Tag Archives: Silverstone

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!

Porsche and G-Drive Shine in Silverstone Sun

Audi exclusion lands Porsche the RAC Tourist Trophy whilst a faultless drive saw Simon Dolan, assisted by Harry Tincknell and Giedo Van Der Garde, finally claim a second Silverstone ELMS victory after narrowly missing out in both 2014 and 2015.

PorkerWin

As opposed to re-mortgaging your house to visit the British Grand Prix, just £40 buys an adult weekend pass for the opening rounds of the European Le Mans Series and the WEC.   Even better value for money when you consider that, unlike the F1, there is no charge for parking at the circuit!

Both series have seen changes for 2016, the most obvious being the removal of GTC and the separation of qualifying for all three classes in the European Le Mans Series whilst the WEC welcomed new GT regs that would feature aggressive rear diffusers for the GT PRO machines.  None of which appeared to have done any harm as the ELMS boasted a whopping 44 car entry whilst the WEC managed a quality filled 33.  No better way to commence my circuit racing season.

ELMS

The 4 Hours of Silverstone would fill it’s now traditional Saturday afternoon slot and with great anticipation we made the little over an hour journey down to the home of British Motorsport in far from ideal conditions.  You don’t expect the ‘Warning Ice Possible’ sign to appear on your dashboard in mid April, and even more bizarrely we didn’t anticipate the WEC free practice session to be red flagged as a result of Snow!

SnowySilverstone

Pleasingly however, whilst remaining cold, sunshine finally broke through the clouds as the 44 strong ELMS entry began their formation laps;  the Thiriet by TDS Oreca 05 on pole courtesy of a stonking lap from long time Rebellion racer, Mathias Beche.

ELMSPOLE

The day would not end as well as it started for the pole sitting machine however, initially running wide at the start before a stuck throttle would send Pierre Thiriet into the Luffield Barriers.  Which, alongside the mechanical failure of Tristan Gommendy’s Eurasia Oreca 05 at Woodcote on the very same lap, would bring out the first full course caution period of the afternoon.

In the meantime, works Ford man, Harry Tincknell had built a healthy lead in the G-Drive Gibson with only Paul Loup Chatin in the Panis-Barthez Ligier able to stay in touch.  A lead that was relatively commanding before Chatin was able to take advantage of a second full course yellow to allow legendary French Goalkeeper Fabian Barthez to jump aboard; Barthez emerging in the lead of the race courtesy of the earlier G-Drive stop occurring under green flag conditions.

But whilst Barthez was not able to keep Dolan behind for long, driver rankings dictated that the former was required to spend much less time behind the wheel; a tactic which looked favourable given Timothe Buret’s pace.  Unfortunately however, just as the lead battle looked to be getting interesting, the Ligier hit mechanical problems and dropped way out of contention; thus leaving the way clear for ex Caterham F1 pilot, Giedo Van Der Garde, to cruise to victory.  Although crossing the line with just 3 seconds remaining and then setting the car’s fastest lap of the race on the very last tour must have eroded the team manager’s finger nails somewhat!

Behind, the SMP racing BR01 of Stefano Coletti, Julian Leal Covelli and Andreas Wirth came home second whilst a stunning late stint by Olivier Lombard lifted he, Vincent Capillaire and Jonathan Coleman onto the final step of the podium.  Meanwhile Alex Brundle, Mike Guasch and Christian England claimed top spot for United Autosports in the Ligier dominated LMP3 category.

JMW

In GT, disqualification for the JMW squad robbed them of a home victory, where instead the Aston Martin of Andrew Howard, Darren Turner and Alex MacDowall claimed top spot.  A late push from GT pole man Richie Stanaway almost made it an Aston 1-2 but for a debatable last lap move on the AT Racing Ferrari; the New Zealander crossing the line first but subsequently relegated 1 position at the discretion of the stewards.

WEC

WhatADifferenceadaymakes

Fans had packed into Silverstone on Sunday, basking in conditions that could not have been more different to that of the previous morning.  And several coffees, a quick walk around the underwhelming paddock and a lap of the circuit later we were finally back at Luffield, eagerly anticipating the start; a build up to the race disappointingly ruined by an amateurish warm up act on the PA in preference to Radio Le Mans.  The mind boggles!

In tricky conditions, Audi had stunned onlookers by beating  Porsche to pole position and it was the #7 R18 in the hands of Andre Lotterer who lead the opening laps of the race.  However its was a lead that would last just 25 minutes as Mark Webber in the #1 Porsche was a man on a mission, going on to build a commanding lead before handing over the reigns to Brendon Hartley.

WorldChamps

But, just as Porsche looked like they were going to walk away with it, the young New Zealander made an error of judgement passing the Gulf GTE AM 911 of Michael Wainwright.  And just like that their race was over, thankfully both drivers escaping injury after what was a pretty scary collision; the LMP1 regulations appearing to do their job as the #1 Porsche refused to flip.

YOUTUBE CLIP

Meanwhile the #8 Audi had also hit trouble after the first round of pit-stops.  Oliver Jarvis had put in a great first stint, managing to pass the sister car during the stops but dropping back with hybrid issues at around a quarter distance; the same issue that would cause a recently installed Lucas Di Grassi to park the troublesome machine out on track.  A full course caution was required to remove both of the stricken German machines.

This left the #7 Audi and the #2 Porsche to battle it out for victory with Benoit Treluyer in the R18 managing to sneak past Marc Lieb as the track returned to green after the aforementioned incidents.  Both cars would later endure spins, whilst a safety car period for debris would bring the #6 Toyota in the reckoning;  the 2014 champions however, whilst showing glimpses of pace, were not able to string consistently quick laps together and would never seriously challenge the top step of the podium.

With just a quarter of the race to go there was still little to choose between the front running cars.  Whilst the Audi held a slim lead , attention turned to fuel consumption and whether Porsche could make it to the flag with 1 less stop.  As it happened both the Porsche and Audi required a ‘Splash and Dash’ and whilst Jani was expected to close in on Fassler during the final stint, the Audi was never really troubled.  It had been a great drive by the #7 Audi which reminded me very much of their mighty performances against the super fast Peugeot not so long ago.  Such a shame therefore that they were excluded for an over-worn skid block.  Rules are rules however.

Winners_Stowe

Elsewhere Bruno Senna, Ricardo Gonzalez and Filipe Albuquerque put in a great performance in the RGR Ligier to defeat the similar Sebring and Daytona winning ESM machine and claim LMP2 honours with 5th position overall.

Meanwhile AF Corse Ferraris dominated the GT ranks where the PRO machines will be lucky to escape a balance of performance adjustment for Spa; the #71 of Sam Bird and Davide Rigon leading from start to finish whilst the #51 of Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado ovecame starting from the very back of the grid and a 3 minute stop and go penalty to claim 2nd!  Further back the 458 of Francois Perrodo, Emmanuel Collard and Rui Aguas topped the AM machines.

GTWinners

GALLERY

WEEKEND THOUGHTS

It would be fair to say that whilst I thoroughly enjoyed both days of competition, I much preferred the ELMS action at last year’s event.  Whilst I appreciate it would be difficult to beat the epic finale to the 2015 opening round, I definitely had a feeling that the Prototype, GT balance has stepped too far in the direction of the former.  In my view GT cars are a vital part of any endurance race and 9 from 44 is too low a ratio for me.

The WEC on the other hand felt like a massive step forward.  Aside from 3 relatively closely matched LMP1 manufacturer teams, we also saw a revitalised Rebellion on the podium and what must be the best quality LMP2 line-up I have ever witnessed.  Throw in the Ford to the GTE PRO ranks and we have a phenomenal formula for success.  The only thing missing is a works Corvette.

Other notable points from the weekend ….

POSITIVES
  • £40 for a weekend pass is incredible value for World level Motorsport.  It costs near £100 to watch Wales Rally GB with zero facilities!
  • Showsec security are a breath of fresh air in comparison to the G4S of old.
  • The array of talent in all 4 classes of the WEC in unbelievable.  When you consider the likes of Bruno Senna, Roberto Mehri, Will Stevens and Nic Lappierre feature the second class of competition you know that the FIA and ACO are doing something right.
  • The straight line pace of Toyota bodes well for a 3 way fight at Le Mans, lets face it, the one event that matters in the endurance racing season.
  • Audi managing to hold their own against their World Champion counterparts.
  • The ability to walk the entire Silverstone circuit, inside and out.
NEGATIVES
  • £4 for a can of Guiness?  Are you having a laugh?  I can get 4 cans from Tesco for the same price!
  • The disappointing engine note of the new turbo engined Ferrari 488!
  • Disqualification of the winning car several hours after the podium.
  • The awful warm up act on the PA system and the lack of Radio Le Mans pre race.
  • The removal of the GTC class from the ELMS ranks.
  • The lack of varierty in LMP3.
  • The stone-age Silverstone ticket ordering system which still doesn’t allow race tickets to be sent to a different address to where the card is registered!
  • A lot of hanging around on Sunday morning.  Is there really no room for more support races?

However, the positives far outweigh the negatives.  Bring on the big one in June.  It could be a genuine three way battle at the front …

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

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)

Greaves head Gibson 1-2 at Silverstone

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.

LMP2

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.

GTE

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

GTE

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.

LMP3

LMP3V2

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.

GTC

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.

GTC

GALLERY

TALKING POINT

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!

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)

Maiden Win on home soil for M-Sport Bentley

The #7 M-Sport Bentley of Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane claimed a sensational debut win at Silverstone; round 2 of the Blancpain Endurance Series.  This being the first time in 84 years that the ‘Works’ Bentley Motorsport team had raced in the UK.

IMG_0732AB_LR

Although having only arrived back in the UK hours earlier I was determined to make it to Silverstone to see the ‘Works’ Bentley’s take on some of Europe’s best GT teams and drivers.  A prospect made even more attractive by the 1 hour qualifying session scheduled for the morning of the race.

Following Saturday’s downpours and more overnight rain, a damp track faced the competitors as the clock struck 9am.  With the qualifying hour being split into 3 fifteen minute blocks, it looked like the final of these sessions would yield the pole time with the track becoming dryer and dryer.

With this in mind there was always the potential for a mixed up grid but I can’t imagine the #93 Pro GT by Almeras Porsche would have been anyone’s tip for pole.  Although aided by a slightly curtailed session due to a red flag, Franck Perera still put in a stunning lap of 2:00.912 to claim the top spot by 0.151 seconds.  The #98 ART McLaren in the hands of Alvaro Parente would take second spot with great laps from Alex Buncombe in the RJN Nissan and Steven Kane in the #7 Bentley being rewarded with a starting position on row 2.

Qualifying pics

IMG_0054AB_LR_B&W IMG_0098AB_LR IMG_0011AB_LR IMG_0161A_LR

Caffeine was definitely required as the cars returned to their garages followed by a much needed sit down to watch the Lamborghini Super Trofeo race at Becketts.  After many years of visiting Silverstone it still amazes me how much speed the Pro drivers manage to carry through this section of track.

The lunch time pit walk was stress-free as very few spectators seem to be attracted to watch the Blancpain GT races.  I still can’t understand why people want to pay much more to watch touring cars drive each other off the track when you can come and watch Europe’s elite GT drivers battle it out fairly (generally anyway) in a proper tactical endurance race!  Having never been a massive fan of the new Wing complex it was also refreshing to be back in the ‘National’ Pit lane.

IMG_0215_LR

40+ GT cars forming up to take the rolling start at 2.55pm was an awesome sight.  Inevitably as the Bronze graded driver, Eric Dermont, was starting the #93 Porsche it wasn’t long before the Pro GT By Almeras entry dropped back down the field.  In fact Alvaro Parente in the #98 ART Grand Prix McLaren had taken the lead before the cars had even made it through Copse corner with the #7 Bentley of Guy Smith and the #99 McLaren of Kevin Estre following suit.

And by the end of the first lap my prediction of a McLaren victory looked very likely as Parente had built up a healthy lead.  However 2003 Le Mans winner Smith was able to peg the gap at roughly 3 seconds with Estre close behind in the Sister McLaren.

Traffic however caused issues for the Bentley and the more nimble McLaren in the hands of Estre was able to sneak by to make it an ART Grand Prix one two.  Things would soon get worse for the lead Bentley as Smith was given a drive-through penalty for overtaking under yellow flags.  To all intents and purposes it looked like the infamous British Marque’s challenge was over.

With the first hour up, the pit stops started to take place with Andy Meyrick taking over the #7, Gregoire Demoustier the #98 and Kevin Korjus climbing aboard the #99.  For some reason the #98 seemed to fall off the pace and was quickly swallowed up by the sister #99 car of Korjus.

IMG_0748A_LR

Meanwhile Meyrick had the bit between his teeth and was soon back up to third.  And with a succession of qualifying like laps it wasn’t long before he had caught and passed the struggling #98 McLaren.

In Pro-AM, British GT regular, Joe Osborne was putting in a great drive to not only lead the class but to also lead the race as the MP Motorsport Aston chose to stay out longer to minimise Bronze driver Mark Poole’s time in the car.  It looked like a great tactic with several faster drivers due to take over the other AM cars for the final stint.   Unfortunately a safety car period shortly after Poole had taken over blew their tactics right out of the water with their healthy lead being completely wiped out.

Up front however the safety car had played into Bentley’s hands as the 16 second lead between the top two had been dramatically shortened.  With the track back to green flag conditions the race was most definitely back on.  Steven Kane, now in the #7, seemed to have the pace to catch former Formula 2 champ and Williams test driver, Andy Soucek in the #99 McLaren.  And to the delight of the home crowd Kane managed to take the lead with a move down the inside at copse with only twenty minutes of the race remaining.

With the #98 McLaren continuing to struggle in the hands of Alexandre Premat, the battle for the final step on the Pro podium was an all Audi affair.  Gregory Guilvert in the #26 Audi was driving the wheels off the Sainteloc machine but the experience of Laurens Vanthoor in the #1 WRT Audi finally paid off as he was able to snatch third place on the very last lap.

IMG_0771A_LR IMG_0349A_LR_B&W

As anticipated Poole was not able to maintain the Pro-AM lead; however he did manage to bring the MP Motorsport Aston home in a very respectable second place behind the very quick RJN Nissan of Alex Buncombe and the GT Academy boys.

IMG_0423AB_LR

The Roal Motorsport BMW Z4 was just able to hold onto third in class with the very rapid Nicholas Armindo’s similar machine less than a second further back as the chequered flag was dropped.

IMG_0561ABC_LR

Further-back, the Gentleman trophy honours went the way of Alexander Mattschull and Frank Schmickler in the aptly numbered 458 GT Corse By Rinaldi Ferrari.

IMG_0507A_LR

The similar machine of AF Corse crew, Filipe Barreiros, Peter Mann and Francisco Guedes claimed second in class, with the #22 Team Parker Racing Audi R8 of Ian Loggie, Chris Jones and Julian Westwood rounding out the podium.

The relatively small crowd gave the ‘Bentley Boys’ a well deserved cheer as they took to the podium.  It was great to see an all British team and crew win a major International motor race on home soil.  I for one genuinely can’t remember seeing this happen before; The 2010 Nissan GT-R Tourist Trophy Victory for Jamie Campbell-Walter and Warren Hughes only being awarded after a respective exclusion and penalty for the two cars that finished ahead of it on the road.

Although a little fortunate with the safety car, it really was a great drive from the all British Bentley crew.  Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane put in some phenomenal lap times to drag themselves back into contention and take what, at one point, seemed an unlikely victory.

A few more pics from the race

IMG_0306A_LR IMG_0363ABC_LR IMG_0579AB_LR_B&W IMG_0656AB_LR

Full Results are available on the Blancpain Website – Link

Some of the drivers on display last weekend will be taking part in my next racing fix; The 24 hours of Le Mans; THE major highlight in my Motorsport year.  But before then it is back to rallying with the Dukeries Rally in nearby Robin Hood Country.

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.

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 ….