Sunday 16 April 2017

World Endurance Championship

Today I took a drive down to Silverstone to catch some FIA World Endurance action from the first round of the 2017 Championship season. With Audi withdrawing from endurance racing at the end of last year, the premier LMP1 prototype class consists of two cars each for Porsche and Toyota with a single privateer entry from ByKolles Racing. Both Audi and Porsche are owned by Volkswagen so I guess it didn't make sense for them to compete against each other.

The second class is the LMP2 where the field is made up of Oreca 07 cars, they are slightly heavier and less powerful than the LMP1 cars and do not feature the complex manufacturer hybrid energy systems. Then there is the LMGTE class which is divided between Professional and Amateur.

This year the LMGTE class has been granted a new FIA World Championship status and is contested by four manufacturers. The Ferrari 488 GTE is run by the private AF Corse team and this season is painted a special shade of red for Ferrari's 70th anniversary. The factory backed teams run the Porsche 911 RSR, Aston Martin Vantage, and the Ford GT.

As well as the World Endurance Championship, the event was supported by the Formula V8 World Series, Formula 3, and the European Le Mans Series, so there was plenty to see for an entry price of £25. We arrived at the circuit just as Formula V8 qualifying was happening and walked around the outside to watch from Copse corner. Shortly after that was the first WEC free practice session which lasted for an hour. It was great to see the cars braking and hear the downshifts into Copse before hitting the throttle on the exit. I thought the Aston would be the best sounding car but it was the Ford GT, it made everything else seem far too quiet.
Once the practice session was over we headed under the track through Copse tunnel and into the support race paddock area. Here we found the Formula 3 cars lined up ready to take to the circuit for their first race. We then headed down to the Maggots and Becketts section to watch the cars through the famous high speed twists.

I hadn't been to Silverstone since a couple of trips to the British GP in early 2000s, so I forgot how large the site is. We headed over to the complex section with the signature wing building to take a look around the WEC paddock. This was just as the Formula V8 were leaving the pit lane to form up on the grid. I was able to watch them accelerate away on to the circuit and hear what a great noise the 3.5 litre Renault engines make. These cars are a step down from Formula 1 but are only a few seconds slower than the LMP1 cars.
After all this walking it was time for a break, a bit of lunch, and to watch the V8 race from the big screen in the fan entertainment area. Also while here I had a wander around the various stalls and spotted a rather impressive Aston Martin DB11 alongside a V8 Vantage in British Racing Green. Another walk through the paddock saw us up close to the Formula V8 cars as they were returning from the race, and some of the LMGTE cars as they were undergoing scrutineering.
We then headed to back to the wing and watched the WEC qualifying overlooking Stowe and Club Corner. After these two 20 minute qualifying sessions were complte the cars were finished running for the day. This allowed fans the opportunity to walk the open pit lane. We saw many people queuing for this but they didn't really need to, we were able to just wander in. Here you could see the cars in their garages being prepared for the 6 hour race. Understandably there was a big crowd around the LMP1 cars so we had to wait before getting a glimpse of these being stripped down.

Here're some more pictures from around the paddock and pit lane, click for larger size: