Silverstone 6 Hour WEC Tourist Trophy
Words by James Edmonds. Photographs by Thomas Murray and James Edmonds
(This story appeared in edited form on www.fourtitude.com)
|Tom at work
The Easter bank holidays actually played into our hands and I was able to reshuffle some plans which allowed us to take in Friday and Saturday at the track, while on Sunday Tom would attend the race (a literal washout as it turned out) whilst I placated mum and had a lovely lunch at an olde worlde pub with the family.
|Fairly impressive ‘Wing’
Photographer Tom and I arrived at Silverstone in time for Friday practice and were immediately taken aback by the sheer scope of the track and its facilities. I had been here many times before – last time for a Group C race back when Martini liveried Lancias were battling thundering Aston Nimrods and Porsche were debuting the seminal 956! The cars were spectacular but the circuit was more like Sebring than the glamorous place that it is today. Some naysayers still call it a dusty old airfield, but I have to say that I was well impressed with the old girl’s new ball gown and would say that it is one of the best presented, best run and cleanest tracks I have yet visited. The ‘Wing’ complex has to be seen to be believed! The racing fraternity glitterati on hand in the vast media centre made it better than Ocsar night for the two of us!
|With Ulrich Baretzky
One person who has relished the new challenge is of course head of engine development at Audi Sport, Ulrich Baretzky. Not one to neither rest on his laurels nor revel in the past (Never Follow) the charismatic designer of sexy diesel engines told us about the new power trains. “After all these years just chasing power which is nice for drivers – but not for our environment – from this year on we are searching for efficiency. It’s a completely different approach but the right one and a very challenging one for engineers. From this point of view I am very happy about…not about details…but the general direction is absolutely the way to go.”
Coming from a racer’s racer this might sound like a corporate sound bite but when challenged he defends his stance, “No, it’s completely different because the more efficient you make an engine the more powerful it becomes. All of this technology that we are developing is for the sake of our road cars at the end of the day. The new European CO2 fleet average standard makes this a huge challenge. This goes in hand with consumption and so we are absolutely working in the right direction.
Although he describes his V12 diesel as a ‘monument that you make once in your life’ he is quick to concede that although it was efficient for its time when compared to the petrol engines that came before, it is now old technology. He also quipped about the pressure to deliver a successful power train after so many previous winners. I wouldn’t bet against him though!
Darren Turner who was in charge of the #97 Aston Martin Vantage GTE and celebrating his and AMR’s 10 year anniversary won’t have to worry about the complexities of the P1 cars though and he seemed quite happy about that fact at the press conference. “It sounds fairly complicated inside the (P1) cars. At least for us GT drivers it’s very easy: Just flat out from the word go. As you can see from last year the competition was very close between all the manufacturers and there’s no reason why it won’t be the same this year,” Darren said. “Some teams have made a bit more progress over the winter and after free practice we’ve got some time to find but I’m sure the team will get it back.”
|I am The Stig
Also alongside DT at the interview session was Ben Collins, better known to most as ‘The Stig’ from that most notorious of shows, ‘Top Gear’. What made the moment even more unusual was the fact that sitting right there were (reportedly) two ‘Stigs’. As legend has it DT was the faceless driver on the record-lap setting DBR9 episode. Rumor denied of course, but after getting goose bumps from seeing the actual Tourist Trophy, replete with names such as Nuvolari, Caracciola, Brooks, Moss, Hill, Bell and McNish, I was granted a ‘Stig’ pose for the camera from Mr. Collins!
Ex- F1 Englishman Anthony Davidson driving for Toyota was grappling like all the P1 pilots to get to grips with all the new technology and information that has to be processed. “It’s similar to the Formula One drivers and the need for increased driver capacity to get the cars around the track. You’re still fighting every lap and still pushing as hard as ever before but you’re always having to adjust settings and keep an eye on the fuel meter as well. It’s interesting. It’s definitely challenging and I’m sure some people will struggle to understand it, but it’s just another skill in another era of motor racing.”
|Mark Webber offers thoughts
Mark Webber seemed pleased to be here and looked very much in charge and focused on the task at hand, giving some firm direction to his team mates when in the garage on pit lane.I asked him how much fun he was having being back in the more relaxed atmosphere of endurance racing after his long career in Formula 1 but it seems that modern endurance racing is anything but. Mark explains, “I just wanna go racing! I haven’t done any racing yet so I’m looking forward to seeing how that will unfold. In testing it’s been rewarding but not as rewarding as racing, whether it’s in Formula 1, sports cars, rally cars, whatever…it’s all about racing so I’m looking forward to it.
|TK. Mr Le Mans to you and me
|Breakfast of champions
Tom continues with a quip that might have come out when he was driving single seaters, “The most issue I have to think about is my weight because everyone walking around – there’s not much flesh on them and that is a very important parameter in this new category.” (I was glad not to be a driver at that point as TK had only that morning made fun of my breakfast – coffee, Red Bull and a big waffle, but in my defense, I had literally just arrived after an overnight flight!)
|Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen
I suppose on one hand we can all wish that Tom does not win number 10 this year, so that we may have a better chance of seeing him again next year, but no one would be happier than me to see him reach that seemingly unassailable pinnacle . We will know more in a few weeks……
Always non-plussed, he shows little concern for the new car’s apparent lack of pace when compared to the rival teams: Audi always has a game plan. And a plan B. And a plan C.
technical problem – but that means that some of the running we have done has been not so relevant, so we’re going into the race with a few unknowns so we’ll have to see what happens.” With a GTE rules freeze, are there any changes allowed to the car besides setup? “Well, Porsche at the end of last year came with an upgraded car at the last race and that’s what they’re starting with this year. You can see that it’s a very…strong package and Ferrari look strong too. We’ve not had a massive upgrade on the car this winter – we’re trying to maximize what we had last year. Our full potential is near where we are right now…we might find a little bit more, but the ride height’s changed from last year so we need to understand exactly what that’s done to our car and hopefully we can get some more out of the car once we know what that five mil’s has done.”
|Great roast beef!
Having missed the race day, I actually felt a little sorry for Tom, because he had been in the rain all day while I had a spectacular roast beef lunch with a dozen or so family members. The following day was more running around and after a quick stop to say goodbye to my family’s just-sold home in Newport Pagnell, we took a quick look at Aston Martin ‘Works’. The new showroom stands in marked contrast to the now disused but protected buildings on the other side of the road.
Ex-AML headquarters, ‘Sunnyside’ looks much the same as in 1960 and the Salmons building looks much as it did when making carriages at the turn on the 20th century.
|Tom’s photo could be from 1900
We wound up at my oldest friend’s home for the night – a converted Victorian train station. This is not the forum for me to effuse about what a wonderful place it is, but interested parties can look up Great Alne station for a history lesson!
Despite having to meet up with the Audi group at Heathrow by noon onTuesday, I thought we could still squeeze in a visit to Prodrive on the way before returning the rental! A tall order, but we hadn’t slept yet, so why start now? Leaving early and being somewhat foggy (me – not the weather) I managed to nearly off the two of us when I startled the hell out of an unsuspecting motorist on that tiny country lane. I could have sworn that it was he who was on the wrong side! Still, with our hearts now pumping adrenaline at record levels, we duly made our date ahead of schedule with the lovely and incredibly knowledgeable Jackie Irwin.
Going from the fairly bland white and grey foyer this was a bit of a surprise to put it mildly. The WRC cars of McRae and Burns are right there on the floor. And not just replicas…the real McCoy. The 2003 Le Mans GTS winning Ferrari 550 is there too. Interestingly, whereas most cars are run by Prodrive on behalf of a manufacturer, the Ferrari program had no ties to Maranello having been the idea of a private individual. The base cars were not even purchased from Ferrari rather being essentially ‘used cars’ race-prepped and rebuilt with 700 hp motors!
Prodrive is now a very diverse and progressive company making bespoke items for many manufacturers although totally devoid of any Prodrive branding. Did you know that the Mars Rover has Prodrive go-faster bits on it? When we were escorted to the first of several production areas, Jackie pointed out some very complex looking hydraulic rear wings being made for a certain not-to-be-named British supercar. Our guesses were neither confirmed nor denied as they say. No photo’s here please.
Eyeing my watch, we had to make hasty progress, but Jackie is obviously used to much greater pressure as she also wears many hats at the races, and with aplomb she moves us along mindful of our tight timetable. Next along the way we witness the bespoke wiring looms taking shape. This is a long process as each one is unique and is made with aerospace grade materials. Cost is not mentioned, but with production time counted in weeks you wouldn’t want your neighbor using butt connectors to make hasty repairs!
The chassis shop is where the cars arrive and are stripped in preparation for their metamorphosis into racing cars. In various states of production are Mini WRC shells, and of course Astons being transformed into GT3 or GT4 spec. The chassis arrive as road going production examples and are pared all the way back to the bulkhead, body panels off, before being strengthened, lowered, reinforced and lightened to match the appropriate rulebook. Oh good! Cameras back out!
the dyno. Except for the engine tweaking under torque load and the flickering gauges monitoring performance, you would never know that a race motor was running such is the sound proofing. Although I know that there are places we are not privy to – where super-secret s#%t goes on, the last place we get to see is my Mecca: Aston Martin Racing.
My heart skips a beat and my eyes well up with pride when I walk into this mythical area. Although the David Brown Racing Department at Feltham may have been the ultimate spine-tingler, you can feel the ghosts of DB’s cars within these walls. I had assumed (wrongly as usual) that having just raced all weekend and with the Easter Monday bank holiday just behind us, that the crew would have arrived at the shop after a day off to start taking the cars apart for the rebuilds.
I expected to see the bug splattered cars fresh from the race and just off the transporters surrounded by engineers, mugs of tea in hand, contemplating their collective next move. Wrong again.
What we saw was really what impressed me the most about the whole tour: the cars had been long ago unloaded and undressed and were already dismantled with engines out, well into the rebuild phase. Don’t forget, the cars had just finished a rain soaked Easter Sunday race that had lasted until dusk. Four cars then had to be loaded while the huge amount of pit equipment, tools and boxes, wheels and tires, spare body parts and miscellany had to be broken down and loaded into the trucks for transport and then unloading back at home base before the team packed up some GT4 cars and moved on to Oulton Park to do it all again. In just two more days!
|Jackie Irwin has to force us out!
With the clock ticking and with reluctance, we wrestled ourselves away from the place and offered our profound thanks to Jackie for being so understanding and so wonderful, then literally jumped into our Audi A3 rental and took off for Heathrow still reeling in our dream-like state.
Did we take a nap on the way in? C’mon now. Don’t be silly – we had to be ready for afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason! But that my friends starts a whole new adventure…