Tag Archives: Simon Dolan

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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 ….