.

Griffin was not able to break away however and the top ten were covered by Just a handful of seconds before carnage broke out.  The delayed #12 Von Ryan McLaren seemed determined to have a say in the outcome of the meeting, causing the leading group to bunch up as they tried to put another lap on the 650s.  And just as Andrew Howard thought he was getting passed at Hislops chicane Salih Yoluc turned in on the Wycombe Wanderers Chairman sending the Aston into the tyre wall, with Ahmad Al Harthy also becoming caught up in the incident.  Both were out of the race and the safety car was deployed for the second time.

Meanwhile a big accident had occurred on the run down to Cascades.  Alistair McKinnon in the RAM Racing Mercedes tagged the Derek Johnston piloted TF Sport Aston in an attempted passing manoeuvre causing both cars to head to for the crash barriers at high speed; the Aston Martin bouncing back across the track and left stranded in the middle of the road.  The two following Barwell BMW’s had nowhere to go; Minshaw running into the back of Attard as he braked hard in an attempt to avoid the stricken TF Sport machine.  Somehow Attard was able to get the Ecurie Ecosse machine back to the pits, however Minshaw, Johnston and McKinnon were all additions to the retirements list!

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With the pit window now open several crews took the opportunity to get their Pro drivers behind the wheel under saferty car conditions and remarkably Adam Carroll, now in the FF Corse Ferrari, managed to steel a march on the Oman Racing Aston of Rory Butcher to emerge from the pitlane in the lead of the race, with Joe Osborne in the Triple Eight Racing BMW now in third.

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Indeed it was the white BMW who looked most likely to challenge for victory when the track returned to green with just 16 minutes remaining.  In fact Osborne was soon passed Butcher and in pursuit of the 458, however GT4 traffic would soon catch out the BMW pilot allowing Butcher back into second.  And with the order remaining the same at the chequered flag it seemed the Italian Marque had taken victory.

However several hours after the race, Carroll and Eastwood were demoted to second following a successful appeal by the Oman Racing Team squad;  the FF Corse Ferrari penalised for blocking the #6 Aston as it exited the pits, leaving Butcher and Griffin to take maximum opening round points.

Meanwhile in GT4 it was the #50 Optimum Racing Ginetta of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson who emerged victorious following a battle with the #407 Beechdean Aston and the similar car of Terry Langley and Mike Hart.  Alongside Ross Gunn, second place represented a great result for 16 year old Jamie Chadwick on her British GT debut.

RACE 2

With Oulton Park now basking in glorious afternoon sunshine it was pole man Jonny Adam who lead the field away, with FF Corse Ferrari pilot Adam Carroll heading the chase from the Demon Tweeks BMW of Phil Keen and the LNT Ginetta of Mike Simpson.

Carroll was on a charge, and perhaps keen to make up for his race one penalty managed to pass the Beechdean Aston early on in the stint at Old Hall.  Adam would not have been too concerned however, knowing the Italian car faced a 15 second longer pitstop courtesy of their race one ‘victory’; the Scotsman managing to keep the Northern Irishman in sight throughout the remainder of his stint.

The Demon Tweeks BMW had been holding a strong third place, but would find itself in the wrong place at the wrong time again on lap 14; this time taken out by the Preci Spark Mercedes of Godfrey Jones and ending race 2 in the Cascades gravel trap.  Things can only get better for the Barwell prepared machine.

Following the lead team pitstops it was, as anticipated, the Beechdean Aston, now in the hands of Andrew Howard who assumed the lead of the race, with Lee Mowle in the Triple Eight BMW, Liam Griffin’s Oman Racing Aston and Steve Tandy’s LNT Ginetta just behind; the FF Corse Ferrari dropping to sixth as a result of the success penalty.

But just as it looked like being a close fight to the finish, Howard, Mowle and Griffin were all judged guilty of short pit stops and given drive through penalties as a result.  This appeared to put Tandy in the driving seat for victory, however, such was Andrew Howard’s pace in the afternoon sunshine that he managed to maintain the lead!

And so while Howard cruised to victory, Tandy was left left to fight a rear guard action against the fast approaching Ecurie Ecosse BMW of 2014 champion Marco Attard and the recovering Liam Griffin.  But try as Attard and Griffin might there was no way through leaving the LNT Ginetta to take a fine 2nd place.

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Further back the Issy Racing Lotus Evora made up for being caught out by the safety car in race 1 by utterly dominating the GT4 class in race 2.  Oz Yusuf and Gavan Kershaw finished the race in 12th place overall with a class winning margin of 26 seconds over round 1 winners Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson.

RACE-DAY PICS

And so after 2 rounds it is the new Oman Racing Team pairing of Rory Butcher and Liam Griffin that lead the championship courtesy of a win and a fourth place.  I am not sure many would have predicted this outcome at the start of the weekend but on this evidence they are likely to be title contenders.  As expected the racing around the tight Cheshire track was close, with driving standards at times dubious and on occasion shocking.  It was good to see the #12 Von Ryan Racing McLaren excluded from the meeting for blatant ignorance of the blue flags and generally causing chaos.  This is Sportscar racing Mr Yoluc, the Touring cars were at Brands Hatch!

Next up for the British GT teams is a trip to Rockingham for a 2 hour mini endurance race around the Northamptonshire track.  I however will most likely catch them at Silverstone for round 4 in late May where I will be hoping the wider track will create racing more akin to round 2 than round 1.

FULL RESULTS

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

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 ….