British F3/GT Silverstone 2010

This was a day which had promised much and had initially offered more than a little frustration. I had been due to travel down to Silverstone with a friend in the Elise, taking part in a paddock display which also allowed for a lap of the Grand Prix Circuit during the lunch break. Sadly the Elise was malfunctioning and as it was 6am, I didn’t spot the fairly basic fault in the induction system (a 5 minute fix at worst). So we ended up in Paul’s VW van, bisecting the country in less noisy surroundings and at significantly lower expense than expected. It did hurt seeing/hearing all the other supercars (whether the Elise qualifies as “super” remains moot…) take to the track, but that’s life with a handbuilt sportscar, I suppose.

However, it wasn’t intended to be a day of self-indulgence, this was about the British national racing scene showcasing its wares on Silverstone’s Bridge layout – eschewing the new GP circuit. The headline races were for the national F3 and GT Championships, which both hung in the balance. This was complemented by the usual rough and tumble of VW, Formula Ford, Ginetta and MX5 support races.

The Ma5da MX5 Championship is a real success story of recent years and the durable racers often seem bonded together, such is their fondness for side-by-side action. Blessed without masses of grip, but evidently a very progressive, balanced chassis, it is great to see real racing – and most of it respectful. Time has passed and, as with the VW races, I have entirely forgotten the race result but thoroughly enjoyed both of the day’s encounters. The VWs didn’t disappoint either and Woodcote remains a great place to watch this varied grid as the FWD chassis tipped their inside rear wheel high in the air. A neat contrast with the mid-engined GT cars from later in the day, which were lifting an inside front exiting Club corner.  Ten on ten to Dziurzynski brother (absent from the race entry on this occassion) in his Corrado who seemed to be adopting a nice four-wheel drift into Woodcote with no little elegance. Great fun as always!

The Ginetta Challenge race occurred at a rather inconvenient time, being as we were at the entry to Stowe bend and some distance from an unobstructed view of the track. As a result, we sat back to enjoy the new G40 tackling the massed ranks of the old G20. Ginetta old hand Dominic Pettit did a good job in the G40, but the G20 still looks to be the quicker machine for the time being. One must applaud the ambition of the little equipe from Leeds who routinely churn out excellent little sports GT racers.

Formula Ford rarely produces a bad encounter and Silverstone stayed true to this ethos with a typically combatant race. The main story of the season being the championship battle between the Scotts Pye and Malvern. Malvern came to Silverstone with a 37 point championship lead, but the momentum belonged to Pye. Malvern defied the formbook and his 12 race winless streak to take the day’s first encounter, with Josh Hill the second. Josh was also looking good in the traffic at Brands Hatch in the DTM supporting races in September. Whether he is F1 material remains to be seen, but he certainly has his father’s spirit in battle.

The big news in F3 in 2010 was the utter domination of the championship by Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne. Aboard a Red Bull-sponsored Carlin Dallara, he opened his account with a victory at Oulton Park back in April and didn’t stop winning thereafter. By August, he was in a position to become the first Gallic British F3 champion. In consumate fashion, he did just that. While his form has been mesmeric, one must wonder whether he has faced the depth of opposition which some other recent champions have had to contend with. Jaime Alguersari had Oliver Turvey to contend with, for example. Even so, his excellent F3 form has continued during a couple of late-season appearances in WSR so he looks like a tip for the future and well done to him – he did everything which might have been expected, and then some, taking more victories in a single season than any of his forerunners.

If F3 was a Vergne rout, then the British GT Championship really exceeded all expectations. Running a single 2 hour race instead of the usual shorter double-header format, this was one to savour. The largest and strongest field of the season made for an awesome spectacle as a rolling start kicked off 2 hours of fine sportscar racing, which came to a head with about 20 minutes to go. Several drivers made one-off appearances in this race and we were treated to the two Trackspeed Porsches, the Jones twins’ Ascari, the Lester/Simonsen 430 and Darren Turner’s DBRS9 all closing on one another towards the finish. With talent of the calibre of Richard Westbrook, Allan Simonsen and Darren Turner, this was a battle royale all the way to the flag. These guys really showed their class over the might of Silverstone’s fast corners and the current crop of GT3 cars is a stella one. With Mosler, Ford GT and sundry G4 entries additionally, this was a feast for eyes and ears. Eventual champion David Ashburn took the win with Glynn Geddie, but only by a matter of seconds from Simonsen, after the matching Porsche of his rear-gunner, Westbrook, faltered as he approached the line. It was a genuine grandstand finish and a superb advert for the championship which is rebuilding itself after a disappointing 2009. Here’s hoping for more of the same in 2011 when United Autosports look likely to bring in their Audi R8 LMSs full time, as well as the new AMG SLS of the Jones brothers. Sounds like fireworks…

Musee des 24 Heures – La Sarthe

While visiting the much-vaunted Le Mans Classic event, we found themselves with a couple of hours to kill before the commencement of racing action so decided to take the opportunity to visit the circuit’s museum. It transpired to be an inspired decision – a rarity in itself. The museum was air conditioned, virtually deserted and had a decent dining area with all wares half the price of the stalls outside. What a chance to further immerse one’s self in the circuit’s rich history, while avoiding the rigeurs of the midday sun.

The museum, for those who have not already been, is predominantly focused on the history of racing at the famous Circuit de la Sarthe, but it also features exhibits illustrating a little general automotive history as well. There are some wonderful displays, particularly those featuring scale models. The cars inside vary from pre-war road-going commercial vehicles to a recent Pescarolo LMP1 weapon. All fascinating stuff and a very pleasing way to pass a couple of hours away from the heat of the midday sun. Perhaps the highlight for me was the Peugeot 905 Evolution 2.2 – now known as the Supercopter due to its wild (for the time) aerodynamics. This car and the awesome Allard J2X would look to have set the template for sports prototype aerodynamics moving forwards. Hard to believe it is over 15 years old now. A real privilege to finally see in the flesh.

Ginetta Factory Tour

The good guys at organised a trip to the Ginetta factory in Garforth a couple of months ago. Since being taken over by Lawrence Tomlinson, the company seems to be growing exponentially. The staff stayed late to guide us around and all proceeds went to charity – commendable in itself. The car park was littered with fine and exotic machinery of all kinds from Lamborghini to VX220s.

We had a good nose around the whole place. This starts with the boardroom, replete with Le Mans trophy for full effect from the LNT run Panoz which claimed GT2 class honours in 2006. From the boardroom it is down to the design office where the 3D CAD modelling was shown off. A full spaceframe is designed this way.

The next step is to look at the chassis assembly. Steels tubes are sourced within the UK, but not in-house. They are assembled on jigs at the Garforth premises before moving along for mechanical and electrical installations. There are bays featuring seemingly every model in the current line-up from the Zytek LMP1 car to the electric G40 and a G55, though we didn’t know it at the time.

In one corner is Lawrence’s helicopter – a nice touch. Next to it is the fine line-up of former racers from both Ginetta and LNT. Great to see those mighty TVR T440s again. Also available for viewing was the new F400. Originally a Farbio, Ginetta bought out Chrs Marsh’s company and will allow F400 production to continue in Bristol. Two cars are on-site, including Lawrence’s own road car. They look and sound as fantastic as the price tag might suggest.

Great to see a British success story, particularly one from Yorkshire. Long may it continue!

Le Mans On-board

At the Le Mans Classic in June 2010, I took the opportunity to complete the parade laps of the circuit. My dad (who actually funded them) took passenger seat and volunteered to photograph so all of the below are courtesy of him. Having watched the GT40 Enthusiasts’ Club and a group of Ferraris out on track on the Friday evening, I was approaching the laps with a little trepedation. The pace was pretty strong and I’m no trackday hero, despite the undoubted talents of the Elise. We were heading out in a mixed group of cars of all varities – from old MGs to modern Ford GTs and Ferrari 430s. However, with a keen eye on the mirrors for fast-moving machinery, it was a total joy to really stretch one’s legs around such a iconic circuit. The Elise proved itself a superb track toy and kept up with the exotica, but it was amazing to hear 997 GT3s and Ferrari 550 howling by down the long straight of Mulsanne and on the run down to Arnage. Just felt like we were getting into our stride and then we were flagged into the display area once again. It was a terrific opportunity to sample one of the world’s great circuits.