Two races, one class win on home soil
Considering the horrendous weather we had at Silverstone, it was great to hear that more than 50,000 people attended the first round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. Saturday was freezing cold and our last free practice session was cancelled because of a rather surprising snowstorm. Raceday was equally freezing – but gloriously so as the sky was a beautiful blue and Silverstone itself looked amazing, just like a well-maintained golf course, which is exactly how it should be.
One of the nicest things about the World Endurance Championship, or WEC as we call it, is walking into the paddock as it’s a friendly place. You will often see people having a coffee in the ‘wrong’ hospitality area as they have popped in to see their friends at a rival team. I think that’s great and probably a rarity for a world championship. The fact that supporters can mingle in the paddock also adds to the atmosphere.
I had a particularly busy weekend at Silverstone as I also did the European Le Mans Series race in the Beechdean Aston Martin – taking a class victory – so I was bouncing around between the old pits and The Wing, changing my race suit along the way as the schedule was so tight. The team had to manage my schedule meticulously so I could cram it all in, but things worked out really well.
Qualifying for the WEC race was a bit of a disaster. We hadn’t experienced conditions where the track is pretty wet but also freezing, and we were outside the window for wet tyres but not quite ready for intermediates. We ended up pretty close to the back of the grid, behind even the GTE Am cars.
I awoke on Sunday to sunny skies and felt confident that we had the right tyres for the race. I was sure we would have reasonable performance and we knew the Aston Martin Racing guys would nail the pit stops. They have been working hard on this over the winter, practising every day.
I took the start and the plan was for all three of us to double-stint during the six hours. We need to make as few driver changes as possible to reduce the risk of any mistakes. The other two are big fellas so we didn’t want to be dragging my booster seat in and out too often!
When you’re that far back for a rolling start it gets really strung out, but by the time I got to Turn One it was very congested. I was glad to complete the opening lap unscathed and set about overtaking the ‘Am’ cars. I had a bit of hassle with those as they always try to race the ‘Pro’ cars, forgetting they are in a different class. If they just let us go they could get on with their own race!
I was happy to get past them and had worked my way up to third in GTE Pro when the Porsche in front of me had a problem, so I was able to hand the car over to Marco in second place.
Both my team-mates had trouble-free runs. The Ferrari with a three-minute penalty was blasting through the field once Nicki Thiim was in our car and, with their pace, there’s no way he could have held him off for long, so we dropped to third before the end. We were delighted to finish on the podium in our first race with Dunlop, though. It was a good reward for all the effort through the winter and gives us confidence for Spa.
There were a few moments with LMP1 cars during the race. I chatted to a few drivers afterwards and we were all surprised at how aggressive the LMP1s were. We were all passed by an LMP1 without knowing it was coming!
The P1 Porsche vs GT Porsche crash was waiting to happen at that part of the circuit. If I know there’s an LMP1 car coming I’ll lift off the throttle a bit into Turn Two so I can have a tighter line and give them a bit of space. That gets them out of my hair so I can have a good Turn Three, but as your tyres go off you end up going wider and wider there anyway. It’s inevitable that there will be contact with such variables in car speeds and driver experience, but it’ll be easier at Le Mans – we get more warning because we can see them coming from farther back.