Going to Nürburgring last year was a spur of the moment decision I never regretted. It was quickly decided I would go again this year, this time with my best friend. Despite the weather (either very hot or very wet) we were not disappointed.
We got there early on Friday morning and spent the morning in the paddock. As usual not that many people go to the track on a Friday, so we had plenty of room to ‘loiter with intent’, as we call it. That means you hang around near either the hospitality tent or the box of your team of choice, hoping to catch a glimpse – or, even better, a signature or selfie – of your favourite driver(s). With the WEC drivers being such a friendly bunch, that was not very difficult.
At noon free practice 1 (more commonly referred to as FP1) started.
Even though everyone knows you can’t really tell anything from practice sessions, everyone keeps on looking at the times and speeds. FP1 saw Aston Martin Racing hold its own very well: second and third fastest in GTE Pro and fastest in GTE Am. After Le Mans the BoP (Balance of Performance) regulations had been changed slightly, this time in favour of Aston Martin Racing. It was certainly good to see the Astons perform well overall.
With four classes on track it is absolutely no problem to support more than one team. This year we are also supporting newcomers RGR Sport, the Mexican team which has Bruno Senna on board. During the public test day in France (Circuit Paul Ricard) it became very clear that all three drivers are very friendly and approachable. They also showed enormous enthusiasm, clearly ready to start their first season. They were ready: they won in their class (LMP2) in the first race at Silverstone.
During FP1 at the Nürburgring they were sixth fastest, nicely in the middle of the 11 competing teams.
We stayed the entire day and also watched FP2.
During this session RGR Sport ended up seventh fastest, Aston Martin Racing first and fourth in GTE Pro and fourth in GTE Am. Romain Dumas’ Porsche suffered a brake failure, which caused him to crash – very close to where we were sitting. Thankfully he was ok, but the car did not come out again during this session.
On Saturday we were back at the track early to catch FP3. However, the weather gods decided otherwise. Rain and some wind caused issues for the medical helicopter and the practice session was delayed for 45 minutes because of this. With the track still wet anything could happen. There was some sliding going on, but a bit of water won’t stop WEC drivers.
RGR Sport were once again seventh fastest in their class. Aston Martin Racing didn’t fare as well as on Friday: fourth and sixth in GTE Pro and fifth in GTE Am.
Considering the mixed results in three practice sessions for only four cars (RGR’s LMP2 and AMR’s three GTE cars) it goes to show that practice really doesn’t tell the observant WEC fan anything. To be honest, we only watch these sessions because we enjoy seeing the cars out on track and especially hearing them. It doesn’t get exciting until qualification.
First qualifying session was for the GTE cars (Pro and Am). The track was still not entirely dry, so it was no surprise the positions kept on changing until the very last car crossed the finish line at the end of the session. We were two very happy fans, though, as Aston Martin #95 took pole position in GTE Pro followed by #97 in third position and #98 was to start from third position in GTE Am. The sixth and seventh positions RGR Sport got in the practice sessions were turned into a respectable fourth during LMP qualification. All in all a good result all around.
The pit walk for Sunday was moved to an earlier time and, surprisingly, was open to everyone. Last year pit walk tickets were sent out, but it seems no tickets were checked at the gate. Seeing how busy it was then I expected it to be even worse this time around, but it was actually reasonably quiet. This may be due to the earlier time of 09:00 with the autograph session starting at 10:00 instead of 10:30.
To celebrate RGR Sport’s maiden win at Silverstone I had brought one of my photos of the #43 to be signed by all three drivers. After that we made our way to the Aston Martin Racing boxes where it was very quiet compared to RGR’s box.
This did give my friend the opportunity to have her Aston Martin tattoo signed by all AMR drivers, some of whom wondered if the image was a transfer. Errr….no, it isn’t. The ink has now been washed off, but the photos and memories remain.
Saturday’s rain had disappeared and instead we had sunshine, lots of it. I believe the temperature was mostly around mid twenties. Sitting at an uncovered grand stand was therefore rather hot.
The action on track didn’t help in that respect.
At 13:00 the race started and the action simply never stopped. In LMP1 the Audis had secured both front row spots during qualifying, but they didn’t hold on to them for long. Porsche had a very good race and managed to keep both Audis behind them.
In LMP2 our attention was firmly on RGR Sport. They fell back considerably early on in the race, which meant catching up was required. I don’t want to say anything bad about Ricardo González or Filipe Albuquerque, because they are both good at what they do. But catching up is what Bruno Senna does best and boy, did he do just that! At the end of the race RGR Sports finished in second place, two laps ahead of number three.
The #97 Aston Martin literally ran into some trouble; or rather: they got bumped by a LMP2 car. They lost a lot of ground due to having to pit for a new door (even though only the wing mirror was damaged). Richie Stanaway and Darren Turner gave it their all, most of the time going faster than their opponents, but they never made it further than fifth.
The #95 had its own problems. Initially Nicki Thiim managed to build up a 15 second lead over the second placed car, but eventually couldn’t hold of the competition. Lady Luck was especially harsh towards the end of the race. Very close to 18:00 the #95 pitted for the last time. Mere moments after that pit stop a FCY (Full Course Yellow) was issued to remove some debris from the track. That means ‘free’ pit stops for anyone who wants them. That worked beautifully in favour of the other teams and the #95 fell back to fourth. Thanks to a penalty for Ford the Dane Train still made it onto the podium in third. It was later confirmed that on average Nicki Thiim was the fastest driver on the day.
In GTE Am the #98 was doing rather well. At first it seemed they were struggling, but eventually they made it to first spot and stayed there. The team drove an exceptionally solid race.
Of course there is much more going on than the trials and tribulations of RGR and Aston Martin Racing.
Like at Silverstone a LMP1 Porsche and a GTE Porsche came together. The LMP1 was worse off and had to pit for some quick repairs.
The most heart breaking moment was probably when the #4 ByKolles (LMP1), driven by Oliver Webb, had to retire with technical issues. Somehow it’s always hard to watch a driver’s disappointment when they cannot finish the race. It may not have been as dramatic as what happened to Toyota at Le Mans this year, but the disappointment seemed to be as great.
And that is part of what makes WEC so fantastic for me. There are so many teams and drivers, so there are as many different fans. But it makes no difference who you support. I think everyone wants to see all teams finish and there is sympathy for whoever has bad luck and concern for whoever crashes. In the end we all cheer on our team(s)/driver(s) of choice, but without the other teams we wouldn’t have a race. And that’s what it’s all about.