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Silverstone, 10 – 12 April, 2015

The first round of the FIA World Endurance Championship was held at the Silverstone circuit on Sunday 12 April, preceded by the first round of the European Le Mans Series on the Saturday, and a trio of European F3 Championship races. Bright Spring weather attracted a good crowd over the weekend, with the organisers giving a figure of 45,000 plus. It was not only the fine weather that was the attraction, as the ongoing track and technology duel between Audi, Porsche and Toyota has captured people’s imagination, whilst the GT categories provide people with cars on track that they can relate to in road car configuration. There were certainly massive crowds for the always popular autograph sessions in the respective pit lanes, for the ELMS on Saturday, and the FIA WEC on the Sunday. The latter was particularly popular, as Mark Webber has a great UK fan base, and the Porsche pit was mobbed from the start to end of the session. Further down the pit lane, many were trying to get close to the Dempsey Racing Garage to get close to the American actor Patrick Dempsey. Another popular target for autograph hunters on the Saturday was British cycling legend and six time Olympic Gold Medal winner, Sir Chris Hoy MBE, who was participating in his first endurance racing event in a LMP3 Ginetta-Nissan, in the ELMS race, winning his class with co-driver Charlie Robertson first time out.

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Nissan were supposed to have debuted their LMP1 contender, but they have decided to miss the first two rounds of the series, to concentrate on development for the Le Mans 24 Hour Race in June. However, they had two examples of the model on display in the pit lane on the Thursday afternoon, after which they stayed in their garage. Porsche had a third 919 Hybrid at the circuit, which was finished in the orange and white colour scheme of the 1970 Le Mans 24 Hour Race winning Porsche 917K. As an aside to this, the design on the side of the Porsche transporters, and also on the wall in their hospitality suite, shows how the current livery on both their LMP1 and LMGTE cars is configured, it is based on the words “Porsche Intelligent Performance” (see picture in the gallery for the explanation).

The entry comprised of 29 cars, 7 in the LMP1 category, including the new Team ByKolles CLM P1/01-AER, which was no match for the works hybrids, 8 in the LMP2 class, which included the race debut of the Strakka Racing Dome S103-Nissan, plus 7 each in the LMGTE PRO and LMGTE AM classes. The FIA WEC competitors had three practice sessions, two 90mins sessions on the Friday, and a 60mins one on the Saturday morning, with separate qualifying sessions for the prototype and GT cars at lunchtime on the Saturday. The Saturday morning practice session was the only time during the weekend that they experienced real wet weather running, but it at least provided the opportunity to get the set-up right should the dry forecast for Sunday be incorrect. Fortunately the rain ceased quickly, and long before the qualifying session started the track was completely dry.

The LMP1 and LMP2 qualifying session saw the pair of Porsche 919 Hybrids claim the front row of the grid, with the # 17 example of Bernhard/Webber/Hartley 0.619sec quicker than the # 18 example of Dumas / Jani / Lieb. The qualifying times are an aggregate of two drivers best times during the session. Third quickest was the # 8 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro, driven by Di Grassi / Duval / Jarvis. In the LMP2 group it was the # 28 G-Drive Racing Ligier JS P2-Nissan of Yacaman / Derani / Gonzalez that took the class honours by under a 1/10sec from the # 26 sister G-Drive entry of Rusinov / Canal / Bird, with the # 47 KCMG entered Oreca 05-Nissan of Howson / Bradley / Tandy next up. The LMGTE PRO qualifying session was an Aston Martin whitewash, filling the top three positions with their Vantage V8s, with the # 95 example of Nygaard / Sorenson / Thim taking pole position from the # 99 car of Macdowell / Rees / Stanaway and the # 97 car of Turner / Mucke. It was also an Aston Martin that headed the times in the LMGTE AM division, with the # 98 Vantage V8 of Dalla Lana / Lamy / Lauda claiming the laurels, from the # 50 Larbre Competition Corvette C7 of Roda / Ruberti / Poulsen, and the # 88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR of Ried / Qubaisi/Bachler.

After all the pre-race preambles, like the autograph session and grid walk, it was time to get down to business at midday on Sunday. From the rolling start the front row Porsches led the field away from the line, with the pole sitting # 17 car driven by Mark Webber capitalising on the pole position to head the # 18 example, chased by the rest of the field, apart from the Strakka Racing Dome, which was muscled out on the run into Village Corner, and had to go straight on to avoid contact, dropping to the tail of the field. The # 17 Porsche continued to lead during the early stages, but then a gearbox problem manifested itself after about 80mins of the race, and it was pushed into the garage and retired. Shortly afterwards the # 8 Audi had an unscheduled stop, and was pushed into the garage to repair damage to the rear of the car. Just before these problems for the leading group, the # 36 Signatech Alpine had crashed heavily into the barriers at Copse Corner when a wheel came off, necessitating a full course yellow while the car was moved to a position of safety, and the barriers repaired.

The battle at the head of the field continued to rage between the remaining # 18 Porsche, the # 7 Audi and the # 1 and # 2 Toyotas, with all taking turns at the head of the field. At half distance it was the # 7 Audi leading from the # 1 Toyota, whilst in the LMP2 class it was the pair of G-Drive Racing Ligiers at the head of the group, with the # 26 car leading the # 28 example. In the LMGTE PRO class, the full course yellow had tripped up the trio of Aston Martins, whilst the # 92 Porsche and # 51 AF Corse Ferrari benefitted from pitting at that time to leapfrog them, which was the order at half distance. In the LMGTE AM class it was the # 83 AF Corse Ferrari leading from the # 98 Aston Martin.

For most of the rest of the race there was little to choose between the leading cars, until lap 96 when Lotterer in the # 7 Audi found a way past the # 1 Toyota to take the lead, which he then managed to extend to a comfortable margin by the end of his stint, handing the Audi over to Marcel Fassler for the final 60mins of the race. The race nearly came undone for Audi, as Fassler was deemed to have exceeded the track limits, and was given a Stop-Go penalty, which reduced the lead over the now 2nd place # 18 Porsche to around 8secs with 15mins of the race remaining. The chasing Porsche managed to reduce this to 4.6secs by the time the chequered flag fell, but it was first blood to Audi, with the # 7 example of Fassler / Lotterer / Treluyer, heading home the # 18 Porsche of Dumas / Jani / Lieb and the # 1 Toyota of Davidson / Buemi / Nakajima. With three different makes on the podium it bodes well for an interesting season.

In the LMP2 class the pair of G-Drive Racing Ligiers had a perfect weekend, after capturing the top two positions in qualifying, they converted them into a 1-2 class victory, with the qualifying positions reversed, the # 26 car of Rusinov / Canal / Bird taking the win from the # 28 example of Yacaman / Derani / Gonzalez. 3rd on the road was the # 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX 038, but this was subsequently excluded from the results due to the front and rear planks being below the minimum thickness of 20mm. Thus the # 42 Strakka Racing Dome of Leventis / Watts / Kane was elevated to 3rd place in class.

In the LMGTE PRO class victory went to the # 51 AF Corse Ferrari of Bruni / Vilander, after an almost race long battle with the # 91Porsche Team Manthey Porsche 911 RSR of Lietz/Christensen. The second # 71 AF Corse Ferrari of Rigon / Calado took the final podium spot, to make it a good weekend for the Italian, especially after four of their entries had retired in the ELMS race on Saturday. The LMGTE AM class win was taken by the class pole sitting # 98 Aston Martin of Dalla Lana / Lamy / Lauda, to give Aston Martin some consolation for lack of success in the PRO class. The podium was completed by a pair of Ferraris, with the # 83 AF Corse car driven by Perrodo / Collard / Aguas finishing 2nd, with the # 72 SMP Racing example driven by Shaytar / Bertolini / Basov taking the final podium place.

r# Model Chassis # Team Colour Drivers Position        O/A Cl. Class LMGTE PRO
51 Ferrari 458 GT2 2886 AF Corse Multicolour G. Bruni/  T. Vilander 10th 1st
71 Ferrari 458 GT2 2884 AF Corse Multicolour D. Rigon/  J. Calado 12th 3rd  Class

83 Ferrari 458 GT2 2880 AF Corse Red-RWG St’s F. Perrodo/  E. Collard/  R. Aguas 18th 2nd
72 Ferrari 458 GT2 2872 SMP Racing Blue-Red-White V. Shaytar/  A. Bertolini/  A. Basov 19th 3rd

Keith Bluemel