MotorsportCalendar.com 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 In the LMP2 cars there was a good mix of open and closed cars, although of course the open cars are soon to be out-of-date and no longer eligible.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.