Welcome, dear readers, to my wimblings on the first two European Le Mans Series events.
My connection to this delightful corner of motorsports, and I suppose a declaration of interests, is the result of many years spent as the “PR” for JMW Motorsport. I put PR in inverted commas, because everything I put into practice was basically picked up from watching Absolutely Fabulous.
Round 1 of the ELMS at Silverstone was odd for me because I was there in person. This usually only happens when there has been a lapse in a restraining order. But hey, if pretty young men are going to wear racing overalls they are basically asking for it (a bit of satire there).
Being present is lovely, don’t get me wrong. Race tracks and race teams are cool but, let’s forget all this ‘motor racing is glamorous’ shite. Races are held when it is either too cold or too hot. No race in history has been held at a pleasant temperature.
You forget that teams develop their own highly evolved communication system, which usually sounds like a hybrid of the Clangers and Elvish. I spent three years talking slowly and loudly at the JMW crew before I realized they were British.
No matter where you stand, you will be in the way. And then there’s the uncomfortable moments that result from having only half a makeshift wall between you and the neighbouring team. This leads to several awkward glances, similar to catching the eye of someone else in the GUM Clinic waiting room (I imagine). Naturally I did the British thing of the closed mouth smile and shoulder shrug each time. It’s nice to have another restraining order.
I take it the live track action was exciting. You see, in a team you watch it on a TV just like you would at home, only the television is smaller, crappier and you have twenty other people in your living room, 50% of whom are dressed as Primark Stormtroopers.
You all know what happened at Silverstone, so we don’t need to go there. It was an awesome race, with the whole GT field coming out all guns blazing. There was ‘that disqualification’, but flailing arms and shouting ‘it’s so unfair, you’re not even my real Dad’ at the stewards is not how we behave in ELMS because the rules are the rules. We should have all been tipped at the beginning of the weekend, when the powers that be gathered everyone outside The Wing. That isn’t a start of year photo of all the drivers, it’s a mass gathering on the naughty step.
So to Imola, Round 2, a GT field of eight and an awful lot of those other squishy prototype thingies, many of whom write their team names IN ALL CAPITALS, which is a bit needy if you ask me. And how very rude, the German no. 77 Proton Porsche 911 only went and took pole in Italy, in front of five Ferrari F458 GTEs! You had to admire their tenacity, though it all made sense when they said it was driven by Wolf, who I take it to be the former TV Gladiator.
Onto the race then, and the Proton Porsche went howling into the lead. My admiration for GT drivers, already high, doubles at a circuit like Imola. Every TV shot of a GT car showed them being swarmed by Prototypes, as if every GT racer was being hunted down by the metallic souls of deranged ex-girlfriends. Despite these interruptions, there were plenty of occasions where the GTs got together for some to-ing and fro-ing, with the JMW Ferrari of Rob Smith, Andrea Bertolini and Rory Butcher making a concerted effort while the sun shone to reel in Wolf and team-mates Robert Renauer and Mike Hedlund. But as previously mentioned, no race ever is allowed to take place in entirely pleasant conditions, so the racing weather Gods engaged full ‘bastard mode’.
Within the space of a lap, and with just over an hour to go, the scene went from a heady day in Italy to a wet weekend in Bridlington. The yellow flags around the course, which won’t need to be aired again for quite a while as they made many appearances throughout the day, were joined by the Safety Car with 45 minutes to go. After a full three quarters of an hour under the safety car, you could almost hear the commentators and journos flicking through their thesauruses to come up with another way of saying ‘it’s absolutely pissing it down.’
A 45 minute safety car which you know is going to go to the end of the race is like being stuck in the kitchen at a party with the monosyllabic neighbour no-one invited. There is only a so much smalltalk you can manage and timelines become flooded (sic) with pictures of the wet pit lane, just in case we can’t imagine what puddles look like.
And so with a somewhat anti-climactic, but importantly safe, ending, the second round of the 2016 ELMS came to a close, with Proton topping the podium ahead of JMW and the no. 56 AT Racing Ferrari. It may not be the largest of GT grids, but as many a racing driver will try to make you believe, good things do come in small packages.