Dawn on race day at Silverstone. Dark skies threatened storms and reports were coming in that the track was flooded in several places from the heavy overnight rain – and that the early morning GT1 warm-up might not even take place. Add to this that Silverstone was a building site in place, and the prospect of mud and GT cars sounded less than attractive. Could we be about to see the inaugural Silverstone Rallycross Special?
Thanks to the efforts of the marshals and clean-up crews at the track, the standing water was mostly cleared and, although still very wet in places, the GT1 cars were out first thing as planned and the skies gradually cleared as the day progressed. Most cars were out in the warm-up session, gathering data on the wet conditions.
Although the rain had subsided by the afternoon's GT1 championship race, the answer to the Rallycross question turned out to be yes: any move off the racing line was treacherous and a wheel on the grass would result in a mudbath.
The morning was taken up with a pit-lane walk and autograph session, and then the racing started: the second GT3 and GT4 races took place, with plenty of action on the slippery track. We'll talk about those races separately. The GT1 grid started forming up with half an hour to go. Following on from their stellar performances at Abu Dhabi, here the Corvettes were really struggling: the #14 Pheonix/Carsport Z06 and both Mad Croc cars were penalised grid positions following engine changes and would start in the midfield. The Corvette teams are the latest cars to feel penalised by the GT1 rules: standardised Magnetti Marelli ECUs are blamed for SEVEN damaged V8s already this season– compared to zero engine failures in the whole of the previous years of the C6.R/Z06 programme.
On the grid the drama started earlier than expected: as I was snapping the two Sumo Power GT-Rs in fifth and seventh positions, Andreas Zuber (driver of the #13 Corvette) was walking down between the stationery cars in front of me.
From behind him, the #9 Hexis Aston silently appeared, freewheeling after being pushed by its mechanics, and the Aston side-swiped Zuber, knocking him to the ground! Thankfully he was just shaken and not injured, but it showed what a dangerous place a track can be – even when it's just a grid forming up!
Although no rain came, the race was declared wet: lights were switched on and the grid started to be cleared for the rolling start.
Off the line there was a trio of Astons leading into Copse, the ultra-fast right-hand sweeper.
But as the leading cars cleared the corner there was disaster for Romain Grosjean in the Matech Ford GT: his miserable weekend continued as he locked up and was turned around in the first corner melee.
The car rolled to a halt with suspension damage and Grosjean dejectedly got out and trudged back to the pits.
With the first lap only three corners old there was another retirement: GT veteran Christophe Bouchut (see John Brooks' Mercedes CLK piece for Bouchut's GT drives back in the '90s), who had taken up his place in the #37 All-Inkl Lamborghin iMurcielago for Silverstone, was rear-ended and fired off the track – the resulting damage meant the car went into early retirement. For sale: one Murcielago, two seats, air conditioning, nice lawn out front.
There was shuffling up front as well: Bertolini in the #1 Vitaphone Maserati MC12 fell back into the clutches of its sister car, #2, and the #13 Corvette moved up a couple of places – temporarily as it turned out…
The two Hexis Astons had their own internecine battle, with #9 taking #10 for the lead further round the lap. Shadowing them was the #7 Aston of Darren Turner. The #23 Sumo Power GT-R with Michael Krumm at the wheel was mugged at the start and lost two positions; Warren Hughes in #22 fought through to fourth, past the #25 Reiter Lamborghini.
The #8 Young Driver Aston started off a torrid race with the first of two punctures, picked up in contact with Grosjean's Ford GT. They'd have a lot of work to do, as they exited the pits in last place.
Only two laps in and then the most frightening moment of the race: Mike Hezemans' #13 Corvette rolled to a halt at the end of the Hangar Straight, the rear of the car fully ablaze. Marshals ran out to extinguish the fire, but it took an age for the flames to be fully out – and by that time the Corvette was a smoking wreck.
Hezemans reported that the fire was completely unexpected and that he struggled to get out of the car: surely the most scary thing that can happen to a driver.
The safety car led the pack around for four laps whiles the Corvette was dealt with; a quarter of the race was already gone.
Just to make Corvette's day worse, the #14 car ploughed off the track at the Becketts complex and careered across the grass: one of many cars to end up looking more like a rally car by the end of the race.
Krumm was battling to recover positions and hounding the #1 Vitaphone Maserati for seventh place. As they fought down the short straight from Stowe to Vale on lap 10, Oliver Gavin in the #12 Mad Croc Corvette thought he spied a Chevy-sized hole past both of them.
He was wrong. Alongside Krumm in #23 but in his blind spot, they collided and both were punted off the track. Krumm suffered terminal suspension damage and ended up stranded deep in the gravel trap; Gavin was stranded in the gravel and lost three laps. Race over for them.
The pit window was open between the 25th and 35th minutes. Almost all the field pitted within two laps of each other, making for a busy pit-lane. The #1 Maserati was let out of its box immediately into the path of the #22 Jamie Campbell-Walter Sumo Power GT-R, forcing them to go two-wide down the pit-lane: JCW had to concede the place before the exit, but then harried Bartels for lap after lap – finally making a move stick into the first corner at Copse.
There was trouble for the second-placed #10: soon after completing its scheduled stop the car was back in the pits, but stopping for good.
Enge was now in the #7 Aston and closing on the leading #9 Hexis car, with the #25 Reiter Lamborghini in third and Sumo Power #22 fourth. The joy of the qualifying race success was wiped away for Hexis though, with the #10 out and then the #9 DB9 receiving a drive-through penalty for firing up its engine whilst still up on jacks. Despite frenzied pit-board waving, the car didn't come in within the requisite three laps and the car was hit with a 15 second time penalty at the finish.
Next to sample Silverstone's gravel and mud was the #3 SRT Nissan GT-R of Henri Moser.
He spun under braking for Stowe, the right-hand corner at the end of the fast Hangar Straight.
The end of another poor (and expensive) weekend for the SRT Nissans.
JCW in #22 was pushing on: his next target was the #2 Vitaphone MC12. A strong move at Stowe corner took him past.
Next victim was the #25 Lamborghini. JCW inexorably closed him down and was soon past. Those 20kgs off the weight of the car combined with a driver on fire was obviously having the right effect! This put Sumo Power into third place – the final step of the podium!
After a strong start the Vitaphone Maseratis had fallen back, and at one stage all four MC12s ran together in a train.
With only four laps remaining the #2 suffered another right-rear puncture and was crawling back to the pits…
Bartels in the #1 MC12 was squabbling over seventh position with Nicolas Armindo in the #11 Mad Croc 'Vette and Maxime Martin in the #40 Ford GT.
The latter two came together at the first corner, putting the Mad Croc car off the road dropping the Ford to eighth.
Christoffer Nygaard in the #8 Young Driver Aston Martin was another one having an amazing race: he and co-driver Stefan Mucke were battling hard to make up for their bad start: Nygaard was 11th with 10 minutes remaining but fifth at the finish, taking advantage of the battle above!
On the podium Darren Turner and Tomas Enge celebrated an emphatic victory: but the coveted Tourist Trophy would only be theirs for two hours as scrutineering checks revealed that their underfloor plank was too heavily worn. The car was disqualified, and the win handed to the #22 Sumo Power Nissan GT-R. A debut win for Nissan in the World GT1 Championship!
This was another great race for GT1: action throughout the field and a far more balanced performance across the cars. In a way, it perhaps would have been better if it had rained: the greasy conditions on track and mud off it meant all the cars were in a bad state come the race end: most would need to be stripped right back.
However, none were in a worse condition than the Pheonix/Carsport Corvette: let's hope this doesn't result in a second car being struck off, to add to the Matech GT. Next round: Brno in the Czech Republic in the three weeks time!
World GT1 Championship, Round 2, Silverstone Result:
1 #22 Sumo Power GT Nissan GT-R (Jamie Campbell-Walter/Warren Hughes) 28 Laps (1:01:46.717)
2 #9 Hexis Racing AMR Aston Martin DBR9 (Thomas Accary/Frédéric Makowiecki) +1.885 (after 15 sec penalty)
3 #25 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini LP670 R-SV (Frank Kechele/Kuba Giermaziak) +10.284
4 #34 Triple H Team Hegersport Maserati MC12 (Bert Longin/Matteo Bobbi) +10.857
5 #8 Young Driver AMR Aston Martin DBR9 (Christoffer Nygaard/Stefan Mücke) +11.051
6 #33 Triple H Team Hegersport Maserati MC12 (Altfrid Heger/Alex Margaritis) +11.787
7 #1 Vitaphone Racing Team Maserati MC12 (Michael Bartels/Andrea Bertolini) +19.310
8 #40 Marc VDS Racing Ford GT (Bas Leinders/Maxime Martin) +22.413
9 #4 Swiss Racing Team Nissan GT-R (Max Nilsson/Seiji Ara) +22.708
10 #41 Marc VDS Racing Ford GT (Renaud Kuppens/Markus Palttala) +28.790