For somewhere that I've been to countless time, Silverstone has felt like a new track to me this weekend as the FIA GT weekend officially opened the relocated start and pits complex. It's required quite a bit of recalibration. Turn one is no longer turn one: the legendary Copse corner is now turn nine – stuck out at what is now the furthest extreme of the track from the startling – and the old pits stand empty except for a smattering of GT4 teams marooned out there. New turn one, Abbey, is a fast, funnelling right-hand kink leading into the extended Arena section of the track – it looked like ideal GT1-destroying material, and so it proved during the Qualifying Race.
The #7 Team Need For Speed BMW Z4 has reverted to its Dubai livery for this race: the inverse of the #6 car. The Speedhunters team have all been grumbling that we preferred the flat carbon look the car sported in Portimao…
In keeping with the title of the weekend's Supercar Showdown, there have been plenty of exotics on show – both in the paddock and out in the car parks. My favourite? This Lamborghini Aventador. More on this later.
Lamborghini had a big presence in the paddock to go with their support of the Super Trofeo championship and the pair of Murcielago GT1s, comprising a tented compound set up for merchandise and guests. And meaty-looking security guards who were very keen that no one got too close to the Aventador.
Silverstone's Wing building rises up above the pitlane – a pitlane that gradually ducks down below the level of the upload-sloping start straight before arcing up and round to join the track at the exit of turn two to form an almost Abu Dhabi-feeling exit – though without the actual tunnel. The 'new' at Silverstone has mostly been great: the only bad thing being the tediously long route you have to take to take to actually get to the new complex. Rod seems to be enjoying riding a good old British bus though… and he's determined to tell you about it.
The best angle of the Wing is from the end-piece podium, which really is quite striking: the rest of the cavernous building is full of offices and (half-finished) entertainment areas which stand above the spacious double-height pit garages. This is another thing the teams are enjoying after years of the rather more cramped garages they used to have. The smell of freshly applied paint is still heavy in the air – they have a week until Moto GP race here and only a month until F1 arrives…
Much as the buildings and track are superficially finished, there's still a lot of detailing work still going on: like painting on grid slots!
For us the other big change is the media centre: surgical white, acres of desks and screens and air conditioning that had everyone shivering despite the warm temperatures outside. But no windows!
The British Racing Drivers' Club, founded in 1928, oversees Silverstone and has managed its rejuvenation since winning back the contract to run the British F1 Grand Prix; hidden away in the trees behind Abbey corner is the quaint farmhouse HQ of the BRDC, and its emblem is proudly displayed on the balcony overlooking the podium of the Wing.
Now we're down in the open swathes of the west-end of Silverstone's interior, its WW2 airfield origin is more obvious (hence Hangar and Wellington – as in the bomber – as names of the two big straights here). The Stowe driving school track is laid out across one of the original three main runways that criss-cross the inside of the GP track; Wellington straight uses another and the third runs from the old paddock almost parallel with Hangar straight.
The mud and building site feel of last year is thankfully long gone. The acres of gravel traps are still here though…
…as Paddy found out going out onto the circuit for a shoot with the Team NFS BMW Z4s. Dragging a ton of camera gear through gravel is the opposite of fun, it turns out.
However, glorious evening sun made for perfect conditions to take in every angle of the Z4s.
It's a shame they were sitting on the silver wheels though – we're all big fans of the meaner-looking black rims, which they did revert to when the cars took to the track the next day.
New cars are still arriving in GT3: AF Corse turned up with a newly delivered 458, ready for its decals to be applied.
This was going on up and down the pit-lane: stickers were being heat-shrunk into place by one set of team personnel as the mechanics were working around them setting up the cars.
Hammers fix lots of things in racing. When mechanics aren't hitting bits of car, they're hitting bits of track. The Aston Martin GT1 teams have been lightning fast with their pit-stops: so much is about preparation. Hammering down yellow marker tape is just part of Young Driver's prep for the weekend.
At the Lamborghini stand, Gallardos were dotted around as gate guards to the prize Aventador.
Much as I generally quite like the screaming metallics that Lamborghini use for the majority of their cars (crazy cars, crazy colours), personally I would be happier with something more like this, more subdued hue. If somebody was to give me one. To be nice.
But the orange on the Superleggera looked almost subtle compared to the eye-watering brightness of the Aventador.
Like the Reventon, it just screams vicious, break-neck speed even standing still.
Part old-school Cylon Raider, part fighter jet, all insanity.
If the Reventon was a stealth bomber, then this is the direct opposite. The Aventador tells everyone it's coming, and then texts all their friends as well, just in case. And posts a message of Facebook.
Will we see this in the GT World Championship next year? We can only hope so.
Whilst wandering past the Young Driver Aston Martin hospitality I found the answer to why the DBR9s have those unsightly black streaks over their red stripes on the bonnet: they're advertising bespoke carbon skis… Surely there must be a better way to do that. Maybe they should put a pair onto a roof-rack? Or would that count as unfair aero?
Nissan were competing with Lamborghini for space: Sumo Power had a big display of their tuned GT-Rs, race, drift and drag cars to go with Nissan's stock GT-Rs and 370Zs.
Last year's GT1 car was lined up with the Sumo Power drift S15.
But the Sumo Power R/C car was something that no one could wait to go down and check out. It was being filmed for an upcoming spot on GT1 World TV, complete with a 1/18th scale taped-out pit box for it to aim for!
It's easy to forget how much goes on behind the scenes to manage an event like this. Before the racing started I dropped into the GT3 drivers' briefing, which is umpired by FIA Race Director Eduardo Freitas. This had the feeling of being a school assembly, which in a way it is.
He's a racing veteran, and quite obviously has done more of these than he can care to remember – hence there being a surprisingly light-hearted feel to the session. For instance, in amongst letting people know the measured length of the pit-lane in seconds, he let everyone know that he would be waving the green flag when the cars left the dummy grid – so that would be the opportunity for anyone who didn't like him to take him out…
The briefings have a serious point though: it's not just about reinforcing regulations but also to let drivers and team managers know important information for the event, particularly to do with the pits and safety cars. Overtaking was also discussed: there's quite a range of driving abilities in GT3, with pros and amateurs mixed in together: the point was made that it's vitally important that the slower drivers maintain the racing line into corners and let the faster guys make their own way past, to avoid the well-intentioned manoeuvres that caused so much trouble in Portimao.
Starts are probably the most important part of a race – from the safety point of view at least. This slide was used to illustrate how Eduardo wanted the start to happen. Spread out? Wrong! A big gaggle? Wrong! Get it right, kids, or no green light for you!
It's a difficult call for the Race Director, especially on the new layout here at Silverstone: he's perched up on this gantry next to the start lights: the cars have to try and maintain order through the final sequence of tight corners before they come streaming out onto the start.
Whilst the drivers were being told off and given detention, the teams were pushing their cars through scrutineering: here the FIA stewards take their tape measures to the cars and check out that they're all conforming to their homologated spec before being given permission to race.
GT1s and GT3 lined up together waiting their turn. Is this a reflection of 2012? The paddock has been buzzing with the good news about next year: GT1 will be morphing into the GT World Championship, which will open to an mix of equalised GT1, GT2 and GT3 machinery. It's going to be amazing.
Silverstone is like a mini motorsport town: even whilst the main track is being used for the GTs, the inner Stowe school circuit was still in use and the Porsche Technology Centre by the Hangar Straight was buzzing with activity. This was the way to remind people how quickly a Porsche can lose its back-end in the wet.
Amongst everything else that's going on the drivers have to stay focussed on the task ahead.
There's nowhere they prefer to be than in the car. You can see drivers relax as they are strapped in: time to go to work. And it can never come soon enough.
Once the cars are pushed out and on their way, for the teams it's then a case of monitoring the timing screens and waiting for their driver to get the job done.
There are three GT4 races this weekend as well: this is the second round after the opener in Zandvoort back in April. The grid looks a lot more impressive this year, with a good mix of cars – and much better looking ones at that.
Another running argument in Speedhunters-land is the merit or otherwise of the GT4 Camaro. Me, I love it. Seeing it racing against the little Lotus Evoras and Ginettas reminds me of '60s touring car racing when Minis and Cortinas went up against Falcons and Camaros of the time: light and nimble versus big and brutal. Polar opposite approaches to racing! The same applies here in GT4.
Talking of big and brutal… The half-dozen SLS GT3s were rumbling around in packs during practice.
The low-down torque seemed to take some getting used to: each corner I stopped at was witness to another looping SLS. The signature was always the bass-bark of the Merc on downshift, followed by screeching tyres, followed by a chastened driver gently rolling the car back onto the track. It looks like they've still got some set-up work to do, but when that's nailed the rest of the field could be in a lot of trouble.
Yesteryear's Silverstone of open space, big skies and enormous run-offs is still there of course.
The high speed Maggots/Beckets left-right-left-right section is as challenging as ever.
The only problem for drivers is now remembering which number turn these old corners now are! It was funny talking to Abdulaziz about the new layout, and watch him counting through the corners, swaying as he drove them in his head.