Autosport 1,000KMS – Silverstone 2010

The world’s premier endurance sportscar racing series lands at Silverstone for its annual attack on the most challenging fast corners on UK soil. It was great to see the top three manufacturers in LMP1 fight it out, with Peugeot, Audi and Aston Martin all sending cars. While the Aston was never going to beat the might of the diesels, the glorious noise of that V12 is worth travelling to Northamptonshire for by itself. Surely one of the all-time great engine notes. 

The result from qualifying suggested that Audi might have the legs on the big Peugeots around Silverstone and they lined up first and second, with the 908s occupying the next two spots. From the off, Anthony Davidson was looking racy in the works 908, up to second and harrying Allan McNish for the lead. It was quite a surprise to see Davidson alongside McNish on the run up from Club to Abbey a few laps into the race. If the spectators were shocked then so too, apparently, was Allan as his R15 Plus had an almighty twitch as he was forced to apex wide with Ant clinging to the kerbs on the inside. He was powerless in defence; down to second. It was a wonderfully bold move and a credit to both drivers that they allowed one another room.

From that moment on, it was Peugeot’s race only to lose. Unlike Le Mans in 2010, the brace of 908s moved serenely through the race, with the ORECA entry taking second. The leading Audi was out within the first couple of hours and the second car of Timo Bernhard and Dindo Capello hadn’t the speed to match the French steamroller. While the lead was not up for dispute after the first hour, that daring overtake in the early stages and the relentless pace at the front kept things interesting.

In LMP2, it was HPD vs. Ginetta vs. Lola, with the lithe Nick Wirth designed HPD featuring star turns Danny Watts and Johnny Kane partnering team owner Nick Leventis. This combo had won outright in Hungary earlier in 2010 and has the pace to threaten the LMP1s on tighter circuits. The Ginetta-Zytek of rapid amateur (and Porsche 917 owner) Miguel Amaral and Olivier Pla was looking for back-to-back titles. Mike Newton and Tommy Erdos drafted in Ben “The Stig” Collins to bolster their title attack – looking to regain the LMP2 championship for the first time since 2007. Despite the pace of the Strakka Racing HPD, Newton and Erdos’ 12th overall was enough to earn them the win. One wonders whether an even stronger package will be required to triumph in 2011.

GT1 was a non-event and a sad way for the category to sign off its endurance racing career. The ALMS, LMS and ILMC will now all run a single GT Endurance class based on the current GT2, while the GT1 nomenclature remains in use for Stephane Ratel’s stand-alone FIA GT1 World Championship. In the end, a single Larbre Saleen S7R took the start, finishing several places behind the leading GT2 cars. Not how these great cars should be remembered. The Saleen, now 10 years old, is still a striking car and looks great at speed.

GT2 on the other hand featured a full grid of stunning racers with Ferrari, Porsche, Spyker, BMW and Aston Martin all fielding quick cars. The variety of shapes and sounds was a real treat and well worthy of a race to itself. It was great to see Jean Alesi and Giancarlo Fisichella together at the wheel of an F430GTC. Evidently, Fisi has got over the struggles he experienced with the Scuderia in Formula One at the tail-end of the 2009 season. The entry read like a “who’s who” of GT endurance drivers with Richard Westbrook, Allan Simonsen, Darren Turner, Marc Lieb, Jamie Melo and Jorg Muller among a host of star turns. Ferrari won the battle, but Porsche won the war with Jamie Melo and Gianmaria Bruni taking a credible 23rd overall, but not enough to prevent Lieb and Lietz streaking to their second GT2 championship in as many years.

Up and down the field, battle raged. Half the time you couldn’t hear the commentary and an educated guess was all you could muster, but the sight of LMP1 cars approaching and entering Silverstone’s best corners really is something to be savouring. Those mighty Peugeots with their gruff, whispering V12s gather speed at a simply unfeasible rate, barrelling down the Hangar Straight, momentum ever increasing. Suddenly a dab on the brakes, a flurry of downchanges and they’re through Stowe, apparently without effort or breaking sweat. Once again, on the outfield at the entry to Maggotts and the most brutal direction change transpires in front of your eyes. Seemingly governed by their own rules and not by science – scything a series of perfect arcs through the complex and back onto the Hangar Straight and Stowe once more…If ever one could experience motoring Nirvana simply by revelling in contemporary machinery, the enormous miscellany of gorgeous and sonorous racers in the Le Mans Series would take some beating.

MSVR – Oulton Park 2010

I must be getting lazy and forgetful in my old age – another blog consisting almost entirely of photos and only in part because I’ve forgotten what happened in most of the races. Working hard on a couple of magazine articles but want to keep a flow of content on here. A September Saturday in rural Cheshire and rain is virtually pre-requisite. Still, MSVR are doing a cracking job with their club racing series. The Monopostos are fiercely quick and the BMWs, Elises and GT Cup put on a terrific show, as always. Smokey diesel VW Beetle contrasted starkly with the remarkble LMP1 Audis and Peugeot I witnessed at Silverstone the following day.

Race Retro 2011

Again, just a photo album really. A very rainy Stoneleigh proved a fine place for a morning out in February and the event further distances itself from ASI. It retains a kind of earthy charm which is rather pleasant. Didn’t manage to get out to see the rally cars this year simply due to the weather. After a wet day at Silverstone for the Pom the day before it was nice to be indoors. Looking forward to the season beginning in earnest.

DTM- Brands Hatch 2010

From the wonderful Donington Revived! event, it was a quiet cruise down the M1 and clockwise around the M25 to glamorous Thurrock and a night in the shadow on the Dartford Bridge in preparation for a day of motor racing of an entirely different kind. One of the world’s most exciting championships was making its annual foray to UK shores: The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters. Sunday morning, and despite the Premier Inn’s most calorific breakfast, it was in jaunty spirits that we approached Brands Hatch to enjoy the spectacle of fire breathing V8 monsters from Germany attacking the Indy Circuit.

The DTM is incredibly important to its two participants – Mercedes Benz and Audi – and they throw an enormous amount of money at the championship, as well as providing engines to the F3 Euro Series which runs in support. With a smattering of star names and powerful, noisy saloon cars, it is well worth the annual trip south to revel in the intensity.

The morning pit lane walk-about sees all the cars and a few of the drivers proudly on display for the fortunate pass-holder. While there is a little less openness and fewer autograph opportunities than 1990s BTCC, this is a nice way to get up close and personal with the cars and get a feeling for the tight pit lane at Brands which has to manage the fearsome natural topography. Upon leaving the pit lane we wander the track towards Paddock Hill and the sheer scale of the corner and its gradient necessitates a second look. To think the Champ Cars which thrilled us here in 2003 were knocking on 190mph on the approach…

We took up our positions on the exit of Paddock Hill for morning warm-up, joining a huge crowd in the morning sunshine. Despite the quality of drivers, several made excursions across the edge of the gravel trap on the exit, with the Audi drivers adding much to the spectacle with huge bursts of sparks as they hit the compression before the run up to Druids. It’s easy to forget how quick these cars are – they were absolutely flying.

A walk over the footbridge and to the infield at Druids for the F3 Euro Series encounter. Being periodically patriotic, I was rather hoping to see a strong performance from Alexander Sims, who had walked on water to a mighty win for ART at the FIA GT1 supporting British F3 round earlier in the season. Sadly he was off the pace, coming home eighth. The win went to Antonio Felix da Costa from a small field. Champion-elect Edoardo Mortara did not start, which was something of a disappointment given his phenomenal season. In fact, in recent weeks, he has been signed to race for Audi in the DTM. His is a name we will surely see much more of in years to come.

Moving onto the main event and we adopted a spot on the grass banking between Druids and Graham Hill corners which offered a commanding view of the circuit, though was slightly restricted for photography. The formbook was all about Paul Di Resta who was chasing down long-time championship leader Bruno Spengler. Di Resta was mighty in the DTM’s previous two visits to Brands and, having snatched pole, was favourite for the 2010 race. Behind him, former champion and Brands Hatch race winner Timo Scheider, Gary Paffett and Spengler all fancied their chances. The first corner and another former DTM champion, Mattias Ekstrom, found himself in the gravel on the outside of Paddock Hill. As he limped round, a deranged rear wheel indicated this was to be an early bath for the Swede. At the front and Di Resta made his break, putting in a sequence of stunning early laps which broke the back of the opposition. Spengler trailed in his wake and Paffett, also a title contender, had no answer for the pace at the front.

As the laps were reeled off – all 98 of them – it was apparent that we were witnessing a particularly virtuoso performance from Di Resta and his graduation to Formula One with Force India is no surprise. The big mover in the race was Miguel Molina. An unknown to me until this season, he was consistently quick in his two year old Audi and eventually rose to a fine fourth place, demoting Paffett. Also on good form was the evergreen David Coulthard, who seems to be enjoying his second career in the Mercedes Benz camp more than his old sparring partner Michael Schumacher in M-B’s Grand Prix team. He remains a crowd favourite and his progress in the DTM will be monitored with interest. 98 laps of ultra-loud racing, with the cars lapping in something like 44 seconds is a particularly intense and visceral experience; unusually so in fact. It offers a sensory experience quite unlike any other and cannot be recommended highly enough. While the Indy Circuit with downforce cars doesn’t offer the best theatre for overtaking, this is the might of the German automotive industry flexing its muscles and it’s a wonderful thing to behold. It will only improve in 2012 when BMW returns – seemingly a far better fit for the marque’s image than being beaten in WTCC by diesel SEATs and re-badged Daewoos.

It wasn’t just the heavy-hitters from F3 and DTM wowing the crowds, as a packed race card featured an excellent supporting cast. Also heading over from Germany was their domestic Porsche Carrera championship, employing the same Cup cars as the UK and European championships. The home interest was piqued by the presence of Nick Tandy. Like his late brother, Joe, Nick is a tremendously skilled and determined driver and has had to turn his back on single seater racing and is carving out a terrific niche as a Porsche driver. He was chasing a slim title chance and gave it his all at Brands, winning in style, despite missing half his front splitter. Behind him former DTM racer Uwe Alzen was as combatant as ever in his sinister black machine, but had no response to Tandy’s pace. It was sad to learn that Nick did not nail the title, but it was fun to watch him try.

The Trofeo Abarth has gained something of a reputation in the UK for the cars’ propensity to roll over with alarmingly little provocation. Mercifully they all remained righted at Brands, unlike Silverstone and Oulton Park earlier in the year when chaos ensued. It wasn’t a classic race, and in some respects it’s hard to see what the Abarths add to a crowded one-make market place in British domestic racing. Still, the cars sound great and they make a welcome change to MINIs and Clios.

Having never been fortunate enough to attend the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, I can only hope that we enjoyed something like a representative race from the British Championship. There was a mega scrap for the podium places, with young Josh Hill showing his father Damon’s spirit in battle. Lap-after-lap, the pack came through Paddock Hill with wheels interlocked, helmets twisted to check the opposition. The cars move around constantly and the battle was genuinely thrilling – this is what FFord racing is all about; it was classic stuff. Champion-in-waiting Scott Pye won by less than half a second in a race where the top six were covered by only three seconds. While the racing in the DTM might not be over-burdened with such dicing, FFord never fails.

Into the final race of the day and a treat for the Lotus fan as the Elise Trophy hit the tarmac for its second daily battle. As if unwilling to be shown up by the FFord battle, the Elise drivers went at it hammer and tongs – this was a multi-car brawl of epic proportions. I cannot honestly recall a better motor race in my 20-odd years trackside. Every lap, positions were changing throughout the top ten and it was often impossible to keep up with the leaderboard from second to second. Three abreast across the finish line was the order of the day. It was all looking very respectful until just near the end of the race when suddenly there was contact through Clearways. John LaMaster was pitched into a terrifying series of barrel rolls before his car eventually landed on its wheels. The relief in the crowd was tangible as he walked away unaided. Despite one comprehensively ruined Elise, he can consider himself very fortunate. It was a rather sorry end to such a terrific race which once again highlighted the joy of clubman’s motor racing on the British Isles. Brands was resplendent, and it was with heavy heart that we headed back to the car; another fantastic day trackside.