Season finale and new beginnings
In recent years Silverstone has been the scene of the Le Mans Series season finale and 2010 was no exception. The fifth event of this year's championship, however, also served as the inaugural round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC). The maiden ILMC is held over three races on as many continents with the Autosport Silverstone 1000 km followed by Petit Le Mans and a 1000 km race in Zuhai, China. The winner of each class will receive an automatic entry for Le Mans. Next year the intercontinental championship is expected to consist of two races on each continent with the 24 Hours of Le Mans as the headline event. Going into the Silverstone race almost all Le Mans Series titles were still up for grasps, adding even more emphasis on the event. The race was also the first encounter between arch-rivals Audi and Peugeot after the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Le Mans winners brought two cars, while the French manufacturer opted to support Oreca's privately entered 908 HDI with a single works car. With a total of 45 cars, it was the biggest Le Mans Series entry since Spa in May. After a two-race hiatus, the much loved Classic Endurance Racing series returned on the support schedule as well. For almost all involved, it was the first opportunity to explore the new sections of the heavily modified track.
Changing conditions for practice and qualifying
During the first two days, the weather made the teams' lives very difficult. The track was never fully wet and rarely totally dry. With some rain also expected for the race, the changeable conditions did give the teams the opportunity to experiment with the various compounds of tyres available. Although little could be read into it, Audi and Peugeot took turns in leading the practice classifications with the Germans topping the tables twice and the French team once. Despite being run in beautiful sunlight, qualifying did not provide any answers. Both Audis went out early in the 20-minute session and by the time the Peugeots went out the Racing Performance Radical had lost its engine cover. This resulted in a permanent yellow flag and prevented the Peugeots to set competitive times. So the Audis were first and second with the Allan McNish / Tom Kristensen #7 on pole, followed by their French nemesis.
In LMP2 it was business as usual with the Strakka Racing HPD ARX-01c decimating the competition. During qualifying Danny Watts' best time was over 2.5 seconds faster than Olivier Pla in last year's champions Quifel - ASM. Fourth was for championship leaders, RML, who had their regular line-up reinforced by none other than Top Gear's Stig (Ben Collins). With no competition, literally, the Larbre Saleen took top honours in the GT1 class. The team's objective for the weekend was to finish the race ahead of all the GT2 cars. That class was again the closest by quite a margin with 9 cars separated by less than a 0.7 of a second. Rob Bell was a surprising quickest in the JMW Aston Martin V8 Vantage, which had finally come of age. That means that Aston Martin has had a pole position in every Le Mans Series class it has competed in. Just 0.089 separated the two quickest Formula Le Mans cars, both of which were entered by the Hope Polevision Racing team with the #48 car pipping its team-mate.
Classic Endurance Racing
In 2010 the already popular Classic Endurance Racing (CER) series for late-1960s and 1970s sports racers has taken a further step forward. All five events on the calendar were oversubscribed from the start of the season and we understand, for example, that the reserve list for Silverstone consisted of nearly 20 additional cars. Due to track restraints, the entry was limited to 'just' 55 cars. Like last year, American racing legend Bobby Rahal ventured to the British track to compete in the one-hour endurance race. Instead of the Lola T290 he brought last year, Rahal was now at the wheel of his recently acquired Lola T212. The 2009 CER champion Jean-Marc Luco replaced his dominant Porsche 936 for the considerably older and even rarer Ligier JS3. Also powered by the highly successful Cosworth DFV V8 engine were Marc Devis' glorious Mirage GR7 and two Lola T280s.
Just as in the feature event, the CER practice and qualifying sessions were plagued by the changeable conditions. Eventually Carlos Barbot and Jonathan Baker managed to set the fastest lap in the former's Lola T280. At the start the diminutive Lola was swallowed by Paul Knapfield in his ground-shaking Ferrari 712 Can-Am car. As usual the ferocious power proved more than the fragile Ferrari could handle and Knapfield gradually dropped down the order and eventually had to retire. Moving in the opposite direction were Gareth Burnett in the legendary 'Chocolate Drop' Chevron B26 and Mike Catlow in Kevin Wilkins' Lola T296. The two cars actually hit early on in the race, leaving extensive but fortunately not fatal marks on both cars. Catlow handed the Lola to Wilkins in the lead but was caught speeding in the pit-lane. The subsequent drive-through penalty enabled Burnett to build up a sizeable lead and take the victory ahead of Patrice Lafargue in a Lola T298. Third was for the very impressive pairing of Charlie Kemp and Chris Fox in their considerably older Lola T210.
For the CER, Silverstone was not the fourth and not the final race of the season. The fifth round will be held in October at Paul Ricard where the four class field will be split in two, opening the entry to twice as many cars! We will, of course, be there to capture the 'Dix Mille Tours' event in its entirety.
Autosport Silverstone 1000 km
Apart from a few drops halfway through the 170 laps, the rain stayed well clear of the Silverstone track. By that point much of the race's outcome had already been decided, and not in Audi's favour. Even before the start of the race the German team was in trouble as Timo Bernhard managed to spin his R15 plus on the warm-up lap. He could retake his place alongside McNish but lost it immediately after the start to Anthony Davidson in the Peugeot. During the subsequent laps the two Brits were entangled in a very entertaining fight, which ended in Davidson's favour after a brave move on the main straight. The 'wee Scot' squeezed the Englishman to towards the wall but left more than enough room for Davidson to get by. McNish' efforts proved to be for naught as his Audi had a very uncharacteristic mechanical failure to the drivetrain. At around the same time Bernhard swerved wide, allowing Nicolas Lapierre in the Oreca Peugeot to grab onto to second. In the subsequent 150 laps the positions did not change. In the end the Peugeots proved quicker and, requiring one less stop, also more frugal than their rivals. The victory for Davidson and Nic Minassian was but a small consolation for the disastrous Le Mans race but did wipe away the bad memories of Silverstone in 2008. The second place was enough for the Oreca team to be crowned as the 2010 champions. 'Best of the rest' was once again for the Aston Martin Racing team with their production-V12 engined Lola. The 009 car finished fourth, three laps down on the winners. During the weekend, the British manufacturer confirmed that a brand new LMP1 car is under development for 2011, which will be open topped and will use a bespoke racing engine.
At the two-hour mark, the Strakka Racing team held a very comfortable lead of well over a minute but then disaster struck; the HPD ARX-01c was hit from behind by the Spyker requiring repairs to the rear body. Driver Nick Leventis was also handed a drive-through penalty, which saw him drop down to fourth in the LMP2 class. This required a momentous drive from Danny Watts, who once again delivered. He bridged the gap with unbelievable ease and eventually crossed the line nearly a minute ahead of the second placed Quifel - ASM Ginetta-Zytek. After the race, Watts was full of praise of his Michelin tyres, which, instead of deteriorating, kept on giving more grip throughout the double 'stint'. This was Strakka's fourth victory in six races this year, including a class win at Le Mans and an outright win in the Hungaroring of the Le Mans Series. Two 'DNFs', however, put them on the back-foot in the championship, which went to the more consistent RML Team, which used the same HPD V8 engine but in a Lola chassis.
The close fight in GT2 was ended prematurely by the very active stewards, who handed a drive-through penalty to the JMW Aston Martin for 'not respecting the track limits'. Driver Robert Bell was surprised and disappointed as he believed he had never been off the track with all four wheels. He certainly was not the only one as by the end of the race almost all cars were handed at least a warning for the same offence. In all honesty, an Aston Martin victory was not really on the cards as the second placed Ferrari managed to get one more lap out of a tank of fuel. At the end of the day that resulted in one less pit-stop for the AF Corse F430 GTC of Gianmaria Bruni and Jaime Melo. Second was for the Prospeed Competition Porsche 997 GT3 RSR of Richard Westbrook and Marco Holzer. Despite the penalty and additional stop Bell and team-mate Darren Turner still managed to hold on to the final podium position. Fifth was enough for Marc Lieb and Richard Lietz to take the championship once again for the Felbermayr Proton team.
Mechanical problems prevented Larbre from achieving their objective of finishing ahead of all of the GT2 cars but they did earn the default class win. It was nevertheless a sad end to the once so popular GT1 class in the Le Mans Series. The Formula Le Mans class victory was clinched by Warren Hughes and Jody Firth. This enabled the sister DAMS car to secure the top position in the championship standings.
The very early retirement of the lead Audi robbed the race of the battle for the lead it deserved. Fortunately we will get two more head-to-heads between the two rivals later in the year and with both manufacturers committed to brand new cars for 2011, the rivalry is set to continue. With 40+ entries in three of the five races, the Le Mans Series seems to have gotten through to difficult economic times remarkably well. It will be very interesting to see how the 'Series' will fare in its eighth year with the arrival of the ILMC.
All of the above and much more can be found in our spectacular 230-shot gallery
of the 2010 Le Mans Series Autosport Silverstone 1000 km race.