Tuesday, 4 May 2010
Sunday at Silverstone: FIA GT1 World Championship
Regular readers of the blog will know that it is traditional that my racing companion, Christian, 7, and I always stop at McDonalds for breakfast on the way to get our fix of motorsport and the plan on Sunday was no different. We had got up extra early, 5.45am no less, due to the extended run to Silverstone, as opposed to our leisurely 6.30 for the usual run to Oulton Park. I wanted to break the back of the journey before we stopped and remembered from my childhood trips to Silverstone that my dad had always stopped at Keel services on the M6, due to it being exactly half way (and if my dad said that then it was EXACTLY half way, coming from the man who used to boast that it only took him 64 and a quarter breaths to blow up a double airbed), so nostalgia won the day and we plodded along until we reached said services.
I had already noted the lack of any golden arches on the slip road and my fears were confirmed as we entered the building, we did find somewhere that was serving breakfast and I had to make do with a bacon, sausage, hash brown and mushroom roll, oh the deprivation. Two men sat next to us in overalls and were chatting about why the bridge over the M6 was closed, the conversation went along the lines of the travelling Everton fans who had been through the night before trashing KFC and jamming the fire alarms in the on position (and that was after a goalless draw), it reminded me why, even though I enjoy football as much as the next person, I take Christian to watch motor racing, they’re a much more civilised bunch.
We carried on our journey, Christian playing on his DS and me remembering making the trip so many times as a boy, all the old landmarks still there; Spaghetti Junction, Villa Park, RAC Centre and the icon that is Fort Dunlop – I always knew we were close when I saw that. Soon after, Jane, the SatNav, had led us as far as she could and the circuit’s signage took over. We were led into a huge car park, where we could see the GT1 cars on circuit for their warm up, and could tell instantly that everything, from the approach road to the car park to the stewarding was hugely more functional and professional than the last time I was there, although the last time I was there Michael Schumacher slammed his Ferrari into the barriers at Stowe (to huge cheers from the faithful, maybe we’re not so civilised after all), breaking his leg and bringing his 1999 season to a premature end.
We entered the track on foot over the bridge at…..well at Bridge, where the operators have been careful to ensure that there is no viewing capacity to avoid bottlenecking of cars and pedestrians on the bridge which was out of bounds to spectators prior to the revisions. We were passed on the bridge by a host of exotic cars on their way to the various owners club areas, Christian spotted three Dodge Vipers line astern drive past us as we crossed the second road bridge which now brings you out at the back of the paddock, adjacent to the short straight between Copse and Becketts, an area where I am certain will be restricted when Bernie comes to town in July.
Aside from my initial observations about the recent changes and the changes that had taken place over the ten years since I was last there, one thing really stood out; it was absolutely bleeding freezing. I tried to work out from the direction of the wind, which of the completed grandstands would offer the best protection from the weather, I decided Copse would be the best place and we made our way there in time to watch a master class in wet driving by ART’s British hope Alex Sims, including a fantastic ‘wall of death’ move around the outside of Gabriel Dias at Copse, which it looked like the Brazilian had bottled and backed out of, although I’m sure he would call it ceding the place to an ‘Invitational class’ driver, whom he was not directly competing with. Sims duly drove off into the sunset to claim victory in his first ever weekend of British F3. After the F3 had finished, and still freezing, I decided to seek warmth within the confines of the paddock; I didn’t find it, what I did find was a very reasonably priced programme (£5), and while I was marvelling at the fact that it cost only the same as a programme at Oulton, I was stung for £10 to go on the pit walk, which people were already queuing for.
The ten pounds turned out to be money well spent as after braving the lengthy wait for access, it transpired that everyone of note from the GT1 series was sat at the front of their respective garages meeting the fans, we met Karl Wendlinger (who I met here about 20 years ago), Romain Grosjean, Oliver Gavin and Darren Turner amongst others and were given some pretty nifty free stuff by Young Driver AMR in particular, along with having a chance to see some of the machinery close up.
After our pit walk we had a good walk around the paddock, and then ventured off for a walk up towards the hangar straight where I thought we could get some lunch from a less congested burger van, and watch the GT3 race from a different place. As it turned out we watched the race from many, many different places as we walked to try and find this elusive queue-less food outlet, and as we walked first around the outside of the Maggotts/Becketts complex, and then around Stowe it dawned on me, the place is an absolute tip, nothing more than a building site. The track is finished, but the rest of the place is just mud, both in the spectator areas and trackside, I’m sure it is under control, it has to be, we would be the laughing stock of the entire F1 world if we held a Grand Prix at the venue in its current state, but with only 75 days until free practice, there must be some concerned people within the FIA and the BRDC.
Anyway, we found our food stand, not only was there no people waiting when we got there, I don’t think there had been any people there all day, I paid the usual race meeting £10 for a hot dog and a burger, the burger was like a Frisbee (I was concerned when I saw the vendor drop it into the chip fat when I ordered), and while I was pretty sure the hot dog was dog, it certainly wasn’t hot. The man serving was on the phone while serving us complaining about being left out in such a remote place while the competition had been allocated plots in and around the paddock area, and as such I decided that I wouldn’t voice concerns over our food for fear of ending up hanging upside down in a refrigerated van.
We wandered around the rest of the circuit before we arrived back, still shivering in the Baltic conditions, at the infield, where Christian had a brief go on some quad bikes before being removed for being unable to a) keep his going in a straight line, and b) slow down for the corners, two aspects of quad bike riding that the operator seemed to think were pretty fundamental to the safety of the other children (look out Valentino). We had another loop of the paddock (catching the GT4 race from the Paddock bar), before heading back to Copse to watch the GT1 feature race from almost the same spot that I watched Johnny Herbert win the Grand Prix nearly 15 years ago. The GT1 race was great, as was the spectacle; it has the makings of a great series, perhaps it might fill that gap for drivers who take single seaters as far as they can without making the impression they need in F1 circles (Grosjean being a case in point). The race itself saw the former Frenchman spin out at the first corner into retirement, and further drama was provided by one of the Phoenix Racing Corvettes expiring in a ball of flames on the new loop. Meanwhile the Aston Martin teams fought for the win which was eventually claimed by Darren Turner and Thomas Enge in the Young Driver AMR entry, before later being stripped of it due to a technical infringement, handing the win to British pair Warren Hughes and Jamie Campbell-Walter in their British run Sumo Power Nissan GTR. We stayed until mid distance in the third British F3 race of the weekend at which point the conditions got the better of us and we left for the car in order for our toes to thaw.
A great day, bringing back some great memories, like watching Senna win in driving rain in ’88, the Herbert victory amongst many other home successes; Hill, Mansell, Coulthard. I hope the circuit is in good shape ready for our next visit to Northamptonshire for the Grand Prix in July, and that when everything is finished it still has the character that it had the last time I saw a Grand Prix here, I know that things had to change or we wouldn’t have a Grand Prix to watch, but facilities aren’t everything, all the shiny new pit garages, tarmaced car parks and dual lane bypasses in the world won’t compensate for the loss of the most fundamental facet of this special place, its soul.
Look out for more posts over the coming days, including Christian's autograph book, part 3.
Follow me on twitter: @ifitsgot4wheels or @daimccann.
Photos will be on ifitsgot4wheels Flickr page in the next day or so.