Nürburgring – Ring Taxi and a 6 hour race

For the fourth time since 2015 I travelled to the Nürburgring. It is one of my favourite tracks, mainly because it is so accessible (even if you don’t have a ticket) and there is lots to do. In addition it is in a beautiful area of Germany; the surroundings are stunning. The atmosphere has so far been very relaxed during race weekends and I enjoy driving a rented car from Düsseldorf Airport to the track.
Last year I was lucky enough to find a hotel at walking distance from the track which of course enhances the luxury aspect even more.
With a visit of five days it is practically a holiday and for me it truly is just that.

Part of the Müllenbachschleife and the surrounding area in the background.
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Like previous years I went for the 6 Hours of Nürburgring, the World Endurance Championship race. Unlike before, however, I went one day early and arrived on the Thursday. This happened to be my birthday and I treated myself to something special: a lap around the Nordschleife, also known as Ring Taxi. I opted for an Audi R8 V10 for additional enjoyment (the ‘standard’ car is a BMW).

The Nordschleife is the largest part of the Nürburgring. It is visible from the Müllenbachschleife, but I had not been there yet. It is quite thrilling to go to such an iconic track with such a rich history, but also a reputation of being tricky to drive and downright dangerous.
Of course I trusted my driver to be experienced, but when we arrived there were well over 100 cars out on track and obviously I didn’t know how many of those drivers knew what they were doing. This track is notorious for having very few run off areas, so there were some nerves before we took off.

The video can be accessed by clicking the link above, but I have to say that the video doesn’t do the experience any justice. There is no indication on the video how fast we were going and I only peeked every now and then, as I didn’t want to miss the drive itself. I do know that we went into some corners that seemed safe at 50 km/h with a speed of 90 km/h or more and on the final straight we did reach 260 km/h. The speed was also noticeable under braking. I am by no means a feeble female, but I was shaken in every direction in corners and especially under braking. The pressure when speeding up was also considerable and, to be honest, very nice. And of course there is the roar of the engine…

It’s not cheap, but if you get the opportunity I would recommend this experience. It is nothing short of awesome.

One of the Porsches which couldn’t keep all wheels on the track at the Veedol chicane.
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The rest of my stay (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) were all about the WEC 6 hour race.
The weather was changing throughout the weekend, including some serious rain, but Sunday was fairly cool and, at times, windy.
Throughout the weekend I explored various parts of the track and so enjoyed different views wherever I went. The support races were once again very entertaining.
Especially seeing the Porsches almost jumping through the Veedol chicane was a wonderful sight. They were all racing exceptionally hard and quite a few didn’t make it through the chicane and instead had to cut through or go over the grass.

After attending the 24 Hours of Le Mans I was possibly even more excited about this race. Normally there are several months between the races I go to (Silverstone and then Nürburgring), but Le Mans was still very fresh in my mind.
It was strange to realise this would be Bykolles last race of the 2017 WEC season. They will be focussing on next season and testing their car. Even though they compete in the LMP1 class, their car is not hybrid, so they are practically a subclass by themselves.

The Bykolles LMP1 car.
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This race was unusual in the sense that there was no Full Course Yellow, no safety car and no red flags at all. The result was of course 6 glorious hours of uninterrupted racing. It was a rare treat to see what would happen when teams had the opportunity to fight it out on track without the race-changing possibilities mentioned above. As always it was beautiful to watch and it was a bonus to watch it at such a wonderful track.


The pros and cons of going to Le Mans

They won it.
Aston Martin Racing won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in their class. And I was there when it happened.

It goes without saying that I am very happy about that. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a very hard race to complete, let alone win. She has been referred to as a cruel mistress and not a year goes by without motorsport fans experiencing at least some sympathy for competitors who see their race ended due to misfortune. It’s a roller coaster of emotions. But…is it worth going? I thought about that before I booked, but even more so when I was there. I found out that every reason I could think of to go was also a reason not to. Let me explain.

The GTE Pro class winner: Aston Martin Racing’s #97.
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The Race of all Races

Or, as I like to call her, the Mother of all Races. The 24 Hours of Le Mans started way back in 1923. This year was the 85th time the race was held. It’s a 24 hour endurance race with 60 cars on the grid. In short: it’s a big race.
There are some races that belong on the motorsport fan’s bucket list and this is definitely one of them. You probably should go at least once in your life.

So what are the pros of going? Well, there is obviously nothing that can replace the atmosphere at a race track. When you’re at home watching a race or perhaps with a group of friends, it’s still nothing like the real deal. The track is iconic, which in itself can be another reason to go. And it has a museum which is filled with race cars and other special cars (like a Citroën 2CV which went around the world in the 1950s!). If you’re there you also get a chance to attend the drivers’ parade on Friday evening. If you go early enough, you can also go to the signing session on the Tuesday before the race.

Makes you wonder if there is a con to this? Yes, there is. Strangely enough, if you go to the trace track you see less of the race than you would at home. At home you have television coverage (in most countries, at least) and so many different camera angles. At the track you see the action where you are and nowhere else. Considering Circuit de la Sarthe is almost 8.5 miles (just over 13.5 km) long, there is an awful lot you won’t see, even if you have a massive screen nearby.

A very recent addition to the museum is the race car driven by (among others) Frédéric Sausset – a quadruple amputee – last year. Inspiring to say the least…
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It’s June and it’s in France. Quite a lot of people think that is the perfect combination, but if, like me, you struggle with temperatures over 20 degrees you may want to have a think.
This past weekend I experienced temperatures between 26 and 32 degrees. Thankfully there was a breeze, but when that wind drops at a time it’s over 30 I find it hard to breathe. At the same time I saw a large group of people happily sitting outside without any shade chatting and laughing. It really is a personal preference.

Another thing to take into consideration is the food in France. In my experience they are not very keen on vegetarian food. Being a vegetarian myself I can tell you I did struggle finding appropriate warm food. On the other hand I had expected that. So we ended up shopping on Friday morning as supermarkets can provide pretty much anything you want.

If you suffer from asthma or hay fever have a very good think about this. I found the whole experience to be very dusty. The car was unrecognisable after a few hours. I was wearing shoes, socks and full length jeans the entire time and had dust up to my knees on my legs. It goes everywhere. On the Sunday there was a lot of dried grass flying around as well. Probably not the friendliest of places if you have any respiratory condition.

People who have been before have told me they have been to Le Mans during horrible weather. And, again, with the track being so big, you can easily have warm weather on one side and rain on the other. Basically it’s best to be prepared for anything.

Labre Competition’s Corvette was this year’s art car.
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Depending on where you live you’d have to consider how you want to get to Le Mans. I opted for driving from South Yorkshire, taking the ferry from Dover to Calais and drive on to Le Mans. My friend and I did travel down in two days. We had accommodation for the Wednesday night near Dover so we wouldn’t have to rush on Thursday morning to get the ferry. The drive from Calais was about 4.5 hours over toll roads (another consideration!). However, we did do the entire trip back in one day.

Of course you can also fly in, fly-drive, take a bus, go by train or a combination of any of these. I spoke to a lady who had come from Dallas. She obviously had to fly in, but I’m not sure how she got to Paris airport. The option you pick will also be influenced by your budget. Driving in your own car, like I did, is not the cheapest option (from the UK at least), but I really enjoy driving so will gladly spend the time and the money for that experience alone.

Getting there is one thing. How about the daily commute? Where is your accommodation and how will you get from there to the track? You could spend a long time every day getting from your hotel to the track.
This year I opted for glamping. A tent was already set up for us when we arrived, including air beds, bed linen, a small table and two chairs. Ideal, but obviously a little bit more expensive than a camping plot for you and your tent/camper. Another bonus to this is that our camp was near the Porsche curves. We had access to one viewing area which was only available to whoever booked with this particular company. On the other side of the track there was another viewing area, but this was less restricted. I went to both and enjoyed the views from each.

The Porsche Curves are very well known and make for great viewing.
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A new level of cool

Above I mentioned a lot of factors to take into consideration when deciding to go to the 24 Hours of Le Mans or not. There is one more.
Even people who don’t care about motorsport are in awe when you tell them about this. In the eyes of pretty much everyone else out there you are cool. The very fact that you are willing to travel a long distance and brave the elements just to see a race baffles them, but they also admire you for it. If that matters to you, you now have another reason to go.

For me it was quite simple: wherever Aston Martins race I will try to go. I love WEC most of all, so Le Mans was a must for me. Despite the fact I didn’t see that overtake on the Corvette, I was there when my team won the Mother of all Races. And that is an unforgettable experience.

6 Hours of Silverstone 2017

You’d think that after last year’s snow I’d be able to prepare for pretty much anything Silverstone can throw at me. You’d be wrong.
It is surprising how cold it gets when it’s grey and windy for three days in a row. But of course that doesn’t stop a motorsport fan from being trackside most of the day every day of that three day weekend.

The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche.
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With it being Easter weekend I expected a busier weekend than before. As it turned out there were 2,000 people less over the weekend, which could be due to Audi not being there this season.
It also felt less busy, probably because more grandstands had been opened. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to see the action on track from various locations. I believe I went to almost every stand that was open throughout the weekend.

As always it’s a joy to be able to access both the WEC and the ELMS paddock whenever you want. The teams are approachable, so you can have a chat with your favourite drivers if you want. That’s an opportunity I never miss.

The Sunday pit walk was planned very early this time and the autograph session was moved to a later time and to the paddock. As a result the pit walk was extremely quiet. Not necessarily a bad thing, as it gives you the time and space to check out the cars in the garages. The autograph session was a bit messy, depending on which team you visited, but not as busy as I expected. There was still plenty of time to have a quick chat with the drivers and wish them luck for the upcoming race.

I also did the ELMS pit walk on Saturday. This also doesn’t attract that many people. So again, plenty of time and space to check out the cars and talk to some of the drivers.

Vaillante Rebellion’s #31 car which would end up in second position in class.
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Throughout the weekend the position lights on the LMP2 cars did not work, which meant we couldn’t really keep up with who was in what position in that class. That didn’t take away from the enjoyment of seeing them go. Apparently the new chassis in the LMP2 class meant that the cars were 6 seconds faster on average than last year. That’s a big difference!
As in LMP1 there has been some movement with teams leaving and, thankfully, LMP2 also sees some new teams this season.

Even though GTE Pro and Am are my favourite classes, I do enjoy the LMP classes as well. There’s always plenty to watch during a 6 hour race and this time was no difference.
It was interesting to see it took quite some time before the safety car was needed. Usually there seems to be more drama earlier on. But no safety car means more racing, so no complaints from me.

WEC provides some very close racing indeed!
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Unfortunately this was not a good race for Aston Martin Racing. The #95 had taken pole during qualifying, but both GTE Pro Astons ended up outside the podium positions. It seems they simply lacked the overall pace, even though it was never explained why this was the case. There have been speculations that the lower number of tyres allowed have an impact, but this has not been confirmed or denied.
This year sees the introduction of ‘automatic BoP’ (Balance of Performance). It will be very interesting to see what the consequences of that are for following races.

87th International Motor Show, Geneva

After a long break I went back to the Geneva International Motor Show last year. Aston Martin presented the DB11 and I thought I couldn’t be more excited. I was wrong.

Initially I was not planning to go to Geneva, but then Aston Martin broke the news they were bringing three premieres to the show. I got the chance to go on Tuesday (press day), which meant I could not possibly resist.
I did mention last year that the show elements I had grown accustomed to have mostly disappeared. This is not the case for the first press day. Everything starts on Monday afternoon, as in the evening the Car of the Year is revealed. On Tuesday the day is filled with press conferences and these are shows! The manufacturers bring often more than one of their VIPs, promotional videos are shown and most don’t shy away from a light show.

The quiet before the storm, or – in this case – the Aston Martin stand before the press conference.
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It is impossible to see all conferences, because they follow each other in quick succession and you’d have to run from one hall to another at times. I managed to catch the conferences of Audi, Lamborghini, Porsche and Aston Martin.
Especially Lamborghini stood out for me. The actual presentation itself wasn’t that long (as in: not a lot of talking). They alternated between live presentation and a few videos and it was one of the videos that got my attention.

Video courtesy of Lamborghini

After leaving WEC at the end of last year’s season Audi Sport have now presented their DTM challenger: the new RS5. They presented the car simultaneously with its road going sibling. In addition they confirmed their manufacturer team entry for Formula E’s 2017/2018 season. There’s a lot going on at Audi.

Bentley presented the EXP 12 which is an electric car. Style wise it fits in perfectly with the Continental and the Mulsanne. It looks amazing and I hope we get to see and hear more about it soon. Between the BMW i8 and Bentley EXP 12 I think we can safely say electric cars are stepping away from looking boring.

I didn’t make it to the Volvo conference, but was right next door (at Aston) when their conference happened. I had already seen all the Volvos were wrapped up in cocoons (different, to say the least). The presentation seemed to focus mainly on how natural the car is, how great it feels, etc. Considering they were presenting the XC60 I think they totally missed the mark.
Having owned a Volvo 440 and test driven the S90 I am amazed at how horrible the XC60 is. However, I should take into account it’s an SUV and I’m not a fan of SUVs in general. There’s only a few I like, for example the Mazda CX-3 and CX-5. They at least prove that an SUV can still have nice lines and it doesn’t have to be massive.

Volkswagen Arteon
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Volkswagen and I are not really friends, but there are a few models I like. On trips to the Nürburgring I have driven an EOS and a convertible Golf. I fully believe they should have left the Scirocco alone. I also think the CC is one of the sexiest things on four wheels ever built. Safe to say I haven’t quite made my mind up about VW.
When strolling over their stand I was pleasantly surprised by the Arteon (pictured above). It has all the things I like about the CC while still being recognisably Volkswagen. Very nice indeed.

It was great to see so many race cars at the show. Ford brought their WEC racer, Rebellion brought their LMP1 car. Abt was there with their Formula E car. Toyota had their LMP1 car at the stand including a part-car display where you could have a better look at the cockpit.

A look inside the Toyota LMP1 car.
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Last year Aston Martin shook up the car world by presenting what was then called AM-RB 001. It’s low, it looks mean (yet smooth), its aerodynamic characteristics are created by Adrian Newey, it’s very fast and will be road legal (yes, really).
The day before Geneva they revealed the lady’s name: Valkyrie.

Not surprising then that it was very busy at the Aston Martin stand when the time for their conference came. Even though the car has been shown already and further details have been released in the past year, it still draws the crowd. Who wouldn’t want to see this with their own eyes?
Now I have seen the car for myself I can confirm she’s a sight to behold. I find it unbelievable that you can sit behind the car and look underneath it from rear to front. Especially the rear is quite high, despite the car being very low overall. It will be very interesting to see (and hear!) this car when a working prototype is completed.

Aston Martin Valkyrie
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Aston Martin also had a surprise for us: AMR.
They took the opportunity to launch a new brand which will be bringing racing technology directly to road cars. The Rapide AMR looks surprisingly sporty for such a big car and wears its makeover quite well. I understand the Vantage AMR Pro will be track only whereas the Rapide AMR will be a road car.
As if this wasn’t enough they also brought a special Q edition of the DB11 and a Vanquish S Volante. I am still drooling now…

Going to the Geneva International Motor Show on press day has been a privilege. It gave me the chance to have a much better look at the new cars and to hear the details from some pretty important people.
I can’t make any promises, but I will certainly try to get press passes to this show and other shows/events. It will allow me to get that just that little bit more to write about.

A closer look at a motorsport fan

The 2016 WEC season has just come to an end. The 6 hours of Bahrain was the last race and it finished about 90 minutes ago. My emotions are still all over the place.
Of course that is the perfect moment to write about how a motorsport fan feels when attending or watching races. (Note: not every fan will feel this way, this is me.)

I guess motorsport fans are no different to any fan of any other sport. Maybe we’re less violent/aggressive than some, but I assume we’re just as passionate about what we love. We buy the merchandise, we want our favourites to sign stuff (lots of it!), we want selfies, we have flags, we laugh, we cry, depending on the result of our favourite team/driver(s). And that can be strange to people who don’t share that passion.
“It’s just cars going around in circles.” That’s one I hear often enough. Well, for your information, most tracks are not circular. And there’s much more to it than that. However, you need to be interested in the technicalities behind it to appreciate that. The strategies, the cars and their technology, fun stuff like downforce, tyre degradation, how a full course yellow can influence the outcome; it all matters.

The #95 Aston Martin – the Dane Train – which has just won the GTE Pro class in the 6 hours of Bahrain resulting in the WEC GTE Pro drivers championship for Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen, here in action at the Nürburgring in July this year.
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Growing up I was very fond of cars and also interested in the technology, but I didn’t understand anything about racing. I just enjoyed watching the cars (F1, at the time) do their laps and listening to the noise. Only recently have I started following several series in earnest. Now I know a lot more!
This additional knowledge makes the whole thing a lot more enjoyable as well. Like the commentators (both on television and at the track) I am calculating where a team or a driver needs to end up in the race to gain a place or keep that first spot in the overall standings.
But with the enjoyment come all the other emotions: the disappointment when your team/driver doesn’t finish, the joy when they win, the elation when your favourite driver makes a fantastic move (yes, an overtake can be beautiful), the worry when someone crashes (which team is not important!). It is a rollercoaster.

I have thought long and hard about how I came to be an Aston Martin Racing fan. And I am not actually sure.
A long, long time ago I ended up loving Aston Martins, but that is no guarantee I would end up loving the team, which they didn’t even have at the time! Of course it did interest me when they started up a racing team again after a very long absence. And I guess it’s not strange at all to want to support the racing team associated with your favourite car brand. No surprises there.
But for some reason I got more into this, quite naturally.

The #97 Aston Martin in action at the Nürburgring in July 2016.
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For me the team comes first. I am an Aston Martin Racing fan first and foremost. But I do have my favourite car within the team (the #97) and within that a favourite driver (Darren Turner). And I cannot, for the life of me, explain why.
The team runs several cars and they are identical. So why did I pick the #97? No idea.
Explaining my preference for Darren Turner is a bit easier. He’s been in that car since they started using that number and I’ve even heard people refer to him as ‘Mr 97’. He is also very fast and that is how he got my attention. Voila! A fan is born.

Aston Martin Racing is active in WEC – World Endurance Racing – so that quickly became my favourite series. That is not only due to the fact that AMR races there, but also because I have had a love for the 24 hour race at Le Mans for a very long time.
AMR has three cars running in WEC currently, so I have one team to support in two classes (one car in GTE Am and two in GTE Pro). But there are two more classes, LMP1 and LMP2. Even though I like the LMP classes, GTE is by far my favourite. There is just something about those bulky monsters growling while chasing each other around the track. But I managed to get favourites in the LMP classes too: Audi in LMP1 and RGR Sport in LMP2.

The #43 car of RGR Sport in action at Silverstone, April 2016.
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Now how does that happen?
This is something you will hear from more motorsport fans. Because drivers tend to move between teams you get introduced to other series and teams. In the case of RGR Sport the interest comes from following the career of Bruno Senna. Thanks to him I now follow Formula E, Blancpain and RGR Sport in WEC.
This via-via system happens across the board. For example: Aston Martin Racing is also involved with customer and partner teams. And they race in series like British GT and Blancpain. Here we go, another series to add to the list! And these teams have different drivers, who sometimes race in yet other series. The list becomes virtually endless.

Before I forget: Audi gets my support because:
1. they are simply awesome in LMP1;
2. I just like the brand.
Recently they announced they will no longer race in WEC, so the race in Bahrain was their last one. A very sad moment.
And that brings me back to the emotional rollercoaster.
WEC is a very close-knit bunch. When Toyota almost won Le Mans this year everyone (and I mean everyone) was sympathetic. The other teams went to the Toyota box to show their support. The fans were practically unanimous in their outpour of support.
So next to the emotions I described earlier there is that strong sense of belonging. It doesn’t really matter who you support. You love the race, so you belong. There will be playful teasing, of course. But I’ve never seen it get vicious.

The #7 Audi at Silverstone, April 2016.
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Many motorsport fans will get up at what we call ‘stupid o’clock’ to watch that all important qualifying session and, obviously, the race – even if it starts at 3 AM in your timezone.
Le Mans, being the mother of all races, is not to be missed and I’m sure I’m not the only one who tries to not miss a second – and fails (people do need their sleep, apparently).
Being at the track itself is a bonus. The experience is direct, you can get to the paddock where you can do a spot of driver spotting or even get an autograph or photo. And there’s the atmosphere.
In 2015 I went to the 6 hours of Nürburgring on my own. I can tell you there weren’t many Aston Martin Racing fans around. Most people were wearing Porsche and Audi shirts. As I said above: it doesn’t matter. People were accepting, friendly and ready to share a laugh or have a chat. You simply belong.
I guess that is one of the things that makes me go back again and again, also online. You make new friends and you have something in common. All of a sudden those races become social events as well.

Additionally you get a chance to meet your favourite driver(s). If you’re lucky you can join the pit walk during which the signing sessions are held. Trust me, the banter between drivers and fans can be quite something. And no mistake, most drivers like this interaction! There are quite a few drivers in WEC alone who are very active online and love interacting with their fans. They ask questions, run competitions and tell their fans they love them lots.

At Nürburgring my best friend had her Aston Martin tattoo signed by all AMR drivers. The drivers thought it was pretty cool and the photographers were also quite curious (in the background).
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All these different experiences add to the passion.
So today Audi had their last WEC race (which they won), RGR Sport became second in the race and the overall standings in their first season, the #98 Aston Martin retired in a fairly spectecular and smoky fashion, the #97 Aston Martin lost a wheel and had to fight back to a descent position and the #95 Aston Martin won the race, resulting in their drivers winning the 2016 WEC GTE Pro drivers championship. I was a blubbering mess…
I’m not sure if everything in this piece actually explains why I shed happy tears (mainly), but I hope it does.
For now I will have a few months of peace until the team announcements and car unveilings start early 2017. Then the emotional rollercoaster starts again and I will be on it.

The #98 Aston Martin, often a winner in GTE Am, which had bad luck today. On this photo she is racing at Silverstone, April 2016.
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6 Hours of Nürburgring, 2016

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.

The #97 Aston Martin during FP1.
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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.

Romain Dumas was unharmed after his crash during FP2.
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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.

The #43 of RGR Sport.
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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.

The ‘no, it’s not a transfer’ tattoo with signatures by all Aston Martin Racing drivers.
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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 #98 Aston Martin.
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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.

The winner of LMP1: the #1 Porsche.
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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.

WEC Prologue 2016

In February this year Aston Martin Racing showed the world their new race car. It looked like a beast, even in white, and after last season it seems a new car would be very welcome. Having tickets for Silverstone (15-17 April) I could have waited to see the new car in action, but I couldn’t quite contain my curiosity. So off to France I went.

My friend and I did not fly from the UK, however. We decided to drive. So we left on Thursday and allowed ourselves two days to get to the south of France.
By the time we made it to Circuit Paul Ricard on Saturday morning the temperature was rising nicely and there was plenty of activity on track already.
It was also quite busy.
Having never been to pre-season testing before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It turned out to be quite the attraction to the French. I think it’s nice so many people showed up, because having the public there is bound to add to the atmosphere.

The #98 Aston Martin in the pit lane.
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In my post about the 6 hours of Nürburgring I mentioned the distinctive sound the Aston Martins make. It seems the difference with the other cars is just getting bigger. The AMR ladies (for some reason the drivers refer to their racing cars as ‘she’ and ‘her’) have a very low growl to them which I find very nice and which sets them firmly apart from the rest. And then there’s ‘that diffuser’. It does depend on the angle at which you look at the #97, but, yes, it is huge (questionable remark, since we are discussing a lady’s backside).

When I first saw the new colours I couldn’t really make out what type of green the cars are. It looked mostly grey.
Now I’ve seen them ‘in the flesh’ I can see the difficulty. They are very dark green, but the colour is surprisingly subtle. So even up close the light can turn these cars into grey cars, even though they are not. Nevertheless, they look absolutely stunning in every way.
And they seem to deliver. Marco Sørensen was caught doing one hell of a speed in the speed trap: 279.8 km/h, equalling the #31 Extreme Speed Motorsports LMP2 Ligier and leaving two other LMP2 cars behind him.

The #97 Aston Martin in the pit lane, clearly showing ‘that diffuser’.
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Of course this is testing. And during testing the teams do all sorts of things which we ‘mere mortals’ do not understand. To be honest, I get the idea that during any type of testing, especially on public days, most teams don’t want to show their hand. That’s best left to the first race.
Again looking at last season, it’s not uncommon to see an Aston Martin battle a LMP2 here and there. They even win some of these battles. So what can we really tell based on speed trap results? Nothing, I’d say.

What does tell me something is the atmosphere and mood in the paddock/pit lane and on social media.
Where last year the AMR drivers inevitably started showing their frustration with the balance of performance penalty and the consequent bad results, this year they seem to be jumping up and down like six year olds. They all seem in love with the car. I’ve not been able to catch them uttering/publishing one bad word or even a doubt.

And this goes beyond Aston Martin Racing.
I don’t keep up as well with other teams, but I do read enough to see that they’re all looking forward to a new season.
There are new teams this year, the LMP1 teams (dare I call them ‘the main players’?) have improved on their cars, promising more exciting racing. There is simply a lot to look forward to.

One of the new teams is Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK in the GTE Pro class.
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After a few hours in the French sun I am thoroughly sunburnt and the two day trip back didn’t go quite as smoothly as the trip in had gone. But I have to say that travelling about 2,000 miles in a few days for just a few hours of race track activity and a pit walk was well worth the effort.
Before this trip I was looking forward to the first race of the season: the 6 hours of Silverstone. Now I am very excited.
Let’s face it, it is simple: happy drivers/team make a happy fan. The cars look and sound amazing, the drivers are ready to go, the teams are pulling together one more time for yet another season of, undoubtedly, amazing racing. Let’s go!