Powder blue English skies confused me when Sunday's curtains opened wide, imagining for a moment I was in Cabo or Morocco, but alas, it really was lovely England and the moment to challenge the mighty Silverstone was here once again. Three days ago Google forecast a 30% chance of rain for Sunday, but they don't know England from Disneyland.
Quick 10 minute warm up session at 10:10 AM lacked any major hits from the twin-turbo Nissan, which was a pleasant change in routine for us. I got an out and an in lap done, while Matt squeezed in one traffic-impeded timed lap that was only half a second off his Quali time, proving to those who don't give a damn that yesterday's flat tire in Qualifying really did interfere with our final grid spot - guessing of course, but instead of 8th, we probably had a 4th slot available to us in a clean fight.
I forgot to mention in Race Report # 1 that Jim and Glynn Giddie have joined United Autosport for a one-off British GT weekend with their sinister black McLaren, in which they won this championship back in 2011. Glynn still looks like a Roman gladiator and if he tells you to buy oil drilling pipe from the family business, you better damn well buy it or else. Jim, having just crossed the 50 barrier, stumbled across some Type 2 Diabetes, which has helped him lose 2 stone (not kidney ones), with diet and less hooch rubbing some of the ruddy off of his face and completely eliminating the belly obstruction to what he used to enjoy looking down on, except for the obstruction. Their normal series, where they're doing very well again this year, shods McLaren's wheels with Perelli rubber, so they're having to make more of an adjustment to the Avons compared to us, given we've raced the Audi for multiple seasons on these hard but reliable tires.
Fan signing at 1:15 and the green flag at 2:15. During the fan signing Jody Firth popped over to our table with an appeal for common sense at the start - at times like these it's hard to know how to react: (a) he thinks you're a completely unpredictable nitwit who would risk anything in the opening 300 yards of a 3 hour race, or (b) he's a pal just making sure we're all heads up about getting through these first few enigmatically complex F1 corners built to accommodate at best one car at a time, so we can race safely for the remaining 179 minutes. I chose to believe the latter. Quick 15 minute shut-eye to calm the nerves, got Matt and Gary together for a pre-race huddle to repeat our core strategy ideas in a race that mandates a minimum of 3 pit stops and a driver change at each of these stops, plus no driver can do less than 75 minutes and none more than 110. All big races like this inevitably have some bazooka crashes and a safety car on track once or twice - how your engineer chooses to structure the pit stops around these incidents and when they actually occur, can make all the difference in determining the race winners and losers.
Recon lap and pace laps got our tires and brakes up to peak temperatures, so all of us Am drivers rounding Luffield before the start in brightly colored pairs packed tightly together, looking up at the "all red" starter lights, certainly made the heart flutter and the focus instantly build to 100.000%. Launching in 2nd gear very close to Jody's bumper at the split second the lights dimmed, as did his orange and black Porsche immediately in front of me, we pulled steadily away from P9 on my right and I managed to squeeze into Copse (right hander in 4th gear) slightly ahead of Lee Mowle's black BMW on the inside line, who had started in P7. What I can't explain is where and who else we passed, but by the end of Maggots-Becketts-Chapel, we were in P6 and managed to hold onto Jody's ass like he was the only girl at the beach party. Marginally frustrating not to be able to get by the Porsche as he was probably costing us a second a lap. Somehow, despite all the BMW-Porsche-Aston' straight line speed advantage, our reliable Audi held tight to this leading pack in P3-4-5 for the first 6 or 7 laps, great racing, everyone taking a peak once or twice in the big braking zones but no one making any passes. Unfortunately this gave P1 and P2, especially Andrew Howard (last year's BGT champion) clean air to break ahead comfortably. The one pleasant surprise for the first few laps was to see Sir Chris careening around in my mirrors, handling the Nissan fantastically, but soon enough we all pulled a long way ahead of him without any contact at all.
Right on cue at the 15th minute Gary announced our Safety Car Window was now open, crackling almost like a Scotsman on the radio, but he assures me he does not get to vote on ceding from the Union. So my 1 hour first stint could now be abbreviated immediately should we get an early race crash severe enough to justify releasing the Safety Car. As usual, as we hit the 8 to 10 lap area of the race and enjoying great racing for us near the front, the better Audi tire wear started to give us a slight edge. We could outbreak the other manufacturers easily and handled the technical turns better than cars who were losing grip. We simply had a better balanced car and could get back to power more quickly. Also, Matt had given me some exceptionally good subtle coaching tips that plucked a tenth or two out of corner exits one can't easily feel in the car itself. Jody took advantage of the # 6 Aston of Gaw (Pro) and Dryburgh (Am) after a tail wagging exit from a tight corner and I tried to nail too him a few corners later when he got balked behind one of the first GT4 cars we were starting to lap. Dryburgh would have none of it, trying to force me wide, but as I held firm on his and the GT4's outside through this 125 mph corner, he simply drove into our door, forcing me to back off and recover the car. Fortunately his reliable incompetence came to the fore on the next lap, tail wagging like a happy puppy, and the Audi calmly made the pass as we set out down the straight into Brooklands to haul in Jody - 'smatter of time. A bright red Aston that had suffered a heavy crash going into Brooklands ultimately couldn't be moved from a dangerous spot, so the Safety Car was dispatched. We'd caught half the distance to Jody's Porsche by then and were registering the fastest sector times among all the GT3 drivers, so had our first stint run a full hour, we comfortably would have come in at P3 or P4 at the turn of the first hour.
Gary's immediate order was to pit when I was still half a lap away. Tons of time to get organized and bring the car in quickly. Surprisingly, as I dived into Pit-in, almost no other cars had chosen to pit for a short driver change. Loosen belts, flip pit lane speed limiter on (doesn't work till you're in 1st gear), hustle in towards the 60 kph board, downshift twice late and then get the speed down to below 60 before crossing the white line - our pit box was the 2nd garage in from the white line, so no time for errors or second thoughts.
That moment marked the end of our race, about 35 minutes into the 3 hour event. In 17 years of racing I have never had anyone crash into me on the pit limit line, but the same nitwit, Dryburgh in the #6 Aston, had come barreling into pit lane and for whatever reason at the last moment, looked down at his instruments for a second, smashing heavily into the rear of our car. Later our data showed I was on the white line doing 56 kph when he catapulted us forward. We did a flawless driver change and Matt raced out on track to see if the car was damaged, but he soon radioed in that the rear damage was too severe to continue, so we had to pit again, still under the Safety Car, and try to fix the crumpled parts in time to get back out and compete. The Aston had destroyed their race too, but Dryburgh never bothered to come to our garage to apologize. Class act. His co-driver happens to be CEO of Aston Martin Racing worldwide, so I took the opportunity to write Dave Richards, Chairman of Aston, a kind little note to point out both his client's incompetence and lack of civility. Sum of penalties for the Aston: minus 4 championship points.
After 45 minutes for a complete exhaust system and undertray replacement, among other things, Matt took off to see how things felt. Gary and I on the pit wall watched him flying by towards Copse on his first lap, but the tray was flapping in the breeze like freshly washed clothes on a line. Gary had to call him in as this condition was too dangerous to keep driving. The tray never stayed on even for the in-lap, but it did get our large stingray-like Audi part a great highlight on TV as the corner worker hustled onto the track and ran behind the tire wall with this huge slab of black carbon fiber.
I left the track with an hour to go and only 2 cars were still on the lead lap. The P1 Aston driven by Michael Caine and the Bentley driven by Steve Kane - others who had pitted early like us. The ugly reality is that Matt was a second faster than Caine in all sessions this weekend because Ahmad Al Harthy and Caine are both Silver or better drivers, so they must lug a 75 kilo weight penalty around, just like Warren Hughes and Jody Firth, as there's no bronze driver in the car. Peeking through the kaleidoscope of irrelevance, it certainly feels to Matt and me that we had a podium in the bag here at Silverstone and quite possibly a P1 finish. Pure speculation of course, but it adds to the pain of this overdose of bad luck we've had in 3 of the opening 4 races in British GT this year.
We started the season as one of the 2 or 3 favored pairs to win the championship, but after today our chances are zero, game over. Not a fun way to go racing and certainly a stupidly unrewarding and expensive way to chalk up large crash damage bills at the hands of others too rattled and unfocused to cover the basics of racing.
Just so you don't think I forgot the Roman gladiator and his skinny dad Jim, they had a blinder of a start but it only lasted 3 corners as some idiot with the same mental shortcoming as Dryburgh, spun his Ferrari around and making contact with the McLaren, clinically slicing Jim's rear wing off as efficiently as an experienced Rabbi at a bris. So he had to crawl around the first lap and go down a few laps getting a new rear wing attached. More than an hour later their car suffered a broken wishbone, losing steering completely, but fortunately only in 5th gear at 130 mph approaching Copse, so lots more excitement than they ever knew existed in famous British GT racing.
Well, we were certainly united at United Autosports this weekend, but unfortunately not united in triumph this time. The highlight of the weekend was Flower deciding to bring his son, Tulip I think was his name, to share the event in the garage. He is a retired commando in the British Armed Forces and if I was a Taliban member, I'd shave immediately and wear a Hollywood T shirt insisting my wife run around with nothing covering her head. He's built like a killer, just like his Dad, but luckily has all the charm and drive those genes passed along too.
E N D O F R A C E R E P O R T # 2