Ed Fahey

Adventures – Saloon,Sportscar/GT racing

Posts Tagged ‘Silverstone’

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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FIA GT1 World Championship Round 2, Silverstone May 2010

Posted by Ed Fahey on May 13, 2010

Entering Maggots

The 1st post of my new wordpress format blog, its off to Silverstone for Round 2 of the new FIA GT1 world championship. Round 1 at Abu Dhabi had been an interesting if slightly unbalanced affair with the ‘Balance of Performance’ (BOP) testing, designed to make the racing closer not working with some cars having a massive advantage and others an equal disadvantage. Rumours abounded of sandbagging/cars set up wrongly during the BOP testing and there were threats made by more than 1 team to boycott the event unless the BOP rules were changed, whether it was more or less ballast added to a car or a bigger or smaller air restrictor fitted. Sense seemed to have prevailed preceding the round with relaxations to some cars (Aston Martin,Nissan and Lamborghini lose weight), others have weight added (Corvette & Maserati) with the Rd1 winning Ford untouched. Also the     Lamborghinis had slightly less restrictive air restrictors fitted while the Maseratis had a slight increase

Rolling lap of Race 1

So what changes did the BOP give? For a start the Astons and Nissans were instantly faster with the Corvettes and Maseratis somewhat slower with the Fords in the middle of the pack and the Lamborghinis still in the midfield, if a little closer to the front. The Nissans/Astons infact being a bit too competitive, with the  2 Astons and a Nissan taking the 1st 3 slots for the qualifying race on Saturday and transforming this into a HEXIS Racing Aston 1-2 and 4th with the lead #1 Vitaphone Maserati snatching 3rd after the compulsary pitstops, with the #22 Sumo Power Nissans in 5th. The 4th place #7 Young Driver Aston would have finished higher were it not for a drive-through penalty for a pit rules infringement, and as it turned out, the stewards room would ultimately decide the outcome of Sundays championship race.

So, rulebooks aside, was it good? In a word – YES it was! There is still nothing like seeing some of the worlds finest and fastest supercars racing together, the sight and especially the sound. From the sweet sound of the Lamborghini V12 to the eardrum pounding, ground shaking Corvette V8 or the high revving V8’s of the Ford GT and Nissan GTR and the more conventional but still perfect V12 sounds of the Aston Martin and Maserati they were all there to be savoured, and enjoyed. For approx 5 mins of each race I put down my camera and just feasted my senses, primarily sound on what was racing around the track and just admiring the cars for what they were, then it was back on with the ear defenders and back to capturing them at their finest. The relatively cheap entry tickets combined with open grandstands and paddock leads to a rather relaxed event compared to F1 or MotoGP, where a grandstand seat costs slightly more! GT and Sportscar racing appeals to the purist whereas the general motorsport fan would visit F1, whereas MotoGP has an almost cult like following globally

MadCroc Corvette C6R in the new Arena section

The weekend also saw the debut of the new Silverstone Arena track layout,  which loses the legendary, blind, downhill left-hander at Bridge in favour of a new, slow right-hander and a hairpin that leads on to the old National straight, now renamed the Wellington straight. But although the ribbon was officially cut on the Thursday before the event, a great deal of work remains to be done  ahead of the British Grand Prix in July. The new pit complex on the straight after Club corner has only just been started, and will not be used until the 2011 F1 race. Elsewhere, while the tarmac and runoff areas of the new track section were sufficiently complete to allow racing to take place, the surroundings were a mixture of mud, tarmac, construction vehicles and stacked-up pieces of grandstand waiting to be reassembled, and combined with the poor weather made a lot of the track become a swamp. Im glad I brought boots as opposed to my normal flat shoes and my rental car needed a good wash afterwards, as it resembled a 4×4 after being put through its more natural environment!

Pondering

And so onto the main event, Sundays Championship race. The 3 Astons immediately pulled away at the start and would have disappeared only for the safety car to be deployed due to 1 of the Phoenix Racing Corvettes having pulled up, a fuel line failure leading to the rear of the car bursting into flames and retiring. The sole Matech Ford GT, winner of Round 1’s championship race at Abu Dhabi didnt even make the 1st corner, being eliminated in a clash with 1 of the All-Inkl.com Lamborghini Murcielagos which also retired not long afterwards. After 7 laps behind the safety car an intense Corvette/Aston/Maserati/Nissan battle was taking place before the pitstop window had opened, with almost touring car like overtaking and racing at times, mainly due to the race lasting only an hour instead of double or even triple that amount of time, so it wasnt a case of biding your time, always attack!

The BOP changes had the #22 Sumo Power Nissan almost at the front after the #23 car had been a victim of the pre pitstop scraps, the #22 car moving up to 4th, then 3rd, very competitive compared to the Swiss Racing Team R35’s which had been off the pace for the weekend, not helping by a big crash for the #3 car at the fast Stowe corner, resulting in heavy frontal damage and retirement.

In the end though,officialdom decided the race outcome. The second placed #9  HEXIS Aston of Thomas Accary was given a stop-and-go for its engine being restarted when the car was still on the jacks during a pitstop, but he failed to serve this penalty within the required 3 laps, so had 15 seconds added to his racetime, demoting him to second place. The winning #7 Aston of  Darren Turner and Tomas Enge was excluded because its mandatory underfloor skid plank was worn beyond the permitted tolerance, beleived to be less than 0.05mm’s. This promoted the #22 Nissan to 1st place, the #9 HEXIS Aston 2nd,the #25 Reiter Lamborghini of Frank Kechle/Jos Menten to 3rd, the #34 Team Triple H Maserati MC12 of Bert Longins/Mateo Bobbi to 4th and the #8 Young Driver Aston  of Stefan Mucke/Christoffer Nygaard 5th

Flamin'

In F1 I feel this may have been an apt decision to disqualify the winner due to the car not always staying ontrack, but then again F1 is the ultimate motorsport for most with their multi-million dollar budgets and state of the art cars, but not in GT racing where the GT1 World Championship consists entirely of private/semi-works supported teams, due to no works teams being permitted to enter. Also the poor weather and building site conditions made the track have less grip than normal where the track edges were muddy and dirty and had no grip so a trip over the kerbs/grass was often inevitable,whereas before drivers would be in full control and the amount of cars picking up punctures and having to pit or retire was testament to this, not to mention the dirt line up to the ankles on my boots and the muddy footprints everywhere….

Unlucky Number 7

An enjoyable meeting, helped by my media access pass with thanks to John Brooks /  Sportscarpros , and it was refreshing to see a lot of spectators at the event. Whether it was down to the 1st opportunity to see racing on the new Silverstone Arena layout, the new championship,fans encouraged by the live online streaming of all the events on the FIA GT1 website, or just to see the cars themselves racing, the interest in Sportscar/GT racing seems to undergoing a resurgence. Perhaps F1 and MotoGP are pricing themselves out of the market and being stuck to a grandstand seat instead of being free to move doesnt help. With Silverstones large amount of different corners and viewing areas, moving around the track is worthwhile, despite the massive debris fences that have now been erected around the track in preparation for MotoGP, ruining many previous good viewing locations. Being a keen watcher of MotoGP races and having seen what happens when crashes occur in MotoGP, where riders and bikes take to the skies, they are a necessity, and for once the nanny state health and safety laws might just be a good thing.

At least the cars run more or less unsilenced for now, in a weekend of two-fingered salutes to the environmentalists – Long may it continue!

– Ed Fahey, May 2010

Additional Photos can be viewed on my Flickr

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