Blancpain GT Series Endurance, Silverstone, 13/14 May 2017

The Blancpain Endurance race at Silverstone is one of the hightlighs of the year. The grid is massive and the cars diverse. The racing is unpredictable (as is the weather), so excitement is as good as guaranteed.
This time around we decided to also get grid walk tickets.

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Support races

Blancpain always has a number of support races which are highly enjoyable. My favourite however is still Lamborghini Super Trofeo. Almost any type of race is great to watch, but there is something special about a large number of Huracans on a track.
I can only assume the cars’ specs will be fairly similar, but even if that’s not the case, racing is always quite close, causing some very exciting moments. There’s a lot of good action to watch. And of course the cars look amazing on track…as if they were built for it.

Pit walks

There were two pit walks during the weekend.
On Saturday there was no autograph session. It was therefore rather quiet, but it did give better access to the cars.

The #8 Bentley – VERY up close and personal – during the Saturday pit walk.
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The second pit walk was on the Sunday which included the autograph session.
I always enjoy the pit walks, with or without autograph session. It’s a good time to get a bit closer to the cars and, if there is an autograph session, have a chat with the drivers. Most really seem to enjoy the interaction (read: banter). I always make a point of seeing my favourite team/driver(s) to wish them well for the race.

Grid walk

This was the first time we got grid walk tickets, just to see what that is like.
As expected it is nothing like the pit walks. During a pit walk the garages are open, sometimes the drivers will be there and it’s quite relaxed overall.
A grid walk means you are walking among the cars ready to start a race. There’s team members working on the cars, drivers are preparing to get into the cars and it is very busy!

The one and only Aston Martin on the grid during the grid walk.
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Of course you can get really close to the cars on the grid walk, but at the same time it feels a bit rushed. You have to wait at the side of the track for all the cars to arrive and only have a few minutes to walk the actual grid.
It understandable the public have to be out of the way when the cars drive up and you also don’t want to be in the way of the people working on the cars or preparing to drive. But simply due to the number of people I didn’t find it as amazing as I was told it would be.

I would say it’s an interesting experience and I wouldn’t advise against it, but it’s not really for me.

The main race

Blancpain never disappoints.
I think the races are unpredictable due to the large grid and the variety of cars. In the races I have seen so far you usually cannot predict who will win. Silverstone was no different.
It seems inevitable the safety car will come out, but usually not so often it impacts the viewers’ enjoyment.

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I cannot put into words how exciting it is to see that enormous grid come around the corner, preparing for the rolling start. When those lights turn green all hell breaks loose (including the thunderous noise that goes with it!).
For three hours I find myself at the edge of my seat, trying to keep up with the changes in position.

I’ve seen a few Blancpain races now, both at the track and on television, and I am certain I will be seeing quite a few more.


Track day #3 – driving an Audi R8

It’s only year three, but this is rapidly becoming a tradition of sorts.
I’ve left it very late this year, but I did go on a track experience at Prestwold (same location as the previous two times). My ‘weapon’ of choice this time was an Audi R8. And the present to myself was a passenger ride in an Ariel Atom.

I suppose that starting with the Aston Martin DB9 was not such a good idea after all. I mean, Astons are my favourite cars and the DB9 was a really smooth and lovely ride. It was always going to be downhill from there. Or was it?

Driving the Audi R8 had been on my list for a while.
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Of course I am fully aware I should not compare Audis and Astons, so I won’t.
Let’s just say that the Audi R8 has had my attention for quite some time now. I think it looks absolutely stunning. From the moment it was unleashed into the world I was curious what that would be like to drive. It is apparently a very nice and fast car to drive.
So this was my chance to find out.

One of the best things, I think, of driving something fast is the fact that you get pushed in your seat and the engine starts roaring. That is something the R8 definitely has.
Other than that I found the car strangely underwhelming.
Like most cars at Prestwold the car has paddles (or flippers) to change gears. I’ve experienced that in the DB9, so no issues there. What I do think is an issue is the fact that the car noticeably slows down when you gear up. If you check the video above, you can see I even move forward a little when I change gears. Immediately after it picks up quickly and you get that lovely push into your seat, but I expected a smoother gear change.

Handling is otherwise very nice. The car feels sturdy and I felt well in control the entire time. It helps I am beginning to come to grips with the track properly now. Thanks to that I could try a bit harder to get more out of the car.
But there the Audi disappointed as well! The last corner before the straight is a ‘safe zone’, so you are limited to 40 to 50 mph. However, you are allowed to speed up while pulling out of the corner and floor it shortly after. Despite that the car never even reached 90, even though I was pushing the pedal down as far as it would go.
This in my mind now begs the question if the Audi R8 is truly underwhelming or if this seeming lack of performance is due to the car being limited somehow. I have heard from people that during track days elswhere they were told not to go faster than 100 mph. At Prestwold you don’t get that instruction, but maybe they don’t have to if the cars are limited?

Nevertheless I had a great time in the Audi. I haven’t done this type of thing very often, so throwing pretty much anything around a track is fun. I still think the thing looks great and, as I mentioned, it was a lovely drive nonetheless.

But I had more to do that day. I added a passenger ride.

The Ariel Atom just after the ‘safe zone’ corner.
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During a previous visit I had seen the Ariel Atom go round at what seemed to be a ridiculous speed, so I had to get me some of that. I would never be able to drive that beast like the drivers at the track can, so I decided to get the most of out it by not driving.
When I booked it upon arrival I was assured I would be scared. Defiantly I told the lady I wouldn’t be.

Now it’s all over I can proudly say I was right. Nothing to be afraid of.
But what a ride!!!
This thing takes off like a rocket and you don’t get any time to catch up until it’s parked. It responds incredibly quickly. We were passing some fast cars (like Lamborghinis and McLarens) as if they were standing still. If you like thrill rides you have to try this one.
I was grateful to my driver for trying to impress me (let’s say there were some moves I didn’t expect); it all added to a wonderful two laps which were over too soon.

As before I had a great time at Prestwold, not only while on track, but also before and after when there’s time to have a good look at the cars they have there. I’ve not quite decided what I will be driving next year, even though that Lamborghini Aventador looks very inviting…

AMOC Racing, Silverstone, 1 October 2016

A few years ago, when I was still a member of AMOC (Aston Martin Owners Club), I was aware they organised races. Because I didn’t have a car, I never got to attend any of these race meetings. This year I’ve been to four of them. The last one of this year was at Silverstone and it was quite something.

In 2016 Silverstone has been ‘behaving’. I’ve been several times and we’ve seen snow, rain, wind, sun (too much of it) and more rain. On 1 October it was predominantly rain. It made the racing all the more exciting to watch. I can only imagine what that must be like from a driver’s perspective when you’re trying to keep your classic race car on the track.
Despite the weather the entire day was very enjoyable.

Tom Black’s Aston Martin GT4 during the Aston Martin GT Challenge.
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As was to be expected, it was not very busy. Only one grandstand was open (BRDC Grandstand) and it was not 100% filled. It is however a wonderful place to view a race from due to how much of the track you can see. Luffield corner is a spot where a lot happens normally anyway and this day was no exception.
Several classics did drift off the track, but thankfully most managed to save the car before it went into the gravel and rejoin the race. Often this resulted in applause from the grandstand.

The variety of cars on track is astounding. Of course there are Aston Martins, but this time there were a lot of MGs. The Intermarque Championship/GT Challenge saw the return of the Porsches and BMWs. The 50s Sports Cars race had several absolutely gorgeous Austins and Jaguars. For me the icing on the cake were the pre-war Astons: an Aston Martin Le Mans (1933), Aston Martin 15/98 2 seater (1937), Aston Martin New International (1932) and Aston Martin Ulster (1934). In that race there was one more pre-war car: a Bentley MK VI of 1948 which was unbelievably fast. The sound was a delight…I think I know where the current Bentley team gets their slogan (Bring The Thunder) from.

The Bentley MK VI (1948) driven by Michael Haig took victory in t he Pre-War race. We’d seen this car in the paddock, but on track it is a magnificent beast.
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During the lunch break some of the AMOC members took their Aston Martins to the track for a parade. I was lucky enough to be able (and allowed!) to go to the pit wall and watch them go by (camera in hand, of course).
Some of the boxes were open, so I wandered in here and there to snap a few photos of the cars. It was an amazing opportunity to see some of these classics up close.

The participants in the MG Acers/pre-War race are waiting in the rain for their race to start.
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It was once again a fun filled day with beautiful cars and a very relaxed atmosphere.
I have enjoyed the four race meetings I’ve been to so much I intend to go to as many as I can next year. So keep your eyes peeled for more beautiful Aston Martins of various ages in 2017.

Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup, Nürburgring (2016)

Only last year did I discover Blancpain and I am already hooked. So much so that I went back to the Nürburgring (second visit this year) to see the Endurance Cup finale.

If you follow this series you will know there is a very large number of cars on track. There is huge variation in cars and the action never stops. Additionally, the races are never predictable. Anything can happen and will happen, often in the last minutes.

Practice happens before all the action, early in the morning.
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I have a habit of arriving early at the track, but usually not before all the action starts. This time I had a hotel a few minutes walking away from the track, which meant I got there around 8 in the morning. I never realised the marshalls have practice time!
The safety car, medical car, etc. all head out on track while the marshalls go through all the options: yellow flag, safety car, red flag, etc.
During this weekend I also heard that the marshalls should be able to see to the marshall station before and after them. Due to very heavy fog on Sunday they most certainly could not. As a result Q1 and Q2 for Blancpain were cancelled. At times the fog was so heavy I could not see the track at all from stand T4 (which is at the end of the pit straight). Quite a contrast with Saturday when we had lovely weather.

Hugo de Sadeleer during the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC race on Sunday morning after the fog cleared.
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There are several supporting races during a Blancpain weekend. One of those is Formula Renault 2.0 NEC. They did manage to race on Sunday morning, but initially the cars almost completely disappeared in the mist. I believe the race was shortened due to the weather. It really was a strange weekend with sun, fog, overnight rain and a lot of wind. Of course that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it all less…

Another supporting race which I have mentioned before is the Lamborghini Super Trofeo. Like Blancpain this series has a large grid. There were 40 cars in total. That’s 40 Lamborghini Huracans. That’s a lot of horsepower!
The Huracan just looks great as a race car and it’s mighty fast. With a field that large you’re guaranteed to have a lot to look at. I watched the Lamborghinis from T3 (which is along the pit straight) and saw a lot of very close racing. Roughly translated that means the drivers tried to fit as many cars through that one hairpin as they possibly could (or couldn’t, as the case may be).
Just imagine a number of Huracans speeding down the pit straight as fast as they can, then braking hard trying to prepare for that sharp corner, but then four or five simultaneously. It just doesn’t fit and some had to pick something other than the ideal racing line.

The Lamborghini Huracan of Leipert Motorsport.
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Being at the track for the entire weekend means I could admire all that horsepower, regardless which series they appeared in, for two full days. Unfortunately I also saw the #7 Bentley crash at the end of the pit straight during practice. It was a sickening, very loud thud. The moment the marshalls started to cover the scene your heart sinks. Thankfully Steven Kane, who was driving at the time, was declared fit shortly after. Even better: Bentley had been running some tests in Spain and “commandeered” a car which arrived on time to race on Sunday.

The Aston Martin of Oman Racing
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Of course I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention Aston Martin.
There is only one participating in Blancpain this year – Oman Racing. After putting the car on 6th position (overall, first in class) during qualifying they were unceremoniously pushed off track shortly after the start (that damned hairpin again!) and spent the rest of the race trying to catch up. It was a tall order and they never got close to a class podium. But hey, that’s racing!
I still thoroughly enjoyed watching the Aston chasing the other cars in its class. I was lucky enough to see a few beautiful overtakes (not only by the Aston, mind you), so there was enough to keep me happy.

The #23 Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 exiting a corner.
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Like the previous races, whether I was there at the track or watching them on television, this race had it all: close racing, some scraps, cars breaking down, teams having to catch up. Non-stop excitement for three hours. Unfortunately that was it for this year. Rest assured, I will be back to witness another year of Blancpain Endurance in 2017.

6 Hours of Nürburgring

With Sao Paulo disappearing from the WEC calendar this year a different location had to be added. And boy, am I happy they decided to go to Germany!
Of course it’s awfully convenient to hop over to Germany from the UK, but there is something about that name: Nürburgring.

I was fully aware they were not going to race at that part of it. Nevertheless this was a trip I was looking forward to for months. On 28 August the day finally came that I flew to Düsseldorf and from there I drove straight to the track. Throughout the weekend the weather was amazing (read: hot!) and I found several brilliant spots to view the action from. I think in most locations you’ll be able to see several sections of the track.
One of the things I found unusual is that the complex is for a very large part open to the public. With there being a cinema, shops, a kart track and more it makes sense to ensure people only need a ticket for a race. The stands were behind ticket machines and fences, everything else is freely accessible. In addition, there are areas of the track you can reach by simply driving there and having a look through the mesh fence. I did get the idea those areas may be part of the Nordschleife, but I didn’t give myself the time to fully investigate.

Trackside view at Nürburgring.
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On Friday afternoon it was nice and quiet. Not that many people decided to show up. In my opinion you miss out if you only go for weekend or, worse, only on Sunday. The atmosphere was calm, the weather helped put people in a good mood and there was still lots to see. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to walk around and get acquainted with the track. I even made my way to the paddock, because I had a pit walk ticket for the Sunday.
I ended up staying until the very last part of the programme – practice 2 – had finished, so I certainly made the most of my day.

One of the photos I took during practice on Friday.
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Saturday was another busy day on track, so I spent my day trackside as much as possible. I managed to get some nice photos of the Porsches going round and of course the so-called Legends of Nürburgring. Being a car enthusiast it was a real treat for me to see some older cars race. The fact that the ‘Legends’ were mixed up, rather than put in neat classes, just added to the fun. There was one classic Mini which gave chase to some newer and much bigger cars! Entertainment value 100%.

This one really is a Mighty Mini…it was quick!
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Sunday was of course the main thing: the race from 13:00 to 19:00 local time. But before that I joined several thousand people for the pit walk.
I’ve only been to one other pit walk: in April before the 6 hours of Silverstone. That was busy…in Germany it was busier. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was due to the fact that there were 8,000 tickets available and they didn’t check the tickets. In theory anyone could get in, even without the pit walk ticket.
Despite the pushing and shoving during the signature sessions it was still pleasant enough to get a closer look at the cars (and the drivers).

The drivers of Aston Martin #99 during the signing session.
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I’ve mentioned in my post about the race at Silverstone that it’s not impossible to keep up with the positions of the cars when you’re trackside. Even though I did not see any radios being sold (something they do do at Silverstone) and I could not read the listing on the enormous screen opposite the stand where I was, I still had an idea how things were going. Obviously the lights at the side of the cars help to determine who is running first, second and third in each class. And there’s the WEC app which can also be a helpful tool (unless your mobile’s battery is running out, like mine). Anyway, I think that by staying on my seat as much as possible during the race I managed to keep up pretty well.

My favourite team (Aston Martin Racing, but I bet I didn’t need to remind you) wasn’t doing as well as I had hoped. Before the race I had heard about the Balance of Performance rule. To be honest, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. I’ve tried to find more information on this rule, but couldn’t find much other than that it is meant to even out the performance across a class and it’s at FIA’s discretion. That means to me that pretty much anything can happen and it did. If someone knows how to explain the fact that the slower cars (being the Astons) got hit with a BoP penalty, please do, because I don’t understand. The result was as good as disastrous. The drivers were clearly pushing as hard as they could, but the cars simply could not deliver what was needed.
In case someone thinks I’m really angry about this – no, I’m not. I just don’t understand this rule and of course it does bother me my favourite team didn’t do as well as they could have done. Thankfully, in the GTE AM class the #98 still made it to a well deserved 2nd spot.

For some time during the race #98 Aston Martin was running first in class.
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All in all I had an absolutely wonderful time. This was not only due to a nail bitingly exciting race, but also the weather and the relaxed attitude of the mainly German spectators. So what if you support Aston Martin Racing rather than a German brand like Porsche or Audi? We were all there for the same thing – superb racing – and we got just that. This was a weekend which resulted in a lot of smiling faces, regardless of which team the people supported.
If there is another race, WEC or otherwise, at Nürburgring next year (and I know there will be!), I am most certainly going again.