Whilst Formula 1 continues to experience troubles the World Endurance Championship increases in popularity year after year.
Round 1 at Silverstone attracted a sizeable and enthusiastic race-day crowd. But then what’s not to like? For the princely sum of £40 per person you get a weekend ticket with free parking, roving access to grandstands, access to both ELMS, Carrera Cup and WEC paddocks, a 4hr ELMS race on Saturday and the 6hr main WEC event on Sunday. I was also sent a free Sunday morning Pit-Walk Pass. If you want a similar level of access for Formula 1 be prepared to part with several hundred pounds per person.
All of this goes toward building a feeling of goodwill with the fans. Which in turn is attracting more and more of them – even though it’s not easy for the fans to follow the series on TV, following the demise of Motors TV in the UK – Hint: download the WEC App and you can purchase an in-app season pack for £25.99 that gives live video coverage, with excellent commentary by the Radio Le Mans team, and live timing across all of your devices – including all of this seasons rounds plus Le Mans 24hrs. You can also purchase cheaper packs without Le Mans, or on a race by race basis for a few pounds each.
Trackside the cars are no less spectacular than their F1 counterparts. The LMP1 Audi’s, Porsche’s and Toyota’s are fearsomely quick – everywhere. Stand at Abbey, Copse or Becketts and you struggle to comprehend how quickly they corner, with huge levels of downforce.
Stand at Luffield, Village or Club and watch their hybrid systems convert them to 4-wheel drive and haul them out of corners at scarcely believable speeds. Rumour has it that the combined output of their turbo engines and hybrid systems gives them over 1000bhp to play with! The Audi is particularly eerie – it runs a turbo-diesel engine and is virtually silent as it whooshes by at tremendous velocities, wheels buzzing over the exit kerbs.
But the most fun part is that – being endurance racing – there are four categories of car on track at the same time – 33 cars in all. Watching the LMP1 Hybrids swooping under, around and past the GTE cars (pumped-up race versions of Aston, Ferrari, Porsche, Ford & Corvette road cars) is heart-in-the-mouth scary and hugely entertaining all at once.
To give you an idea of the speed of the Factory LMP1 Hybrids; in the race they lapped all of the GTE Pro & GTE Am Cars in around seven minutes and all of the LMP2 Prototypes within twenty minutes of the race starting!
Of course, being Silverstone in April, the weather played it’s part. The Friday Practice forecast had promised rain. Indeed it did early morning before the track action started. But during the day, other than some moisture in the air, it stayed dry until 15mins before the final session ended at 6pm.
Saturday morning was a different story…Snow! The blizzard lasted until about 10.30am, with first two scheduled sessions cancelled. When track action started the track was sodden.
Still, WEC Qualifying still took place, in the wet:
…and was followed up by the European Le Mans Series 4hr Race:
Sunday – on the other hand – was glorious. The sun came out to play on race day and drew the crowds in.
The race itself was cracking entertainment – with Webber in feisty mood in the first stint, overhauling both Audi’s to take the lead. It wasn’t to last. Having handed the lead 919 Porsche over to Brendan Hartley, a mis-judged overtake on – ironically – a GTE RSR Porsche , saw him airborne and almost flipped over heading towards Village.
Audi now headed the pack, Lotterer with his elbows out is always a sight to see. The No2 Porsche kept them honest and they traded lap times for the rest of the race until the remaining 919 headed to the pits for a splash n’ dash. Audi took the win – or so we thought. 6hrs after the race ended and we’d all made it home, it was declared the winning Audi had illegally worn down its front skid block – thus handing Porsche the victory!
A little bittersweet as, having spectated all afternoon, you leave thinking someone has won, only to find they haven’t – but rules is rules I guess.
Still the veteran Le Mans spectator who said to me; “the wrong car had won” as we exited the circuit gates had his wish granted – even if the Porsche he wanted to win was in the barrier at village!