In the build up to the Silverstone round of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), nine drivers, accompanied by three of the most distinctive race cars headed for one of the Capital’s most iconic landmarks – the London Eye.
The impromptu photo call featured WEC series points leader Allan McNish (Audi Sport Team Joest), father and son duo Martin and Alex Brundle (Greaves Motorsport), Anthony Davidson (Toyota Racing), Karun Chandhok (JRM), Darren Turner (Aston Martin Racing) and the all-British Strakka Racing team line-up of Nick Leventis, Danny Watts and Jonny Kane.
It’s been 21 years since Brundle Senior raced sports cars at Silverstone and he was looking forward to reacquainting himself with the circuit and racing alongside his son, Alex, who competed with him at Le Mans earlier in the year. The pair were yet again joined by Nissan’s inaugural GT Academy winner, Lucas Ordoñez in the #42 Nissan Zytek Z11SN.
Qualifying was close on Saturday – such is the success of the LMP2 class this year that more than ten cars were covered by a single second – but it was Alex Brundle who took his maiden endurance racing pole in the Greaves Motorsport Nissan. However Saturday was the high-point as their fortunes went downhill from the very start of Sunday’s race.
LMP1 ended up an all-Audi front row, with Benoit Treluyer edging out his team mate Allan McNish by the narrowest of margins.
The lone LMP1 Toyota TS030 Hybrid, driven by Alex Wurz, took the early race lead when the Austrian made the most of Audi driver Andre Lotterer catching slower traffic on the run out of Copse. Wurz was to steal past the slower car before extending his lead over the Audi driver, however, the Toyota’s weakness would soon begin to show.
Audi-beating pace had been traded for inferior fuel economy, the Toyota team losing a handful of laps in every stint to their Ingolstadt based rivals.
The difference meant that the Toyota needed an extra – and costly – fuel stop compared to the two Audi R18 e-trons it was up against. That extra stop, though it was only 44 seconds from pit-in to pit-out sealed the win for the Le Mans winning line-up of Lotterer, Fassler and Treluyer in their Audi R18 e-tron Quattro.
The victory sealed Audi’s position as the manufacturers’ champions in this inaugural WEC season, as well as moving the three wheelmen to the head of the drivers’ standings after their second consecutive win.
Unlike at Le Mans, when the trio were almost entirely faultless, there was one blot on an otherwise spotless copybook at Silverstone.
While trying to lap another prototype car, Treluyer swiped the GTE Am Krohn Racing Ferrari off the track between Stowe and Vale. The incident was immediately, and unsurprisingly, under investigation by the stewards and Treluyer was, arguably, fortunate to get away with just a stop-go penalty in the short Silverstone pit lane.
There were problems also for the R18 ultra of Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen, who were forced into an unscheduled pit stop by a slow puncture early in McNish’s first stint, having taken the car over from Kristensen.
As the different strategies played out, the Toyota appeared to be falling back towards the third placed Audi. However the Toyota’s pace proved enough to secure second for Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre and Kazuki Nakajima.
There was a fierce battle to the flag among the privateer LMP1 cars, with Andrea Belicchi just managing to repel a charging Danny Watts in the Strakka Racing HPD – the pair split by less than a second at the end of six hours of racing.
LMP2 was just as close – John Martin had installed his ADR-Delta Oreca-Nissan at the front of the field by completing a triple-stint at the start of the race, but once the Australian handed over to teammates Tor Graves, and then Jan Charouz, the class battle started to open up once again.
Their commanding lead – over a minute at times – was uncharacteristic in a class where qualifying had been so close. Pole sitter Alex Brundle was caught out on the first lap by Peter Dumbreck’s rotating LMP1, forcing him to take evading action around the outside of both Dumbreck and the track.
Although there was no damage to the Zytek-Nissan, the incident dropped the Brundle/Ordoñez/Brundle car to the rear of the LMP2 field, beginning what was to become a difficult race for the #42 car.
While Brundle was delayed, Stephane Sarrazin took the lead for Starworks Motorsport, before the American team fell away through the middle part of the race.
Back in the car for the final stint, Sarrazin began to regain the lost time, closing the gap to just five seconds behind class winner Jan Charouz in the Oreca-Nissan and ensuring Starworks remain at the top of the WEC’s LMP2 standings.
The Signatech Oreca-Nissan of Nelson Panciatici, Pierre Ragues and Roman Rusinov finished close behind to complete the class podium.
In the twin GTE classes it was an all Ferrari affair as AF Corse swept to domination with their exceedingly frugal fleet of 458 Italias.
GTE Pro was won by Giancarlo Fisichella and Gianmaria Bruni in the #51 car, while James Walker and Jonny Cocker drove the similar Ferrari F458 Italia to second place on home soil for them and the JMW Motorsport team.
Both Ferraris managed to make a pit stop less than their Aston Martin and Porsche rivals and a Ferrari clean-sweep of the podium was only prevented by Aston Martin Racing’s Stefan Mücke, who caught the third-place Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini and pulled alongside him going into Vale. The two cars made contact, causing Bertolini to spin off the track and become beached in the gravel – just metres from the chequered flag.
Matt Griffin, Marco Cioci and Piergiuseppe Perrazini won the GTE-Am class, driving for the AF Corse Ferrari squad – they too were able to make less pit stops than their nearest rivals, racing for Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsche.
To the victor go the spoils..
It was a fascinating contest, with stories of fortune and disaster throughout the field, but in the end Audi’s e-tron quattro was victorious and deserving of the constructors’ title spoils.
The AF Corse Ferraris remain the dominant force in the GTE classes, but LMP2 remains more open with the Nissan-Zyteks of Greaves Motorsport determined to bounce back from their Silverstone dissapointment and show the true pace of their car at the next race.
The next round of the WEC season is the 6 Hours of São Paulo at Interlagos in Brazil on 15 September, 2012.
Words: James Broomhead
Images: Kevin Mc Glone (Red Square Images)