Bahrain GT Festival - Monday & Tuesday

Monday - Day One
dailysportscar.comThe end of term feeling was definitely in the air (quite literally) as GF002 lifted off from London Heathrow yesterday morning, the Gulf Air Airbus A340 peppered with familiar faces from paddocks in the UK and beyond. There were giggles as the assembled Brits tried to guess just how long ago the picture of Nigel Greensall, (featured in Autosport’s top ten drivers in the British GT season review), had been taken (apparently 1997). Greensall’s partner in crime this week will be Terry Pudwell, the pair bringing the Stealth B6 back to GT racing, with an ex (Canadian-owned) Grand-Am chassis, fitted with a fresh 6.7 litre Chevy V8.

Ian Flux was aboard too, the Deputy Editor enjoying the opportunity to chat about the Hill GH2 Formula One car that Fluxie had tested for Motor Sport magazine, the very car indeed that he had ‘spannered’ for Graham Hill’s embryonic team in the early 70s. A chance too to chat about his current GT racing adventures alongside Phil Burton in the VRS Ferrari 360. The car had been very quick at both Britcar GT Open races, but had retired very early at the weekend at Brands Hatch. “It was a £5 gearbox bit that broke, but it was way up in amongst the exhaust and we couldn’t get to it. The car is a bog standard Ferrari Challenge car, we’ve done very little to it.” That bodes well for the 2005 season: in the wet at Donington Fluxie had mixed it with the GT2 cars quite comfortably and at Brands he had held pole position on the greasy GP circuit. It will be quite a contrast to his mount this weekend, a Porsche 935 replica no less!

One of Flux’s team-mates in a two car 935 team will be Andy Shepherd. Shepherd, and brother Bill are lifelong AC Cobra fans and both have raced the cars with much success. “Bill does mainly the big European races now whilst I run mostly in the UK (AMOC Intermarque). They’re still fabulous cars, hugely powerful of course and despite the leaf springs at the back they handle beautifully.” His AC racing ambitions don’t just extend to the Cobra however. “I’m building a 7 litre AC 428 which I’d love to take GT racing.” This the car which had been mooted to take to the tracks in 2004 in the cancelled GT (GT1) class of the British GT Championship. The car has raced in club events but Shepherd clearly would like to show it off on a bigger stage.

Six hours later and the superbly efficient Bahrain Airport welcomed still more of Europe’s GT racing family, seemingly every flight depositing more drivers and support crew. The Dutch US Carworld team, Balfe Motorsport - fresh from their victory in the Spanish GT Championship - the depleted JMB team, the Eurotech crew for Stuart Scott and Nick Adcock’s Porsche and the Tech 9 boys from Liverpool (ready to do battle with their Porsches in two classes this week).

Awaiting his crew in the Arrivals hall, early bird Stuart Scott reported that the circuit and its facilities were superb. “The garages are fully air conditioned and everything looks spotless.” Just like every circuit back at home then, eh? The pit garages also still carry the branding from the Formula One teams which used them at the circuit’s inaugural Grand Prix earlier in the year – the Jaguar Racing branding on the Scott / Adcock pit though perhaps not the best advert for the sustainability of large scale investment in F1!

The signs for a well promoted meeting are good. As soon as the radio was switched on in the dsc rental Nissan, a commercial advertising the meeting was playing. Early arrivals report that the racing is exciting the local populace and the weather is, of course, rather better than in the UK - with a low of some 21 degrees (at 2am!)

There are however strange goings on at dsc mission control (aka the Elite hotel): the lift seems to only carry members of the Scott family… Team Aero Morgan pilot Aaron appearing the first time we used it and father Dave showing up later: The suspicion is that the Morgan effort is being run on such a tight budget that the family are saving money on an actual room!

Tuesday - Day 2
More evidence of a well promoted meeting – roadside poster sites are everywhere, rather bizarrely featuring a first corner shot from Oulton Park in which a Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari appears to have been replaced by Colin Blower’s Vauxhall VX220 (complete with windscreen strip).

Bahrain is a curious mixture of cultures – the massive and beautiful Grand Mosque contrasting with a stunning night time skyline of neon-lit high rise hotels and offices. Closer to the circuit we are very much in oil country: the smell of the source of Bahraini wealth is in the air at times, as derricks and nodding donkey wells appear by the roadside.

The sight of the circuit, 30 minutes or so outside the capital, Manama, is quite stunning, the grandstands and Tower looking completely at odds with the surrounding landscape. As you draw closer, the latest debacle for F1 seems to crystalise – this is a brand new venue on a massive scale – new road infrastructure means the approaches are well catered for, all around is clean and well ordered and the facility itself is breathtaking in terms of scale and appearance.

Through the security gates and into the F1 paddock and the comparison with Silverstone becomes laughable. Space, and lots of it: the pit garages and paddock area could fit a small circuit within the area they occupy, those garages containing a single GT car looking barn-like, with teams from all over Europe making humorous comparisons with facilities at home.

The media centre has more TV monitors than several branches of Dixons, and is prepared to accommodate the hundreds of international media who follow the F1 circus. There is however one rather strange aspect to it – there is no view of the circuit from its windows at all. That probably says more about the priorities of the F1 media than it does about the owners and operators of the Bahrain International Circuit.

And so to the pit lane. The start finish straight is a kilometre long, with a grandstand towering opposite the pits: there will be serious speeds here this week and serious sounds too – the GT cars will run unsilenced! “That should put some smiles on a few faces,” said a grinning Keith Ahlers – owner of one of the cars sure to prove a crowd pleaser, the Morgan Aero 8. Next door the Bintec Prosport 3000 now sported exhaust pipes resembling the business end of a heavy artillery piece – this should be a very loud race indeed!

At the Stealth pit there were a few long faces: the B6 had sustained damage in transit, the nose section scarred and the front splitter broken.

A bit of Nigel Greensall detective work soon discovered that the car had been pushed into the rear of one of the Porsche 935s while loading (the Porsche too had suffered damage to the rear diffusers on both sides).

Mysteriously the Stealth had also suffered a broken steering arm, the usually robust part had fractured clean in two. Unfortunately the extensive spares package shipped over by the team didn’t include the offending article: fortunately Terry Pudwell had brought extra parts with him, including a replacement for the broken component. The nose section was despatched for repair locally and both the B6 and the Porsche will be fine for the race.

There were cars looking ready for the off (although they will not take to the track until Thursday) and others still swathed in their packing materials. The FFSA Toyota Supra was spotted swaddled in plastic.

A brief count found 47 cars from the 48 on the revised entry list: the missing entry was the Coopers Ales sponsored Ferrari 550, a pre-race favourite. No worries though for the Aussie team, the car was en route from storage, having arrived in Bahrain a week early. It arrived as darkness fell to a rapturous welcome from Stephan Ratel, the SRO boss having just returned from Australia himself in his quest to put together a World GT series.

Lester Ray was hard at work with his crew prepping the pair of Harriers. The 1998 GT1 car was attracting admiring glances from many in the pitlane, including Nigel Greensall, who reminded dsc that he had raced this very car at Snetterton, with Jamie Campbell Walter.

The sole remaining Saleen on the entry list, this the DDO S7R, was sitting menacingly in its pit box close to a grinning Wolfgang (Turgriffen-Piranha) Kaufmann, looking on as the Weith Ferrari 550 was reassembled.

Over at the Eurotech Porsche pit there was a sharp exchange of views as a member of the British team was thoroughly told off by a member of the US Carworld team, for the noise being made by the compressor filling the team’s airbottles. The impolite reprimand was ignored on two counts – one, it couldn’t be heard over the racket of the compressor and two, the only reason the Dutchman had been annoyed was that it had woken him from his slumbers, in a picnic chair in the pit lane. Hilariously, as soon as the job was finished the interjector’s snores were again interrupted by one of the world’s most efficient (but also noisiest and slowest) track cleaning machines.

Scrutineering got underway at 4pm and the queue of cars eager to get the formalities over with stretched along the pit apron.

There is a party atmosphere throughout the paddock and large numbers of families and friends appear to have made the end of season trip. So far Bahrain has made them all welcome. Wednesday will see a parade of the cars to the City centre with the Stuart Scott / Nick Adcock Porsche in front and centre for a tyre changing demo in a major shopping mall – come on, can’t we have this sort of promotion more often?


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