It would be hard for an objective observer to say that the Britcar Dunlop 24 Hours at Silverstone belonged to any other than Aston Martin. Three cars entered, three finished in the top five, with the Beechdean Vantage winning the event outright. It was a powerful advertisement for the speed and reliability of Aston’s venerable GT4 racer, especially in a field including GT3-specification cars from Audi, Ferrari and Porsche, the LMP3 Ginetta and a V8 Radical RXC.
As an entirely unobjective observer who watched parts of the race from the driving seat of the fifth-placed Aston, I was left amazed at the way all three cars ran trouble-free from flag to flag, negotiating the most difficult conditions I’ve experienced in a race car at night to progress from mid-grid qualifying positions to the top end of the table by 4pm on Sunday afternoon.
It was a strange race, and not just for night-time rain so bad it restricted the safety car to lapping below 30mph. The entry was smaller than anyone would have liked, with just 28 taking the start, though precisely half kept going to the end. But there was no shortage of variety, from a superbly driven Ford Fiesta to the gorgeous LMP3 Ginetta crewed by, among others, Sir Chris Hoy and Ginetta boss Laurence Tomlinson. There were impressively quick Seat Leon Touring cars, an old Jaguar XKR GT3 driven by Freddie Hunt, a Chevron GR8 and even a brace of bonkers Australian Ford Focus V8s.
We were there because like Lionel Martin, ‘Bert’ Bertelli and Ulrich Bez, the man he replaced at the helm of Aston Martin last year, new CEO Andy Palmer believes he should know what he’s talking about when asked about the company’s racing exploits. Having never raced before joining Aston, he needed a bit of experience in his team-mates, so drafted in his creative director Marek Reichman (who has done a lot of Aston racing), multiple F3 Cup and Formula Renault winner Alice Powell and me, who had at least finished the race four times before.
Even with Alice at the wheel, our 2007 Aston never got near the times posted by the other two Vantages, but that hardly mattered. What was more important to us was that a team of three middle-aged amateurs and one young hotshot got through the 24 hours, often in conditions at times completely incompatible with racing, without putting a mark on the Aston’s flanks. I came closest, spinning on someone else’s oil at more than 100mph but suffering no more than a heart temporarily relocated to the mouth area.
After its two-year hiatus, organisers say the race is now safely on the calendar until 2019. There is talk, too, of it joining the International Endurance Series that already features events at Dubai, Paul Ricard, Zandvoort, Mugello, Barcelona and Brno. If so I expect its status and popularity to rise steadily, along with the quality and quantity of entries. Andrew Frankel