A fascinating first race of the 2016 European Le Mans Series will go down in the history books as the first victory for series newcomers Beechdean AMR, but the race will be remembered for the post-race shakeup which saw Andrew Howard, Alex MacDowall and Darren Turner promoted from second to first. Here’s what we learned.
1. JMW not afraid to roll the dice…
JMW Motorsport ended a four-year wait to (temporarily) take victory at Silverstone with a perfectly-judged strategic race. Holding third position at the start, Rob Smith kept pace with the pace-setting Aston Martins of Stuart Hall and MacDowall in the opening stint before handing over to Rory Butcher, who valiantly continued the chase.
The appearance of a Full Course Yellow to retrieve Chris Hoy from the gravel 15 minutes before the hour mark swung the balance in JMW’s favour, with Bertolini emerging in a clear lead after MacDowall pitted on schedule under green. However, a rapidly depreciating left-front tyre (which had worn down to the canvas when the Italian finished his stint) meant that advantage was soon negated.
Butcher returned to the car knowing he would have to make a splash-and-go to compensate for his shorter first stint and pressed on, cycling back to the front when Turner pitted to give Howard his turn in the car. The arrival of a second FCY for Julien Schell’s loose wheel at Village gave him just the reprieve he needed to complete his stop and resume the lead to the flag.
“Today was not easy for me, I had a difficult stint with the front left tyre, but everyone did an amazing job and it’s really special because it is like a family here,” Bertolini said immediately after the flag. Sadly, it wasn’t to last.
2. …But the stewards have the last laugh
Hours after the race, the steward’s office was a hive of activity and released an amended result rather different than that which had unfolded on the podium. The release from the ELMS website reads as follows.
“In post-race scrutineering, the no. 66 Ferrari was found to be in breach of article 2.2.1a of the ELMS LMGTE Am Technical Regulations, which means it didn’t conform to the homologation papers. The front splitter was found to be incorrect and the JMW Motorsport Ferrari was excluded from the results.”
On further inspection, it transpired that JMW had fitted their 2015 Le Mans splitter, which has only two turning veins, four less than are required under the ELMS rules. Although it was not a performance-enhancing move, rules are rules, and the Beechdean Aston Martin was duly promoted to a surprise victory, while the original third and fourth-placed finishers were also reversed. Contact on the final lap between Alessandro Pier Guidi and Richie Stanaway at Vale sent the AT Racing Ferrari spinning into the wall, while Stanaway continued on with damage. A four-minute penalty was sufficient to drop the Aston Martin a place, although the exclusion of JMW meant that Stanaway, Hall and Roald Goethe could keep their third place trophies.
3. Stanaway shows his steel
Now entering his fourth year with Aston Martin Racing, Stanaway has long been ear-marked as a standout talent for the big occasion, and terrible conditions in qualifying served as a timely reminder of that. The English climate did it’s best to call a halt to proceedings by serving up a mid-April snowstorm, forcing the third WEC practice session and Porsche Carrera Cup qualifying session to be cancelled.
The ELMS GTE field were the first out to sample the conditions, but while others slowly built up to their fastest times, Stanaway was on the money immediately and set a time that almost a full second quicker than WEC GT Drivers champion Richard Lietz in second.
“I was just out there enjoying myself, it was good fun,” he said afterwards.
4. British GT champions mix it with the ELMS elite
Whereas Beechdean’s run to third place in Estoril on their category debut last year owed a lot to survival, their first win was all about strong racecraft, in particular from the Silver-rated MacDowall. The Brit, who has made the switch from Aston Martin’s WEC programme, couldn’t find the sweet spot in qualifying and had to make do with sixth, but an opening double stint which Howard labelled “phenomenal” saw him take the lead after prevailing in battle with Hall.
Turner – replacing Jonny Adam due to the Scot’s clashing British GT duties – took up the baton with aplomb, and passed the ailing Bertolini to give Howard a clear buffer over the battle for third place behind them.
“We should just stop now, it’s going to be a lot harder at Imola!” Howard joked before the results were amended to hand Beechdean the victory. “Alex’s stint was phenomenal, so I’m very pleased. Endurance racing is about making sure you’re in the right place at the right time and the guys did a fantastic job of creating the space, my job then was just to make sure the car got home and hope that you don’t do something stupid. I finished the Spa 24 about three or four years ago, but we were miles down there, so it’s been a long time since I’ve taken the checkered flag – that was very cool.”
5. AF Corse looking at the bigger picture
After qualifying fourth, the 55 AF Corse team of Matt Griffin, Aaron Scott and Duncan Cameron had looked set for a strong start to their campaign on home soil, but that all changed when Cameron was assaulted at Abbey by an overly optimistic LMP3. But it would get worse before it could get better – Cameron’s eventful stint compounded when he was turned around by the sister Ferrari of Piergiuseppe Perazzini. Scott and Griffin fought back to salvage fifth place at the flag (later promoted to fourth), which could turn out to be highly useful points come the end of the season.
“To be honest I had a strange old stint really because my radio didn’t work, so I had no clue what was going on,” Scott reported. “I knew that Duncan had had a tough first stint with getting hit by the LMP3 car and then by our sister car, so it was just a case of getting on with it and seeing where we ended up. We lost the best part of a minute with the two contacts and without that it might have been possible to be on the podium, but we’ll take the positives and move on to the next one.”
It was much the similar story at defending GTE champions Formula Racing, the Danish team struggling with brake problems which meant Mikkel Mac’s first dry running came in the final hour of the race. He, Christina Nielsen and Jonny Laursen won’t have particularly fond memories of Silverstone, but will bank the points for fifth place and target a better weekend at Imola.