Ed Fahey

Adventures – Saloon,Sportscar/GT racing

Posts Tagged ‘Zytek’

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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