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LMES - Silverstone Conclusions
Loving It And Hating It In Equal Measure
There are so many stories to tell after a ‘weekend’ like that. It began for us on Thursday, so by Sunday afternoon, there was a distinct impression that we’d been living at Silverstone for something like a week. Gawd knows how the teams felt, especially those like JWR and Rollcentre, still involved late on Sunday afternoon – ultimately for little reward. Mike Jordan expressed the view that he’d just like to go home, but he and Martin Short will bounce back at Thruxton, while others will be in action sooner than that, at Road America.

dailysportscar.comWhat a pleasure to see continental journalists in the press room at Silverstone. The Italian contingent was as enthused as we were by the efforts of both TVRs, Racesports plugging away to another good finish, while Chamberlain-Synergy was going for the podium. “The retaining springs that hold the exhaust collector on broke, so the exhaust fell apart and Johnny just couldn't drive for the fumes in the cockpit,” explains Bob Berridge. “We lost four laps fixing it, and had a stop in hand over the VK (Sebah) Porsche due to our early stop strategy (40 mins into the race) which meant we didn't need the splash and go that most all took towards the end. We would have definitely made third and we think probably second: both Johnny and Warren were hugely impressive with their pace and consistency. They both drove pretty much flat out for the whole race. The car proved it also has the pace now, achieving a 1:55.8 after five hours!!”

For Berridge – but for broken retaining springs – it was a case of “I told you so,” although he didn’t actually say that. This project has been heading towards a podium throughout the last six months, and that purple TVR certainly did do its talking on the track. The early fuel stop was a planned one, the team having calculated that they’d need 4.6 stops in total.

Xavier Pompidou and Piers Masarati were giggling like schoolboys after the race. “Another second place, in a 2000 car,” beamed the Frenchman. He and Piers – the latter only just back from a good old thrash at Mosport – had absolutely made the most of their equipment, and a very well prepared Porsche, even a GT3-R, is still a very useful bit of kit.

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Having virtually the whole GT field on one brand of tyre makes for the best kind of racing, although much the same applies in the ALMS.

Sebah success (and TVR nearly success) was dependent on problems elsewhere, but that’s endurance racing. A power steering pump at Freisinger and an engine at Cirtek blunted / killed the challenges from these two teams, but Stephane Daoudi was on their pace, even letting a recovering Emmanuel Collard past him towards the end, then tucking in behind, just to let him know that “whatever you can do….” Having featured Adam Jones and Daoudi here recently, it was a real pleasure to see one of them on the top step.

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The Frenchman had suffered his dramas on Saturday, contact from a 575 nearly smashing him into the wall on the pits straight. “I missed the wall by this much – five centimetres – on every spin (four 360s), and when I stopped, I bumped into the tyre wall with just a tiny bump.”

dailysportscar.comDon’t remind Gabrio Rosa, but Seikel Porsches usually just go round and round: Tony Burgess and Philip Collin had a typical Seikel run to fourth - undramatic, but highly effective – and one place behind the Farnbacher car, led so well by Patrick Long.

T2M and JWR had races to forget, after each showed real promise: hats off to both sets of mechanics for solving whatever problems were thrown at them. For Kaneko’s T2M, that was a late driveshaft failure, but they got the car back out for the last couple of laps. The JWR Porsche had real pace once the clutch had been fixed, Mowlem getting the better of Long in the Farnbacher car (on the track) - but it becomes a long old race after a major repair such as a clutch and master cylinder replacement.

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GTS has a life peculiar to itself: Vitaphone against Larbre on pace, so who will finish third (second if the Saleen has its customary problem)? One of the Barron-Connor Ferraris had some aerodynamic updates for this event, although it was the Hezemans / Deletraz car – with Piccini to help out – which managed second place. The faster Biagi / Sullivan / Bosch 575 became involved in the clash that eliminated the repaired Cirtek Ferrari, and needed repairs after more contact later. Biagi apparently drove for less than an hour, oddly. Third was… the same car that finished there at the Nurburgring, Phil Bennett joined by David Leslie and Paul Whight this time. Bennett and Leslie did the bulk of the driving, Whight calling time on his middle-of-the-race stint after 40 minutes: “After my injury at Spa, this was my first race of the season, and I was hot and my concentration was going. But the team put me in for the last 25 minutes so that I could make up an hour’s driving and score points.”

“Paul drove very well at the end,” observed David Leslie. “He was lapping in the 1:52s – excellent stuff.” The Aston man Paul Whight (Leslie has a strong Aston Martin connection of course), father of Barrie, who had such a fraught time in the second British race on Sunday, is likely to be in the Nash Saleen again at Spa, with the same partners. “I’ve changed my mind after that short stint at the end – earlier in the race, I wasn’t at all keen to do Spa.”

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“We’re getting the results,” said a satisfied Graham Nash. “But they’ve got to do something about the prototypes hitting slower cars – we got hit twice, the first one at Becketts. You can see the impact was with the right rear wheel, then all along the side.”

The GNM Saleen was battle-scarred then – but also absolutely plastered in oil. Ironically, the oil came from the RML Lola.

dailysportscar.comLarbre’s Ferrari doesn’t seem to generate good stories – just good results. The drinks bottle didn’t work, and… a pit lane speeding penalty… and… nothing else. Jack Leconte’s team should be the inaugural LMES GTS Champions, after making it three out of three. A title every year since 2000 for the French squad – is all but confirmed, the only problem being that only five GTS cars started at Silverstone, so half points were awarded.

We’ve already covered the A-Level Engineering story: poor Wolfgang Kaufmann.. he arrives at the races and doesn’t get a chance to even start the thing these days.

And so to the prototypes. In our brain-dead, pre-race state, it didn’t occur to us to ask Yves Courage why Miracle Motorsports was purchasing the (soon to be) Silverstone LMP2 winning C65, rather than one of the others. Has its value increased or decreased as a result of the win? Martin Short was fuming, even on Sunday afternoon, over the antics of the red Courage. “Patrick (Pearce) was put onto the grass at Woodcote in practice by that car, and on the last lap of the race, Sam Hancock hit me coming down the Hangar Straight – then raced me side by side into Stowe. It carried on as far as Luffield – on the last lap! He said he’d been told he was racing me for position, but we’re not even in the same class! I had a word with him afterwards…”

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John Macaluso seems to be acquiring a tough car. Perfect for the hard world of the ALMS? That’s two LMES wins for Yves Courage, but the Belmondo car seems to hit problems wherever it races.

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dailysportscar.comLMP2 was pretty much as expected, with disappointments rife almost throughout, leaving the WR to mop up second place. On merit that would have gone to the K2 Pilbeam, but contact damage put the car out, Peter Owen at the wheel – although the damage had been done earlier. Simon Pullan was very quick in this easily best of the ‘SR2s’, but the Palmyr Tampolli eventually came home a distant third, after the Tracsport Lola was confronted with a very late, very unlucky, electrical problem. Third had looked very secure for the yellow Lola. Five finishers must be a record for the class?

Eleven LMP1s started and eight finished. It was the old Audi 1-2-3 of course, but it was far from straightforward.

We try to follow as much of the action as we can during races, and can only really attempt that, and write about it ‘live’, from the press room, but someone came in and reported how much he’d enjoyed watching the Dallara and Lister having a good old scrap during the opening hour. “Completely different sounds,” he said, with an impression of each for good measure. We are lucky, aren’t we? And you can stand next to either as it starts up, without the need for ear protection (just) – and enjoy the simple pleasure of a prototype engine warming up. On Thursday afternoon, before LMES first practice began, an F1 car was wailing round the South Circuit. 24,000 rpm in a year or two? So? And they’ll still all sound the same.

So who can do an impression of an R8 leaving its pit? It’s an incredible sound and spectacle: full bore for two to three seconds, then that staccato rev-limited effect along the pit lane. You just know you’re going to hear that from all three R8s for nearly six hours.

But it was the factory Zytek that had the Audi drivers on the defensive on Friday. Robbie Kerr – what an impression he made on everyone. He calmly indicated that given another qualifying effort, he could have been in the 1:33s. John Wickham was pulling the wool over our eyes with suggestions of pole in the 1:37s, after Thursday’s session: that was beaten by Kerr in the race.

If the Zytek has a weakness it is only that it isn’t as bomb-proof as the Audi, contact with the Lister at Stowe requiring a precautionary stop, and from that point, the Audis had the upper hand. Kerr had shown his hand twice though, leading from the start and then re-taking the lead, spectacularly, at Club, after a slowish first stop. Chris Dyson then had the misfortune to have a GTS car turn in on him at Becketts, when it had looked as though the slower car was letting him through, but the American completed three impressive stints in the middle of the race, leaving Kerr to finish it – but the Englishman was eased onto the grass late on, which required another stop, to remove grass.

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“The trouble we had with back markers really ruined our race as a podium was definitely possible,” summed up Kerr. “We were definitely there on pace in the race,” added Chris Dyson. We hope to see these two try again at Spa.

Johnny Herbert will be hoping that he’s got an effective race car at Spa, and a clearer strategy. Towards the end of the race, Jamie Davies was a little frustrated with the turn of events, and presumably as perplexed as his partner regarding tactics during the last 40 minutes.

Chris Gorne, engineer on the #88 car, explains: "Sometimes in a race situation when a splash is necessary, the car making the splash first will benefit from track position later in the race. This is in a situation where the cars are of equal pace. When we entered the window for the stop, the Team Goh Audi was gaining on #88 at a rate of 2-3 secs per lap. So I decided to get the stop out of the way so that JH could then run to the end and I felt sure that they would not throw a full course yellow that late in the race considering all the other Full Course Yellow-worthy incidents that had already happened.

"With regards the very late stop for tyres, I was to trying to give Johnny [Herbert] one last chance but in hindsight, perhaps I should left him just run to the end. But even if Johnny had stayed out, I still believe we'd finish third. If I did not call JH in and the Goh car stopped, their stop time, including in and out, would have still got them out ahead. The Goh entry stopped I think for three seconds of fuel, and with a pit entry / exit of 35 secs this would have been a total of 40 secs. On lap 191, Dindo had a 44 second advantage, which was growing at a rate of 2-3 secs per lap."

There are some parallels here with the situation at Le Mans, where circumstances also dictated that the Goh Audi would finish ahead of #88.

dailysportscar.comThe McNish / Kaffer car, having been the less confidence inspiring one in qualifying, was the one to have in the race.

Dindo Capello was flying towards the end of the five hours or so, a cooler track seeming to favour his car’s set-up, flying rubber during the first stint having necessitated a nose replacement: the handling deteriorated without a dive plane.

Martin Short was very unhappy with the handling of the Dallara – until he too found that the late afternoon suited the car better than the bulk of the race. For once though, it wasn’t an almost trouble free LMES / Sebring run for Rollcentre. Gear actuator problems meant using it like an H-pattern, while electrical trouble could have stranded it out on the circuit, and then gravel in the alternator almost meant that the car didn’t get out for the finish. Argy-bargy with the Courage was the final instalment of a frustrating race.

It had started well for the different-sounding Lister, although Tommy Erdos might not agree. The Brazilian reckoned he was hit by Justin Keen at the first corner of the race, but both Lister and Lola raced on, the V8-powered car passing the Dallara and #69 Zytek to move into the top six - then meeting the Zytek at Stowe, then suffering a related suspension breakage. This was fixed, but contact with the Jota Zytek later left the car with no front brakes, and it was reluctantly retired. “We’re testing at the races,” commented a still positive Laurence Pearce, who has always known the potential of his unique car. Rob Barff was extremely complimentary of the handling. Laurence would love to take it to PLM and Laguna Seca.

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We’re not sure what developments lurk under the bodywork of the 04S chassis that the DBA doesn’t have, but the Audi’s main rival at the Nurburgring wasn’t quite there at Silverstone – but the Creation prototype is still a very effective machine, and logically won’t require any ballast next year. JC-W looked completely at home and the race for best non-Audi should have been a very good one…. then the gearbox failed.

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Jota had its first proper result at the third attempt, contact dropping the blue 04S to sixth rather than a deserved fifth. Sam Hignett was particularly impressive, his 1:40 / 41 race pace virtually a match for anyone.

We’ve touched on the RML Lola, which recovered from that very early contact, ran quickly and economically, suffered electrical / loss of power trouble in the middle period of the race, then expired in oily fashion right at the end, but hung onto eighth.

dailysportscar.comAnd so to the two ‘eco’ cars, both of which came out of the event with more credit than ever before. Reliabilty and top speed of the Nasamax were both predicted to be “fantastic” and so it proved. There is no more downforce to be had under the new regulations, but the green machine ran through the race with impeccable reliability, and big smiles were in abundant supply afterwards. Eau Rouge might test Lupberger, Dumas and Stirling to the limit, but the DM139 should be very entertaining there. The top speed towards Les Combes should be phenomenal.

We’d just registered that the Lola Caterpillar had covered 100 laps when news arrived that it had expired, an oil seal having failed. "Silverstone was a massive step forward; the car was so much more driveable,” said Calum Lockie, the Lola really racing for the first time in its short, diesel-powered life.

As an event, the weekend has to be judged a success on most counts. 14,000 was a good crowd (not a great one), and there was always plenty of track action going on throughout the meeting. The 1000 Kms didn’t come close to matching Monza or the ‘Ring for drama, but was simply a good race, rather than a great one.

Too many races at the meeting perhaps? Sunday was always likely to be a touch anti-climactic, and the deteriorating weather from mid-afternoon added to the feeling that we’d travelled a race or two too far. Jordan, Pearce, Stanton and Short would probably agree with that statement.

Silverstone is still (perhaps more so) a fine facility for the big event (Saturday) but less so for what became almost a national meeting on Sunday.

With M. Poissenot letting slip the details of the amendments to the LMP rules (for existing cars) next year, is it almost time to look ahead to a final year for the Audis (with 50kg and a 5% restrictor cut), or will R8 entrants decide that the penalties are too great? Most of those we spoke to suggested that a Zytek will (even more so) be the thing to have next year (at 720kg), but maybe the R8 will still get the job done over a long distance?

For some the race was “a bitch” – but success or failure, the appeal of real endurance racing is timeless. Some loved it for 333 minutes, some loved it and then hated it, some eg. AutoPalace, had a really miserable time - and by Sunday afternoon, any LMES team members still on the premises looked exhausted... but they’ll all be back at Spa for another go next month.
MC

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