Sportscar racing is something of a niche branch of motorsport, you don’t really find many casual fans except at Le Mans itself. It is a difficult form of racing to follow at times. Multiple classes, long races sometimes won or lost over laps not seconds.
I firmly believe it is worth the effort.
This apparent inaccessibility has been improved in recent years by the battle between Audi and Peugeot which has captivated many, especially since they’ve mixed well-known sportscar racers with drivers who made their name in Formula 1 and elsewhere.
Plus they built some really cool cars. That always helps.
I got there late (no surprises) and parked up as the cars were on the grid. The best part of the new pit straight is that it is right next to the main car parks so it is very easy to be in the midst of the action straight away.. as long as there aren’t queues at the ticket desk and attendants who don’t recognise their own discount vouchers. Grr. Still, at least the queues meant there was a fairly good crowd, bigger than previous years, so you can’t complain too loudly.
This was the first time I’d seen the new pit buildings in action. I was at the Renault event just a few weeks ago and this area of the track was deserted and unused with all the action at the old pitlane. This time it was a living, breathing pitlane and the atmopshere was transformed. It looked soulless the other week but seeing it in action it just clicked, it works.
I watched the start and a good 45 minutes from the fence at the far end of the pitstraight to the photo above, near the first turn. I didn’t see very much due to the people already there but they moved away after a few laps and so I hung around to watch the cars close up at speed.
What was said is true about this end of pitlane. You can’t see into pitlane at all. Peugeot were stationed here and you could only see their pitwall perches, the garage itself was out of sight below the pitwall. That’s no good to anybody. It would’ve been worth raising the building by a few feet and just coping with it being on a slope, or having the other end higher than the track rather than level with it.
I decided to grab a coffee and sit for a while in the grandstand I was standing near, but there were stewards turning people away, annoyingly this stand was reserved.
I’m glad I headed to the next one at the other end of pitlane where it is the same height as the track, because it was an excellent vantage point for spying on the pits, especially with the grassy area between pitwall and garages. This meant you could see the cars heading down the pitlane and at most tracks the pitwall is in the way. If only they’d kept the same format for the whole length of pitlane. Audi were stationed at this end of the pits and you could watch everything they were doing.
These grandstands didn’t exist at the 2010 race, that whole section was a gravel bank. These seats was much nicer.
Moving down to the final corner, Club, where again new stands had been put up. I thought this was an excellent viewing location and I stayed there for a good while, often just letting the race itself drift away as I just enjoyed the cars go by. One of the luxuries of a long race with very different-sounding engines (such a nice change from the modern trend to have all the engines in a given race sound the same).
At the 3-hour mark, I thought I’d better start walking or I wouldn’t reach the other parts of the circuit I wanted to see. One of the several great things about a sportscar race is that you are allowed to wander around the entire track. To be honest I could’ve stayed near the pits all day but I wanted to check out the Becketts grandstand which was miles away, closed last year but open this year.
As I passed Stowe corner I sat in a grandstand there for a little while. In a way I see the attraction of sitting there but it didn’t really do it for me, after being up close to the cars at Club, the Stowe stands felt so far away from the action. I stayed only for 20 minutes or so.
That led to a highlight. The Hangar Straight. This is the one place on the course where you can get right up close to the cars, and it happens to be at the fastest part of the track! I go to a racetrack to get a good dose of both speed and noise which you can’t get anywhere else. Sitting at a 40mph corner is no good because I can watch that at home, standing at a 180mph straight just as they start braking, magic.
See this video too. It was very windy, as it often is there because even by the standards of an airfield it is very exposed. It was a warm day for the most part, although later the wind was surprisingly cold so I had to abandon a plan to stay in the Becketts grandstand. I was only there a little while. I did find it a tad underwhelming, the cars are fairly far away through Beckets in front of you but you do get a nice wide panorama and can see cars for a long time. I suppose you trade one for the other.
From that stand you also, if you squint, see them through the new ‘Loop’ section away in the distance. It would be a good grandstand for photography if you have a telephoto lens. It is also a good location for shorter races because you get to see the cars twice in a lap, double the value! Far better than the stand at Village/Loop because when we were there for WSR I could hardly see the cars at Becketts, looking from the other direction was much better.
By the time I’d got to Becketts and sat for a while it was only 90 minutes to the end of the race (one F1 Grand Prix distance!). I realised I wanted to get back to the shelter of the pit straight grandstand for warmth, and to watch the final round of pitstops and then the chequered flag.
I didn’t quite make it for the stops, I couldn’t work out the fastest route so I went around the perimeter, past the old pitlane. It looked abandoned which I suppose it is now, perhaps much more so because most of the grandstands have now gone. Some were relocated. A handful remain at Copse and Luffield. It was strange to see it empty.
Because of the lack of viewing options and because Copse is boring I moved quickly to Luffield, although it still took a fair amount of time to get there. I sat between Luffield and Woodcote for a short while, just to watch cars exit the Wellington Straight because I’d never seen that before. That was quite fun and this is actually a good potential viewing position for a full race. The downside is you have little idea what’s happening with pit stops.
Eventually I got back to the grandstand opposite Audi and enjoyed the final hour of the day’s racing, followed by the podium ceremonies conveniently located at the end of the building. The podium is at an odd angle though so only those at the end of the grandstand could see it properly (as people were leaving I shuffled down to watch). Later on, after getting home and watching the Italian GP I wished Silverstone had a podium like they do at Monza, extending over pitlane on a platform. They could do that couldn’t they?
All in all a really enjoyable day. Mind you by the time the chequered fell it was getting bloody cold so I was glad to get back to the car and head for hot burger and a big coffee. I wish concessions at Silverstone stayed open longer so that I could’ve eaten in the car whilst waiting for the post-race traffic to disappear.
I do recommend the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, or the FIA World Endurance Championship as it will be in 2012, to any fan of motorsport even if they’ve not tried sportscar racing before. Give it a go. It’s only £25 to get in and you get a full day walking around a racetrack where you can see everything.
When you are at the track you can’t follow a race anything like as closely as you can at home. That’s the tradeoff you make for experiencing race cars in person. You change your approach, rather than follow as many position changes as possible you take a step back, follow the leaders and a favourite or two and generally just enjoy the surroundings and the experience.
The lead fight was amazingly close-fought. Peugeot and Audi each fielded two cars and they were running very fast early on, with several passes for the lead. The pace was so high someone was bound to make a mistake and as it turned out one car from each team tangled with slower traffic which dropped them several laps down.
The last two standing put on a great show which wasn’t settled until very late, when the Audi spun whilst in 2nd place, requiring short repairs and leaving the Peugeot to win by nearly a lap.
The petrol unofficial sub-class was dominated by OAK Racing all the way. I like OAK and was pleased at their improvement since last time but the cars I preferred the most were the well-presented Rebellion Racing Lola-Toyotas. Great car, great livery, great sounding engines.
GTE-Pro was as close a race as it always is. The fancied BMWs didn’t like the wind or cold, despite leading comfortably early on they dropped back which allowed the AF Corse Ferrari of Giancarlo Fisichella to take the win.
I wanted to follow LMP2 but lost the thread of the race fairly early. FLM and GTE-Am I didn’t put a lot of effort into as those are classes I have little interest in following.
I also attended last year’s race, contested over 1000km rather than six hours, I never got around to writing about it but if you like you can compare and contrast the photos from 2010 and 2011.
Finally, these are in a jumbled mess but you can find some low quality videos on my YouTube Channel.
All photos and videos by P.Wotton, they aren’t professional at all but if you want to use anything just drop a credit next to it.