Sunday, 24 May 2015

Blancpain Endurance round at Silverstone

The chance of watching 60 cars battle it out around Silverstone for 3 hours was too good to resist.

Featuring a dazzling array of marques, from Bentley, McLaren, Nissan, Aston Martin, Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, Jaguar, BMW and Ferrari it was an overcast Silverstone which greeted the packed Blancpain grid.

Prior to the main event, there was a single make race solely featuring Lamborghini Huracans which looked really tasty!  They were poised and must surely feature in higher order racing such as the WEC.

Between the Lamborghini Huracan race and the Blancpain Endurance race there was a further round of the Auto GP championship.  The grid was sorely depleted, featuring 7 cars.  This was reduced to 5, following to restarts - although the two cars which dropped out on the grid, were able to start from the pit lane.  To be fair though the cars sounded and looked good, but the grid was shockingly small - especially considering the bumper grid on offer for the Blancpain race.  Seven cars is far too few for the full Silverstone circuit.

The Blancpain race got underway and whilst there was almost some drizzle around the complex at Luffield, it wasn't enough to trouble anyone.  The Brazilian BMWs took an instant dislike to each other and limped round to the pits...  Not a good start to an endurance race for them!  The Z4s looked a bit out-of-sorts around Silverstone and the Mercedes' also looked a little anonymous as well.  The McLarens looked good out on track and the Nissan GTRs looked racy!  The lone, lead Nissan was being tracked by a pair of hunting McLaren's and thus it transpired, the McLaren's pounced at the pitstops and drove away until Jan Mardenbrough attempted a late fightback in the final stint for the Nissan by setting some stunning, consistent quick laps.  In the end it was too much for Jan to achieve and he ended the 3 hour race some 5 seconds off P1.

Surely the 650s and GTRs need a more impressive platform to show off their skills.  Could they possibly be upgraded to GT2 classification or beyond?  Surely La Sarthe calls..

The sun did make a brief appearance towards the end of the race.  The crowds were small but quite decent and there was just enough open for the crowds to feel welcomed at what can seem like a cold and desolate place.  The only facilities open were based around the National / Heritage pits which were the only ones being used for the weekend.

Please enjoy a few of our selected shots from the day!

Audi make it 2 from 2 in WEC...

Two from two (Silverstone and then Francorchamps) so far for Audi.  Porsche looked quick both weekends, but ultimately seemed to slip up and Audi pounced on both occasions to claim the top spots.  Toyota have looked oddly out of sorts this season, they seem to be struggling to take the fight to either Audi or Porsche.  One must wonder if both Porsche and Toyota are concentrating on Le Mans and targetting all of their efforts to a 24 hours win.  Time will tell..!  Porsche definitely have single lap pace, but can they keep up a sustained race pace?  It seems yet to be confirmed..  Toyota seem to have stood still while both Porsche and Audi have moved forward and put themselves just out of touching distance.  There will be quite a difference for all marques as they will have their full energy harvesting allocation available to them.

Nissan have been oddly absent from the WEC, citing needing to complete more testing ahead of the race at Circuit de la Sarthe.  Even more oddly they're limiting the Test Day to just a single driver for each car.  The other drivers of those entries will get their rookie laps courtesy of the Ginetta Juno LMP3 cars which are being allowed to take part.  This is in anticipation of Sir Chris Hoy being able to compete at Le Mans in 2016, a sort of try before you buy!  It will be interesting to see how they run in amongst the LMP1s, 2s and GTs..

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

WEC 2015 gets off to a flying start! were able to soak up all the scintillating atmosphere served up at Silverstone.  We attended all three days enabling us to take in all 3 championships.

The weather conditions were kind, if a little blustery and chilly.  But they were far, far better than the previous two seasons where races were either red flagged or ended under the safety car due to heavy rain.

On the Friday we managed to catch all of the Free Practice sessions of the WEC and ELMS championships.  Of note there were the new LMP3 cars making their first public showing at a race weekend.  Ginetta had supplied all of the LMP3 cars (Ginetta-Juno chassis with a Nissan engine).  In the first FP session they gingerly tip toed around the circuit getting in some needed running.  In FP2 they started to stretch their legs and make use of the rev range available.  They just got better, quicker and more assured as the weekend went on.  They looked great and sounded better!  As usual, or so it seems, a few ELMS stalwarts took to the track, the Krohn racing entry, TDS by Thiriet entry and Murphy Prototypes entry. The Krohn car looked stunning - they have usually run in GTs but this year have stepped up to an LMP2 closed car, which looked sensational in the Krohn green.  All three of these cars looked good on track and purposeful.

The WEC cars took to the track and we got to see how the updated Audi and Porsche entries would perform in racing trim.  All of the factory LMP1 cars looked quick and determined.  The ByKolles car seemed slightly delicate and unsure of itself, often circulating at times more befitting of the quicker LMP2 cars.  In the LMP2 cars there was a good mix of open and closed cars, although of course the open cars are soon to be out-of-date and no longer eligible.  They all looked good, although the French Air Traffic Controllers Strike did lead to some issues with drivers not being able to get to the UK on time!

In GTs, the Pro and Am cars mixed things up and it was good to see a Corvette mixing it up with the Astons, Porsches and Ferraris.  The Astons sounded great and the Corvette added a further, welcome, baritone rumbling to the proceedings.  The Am Porsche entries seemed to struggle for pace and maybe set up hurt them.

For all of Friday most of the cars just seemed to be running their programme.  They all seemed to be circulating at their own pace and almost independent of each other.  Porsche kept on topping the time sheets and you felt that they were confirming their one lap pace which is certain to keep them near the front in Qualifying.

On Saturday there was the final FP session for the WEC and then ELMS Qualifying, WEC Qualifying and then the ELMS 4 hour race to finish off with along with a sprinkling of 2 International F3 races.  The teams were obviously getting in to their respective grooves and circulating ever faster. As with last year (although thankfully simplified) the WEC qualifying sessions split between the LMP cars and GT cars and that two drivers' fastest laps would be taken in to consideration.  The sessions were fairly short bearing in mind out laps, flying laps and in laps (double) for two drivers having to be figured..  Phew!  but at least it was less mind boggling than last year with the two best laps from two drivers being used..!!!  Porsche put their stamp on qualifying and looked super quick.

The ELMS race was great!  Lots of overtaking and the new (really, really new!) LMP3 cars ran well.

The F3 races were superb - helped with a dollop of rain just before the first race, the drivers had to contend with this..  They ran around behind the SC for a couple of laps before they were let off the leash and then promptly skidded and slithered to a bit of a halt.  Cue another SC period, gathering up of the carnage, all calm and collected and then wham!  More carnage although a little less dramatic..  A slightly depleted field ran to the flag.  Race 2 would be mixed up in terms of grid slots and so this served up quite an interesting race again, with some hard charging drivers carving their way through the field.

As we're part of the Brabham Project, we met up with David Brabham and various members of the Brabham Racing Team.  This was a bit of an informal meet and greet, but it did allow the team members to connect directly and in person with those who had supplied some of the kickstarter funding.

On Sunday we caught the F3 race in the morning - but it was bitterly cold and very windy (at Silverstone!!).  There was quite a bit of good racing and we caught the action as the cars entered the final corner.  It was interesting to see them coming off the previous corner and see who was able to get a good entry and exit from there and then take advantage in to the last corner.  Some of the overtaking moves were a little on the ambitious side!!

In terms of WEC, we had tickets to the pit lane and so queued up.  We got to see and meet a few of the drivers, although as per last year a few were harder to meet than others!!  At this point (due to the short sightedness of the Wing layout and access) you would have used a bus to get to the outside grandstand of the circuit opposite the Wing, well certainly you would have last year...  The organisers took an excellent decision to allow spectators to make their way across the circuit or stay inside the circuit.  This helped to get people to where they wanted to be and showed some joined up thinking.  :)  Garage 40 also housed two examples of the Nissan LMP1 cars, although they wouldn't be taking place over the weekend.  The new Nissan LMP1 cars are not due on track in the WEC until the Le Mans Test Day.

The interest and expectation before the race was very tangible.  Would Porsche be quick?  Were they hampered by the shortness of the circuit or would 8MJ prove to be too much power (if there is such a thing??!?)?  Had Audi made enough of a step up moving to 4MJ?  They were ultra conservative last year, but of course triumphed in the jewel in the crown race at La Sarthe.  Toyota had re-jigged their driver line-up with Kaz Nakajima moving the the number 1 car.  They had stuck with their Super Capacitor solution and were now the defending champions..  They seemed to get their tyres wrong last season, would they be left wanting again?

The race was amazing.  Superbly poised and ultimately very satisfying to watch, whoever you supported out of the 3 manufacturers taking part.  Mark Webber in the 17 Porsche drove an almost unbelievably quick first stint until a terminal drive train issue halted their race.  There then ensued a battle royale between the number 18 Porsche and one of the Audis.  They traded places at almost every corner for an astounding number of laps.  It was a real treat which kept everyone at the circuit on the edge of their seats.  The Audi eventually made a really intelligent pass on the lone Porsche and then managed to just eke out enough of a gap to allow it to run at it's own natural pace.  There were a lot of finishing cars and even though the top three were split by around 10 seconds it was an exciting endurance race and testament to the quality and expertise being employed here.

Overall it was a great weekend.  The village/fan zone part of the set up maintained and improved on previous years.  The WEC itself was well promoted and a number of free areas and items were on offer.  There seemed to be more food stalls open and more choice.  More things to do and see and the Wing was also partly open and helped when the wind conspired to dampen spirits.  It helped that the racing was superb and of a really high quality and it also helped that the weather was eminently better than it has been for the previous two years.

Make no mistake this year's Le Mans 24 hour race is going to be one of titanic proportions.  The quality of the teams, the quality of the drivers and the engineering decisions that have been made all seem to have aligned themselves in perfect harmony.