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.