The first race in the 2016 World Endurance Championship took place last weekend at Silverstone. It’s the series that includes Le Mans 24 hr, although the Silverstone race lasts for (only) six hours. Here’s a fan’s diary with tips for where to get the best views of the action.
We arrive at Silverstone, even though the race doesn’t start until midday. It’s cold – very cold – but there are blue skies, a vast improvement over yesterday. The bright yellow tethered WEC balloon looks good against the slightly cloudy backdrop. We walk through the fan zone from the overflow car park, past a zip line, bungee trampoline and rodeo superbike. There’s also a We are Macmillan cancer support table, an ice rink, crazy golf and food stalls galore The race doesn’t start for hours and the fans are already gathering. Artist Popbangcolour is already at work. It turns out that the Carrera Porsche Cup race has already started. I couldn’t hear it and thought it must have been delayed. The cars are nothing like as loud as the ELMS cars that raced yesterday.
The Wing at Silverstone with the Fan’s Zone in the foreground
There’s a long queue already winding away from the paddock. Whilst wondering what it is for a man asks me a question:
Do you want a pit walk ticket? You can have it if you want. It’s spare.
I thank him, although the queue looks horrendous. A helicopter arrives overhead. We watch the Porsches going around Club corner. They must be going quite quickly but compared with yesterday’s ELMS race it’s quite sedate. I’m not saying my maiden aunt could get on the podium. I can actually hear the Silverstone radio I bought yesterday – it’s a one ear contraption which was drowned out by the LMP cars racing past yesterday.
The downside of wandering around with a race commentary in your ear is the danger of getting knocked over by the quiet shuttle buses taking people around the circuit. I survive. A light blue Bentley convertible goes past with a nasty dent at the back. Aston Martin clearly have a lot of fans. But their wings design does look cool. Maybe people buy the merch on aesthetic grounds.
It’s a long way to the end of the Pit Walk queue. I walk back virtually to where I parked the car to join the queue. Having seen the size of the pit lane it is going to be horribly busy. I’ll certainly see a lot of other fans. But quickly the queue starts moving super fast.
Music blaring. I follow the hordes of autograph hunters into the Pit Lane. No one is interested in the Scrutineering area. It’s different at the Audi Sport Team Joest garage where fans queue to see their heroes Lotterer and Fassler. There are huge queues to see the Porsche drivers.
Fans enjoying the Pit Walk at the FIAWEC Silverstone race
The cars are all sitting without their wheels behind drivers, who are sitting at collapsible tables churning out autographed photos. Fans queue by the refuelling rigs. Kids have their photos taken by grandpa with drivers they don’t recognise. Some people take selfies. It’s laid back. The drivers wear random non-sponsor caps and beanies. Ultra-fans get their clothes signed. Kids peer through legs to glimpse the cars. The new Ford GT looks low and mean. The Pit Walk is a good way to up the excitement and raise the anticipation levels. Everyone leaves more excited about the coming race.
It’s a bit nippy outside so I head to the Indoor Entertainment Area, where there is a big screen as well as Scalectrix and a cafe. My ears get a blast from the past; Murray Walker is commentating – an old Italian GP is on the big screen. There’s a good view of the track from the balcony outside the hall. You can stand above the pits, looking out over the start-finish straight and see the cars being prepped for the race.
The main grandstand opposite the start straight is full, with flags hanging up to show support to various drivers. Bird is the word claims one British Flag. The start is near – the cars start up in the pits and come round to the start where they line up Le Mans style at the side of the track. It’s Audi’s first pole since 2013.
A marching band strikes up on the start line. Free T shirts are fired into the crowd. Photographers walk down the track towards the first corner with huge lenses on their shoulders. Tyres go in the opposite direction, wheeled up the pit lane. The National Anthem is fired out by a female soloist and the mechanics head back to the pits.
Engines start. Actor Patrick Dempsey waves the Green Flag. Some unimpressive smoky fireworks go off by the grandstand, looking more like a mistake than anything exciting. The cars follow the safety car around the track. After a complete lap it peels off.
We’re racing! And my hands are frozen!
I watch the action for a while from the balcony, until my knuckles are white from the cold. At that point I give in to the weather and head inside again to join the fans sitting on chairs and beanbags to enjoy the racing. If you want to see the on-track action at the same time a great place to watch the race is the mezzanine in hall 1. You can sit along the international straight with TV screens showing action from the rest of the track. But there’s not much GTE AM focus on screen so I head out around the track to find some AM action.
Bean bags and chairs – a warm choice for many fans and families
I can recommend sitting in the grandstand by Farm. (See the whole circuit map here). It’s a good location where you can watch overtakes into Village Corner. The Larbre Corvette disappears into the distance with LMP cars on both sides. Endurance drivers have to be aware of the traffic continuously. Further round the track at The Loop the cars come towards you and turn away into Aintree, from where you also get a glimpse of the cars on the other side of the track heading through Becketts.
Inside the track there are few obvious places to watch the action around Brooklands/Luffield/Woodcote and the National Pits Straight. Instead head over to Copse Corner, where there is an old school grassy bank to view from. There’s room for deck chairs and picnics (watch out for mud and puddles – Peppa Pig would love it). Just before Maggots is also a good place to watch the action as the cars wiggle down into Becketts. If you want pure speed the Hangar Straight should satisfy, though better viewing is between Stowe and Vale. Here you see the cars accelerate before slamming on the brakes for the Club Corner complex.
With a six hour race there is plenty of time to change your viewing position several times. Remember to take a radio to tune in to Silverstone Radio (87.7FM) The trouble with motor-racing is it’s hard to know what is going on without an overview provided by the radio. Although the WEC cars have indicators on them to show their position in the race, which helps hugely in working out who is doing well.
I was interested in the GTE AM class. In this category the 88 Abu Dhabi car was doing well, but the Gulf Porsche was taken off the track by Brendan Hartley in the #1 Porsche LMP1. Hartley said that the GT driver hadn’t seen him but it was a normal place to overtake and he didn’t want to assign blame. Which sounds a bit like assigning blame. Both drivers walked away fine. Soon afterwards the #8 Audi had hybrid issues, and a puncture destroyed the back of the Toyota #5 car causing an 8 minute in-lap, retirement and heavy debris down the Wellington.
I’ve discovered a better place to listen to the race: Le Mans radio with the Tunein app. Just download to your phone and search for Le Mans radio. Tyres don’t like heat cycles, which the safety cars and Full Course Yellows were forcing upon them. The racing was going to be close.
After leading most of the 6 hour race Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing suffered a suspension failure. As driver Khaled Al Qubaisi said, “We obviously were in contention not just for a podium place but for the win”. They still finished fifth in class, but that is not the return the class pole-sitters had hoped for. But they demonstrated pace over the weekend and should surprise over the course of the season.
The overall race was won by the #7 Audi* with RGR Sport by Morand taking LMP2, and AF Corse GTE PRO. In GTE AM AF Corse were victors with the #83 Ferrari 458 Italia of Emmanuel Collard, Francois Perrodo and Rui Aguas. Second in class was the #98 Aston Martin Vantage driven by Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Matthias Lauda whilst third was the Larbre Competition Corvette of Pierre Ragues, Paolo Ruberti and Yutaka Yamagishi. Hard luck stories in the GTE AM class extend to Gulf Racing, taken out in the collision with the Porsche LMP1 and Proton Racing who damaged suspension in the final laps.
The next race is at the classic Spa track in Belgium. All details can be found on the FIAWEC site here.
*Later this car failed scrutineering and was disqualified. Victory went instead to the #2 Porsche