Bahrain GT Festival - Monday & Tuesday
- Day One
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!
- 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 dailysportscar.com 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.
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
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).
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.
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?