Ed Fahey

Adventures – Saloon,Sportscar/GT racing

Posts Tagged ‘Le Mans’

Le Mans 2010 – Part 3 – The Race

Posted by Ed Fahey on July 5, 2010

Audi R8 Safety Car - 1 of 3 for the race

After the buildup and support races its time for the big one – The 78th running of the Le Mans 24 hour race. I am standing in the pitlane just before the cars are brought out onto the grid and you can almost physically feel the tension mounting. Drivers, celebrities, team personnel and fans all flooding the pitlane, something you would never get in F1.

Nick Mason with David Brabham and Marino Franchitti

It felt like I was in the old pre 1991 pits with the sheer amount of people wandering about, the walls of people parting, red sea like as the next car was pushed out towards the grid, with plenty of whistle blowing marshals to move people out of the way. The fact some of them had to be pushed throught a 3 or 4 point turn to get onto the grid all added to the amusement of it all. Again a big thanks to Kangaroo TV as Id won a competiton they had organsied to win some pit/paddock passes, without these Id not have got as close. Like the practice/qualifying days previously there was some frantic work going on in some garages, while in others, mainly Audi/Peugeot they were ready and waiting for the task ahead, for them it was going to be a formality – or would it?

In the rush

In the midst of the pits though, the Rolex clock was ticking down the hours towards 15.00 local time and the start, even at 13.00, 2 hours before the start it was busy,in any other race the rush doesnt start until 40mins before the start, and your asked to leave a mere 5 minutes before the start! It was an unusual experiance to feel someone squeezing past you, to turn and find it was a driver or team principal desperatley trying to get to the grid, you just wouldnt see this in F1, its too commericalised! I didnt bother trying to force my way onto the grid as it seemed even busier than the pitlane, a reminder of the Tokyo Subway in rush hour. Inbetween the grid girls, the Patrouille de France flying over and various  people who appeared to be exceptionally wealthy wandering about, at times you forgot a race would be starting soon!

Audi R15 Plus - ready to go

By mingling in the pit/paddock area though, myself and my companion for the adventure – Stephen – had missed the chance to view the race from the terraces opposite the start/finish straight as people had been sat here since 8am. We decided to walk to the beginning of the ‘arena’ side of the circuit – The Porsche curves, and find ourselves landed in a slice of Denmark, evident by the lineup of Danish registered coaches and then several hundred Danes wearing the hats of their heroes – Tom Kristensen or Jan Magnussen. Denmark currently has no F1 drivers so this is the next best thing! Following the action on the Kangaroo TV, you could see the cars being started to head off on the formation lap, and as they went out onto the Mulsanne,you hear them in the distance as they got closer. Despite the loud Danes, a group of loud French fans are close by also, making as much noise as possible for the Pole sitting #3 Peugeot as it glides by, then an even louder roar from behind us as the #7 Audi, which will be driven by Kristensen later, then another cheer for the #63 Corvette, with Jan Magnussen at the wheel, its rare to see such passion in motorsport outside of rallying or F1, its like being at a football game when the teams run on before the start.

Just after 15.00 and still sat amongst the dedicated Danes  the race has begun. Immediatley the 4 Peugeot 908’s LMP1’s shoot off into the distance, pursued by the 3 Audi R15 LMP1’s but already they are a reasonable distance ahead of the Lola Aston Martins and the Oreca-AIM,

Race Start - Porsches at the Porsche Curves

the leading petrol LMP1 cars, so obviously the rule changes to try and equalise the petrol/diesel LMP1 cars at the start of 2010 have not worked. Also noticeable is how quickly the HPD/Acura ARX-01’s are ahead in LMP2 and that several GT2 cars are already ahead of GT1 cars – but then again GT2’s these days are mostly faster than GT1’s !  Like my visit to Silverstone for the Le Mans Series race in 2009, it is not long before the diesels are already lapping the slower GT2 cars,  and just 1 lap in, a car has already ground to a halt on the Mulsanne, the Autocon LMP2 Lola. Within 3 more laps the GT2 Jaguar XKR is lost and the first high profile retirement as the #5 LMP1 Beechdean-Mansell Ginetta-Zytek with Nigel Mansell at the wheel suffers a dramatic blowout near Indianapolis and gets pitched into the barriers as a result, meaning the 3 Audi R8 Safety Cars make their first appearence of the race, the track being so long – 8.5 miles / 13.6 km that 1 Safety Car cannot neutralise the race quickly enough.

Dusk on the start/finish straight

We slowly make our way back to the main start/finish straight area heading to the Esses and Tertre Rouge and then use the paddock passes to have a slow and unrushed evening meal in the paddock restaurant, beating the queues of the main restaurants/bars and being able to sit down and observe the paddock activity. It feels odd seeing Lord Drayson with his kids wandering about or a trio of JLOC mechanics sit cross-legged on the ground eating their noodles, not to mention the highly relaxed Audi mechanics calmly watching the race unfold, all as a dramatic sunset was visible.

The atmosphere seemed different, calmer, as now the initial excitement of the start and first few laps was over, we were settling down now to the night section, approx 1/4 through the race. Already 1 Peugeot has fallen levelling it to 3 Peugeots vs 3 Audis for the overall lead, the only decent scrap taking place ontrack is the GT2 lead battle between the Risi Ferrari 430 and the Corvette Racing C6R ZR1.

007 Lola-Aston Martin leaves the pits to rejoin at dusk

As the sun sets, we go to a bar that overlooks the pit entrance, despite looking like an exclusive VIP bar, its a simple case of elbowing your way to the front and ignoring ignorant Germans who try and claim where they are is ‘private’. Little do they know that the Irish are not renowned as a nation that takes shit of any kind. Anyway, they had not put their beach towels down or similar down on the chairs so, a disregard for their claims their area is ‘private’ and you are rewarded with a fine view of the start finish straight and pit exit, down into the the Dunlop chicane as the cars blast past and exit the pits, once again its the Corvettes that win in the noise stakes here, an ‘explosion’ of V8 as they turn off their speed limiters and give it full throttle exiting the pits, with the Aston Martin V12’s in the Lola LMP1 and DBR9 a close second. As the sun sets, the stands empty slightly, as people drift away from the race for a while, but Steve and I are only getting started and want to get really close so off to Les Hunaudieres or The Mulsanne Straight.

Mulsanne Chicane in the early hours of Sunday

The Le Mans circuit or Circuit de la Sarthe to give it its official name is a mixture of public roads and purpose built circuit, the high speed bits are public road, so when the sat nav tries to send you down these very roads its a case of resorting to map based methods and using a sense of direction. Spectating along the straight is banned and you frequently hear stories of those who risk hiking thorugh pitch black fields, trespassing through gardens and usually ending with a confrontation with the Gendarmes (the no messing arm of the French police) for the thrill of just a few minutes next to the barrier with the cars screaming past. But thanks to the Club Arnage guide a little gem of a place is our destination – Hotel Arbor, which is on the side of the road from Le Mans to Mulsanne – aka Mulsanne straight, so today we must find it using back roads and enter through the back gate. After a little bit of offtrack excursion, a stern but polite female Gendarme directs us to where we need to go and for me the highlight of the 24 hours, a true Nirvana moment, for we are now less than 10 ft away from where the cars are going flat out on the Mulsanne, all for the pricely sum of €10, far better value than a tribune (grandstand seat).

The video below (filmed by me for a change) gives an insight into the raw experiance this was. Not being an official spectating area, there is no PA system, or big screen its just you and the cars. Its one of the few places on the track where the cars can be heard going totally flat out in 5th/6th gear, then dropping down to 2nd/3rd for the chicane, then hard on the power again. You dont hear them, you can feel them, proven when Im sat in the car and there are vibrations in the footwell. We stayed here for at least 3 hours, and somehow I managed to sleep for a tad, if your tired enough you will sleep anywhere….

After this it was off to the Mulsanne corner enclosure just as the sun was beginning to rise, but with a big screen and Radio Le Mans to keep you going it didnt feel as if the race had lasted for 13 hours already. This section of the track was surprising as I didnt think the public enclosure would be as big as it was, so not only could you watch at the corner, but a decent distance uptrack too towards Indianapolis so you could watch the cars

Mulsanne corner in the early hours

accelerating hard, the darkness added to it with glowing brake disks leading into the corner then glowing exhausts visible as they vanished into the night. This being a poor area for clear photos, I spent 10mins getting 1/2 decent shots, then sat down and just tried to do as little as possible, conserving energy and just relaxing, if thats possible at a sportscar event!

The easiest way to relax is to listen to Radio Le Mans, as good as John Hindhaugh and Paul Trusswell are, I think the laid back style of Jim Roller and Charles Dressing are easier to listen to when your half asleep, updating and just talking about the race as it unfolds. The rate of attrition this year is high and already a large number of cars are out, but its not over until 15.00 later which being 10 hours away seems like a lifetime right now. To think that a F1 race lasts no more than 90 minutes and the amount of retirements then, really shows how much of a test Le Mans is on a car, with similar speeds being done also.

Sunrise

It seems only the hardcore spectators are left now, the hoards of people about when the race started are either in their tents asleep or at the numerous bars and restaurants, but plenty of evidence is everywhere of the previous hours actitivites with piles of discarded beercans and bottles about. For some people it seems Le Mans is an excuse to drink as much as possible, then spend the rest of it comatose, but not for me and plenty others it would seem. It feels like Im sat in the crowd at a tennis match, everyone sat in a row, in silence, the sound of the cars passing is the only thing keeping us awake, but as soon as the sun rises you can feel a little strength return, so its time to consume the only can of red bull I intend having, quickly followed by a full bottle of mineral water, to balance out red bulls dehydrating effect and it works as I can feel the energy return over the next 90mins. Being summer its bright by 6am so time to leave the Mulsanne and head back to the arena to follow what is probably the hardest part of the race for everyone, the morning after the night before.

Up until this point its has been a balanced Peugeot vs Audi battle- but at 7am, just as people are beginning to wake up, they get a massive alarm clock call when the #2 Peugeot coasts into Tetre Rouge, flames pouring out of 1 side. This car has led the majority of the race, with a comfortable gap to second place, yet its now all over and its down to 2 Peugeots vs 3 Audis…

7am - the beginning of the end for Peugeot

After a relatively bland night and total domination in practice and qualifying by Peugeot, now it seems a second win in a row could slip from their grasp,and with 8 hours still to go, this race will be anything but dull, as the Audis still circulate. The radio comes alive as their pit reporter witness the crew of #2 behind their garage, clearly despondent, but still they have #1 and the semi works Oreca #4 cars in it and #1 is 3rd as Audi #9 has now inheritied the lead. Over the last 8 hours it becomes a truly unpredictable race as the #1 Peugeot expires, but not before eliminating the GT2 leading #64 Corvette in a controversial overtake, in an attempt to catch the now leading #9 Audi. Reports of a Peugeot pit full of men in tears seemed unexaggerated and it was left to the #4 Oreca Peugeot to take Peugeot honours. but then, just when you thought things had settled, the #4 Peugeot dies in the same circumstances as #1 and #2, leaving the entire team inconsolable, none more than Oreca team boss Hugues de Chaunac who is totally traumatised . By this stage we are in the enclosure beside the start/finish straight, half asleep but in a much better state than some people, the Dutch have perfected the ancient art of sleeping standing up it would seem.

The end - Audi victory

And so as the race concludes its a clear 1-2-3 for Audi, Peugeot just pushed too hard and paid the price on all 4 cars, 1 suffering suspension/chassis damage, most likely due to being thrown over the kerbs and the other 3 all suffering similar engine failures, so it was left to Audi for a clear 1-2-3 finish and another diesel domination. The best placed petrol powered car was the Oreca-AIM LMP1 car and first LMP2 was next, a fantastic 5th overall for the Strakka Racing HPD ARX-01C, beating the highly favoured identical Highcroft Racing HPD ARX-01C. GT2 beats GT1 overall,for only the second time,as the Felbermayr Porsche 997 comes home in 11th to win GT2, 7 laps ahead of the GT1 class winning Larbre Saleen S7R – a decade after the S7R had first raced and finally records a class win at Le Mans. The GT2 Porsche took full advantage of the Risi-Ferrari/Corvette retirements, in what was the best door to door racing of the 24H. All 3 Matech Ford GT’s also fall, benefitting the Saleen

In a true race of attrition there were only 27 classified finishers out of 55 starters – but the distance record, set in 1971 was finally beaten with the winning car completing 397 laps, covering over 5410 km (3362 miles), the second/third placed Audis also breaking the record.

The 1971 record was 397 laps and 5,335.313 km (3,315.210 mi) over the chicaneless 13.469 km (8.369 mi) configuration, while the current configuration (ran since 2007) is 13.629 km (8.469 mi)).

So – despite closely following it since 1996, it was my first ever Le Mans and what an experiance, a test for everyone, not just the cars. Ill be doing my utmost to return in 2011!

Ed Fahey – July 2010

For Saturday race photos click here

For Sunday race photos click here

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Le Mans 24 hour race 2010 – Part 2 – Group C Racing

Posted by Ed Fahey on June 26, 2010

Race Start

Kids these days are reared with diesel LMP cars as their heroes, I was reared with Group C cars as mine. I make no effort to hide my love or enthusiasm for them, my mind is still vividly filled with childhood memories of them, and my shelves are groaning under the weight of models and books about them!

After seeing the Group C Racing series race as part of the Silverstone Classic for the last two years, I was happy to hear that they would be supporting the Le Mans 24 hour race in 2010,with a very promising grid, making my first Le Mans even more memorable, so here is a review of the 2 sessions, qualifying and race.

Qualifying in the rain

A massive downpour (the only heavy rain of the Le Mans week thankfully) was the weather that the mostly gentleman drivers had to face, so for a while there were only a handful of cars circulating, mainly to get used to the track as some of the drivers had yet to sample it, others were driving their cars for the first time ever and at Le Mans to boot.

Still though the cars were fast, making massive rooster tails and with wet weather tyres fitted you could see the dry lines appearing as the cars went around. From my dry position in the Dunlop tribune, just before the famous bridge you could see who was committed and who was finding or pushing the limits, proven by several hairy braking moments for the chicane, or some cars going into the gravel. It was also interesting to see how well the cars could put the power down as back then it was a choice of either small – medium capacity turbo or large capacity normally aspirated engines, although with turbo technology not as advanced back then as it is now the N/A cars such as the Jaguars and Spice Chevrolets were having less difficulty than the turbo Nissans or Mercedes in getting the power down

Nissan R90CK - Le Mans 1990

So enough about the conditions, what about the cars? Id experianced the Porsches, Jaguars and Tigas at the Silverstone classic, the noise of the 7 litre N/A V12 fitted to the  Jaguar XJR-9’s still sends shivers down the spine along with the glorious 5 litre twin turbo V8 of the Sauber C11. Mixed into this was the raw unsilenced Chevy V8 in the Spice SE89C and the detuned 80’s F1 sounds of the DFV Cosworth equipped Spices and a much rarer car with the Swiss built Cheetah C2. Also a Kremer built 962C and a Dauer 962 – precursor to the ‘road version’ that won Le Mans in 1994.

One car I enjoyed seeing in action was the #17 Nissan R90CK,driven today by Kent Abrahamson, a car which during the 1990 Le Mans 24H race set a record speed of 227mph with the chicanes in place during qualifying, the 1st year of them being so, a record which I understand still stands to this day. Driven at the time by a then young British driver named Mark Blundell, helped by qualifying boost, close to 1100bhp was available from the twin turbo 3.5 litre V8 for a pole time of 3.27 – a mindblowing time back then, the fastest petrol LMP1’s grid time this year was 3.28 – shows how fast modern LMP1 petrol cars are and this is with a slightly longer lap. A video of the Nissans record lap can be seen here .  In the 1990 race the car failed to finish after a clash with a backmarker. Not sure if the car pictured is THE car from the video/lap, but it looked identical.

Mercedes C11 - Le Mans 1991

Another car I liked was the Mercedes C11,owned and driven by Bob Berridge, the car seen in these photos was the development car, it never raced back in the day but did plenty of testing mileage, including some by an at the time young German F3 driver named Michael Schumacher… A development of the Sauber C9, but with the same 5 litre twin turbo V8 engine, which makes arguably the greatest noise ever heard at any race circuit – click here (and turn the volume to 12, never mind 11). The car only raced at Le Mans in 1991 and none of them finished, but the preceding C9 won in 1989 and recorded the fastest overall speed on the Mulsanne straight ever at 247 mph, pre-chicanes days naturally. To compare to the Nissans potential this cars fastest qualifying lap in 1991 was 3.31 – which is still an impressive time. To gauge a good time at Le Mans, anything in the 3 minute bracket is fast!

In qualifying for the Group C race, it was a Silk Cut Jaguar 1-2-3 with the XJR-9 of Justin Law on Pole, the similar XJR-8 of Alex Buncombe alongside, the twin turbo V6 XJR-11 of Gary Pearson 3rd and Elliot Kinch 4th in his Chevy V8 powered Spice SE89C 4th, his time set before the deluge began. The Jaguar XJR-11 is special to me as it was the first Group C car I ever saw with my own eyes – in 1989! Alongside Ayrton Sennas McLaren MP4/4 to boot!

Only decent scrap of the race - XJR-16 vs R90CK

Onto the race, on a cool grey morning, the Jaguars immediatley took a commanding lead with  the C11 spinning at the start, but very quickly the race went in a downhill direction, reliability problems and cars constantly getting punctures (a problem which affected the main Le Mans race also) not to mention some drivers still struggling with the track and conditions, with a few cars going into the gravel and others hitting the barriers, the Nissan R90CK among them sadly. A true race of attrition perhaps, but in the end only 3 cars finished on the lead lap after a 45min race with 7 more cars a lap down. All but 1 car managed to do at least 2 laps, with Alex Buncombe into the gravel on lap 1. An indication of how fast some of the cars remain these days was the fastest lap of the race, set by Berridge in the C11 with 3.44, during Le Mans 1991 the cars fastest lap was a 3.35, not bad, a 20 year old car and a non professional driver, but sadly the field was far too spread out for any decent scraps to take place, the cars going around singularly or in 2’s or 3’s. From my position on the inside of the Esses and Tete Rouge, the cars were still fast but the field was just too uneven. Whether it was the level that the cars have been detuned, the drivers skill or just that some drivers were happy to just drive and not race, probably all of these factors! For the record Justin Law took his XJR-9 to victory, followed by Gareth Evans in the Nissan R88C second and Gary Pearson in the XJR-11 thord. Despite the dull race (a little like the races back in the day Im told) they are all to be saluted for bringing the cars back out onto the track to which they are most associated, as many less knowledgeable people still refer to them as ‘Le Mans Cars’. Long may it continue!

Click here for Group C qualifying photos

Click here for Group C race photos

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Le Mans 24 hour race 2010 – Part 1 – Buildup

Posted by Ed Fahey on June 18, 2010

24 hours, day,night and day again

This is it, the holy grail and mecca of sportscar racing, the longest day, night and day of the year. After following it on tv, magazines and online for many years, 2010 would be the year that I finally attend the worlds greatest race – The Le Mans 24 Hour Race – albeit as a spectator rather than media, but I wouldnt let this affect my enjoyment too much and in the end it didnt.

I was well aware of the track and layout from TV and various computer game simulations but it still does nothing for the track, be it be the drop at the Esses or the sheer speed that some cars take Tetre Rouge at, not to mention the sheer size of the crowd that attended, well over 250,000 people, which compared massively with the smaller crowds to be seen at other sportscar events, but being that Le Mans is almost a festival, of course more people will come and being a week long event stay for a while too, in the massive campsites, but for me a hotel looked more inviting, especially with the poor weather in the week leading up to the race.

In the museum, not going anywhere fast

Arriving for the first day of track action on the Wednesday preceding the race and what better way to start than the circuits museum, full of interesting cars and also some notable Le Mans winners and participants – The 70’s Porsche 917 (restored for 2010),Matra 670C,Renault Alpine A442, and Porsche 935,onto the 80’s with the Rondeau M379, Porsche 956, Courage C28 and Jaguar XJR9, through the 90’s with such cars as the Mazda 787B,Toyota 94C-V,Peugeot 905/905 Evo,Dauer Porsche 962 and Porsche 911 GT1-98, then onto the last decade – Bentley Speed 8,Pescarolo-Courage C60 and Audi R15 TDi, it was great to see them all, but Im not a fan of seeing them stationary in museums, Id rather see them ontrack, but given the 917 has been recently restored theres hope for them all yet.

Onto the 1st practice session,on the Wednesday preceding the race, which lasted 4 hours, preceded by a pitwalk. Id rented a Kangaroo TV before the event, not expecting to win the 2 free pit passes that were on offer, well luck was on my side for a change and I won the pit passes,big thumbs up to Kangaroo TV, so into the pitwalk to get closer to the cars and drivers. Im not one normally for saying much about atmosphere, but here you could feel it, the drivers looking edgy, some stood looking around, others repeatedly practiced driver changes, trying

Corvette racing drivers and pitcrew about to practice driver changes

to save even a second here or there, the mechanics were double checking everything or practicing tyre changes, this is a dangerous track, and the last thing you want is mechanical failure, yet the mechanics seemed calm as it was only practice, qualifying would follow later that evening in the dark. Onto the first practice session and I watched from the Dunlop chicane, just before the famous bridge, then onto the Esses on the outside leading to Tetre Rouge then Tetre Rouge itself. For qualifying I stuck to the inside of the Esses, quite a place to watch the cars at night.

This was the first time Id see full works diesel LMP1 entries from Audi and Peugeot run, the most impressive thing about them was the acceleration from the massive amounts of torque they have onboard and the speed – but that was it, the fact they are a few seconds a lap faster than the petrol LMP1 cars and stupidly quiet made them dull to watch, they might aswell have been in their own class. Was also the first time for me to see cars from the American Le Mans Series, mainly the highly sucessful Acura/HPD ARX01c LMP2, run by Highcroft Racing and Strakka Racing and the GT2 class Corvette C6R’s, with 5.5L V8’s instead of the GT1’s 7 L V8, but still sounding amazing with the devilish thunder soundtrack that is a big V8! Another new car Id not seen before was the BMW M3 GT2, one of the 2 cars entered today was the well publicised ‘art car‘ and the last new car for me being the Rocketsports Jaguar XKR GT2.

BMW M3 GT2 - Art Car

Onto the second night qualifying session on Wednesday evening, I went right to end of the track, the Ford chicane which leads onto the Start/Finish straight, the chicane breaking up another flat out straight and also being the pitlane entrance, so it was interesting to see cars entering the complex slowly or quickly, trying to leave enough space ahead for a fast lap, still despite being one of the slowest parts of the track, people still got it wrong.

For the final qualifying section on Thursday,it was off into the forest at the Indianapolis-Arnage section, braking down from the longest straight into a 90 degree left, then a quick burst of throttle into a 90 degree right then off again into the forest. You literally see the cars for 15 seconds before they disappear again, complete with glowing brake disks and exhausts, just an amazing experiance. Also there was no circuit PA system in this section so instead of the French commentary all you could hear were the cars coming and going in the distance, unreal! The best sounding cars were any of the Corvette C6R’s; The GT1 Luc Alphand Aventures cars or the GT2 Corvette Racing works entries, the Gulf LolaAston Martin LMP1’s,the Oreca-AIM LMP1,The GT1 Matech/MarcVDS Ford GT’s the GT1 Aston DBR9 and the HPD cars including the RML run LMP2 Lola coupe with its HPD engine, whereas the OAK Racing Pescarolo-Judd LMP2 car was painful on the ears, like a drill! If the noise was too much, the excellent Radio Le Mans blocked out the noises with some great commentary and insights into everything.

Racing Box Lola-Judd LMP2 car at Indianapolis

An extra challenge for me at this event was that I didnt manage to get photo accreditation for a media pass, so it was looking for gaps in or over fences, not to mention shooting through the fence also, so with the right settings it was possible and rewarding and in many cases the photos were at a better angle due to being elevated slightly.

So much to see so thats it for Part 1, still to come the Group C racing that supported the race, not to mention the race itself!

Ed Fahey – June 2010

For more photos of the Le Mans Museum click here

For more photos of Wednesdays track action click here

For more photos of Thursdays track action click here

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First time for everything – Le Mans Series 1000km of Silverstone

Posted by Ed Fahey on May 18, 2010

First Time for Everything – originally published on Sportscarpros.com Originally written in September 2009, some of it is now quite historic as numerous changes have happened with class structure etc since this was written.

Race Start

I’ve been a sportscar fan since childhood, when Rothmans Porsche 956/962s and Martini 935s occupied my mind as much as The A-Team and Knight Rider. Into my teenage years, I aspired to owning a McLaren F1 GTR in Gulf or Harrod’s colours, but somehow never saw the attraction of the Mercedes CLK-GTR. Moving on, nowadays I find myself covering Time Attack and drifting events for magazines and websites, but still never forgetting my first love – sportscars. Covering those events led me to cross the path of the Rt Hon Sir John of Brooks and receive the invite to become a contributor for Sportscarpros. Having already covered the Silverstone Classic for SCP, it was time to get some experience of a contemporary series – the Le Mans Series at Silverstone.

Any plans to catch the last of the Friday practice sessions were ruined by the M1 motorway being jammed, so I arrived just as the cars were returning to the pits, before meeting up with John for a quick briefing – I had no orders, I was just told to enjoy myself. So below is the weekend as I saw it.

Saturday was more about the support series, Formula Le Mans, Radicals and CER – Classic Endurance Racing. Here was a chance to see some of my childhood icons. I had seen a pair of Porsche 935s race at the Phoenix Park in Dublin in 1989; both were plain and a little tired looking, but still managed to dominate a grid of racing 911s and 924/944s. The pair racing today looked immaculate, a throwback to the late ’70s and early ’80s, when these cars were the preferred choice of the front-running privateer teams of the time. The 936 was

Porsche 936

also a treat, despite being labelled by certain people in the pressroom as an impostor (seemingly it was the 1981 car in its 1980 livery, 1980 being the year I was born!) but I was happy to see it there no matter what its pedigree. The same could be said for the BMW M1s racing (a mixture of old Procar machines and genuine Group 5 M1s), but whatever they had done or claimed to have done in the past, I was happy to see them all. Onto the race, and after getting over the sight of the grid, which, despite looking huge in the pits, looked even bigger on track, with 44 cars battling it out. On track, and Paul Knapfield driving an ex-Mario Andretti Ferrari 712 immediately opened up a healthy lead, but it was not to last, as he was replaced by a variety of cars at the front, including Rob Hall’s Matra-Simca 670C, a car that I very quickly grew to love, for the looks alone, never mind the howling V12 soundtrack. Another highlight was Xavier Micheron’s Howmet TX, a quirky, gas-turbine-powered car, built before the global fuel crisis arose and made such cars impractical. Despite only running in the midfield, the helicopter-like sound of this car made it stand out immediately. Micheron was another DNF, but when he spun off, the marshals did not immediately run to the rear of the car to push him off, for obvious reasons. At the front it was Bobby Rahal who finished first, driving the Lola T290 that he drove ‘back in the day,’ a car that he now personally owns.

Starting Grid

Onto the main attraction, the Le Mans Series, and I had an ace up my sleeve in the form of my own brand-new Seat Leon hire car. The circuit’s access/ring roads were open, so a 20-minute hike carrying gear from Copse to Stowe was now reduced to a two-minute drive, in air-conditioned comfort, not to mention with the stereo conveying the excited Maccum commentating of John Hindhaugh on Radio Le Mans. A rather packed and busy gridwalk preceded the formation lap and start of the race. After scouting several locations around the track during practice and qualifying the previous day, I decided to head to Vale for the start of the 1000km race to get all the cars bunched up as they slowed for the chicane. The race speeds at the start were more akin to 30-minute sprint than 6-hour enduro, and within 10 minutes, the fastest LMP1 cars were already lapping the slower GT2 cars. Up front, two of the three Gulf Racing LolaAston Martins were slowly pulling away, with the #007 Stefan Mucke-driven car leading, although with the pole-sitting #10 Oreca-AIM never far away. The hard charger though was the #16 PescaroloJudd driven by ex-F1 pilot Jean-Christophe Boullion. After starting at the back of the grid, ‘JCB’ was slicing his way through the field and was halfway up the order within 15 minutes of the start. Time for a change of location, so I decided to head for the pits – on with the compulsory fireproof overalls. Just as I had them on and was about to leave the media centre, there was a commotion around the screens relaying the race as JCB took second place to cheers and applause, so I deferred heading for the pits for a few moments as he was now within sight of the lead #007 Aston. Then,

008 Aston

while lapping a GT2 car at Priory, the Mucke Aston ran wide to overtake the GT2 machine around the outside and JCB dived up the inside for the lead. If the reaction in the media centre was anything to go by, I’d have loved to have been in the Pescarolo garage at that moment. Not long after this move, the pole-sitting Oreca, driven by Olivier Panis, took second place.

Down in the pits, one crucial bit of advice given to me by JB was to watch for the pit marker being placed in the pitbox. This was the signal to the race officials, who observe and scrutinise each pitstop, that the car would be arriving in the pits soon and, in the photographer’s case, to get ready or get out of the way! When the first marker was put out, I decided just to observe what happened and see how close you could stand without hampering things, as the mechanics and pit crew have been known to get physical if you get in their way! In this case, it was the #78 GT2 Advanced Ferrari 430, in for the standard stop of refuel and tyres/driver change. The pits can either be quiet or a hub of activity – the latter mainly when the top runners came in, especially the 3rd-/4th-placed Astons, as nearly every photographer and cameraman

Nigel Mansell

scrambled to get there. I opted to stand at the front of the pit box, but not in any prone position, as the two cars made their stops. While all this was happening, the # 5 LMP1 Ginetta –Zytek driven by Nigel Mansell was sat in the garage having an extended pitstop to replace a broken wishbone, while disaster had struck the leading Pescarolo – a gearbox problem which ruined the outside chance they had of taking the championship overall, the #007 Lola-Aston being champion elect. After a few more pit stops, I moved on from the pits and at this point lost track of the race order, as my small earpiece radio was unable to receive AM signals, so no more Radio Le Mans, only snippets while moving between locations in the car. Perhaps it was a good thing to concentrate on photos and not worry about race positions, I was there to photograph the race after all, not write about it. For the record, after the pits I did Copse (both inside and out), the entrance to Priory, Stowe, the bridge on the Hangar straight, Maggots and Luffield. Those who know Silverstone will realise that that’s more or less the entire circuit covered, including the pits and Vale/Club corners at the start. Silverstone is not a photography-friendly circuit by any means.

In the end, officialdom decided the outcome of the race. The #10 Oreca appeared to have it in the bag until it was called into the pits by officials for a nose replacement, as a front louvre had broken. This appeared to give the #13 LMP1 Speedy Sebah Lola-Aston Martin victory, as they had risen up the field after the Pescarlo had slid down, but in a cruel twist

#10 Oreca - overall race winner

of fate they too were called in to replace a louvre, handing victory to the Oreca team, with the #007 Lola Aston placing third and winning the series overall. In GT1 it was only a three-car class today,Larbre Saleen vs.Gigawave Aston Martin vs.Luc Alphand Corvette, with the Aston coming out tops. This was a sad end to the once-dominant category, and the Corvette won the championship through consistency. GT2 also saw a tight fight, with the #77 Felbermayr-Proton Porsche 997 only needing eighth place to win the championship, but the second in the championship #92 JMW Ferrari 430GT pushed them right to the wire. At the end of the day, it was not enough to prevent the Porsche winning the title overall with its seventh-place finish . In LMP2, the #33 Speedy Racing Team Sebah Lola-Judd had an easy victory over the #25 RML Lola-Mazda.

So, my first time in the deep end at a contemporary sportscar event was certainly an eye-opener compared to the events I’m more accustomed to, especially in terms of the general atmosphere and size of the whole thing. Now that I am in a good position to cover more sportscar events, and with a general resurgence in the sport despite the current economic downturn, it’s my intention to do many more in 2010. Watch this space as this weekend will certainly be the first of many.

More photos are viewable on my Flickr

Ed Fahey

September 2009

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