All change at Silverstone - even your correspondent. Regular Classic Driver readers will know I normally report on historic racing events, but last weekend I was thrown in at the deep end of the contemporary GT racing scene with a few, topsy turvy days at the second round of the FIA GT1 World Championship.
Before we look at those ups and downs, there was one constant that made me feel a little at home: the feature race of the weekend was for the historic Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy. This beautiful prize - topped by a figure of Mercury - was first contested in 1905 and past winners include Nuvolari, Moss, Hulme and Graham Hill. As for the rest of the weekend, competitors could take nothing for granted.
Travelling from the inaugural Championship round in Abu Dhabi, with its air temperature of 30deg, Silverstone presented contestants with something a little different - 8 degrees with a chilling breeze to accompany it.
In order to maintain ‘balance of performance’, the more successful cars from Abu Dhabi had ballast weight added by the FIA stewards while others had it removed. The final change, before racing started, came in the shape of the just-opened, £5m extension to Silverstone’s GP circuit. This infield loop (Arena Section) turns 90deg right at Abbey, before gently curving left towards the arena area which consists of a 90deg right (Village), shortly followed by the sweeping left-hander (Loop), before exiting left (Aintree) on to the old National Straight joining the original circuit at Brooklands.
Thus presenting the Tourist Trophy competitors with completely uncharted territory.
Aston Martin occupied the front row of the grid for Saturday’s TT qualifying race and, in contrast to the marque's performance in Abu Dhabi, it proceeded to dominate events. Makowiecki/Accary took the flag in their #9 DBR9 followed by Hrschi/Piccione in the sister #10 Aston. Pole-sitters Turner/Enge managed 4th in the #7 DBR9 after picking up two drive-through penalties, both for cutting the pit entry!
Consequently, Astons blanketed the front row again for Sunday’s TT and, by the end of lap one, held the first three places. Unfortunately, Abu Dhabi race winner Romain Grosjean, in the GT40-resembling Ford GT Matech, suffered a complete turn of fortune, crashing out at Copse corner on lap one with broken suspension. On the second lap, Mike Hezeman’s Corvette Z06 was destroyed by fire down at Stowe, bringing out the safety car while the debris was cleared and closing the field back up again.
At the restart, the three leading Astons scampered off but the mid-field dices that followed kept the windswept spectators on the edge of their seats. You might not see much overtaking in F1; watch GT1, you’ll get plenty there.
After 25 minutes, the pit-stop window opened with the Turner/Enge #7 Aston immediately diving in, giving the drivers early fresh rubber and a clear track to capitalise on it. By the end of the stops, Thomas Enge was hot on the exhaust of the #9 lead DBR9 with Thomas Accary at its wheel.
One lap after the pit stops it was announced that Accary was to serve a drive-through penalty for an infringement during the driver change. We waited. Lap after lap, the #9 Aston sped past the pits just holding its advantage. The public address system then called for the Hexis AMR team manager to report to the chief steward’s office and officials prepared the black flag.
Suddenly, Accary was in the pits, stopping the Aston briefly before leaving again, followed by two rubber tracks as he wheelspun his way along the pit road. Game over now, he had a secure second place but the lead was lost. Meanwhile, Jamie Campbell-Walter, #22, was elbowing the aptly named Sumo Nissan GT-R up into a well-deserved third place.
So there you have it: the headline reads Aston Martin takes first and second place in the historic Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy.
Postscript: All change again... Racing over, trophies presented but, while most people were packing to leave, the stewards were hard at work in race control, along with the scrutineers in parc ferme.
Stop Press! Re-write that headline, the victorious Aston DBR9 was excluded from the results as its underfloor skid-plank was found to be worn marginally beyond the permitted thickness.
So the second-placed Aston surely must be promoted to first place? No, No, No! They had received a 15-second, post-race penalty for not serving that drive-through in time. The famous Trophy now goes to the British-based, #22 Sumo Power Nissan GT-R driven by Warren Hughes and Jamie Campbell-Walter.
The GT1 circus moves on to Brno in three weeks’ time, but the Young Driver Aston Martin Racing (AMR) team is appealing against the scrutineers’ ruling, so it could be all change yet again before they get there.
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