A Visit to Silverstone

I spent Sunday at Silverstone during the FIA GT1 World Championship event. There were two reasons for going, firstly I wanted to see the big circuit layout changes for myself and secondly I needed my first post-winter fix of live racing.

I got there a little late after not realising just how far away the circuit is from my house, I’d underestimated by a full hour and I had got away late too – I must have arrived 90 minutes after the time I’d intended. This meant I missed the GT3 race and most of the GT4 race. Luckily I’d been directed to park at Abbey corner so I was just a short walk from the first part of the new section, where I watched the last ten minutes of the GT4.

Abbey

The first thing that struck me was the building site opposite. This is the location for the brand new pitlane. The only thing finished is the track itself, the new pitwall, and whatever existing facilities were not torn down. There is dust and dirt on the track surface, not helped by the wind which must be blowing plenty of it from the construction site in the infield. It had also been raining.

Revised Abbey corner
Revised Abbey corner. Former track runs where cones are, even older track in foreground. (c) P.Wotton

The new Abbey is a very fast corner! It is much tighter than I expected it to be yet the cars carry a lot of speed through there. I would expect F1 cars to reach 150mph+. The GT cars were travelling quickly too but were hampered by the low grip on the damp circuit. I’ve never watched a race on the old layout from here but it seems clear to me these changes improve this viewing spot considerably – far better to watch cars flying at speed than the heavy braking of old. Remember this will become the first corner in a year or two when the start line is moved down here – until then I don’t expect much passing at this point.

Here are a couple of shots I took of the new pit area as it looks right now – it is early days yet and they have rightly been focussing on completing the new section of track. You can see how tight Abbey looks, but because it opens out again they can carry a lot of speed.

Unfortunately there was nowhere to watch the exit of Abbey as there’s a little campsite / motorhome park in the way. I could probably have sneaked in actually, never mind. I hope they move the camping area and put a stand or a spectator bank here, it would be great to see the cars coming toward you at speed as you’d be able to see the cars move around and see the drivers working to control them, especially in the damp conditions we had.

Village/Loop/Aintree

Moving further up the new section, I entered the grandstand at the Village corner. I’m hoping this was a temporary stand as it wasn’t quite big enough, it seemed to be the busiest stand at the circuit as it was full for this race and people were being turned away. I must give a shout out to the steward in the left-hand side of the stand where I was, very friendly and he did everything he could to make sure every seat was filled before he apologetically and reluctantly turned anyone back, checking every time. He even seemed a little disappointed when I moved on halfway through the race, as if I thought it wasn’t good enough when in reality I only wanted to see a different angle. Much better than some of the jobsworths you can get doing that job – I have to say I’ve come to expect anyone in a flourescent coat at a race track to automatically hassle you or check your ticket and say you don’t have the right pass – this was quite the opposite, two thumbs up.

If and when they build a bigger stand it does need to be angled slightly clockwise, to give a better view of the run into the corner so you can see an overtake move being set up, rather than finishing. Those at the far right had a good view.

What I liked about this stand was the closeness to the track. I’m a little disappointed my only decent photo to illustrate this was of a Safety Car! I do have a short video, limitations with WordPress mean I can’t embed it here.

Village corner
The view at Village corner, up close to the cars. (c) P.Wotton

It looks to be a good place to watch a race if you like to see cars for longer periods of time. It puts them in front of you for longer and you can really see them working to slow down, then hard on the gas for the short section before hard braking and turning in before the other guy can get inside on the left. You can see the Loop does set cars up for an overtake through Aintree and along the following straight, and cars were side by side as they left our vision, but you don’t see how those moves are resolved until they come by again – a big screen may be needed here. There was also no circuit commentary at this point, though this is sometimes useless as it is drowned out by the engines I do find it helps for when the cars are at the other side of the track and when there is a Safety Car.

FIA GT
GT cars through The Loop and Aintree corners, from Village stand. (c) P.Wotton

GT and F3 cars seemed to be able to make it work, it was hard to tell not really being familiar with the paint schemes of anything other than the Vitaphone cars (I do like that car), that and the cold biting wind making my eyes water. To be honest I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to the race order, I was really watching to see how the drivers worked the new section and whether there was much side-by-side action.

I think F1 drivers will be able to line up a pass into Village, they will have to be very optimistic if they expect to make it stick though. If they do get alongside they will have to watch out in The Loop because several times I saw cars go for the same piece of track, and the car on the inside (left) had to back out of it almost every time. What will probably work better is the way The Loop upsets the rythym of a driver if he gets it wrong so we should see lots of passing attempts into Brooklands corner.

I do think it’ll make a great MotoGP track, we could yet see the best MotoGP race of the year here.

Wellington Straight
I made my way over to the Maggotts grandstand, in doing so I had to cross the National straight which has now been renamed for the Wellington bombers that were once stationed here. This was the first race I’d witnessed the Corvette C6.R in person, and what a sound! The Ford GT was similar and surprisingly so was the Nissan. Great to hear all sorts of engines sounds in one race. Just a few pics I took on the walk:

I made it to the Maggotts/Becketts sequence, there is a grandstand on the left side of the track and if you stand at the top row or along the right-hand side you can look behind you at the new layout.

The grandstand on the outside of the circuit at Becketts has been dismantled but let me tell you, when the replacement is up it will be a prime viewing position. You’ll have fast cars in front of you and in the background you’ll see the new section where you may have cars passing and getting into trouble – plus it means you see the cars twice per lap, last year you’d have seen them 60 times during the F1 GP and this year you’ll see them 120 times, instantly helping to justify the high price of the tickets.

For those where I was stood on the infield side, you’ll have to be sure to get as far right in the stand as possible and be ready to crane your neck. While you do get neckache and with a crowd you may struggle, you do get a better idea of how battles are progressing when you see them twice. I followed a Maserati and a Nissan for a couple of laps and even in the half lap between Becketts and Village it was clear the Nissan was faster – I believe it overtook for 3rd.

Aston Martin DBR9
Aston Martin DBR9 at Aintree corner, viewed from back of Maggotts stand. (c) P.Wotton

Rest of the Day
I stayed in this position for the start of the British F3 race but this was as tedious as most F3 races are, at least it seemed it to me. I didn’t see much passing, there was an incident at The Loop where a car tried to pass on the inside but instead tagged the guy on the outside into a spin – I suspect this will happen a lot in open wheel cars here. James Calado and Oliver Webb fought it out for the win which eventually went Calado’s way.

While they were doing that I made my way to Copse and watched the end there, before wandering around the fully open (if somewhat deserted) paddock. The F3 teams were wheeling their kit back through and various GT teams were packing up, that was about it. I managed to buy a Vitaphone Maserati jumper – which was on discount – for even less after confusing the German shopkeepers and then realising I didn’t have enough money. I think they just wanted to get rid of me!

Final Thoughts on Silverstone
The changes are very good. We’ll mourn the loss of Bridge corner for the driving challenge, and we’ll celebrate the different challenge the new section brings. It is tight and the drivers will need to get their elbows out. Brooklands should now feature passing.

Okay so Silverstone looks scruffy at the moment. The place is half-finished. None of the grandstands on the main straight were open, some are old ones still being put back together, some are brand new ones that haven’t been finished yet – if it looked quiet between Copse and Luffield, that’s why. The stand at Village needs making bigger and others aren’t even there at all. These things will be fixed by June for the MotoGP race.

The track is surrounded by upturned mud. Most of this will surely have grass seed in it and will look great next year, if not sooner. The construction site will be an eyesore for the 2010 Moto and F1 GPs and then it’ll be gone.

Silverstone 2010 as a place is a work in progress and a venue in transition. It will get better – in some ways it already is better, it offers better viewing locations already.

Just one more thing. The food vans are overpriced and the one I visited – infield by the fairground at the crossroads – served cold food and lukewarm tea. All concessions had shut before the last race had finished. I wanted to watch the races and then get something for the road – I had a 3-hour drive ahead of me. This is not good enough. This was the first big event after a very public relaunch, you should be bending over backwards for people. Just keep them open until ten or fifteen minutes after the last chequered flag. Admittedly it was a very late programme and the race didn’t finish until 5.30pm, but that is not an excuse to close. Fix this.

You can view more of my photos of the day at my Picasa site. There are also a few more short videos on my YouTube account.

An Aside With Joe #16

Today the latest ‘An Aside With Joe’ podcast was released and amazingly they are up to no.16 already. It doesn’t seem long since the first one.

These chats with journalist and author Joe Saward are always very revealing and in this edition you can find out about:

  • making Grands Prix green;
  • a Grand Prix for electric cars;
  • Silverstone’s deal;
  • an update on the Motorsport Business Forum, not the Monaco one like much of the F1 media but the Orlando event (and the reasons why he went there);
  • hydroplanes – yes, really;

I’ve said it before and it is ever true – after listening to Joe speak for just under an hour you come away feeling a lot wiser about motorsport and you look at it through different eyes – plus you can impress your friends with the knowledge. Of course, your friends don’t care about motorsport and they still think Button is called Jason, hah, what do they know, nothing.

Thanks to Sidepodcast and especially to Joe for making the time to produce these, and particularly this episode which was an unexpected addition.

I know it is Christmas but you should make time for this one, LISTEN HERE.

GP2 Catch-Up – Silverstone

Delayed mini-notes from the two GP2 races held at Silverstone, supporting the British GP. I plan to do this style of notes for GP2 from now on with the proviso that they’ll be dropped if I’m too busy. Nice get out clause, eh? As I said before, I’m miles behind on watching GP2 which is why I’m posting about Silverstone the weekend after the series ended. I do know who won, I’d like to see how he did it!

Coverage from ITV4, who have improved at every round.

Silverstone, Northamptonshire, England
Rounds 9 and 10 of 20.

FEATURE RACE

36 laps
Sat. 5 July
Dry and sunny, patchy cloud

– Senna and Grosjean start on the front row.

– GO! Senna leads, Grosjean drops a place to di Grassi, as Pantano also gains. Conway had a terrible start from 8th and is now about 24th.

– Senna off course at Stowe, rejoins 5th. May have been the wind which is strong here, cars with wings don’t like strong winds as it messes with the downforce. Lucas di Grassi now leads.

– Zuber is off course as well, he was 4th. Replay: Spins at speed! He’s rejoined.

– Chandhok makes a good move on someone… we cut to Buemi losing multiple places, replay, tyres touched with Maldonado.
– Someone in the gravel! Ran wide. Maldonado. The Buemi collision caused damaged?

– 2 cars pitted for tyres – this is early. Conway is one of them.
– Maldonado off again at the same place as last lap.

– Chandhok takes Fillipi, another good move, Fillipi left the door open a little too much and Chandhok took it.

– Vitaly Petrov takes Ho Pin Tung, Petrov is 10th from 16th on the grid.

– 11 laps gone, 25 to go: di Grassi, Grosjean, Pantano. More cars are starting to pit.

– Grosjean pits from 2nd. Most cars have pitted except for the faster cars who are leaving it a while longer. Grosjean emerges 8th with 6 guys left to stop. Grosjean is the leader of those who have pitted.
– Pantano pits. Championship leader before this weekend. Does he beat Grosjean? No! Pit strategy didn’t work, positions maintained.
– di Grassi is in, so is Senna – almost touch in the pits! Senna had to brake to avoid him. Senna comes out in 10th, di Grassi is 4th, still ahead of Grosjean and Pantano.
– Chandhok is in, gets out ahead of Senna to gain a place.

– Kobayashi took an early pit stop and it worked well, he’s now 4th.

– Spoke too soon! 2 laps later he’s out of the car, parked on the grass. Technical failure of some kind.

– Buemi passes Fillipi through Bridge corner, ballsy.

– Pantano in 3rd is faster than Grosjean in 2nd, directly behind him.
– Pantano pushes his way through! They touch several times under braking for the chicane.

– Chandhok v Zuber, wheels touch, Zuber stays ahead. Then Zuber blocks into Copse! Not impressed with that, pretty dangerous place to block.
– Meanwhile Pantano has caught di Grassi, the leader. Grosjean has fallen a long way back having leaned on his tyres earlier.
– Zuber just lost three places, he didn’t slow down in time and overshoots the corner. Watching the mirrors and not the road? Chandhok, Senna and Buemi are through.

– Pantano dummies di Grassi into Stowe, passes for the lead! di Grassi fights back at the next corner but can’t quite do it. 5 laps to go.
– Maldonado in the wall! Major damage, he spun the car in front of someone almost taking him out too. Local yellow only due to location of the car, it is out of the way.

– Chandhok passes Grosjean but it was under the yellow so the place is given back immediately. Buemi then gets by Senna!
– Grosjean very slow through the fast corners compared to Chandhok. Grosjean is locking his brakes at nearly every corner. Chandhok is now through.
– The last three laps of this were absolutely crazy! Grosjean v Senna v Buemi. Brilliant stuff. Grosjean lost out due to wearing his tyres but held on valiantly for most of that and does indeed beat Senna who went over the gravel in the last few corners.

– Giorgio Pantano wins! di Grassi 2nd, Chandhok 3rd, Buemi 4th, Grosjean 5th, Senna 6th. Conway made it as far as 14th after dropping to 24th on lap 1.

SPRINT RACE
24 laps
Sun. 6 July
Very Wet

– Fillipi on pole because he finished 8th yesterday. Zuber alongside him. Top 8 from race 1 are reversed, P9 onwards line up in yesterday’s finishing order.

– Buemi and Herck crashed on the out lap to the grid! They cars hadn’t even reached the formation grid yet, let alone the race start grid. I have a feeling we could see a lot of cars go out. Buemi should have started 5th, Herck was way back.

– GO! Someone stalled, slow getaway for Zuber. Lots of spray. Maldonado was the staller. Fillipi leads ahead of Senna (started 3rd). Senna passes him for the lead, but in the same shot his teammate Chandhok spins off!
– Fillipi is off the track, in the gravel. Yellow flags at turn one, don’t know why.

– Parante and d’Ambrosio in the gravel, d’Ambrosio should continue.
– Grosjean has lost his front wing, is somehow holding off the other cars at these wet lower speeds. Petrov spins under acceleration! Pantano now 3rd.
– Grosjean pitted for his new wing.

– Fillipi vs Kobayashi, Fillipi goes off again and gives the place away.
– Conway is somehow 4th and setting fastest laps – he started 14th!

– 5 laps gone and the top 4 are already 20 seconds ahead of the next group.

– Grosjean has recovered to 12th, he’s passed Villa. Grosjean’s teammate Fillipi has spun off again!! He’s struggling to stay on the track.
– Senna is now setting fastest laps while leading.

– Grosjean is pushed onto the grass by Buurman! Grosjean gets by him on the next straight, just drives past.

– At half-distance we have: Senna, di Grassi, Pantano, Conway, Soucek, Petrov. Just the top six score in the sprint race, top 8 in the feature race.

– Grosjean picks off Valerio easily for 9th.
– Kobayashi is 7th and he started on the last row of the grid.

– Petrov v Soucek for multiple corners! Petrov wins. He’d been faster at the overtaking spots but yellows prevented a pass before now. Kobayashi has caught these two while they were fighting.
– Soucek and Kobayashi collide!! Soucek pushed into the barriers, wheel ripped off the car. Replays… might not have been a push as Soucek got a wheel in the dirt which spun him around. His car is far enough out of the way not to need safety car.

– Raining hard now. Maldonado takes a drive-through for speeding in pitlane, after his car was pushed there to be refired at the start!

– Fillipi has pitted and retires. Maldonado now has to take a 10-second stop/go penalty for overtaking under yellows. Not much point him continuing after his day!

– Asmer has spun through the polystyrene advertising hoarding, destroying it, he was running last already.
– Senna is now in lapped traffic, which can’t see him due to the spray. He’s 8 seconds up on di Grassi who will surely close in now. 3 laps to go.

– Villa messes up the chicane and gets on the grass, spins around and stalls it. He was the only driver to finish every race this year – until now. He’s out.
– Asmer spins again, either at the same place as last time or he’s taken out another hoarding! He gets out and walks away.
– Senna has actually opened out the gap going through traffic.

Bruno Senna wins! di Grassi 2nd, Pantano 3rd, Conway 4th, Petrov 5th, Valsecci 6th.

Replays: Big shunt on the last lap! Three cars into each other at Bridge corner, involving Kobayashi, a BCN car and Maldonado. Lots of debris at Bridge. Terrible for Kobayashi who was 6th and on for a point after starting 25th.
Only 15 finishers, six of whom were lapped.

POINTS
Top 6 at the halfway point of the year:
50 Pantano
39 Senna
25 Buemi
24 di Grassi
23 Grosjean
20 Petrov

BLOG NOTES

Thanks to Jeff at MyNameIsIRL for pointing out the FEEDJIT live feeds by adding it to his own blog. A great addition which I have no qualms about stealing. It misreports where I am but you get the right region within the country. It’ll be interesting to see a) if I have many readers and b) where they are.

The McLaren/Hamilton penalty hearing was today and the result will be announced tomorrow. I am expecting no change to the penalty and possibly an extra penalty for ‘wasting time’, which is not without precedent.

I was at… BTCC Silverstone

On Sunday I made the 3 hour journey to Silverstone to see the British Touring Car Championship. You can view my photos here.

I usually go to the Thruxton round (which is half the distance away) but missed it for a family commitment. It was raining so I nearly didn’t go but my resolve to FINALLY see some racing in 2008 won through! Just ridiculous that this was my first race of the year, I’ve normally done at least one by mid-summer.

The journey time, plus being delayed by traffic in the rain, and the race timetable this weekend meant I missed Race 1 of 3 of the headline BTCC event, which I was pretty pissed off about because it ended as I was pulling into the car park. Not to worry – still over 5 hours of racing to go! BTCC races are run over 25 minutes and the support races are 15-20 minutes or so.

Short, sharp action is the order of the day which means the drivers take risks. There is also zero gap between races, as soon as one field enters pitlane at the end of a race the next field is leaving to form on the grid before their formation lap.

Once I’d moved from the car park and bought my ticket the SEAT Cupra race was under way, so I picked up a bratwurst roll and headed to the nearest stand where the view was pretty damned good. I found myself at Luffield corner, which is slow but has good sightlines. Thankfully it was a covered stand – the intermittent rain had returned.

I knew there was a break in the programme now and was now desperate for a hot cup of tea after the food and the drive, also I love to wander around getting different views and taking in the atmosphere – so I gave up this view. Little did I know that this was when the ’50 Years of BTCC’ parade of old cars was happening! Luckily I would meet them in the paddock later.

Tea bought and a wander had, I sat myself in a stand to drink the tea and warm up a bit, finding out that the chosen stand was on the pit straight. Unlike most events, this time I had no plan for where I would be at each race, just take it as it comes and explore. The pit walkabout had just started. I took a photo, sent a text and joined the long queue for the bridge.

It took a very long time to get over the bridge and it was a shame this was the only way in other than walking all the long way to Bridge corner and crossing there. So long that the gate to pitlane itself was closed when I arrived, I ‘only’ had access to the paddock – which is more access than with most racing series in this country!

I found Tom Chilton and Gordon Shedden of Team Halfords (the rebranded Team Dynamics). ‘Sonic’ (the hair) is being interviewed in the team hospitality unit, ‘Flash’ Gordon is the guy in the hat in the foreground. Deciding not to bug them I move on.

I had lots to see in the paddock and wanted to get back trackside before the Clio Cup started – those guys are nuts. It was then I found the historic touring cars from earlier.





I could hear engines firing up in the support paddock, which I never did find, this meant the Clio Cup guys were getting ready to go out. Plan: Quick nose in the back of the pits and then head back over.


(FRenaults were in pitlane not support paddock)

Trackside at Copse corner (turn 1), from this location the Clios were underwhelming, not much happened. I missed lap one getting back over that bloody bridge. I think what action there was was happening elsewhere. Also not much atmosphere as there were only a scattering of people here.

I took to a seat back on the start straight for the second BTCC race of the day. It wasn’t eventful from my position but a lot happened elsewhere, suddenly we were down to 15 cars from the 24+ starters. This is a good place to sit for the speed – but you don’t know what’s going on because the commentary can’t be heard over the engines.

There were three support races held between the 2nd and 3rd BTCC encounters. These were the Ginetti Juniors series for teenagers, the Formula Renault 2.0 UK series for developing talent, and the Porsche Carrera Cup GB. One pic from each:


I slipped away during the Ginettas to buy some merchandise, which I believe is a legal requirement at any race circuit. I certainly feel guilty if I leave a track having not bought any. I got the BTCC 50th Anniversary polo shirt in blue, which I recommend to anyone. Returning for the FRenault grid I sat through the rain to watch both this and the Porsche Cup. I’m not entirely sure why I did that, sheer determination to see as much racing as possible I think. Yet there was a covered grandstand a hundred feet away (albeit full).

Up next was BTCC race 3, the partly-reversed grid race. Top x positions from race 2 are reversed, where x is determined by a draw live on TV.

I enjoyed this one. The BMWs were shit-hot off the line, Jackson passed a complete row before my eyes! Amazing traction. Then later Turkington got knocked into a spin by Neal. You could better hear the commentary from this location, the end of the main stand, the large green one with ‘SILVERSTONE’ written along it.

And so the end! After being disappointed earlier I had significantly improved my mood as the racing went on, despite the rain, by the end I wanted more racing!

This time the BTCC closed proceedings, I have been to other tracks where there is a closing support race to help ease the traffic out. This ought to happen here because the new approach road doesn’t solve the problem of leaving the car parks.


Click this for the track map, they used the short layout, turn right at Becketts, rejoin at Priory.

On the whole, if you ever get the chance to visit the BTCC anywhere in the UK, make sure you do so, you get great racing all day long – as long as you pick your viewing spots wisely.

I’m happy I’ve finally attended a race in 2008. This may by the only one I make this year. I’d like to go to the Le Mans Series at Silverstone in a fortnight but I’m not sure if it will be possible yet.

Finally, there was a fairly big crowd at Silverstone, most of whom were in the covered stands. Check out Autosport.com’s photos of Superleague’s inaugural event at Donington Park where literally tens of people turned up! I’m glad I didn’t go there.

See you in a couple of days for the Detroit IRL notes. I already know the winner because I went to GrandPrix.com and got spoiled – I didn’t expect them to report it, they don’t always!

British Touring Cars

This is the 50th season of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), which started life as the British Saloon Championship. I’ve been to several BTCC meetings over the last few years and you can view photos from those events through the Picasa links on the right-hand side.

For the uninitiated, the BTCC is Britain’s premier motorsport category. The current format is for 3 races of about 20-25 minutes all held on the Sunday of the race meeting. Race 2 grid order is the finishing order of race 1. For the 3rd race the same is true apart from up front, where a random draw is held to determine how many positions are reversed. e.g. if 8 is chosen the poleman moves to 8th, the 8th-placed driver starts on pole. There are 10 of these race meetings per year making for 30 points-paying races.

The racing is a lot closer than the World series (WTCC) who’s drivers are less inclined to push each other. BTCC is very much ‘rubbing is racing’, I usually hate that phrase and I dislike it in every other series but the BTCC would not have its character without it.

I’m heading to Silverstone tomorrow where the 50th anniversary celebrations will be held (I’m not sure what those celebrations will be). Thruxton is my nearest round but I missed it for family reasons, and I need my fix before the season is over!

In preparation for this weekend I’ve been catching up with this year’s races, which I can’t see live as I don’t have ITV4. I ‘acquire’ them in the same way I get other stuff. So my GP2 plans went out the window and I watched BTCC at Snetterton, Oulton Park and Knockhill which immediately precedes Silverstone. Silverstone holds the penultimate meeting of the year, the season concludes at Brands Hatch 3 weeks from now.

BTCC currently uses the National layout at Silverstone, which is only just over a mile long and very fast. As a Grand Prix track it is also very wide. All this makes for a lot of two-wide oval-style action! I will return with pics and a report which I’ll post as soon as I get the chance!

If you have the chance to catch BTCC on TV, do so, it is great fun. It is live on ITV4 from just after midday with highlights shows dotted around hither and thither. Outside of the UK, I believe the full season is shown on a delayed basis on SPEED during the winter in the USA (& Canada?). Not sure if you guys get ‘as live’ or just the highlights. Keep watching those listings.

Note on Superleague: It starts this weekend and I said I’d do a preview. I was wrong, I haven’t had time and I can’t see myself getting interested enough to do one.