Story by Vickie Miller photo by Thomas Lake of TL Photographic Works
When I start an article covering a track (or this case, circuit) which I have attended and written before, I review the article to see what comments or complaints may have changed from the prior year.Â In reviewing my 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) Silverstone article, much of this year was the same.Â My conclusion, Silverstone remains awesome.
Silverstone Circuit is located northwest of London near the little village of Northamptionshire which is beautiful, lush, and green country side with sheep farms along the road to the main entrance.Â The weekend attendance did increase to 52,000 from 45,000 last year.
Silverstone is built on the site of a World War II Royal Air Force bomber station, RAF Silverstone which opened in 1943. The airfieldâ€™s three runways, in classic WWII triangle format, lie within the outline of the present track (from Wikipedia). Some of the named turns are Stowe, Becketts, Chapel, Maggotts, and Club Corner. I recommend a good study of the circuit map before you arrive because the race announcers use the turn names only.
The race weekend is centered on the FIA WEC Six Hours of Silverstone and the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) Four Hours of Silverstone, with the Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain also providing racing excitement. Silverstone is also the only weekend the two series WEC and ELMS will race together for the 2016 season. WEC is comprised of LMP1, LMP2, GTE Pro and GTE Am.Â ELMS includes the classes of LMP2, LMP3, and GTE
To learn more about the different WEC class types, please click here
To learn more about the different ELMS class types, please click here
This year under the sunny skies of the WEC race day Sunday, I ventured out around the circuit more than last year.Â I spent time at Becketts Corner and Club Corner and loved to watch the racing from the grandstand or down along the fence.Â Silverstone Circuit has double-decker shuttle busses free for the public to hop on and hop off so much of the circuit is accessible to everyone.
When fans or media folks are discussing the field for the WEC Six Hours of Silverstone event, the chatter basically centers around one of four groups:Â Audi, Porsche, Toyota, and all others. The LMP1 Porsche 919 cars were fastest in first and second practice but qualifying would find Audi R18 on the pole.
Just when the race seemed to be getting into a grove, the leading #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid with Brendon Hartley at the wheel had an â€œincidentâ€ with the #88 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR in the GTE AM class, driven by Michael Wainwright.Â Â I have not seen the on-board from the Gulf Racing so I am not going to voice my opinion, but I have read where Brendon received a reprimand for his part in the crash.
The drivers were not physically hurt and walked away and both cars were done for the day.Â Â While I am sorry for both drivers and teams, I have a special fan connection with Brendon Hartley and had just interviewed him Saturday afternoon. I would be wrong in saying my heart did not break for him personally.
The â€œbig threeâ€ had troubles all day on and off the circuit with the post-race disqualification of the #7 Audi Sport Team Joest car moving the #2 Porsche into Victory Lane, but after the Lane was closed.Â I have said this before and I will mention once more, I am always disappointed when post-race inspection changes the race results when the podium is impacted.
All the photographs will show the teams at race end and not the â€œofficialâ€ results.Â I guess all that really matters is the points and the statistics which fans will read for years, but the drivers miss out on their moment on the podium.Â Am I asking for the podium celebration to wait until inspection is done?Â No, I donâ€™t have a good solution.
Maybe take photos with the number four team just in case, and have it photo shopped in?Â No, their fire suits would still be unstained with champagne.
This might be a good time to inform my readers this will not be a typical article for me.Â While I contacted an ELMS team and driver for a Friday interview, after a disastrous qualify session which led to a quick scramble to repair the car and talk race strategy, I decided the interview should wait for another day.Â I exchanged business cards with the team PR and will try to arrange for a later article.
For the race weekend, Saturday is usually â€œELMSâ€ day.Â While the timetable indicated FIA WEC would hold a Saturday morning practice session, the Silverstone snow made an appearance which cancelled that idea.Â I learned later from several â€œreliableâ€ sources, the drivers wanted to go out on the circuit in the snow, which basically melted when it hit the surface.Â However, the tire (or tyre) compound could not handle the cold temperate, which made driving the circuit too risky.
The Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain qualifying Saturday morning was also canceled. Which left the only other morning activity, ELMS qualifying, to go on as scheduled with the snow stopping just in time.
Heading into any race weekend, I review the time table or schedule, the entry list, and devise a plan on which drivers to meet and chat.Â Just like a hot lap around any race circuit, my plan hits a bump and didnâ€™t exactly work out.Â But one thing I made sure to do was to visit # 10 Graff Racing Ligier JS P3 with drivers and friends Sean Rayhall, John Falb, and Enzo Potolicchio.
I was so excited to see Enzo back in a race car and thrilled to hang with the Three Amigos.Â If you are like me, did you wonder â€œWho is this Graff Racing? And how did Sean connect with the team?â€Â I had the pleasure to chat with the team Communication and Partnership manager, Julie Peyssard, and learned more about Graff Racing.
I use the term â€œchatâ€ loosely.Â Julie speaks French and German and little English.Â I also met the team manager who only speaks German, which I can imagine makes for some unusual team meetings. Â What follows are my questions and what I understand to be Julieâ€™s answers!
- What is Graff Racing? Is it named after a person Mr. Graff or a product?Â The name â€œGraffâ€ was a result of composition of two names. The two names got lost in translation but Julie said the story is on the teamâ€™s website somewhere.
- What other major series does Graff Racing compete? Graff Racing has raced ELMS, 12 hours of Abu Dhabi, 24 Hours of LeMans, and ALMS (Asian LeMans). While this is the first year for Graff Racing in ELMS, the organization has earned 27 titles racing in Europe including Formula 3.
- Did Sean find Graff Racing or did Graff Racing find Sean? The Graff Racing team manager, Pascal Rauturier, attended a test session last December where Sean was driving the Ligier JS P3 and was impressed with Sean. Which led Graff Racing with Sean, John and Enzo to attend the ELMS preseason test (or prologue) at Paul Ricard circuit.
- How has Graff Racing enjoyed Sean, John and Enzo so far? Graff Racing was excited to have an opening for the USA fans.Â The guys have been fun, very educated, and bring a good spirit to the team.Â They have been easy to work with and good for the team image.
The #10 Graff Racing car finished 13th, retiring early from a pesky gearbox issue.Â If you are a regular reader of my articles, I hope you donâ€™t use â€œgearboxâ€ as the target word for a drinking game.Â I have a long weird fascination with gearboxes, how they work, why they break, and why this important part can retire even the best performing race cars.
Big thank you to Julie for making me feel welcome and let me hang out with the team for the ELMS race event.Â Wishing Graff Racing, which is a two car team, much success for the season.
To learn more about Graff Racing please visit their Facebook page, Instagram, or online website at http://www.graffracing.fr/ and you may need to hit the â€œtranslateâ€ button.Â Graff Racing is on Twitter but according to Julie, â€œthe French donâ€™t Tweetâ€, so donâ€™t expect a lot of interaction on that social media platform.
Okay, now itâ€™s time for your favorite segment of my articles where Vickie complains.Â Sorry to disappoint you, but this section is going to be small.Â Yes, there was the occasional re-routing of fans due to security guards not having the same information, but it was isolated and somehow being at Silverstone, it was less annoying.
Unlike other race series I attend <insure your choice here>, WEC is constantly trying to improve their fan involvement by listening to the fans and offering innovative activities in the fan village which included a hot air balloon at Silverstone!Â However, there are two creative ideas which caught my attention and totally applaud.
The first example is what I will refer to as the â€œTwitterâ€ board.Â Overhead above pit lane, there is a structure, not sure it should be considered a bridge, which extends to the other side of the circuit.Â Part of the bridge had a permanent â€œRolexâ€ advertisement banner, the same type which is seen throughout the circuit and probably in the background of many photographs.Â The first part of the bridge had an electronic bill board which displayed scrolling fan tweets to the @FIAWEC Twitter account.
Why do I mention this?Â Because WEC could have sold that space to Rolex or another advertiser.Â Yes, there were short periods when tweets were not displayed and â€œRolexâ€ was shown, but the advertisement was infrequent and not noticeable.Â Under the category of â€œtiming is everythingâ€, I did see one fan on the pit walk be under the bridge sign when their tweet was displayed.Â The fan loved it and I thought it was pretty cool, too.
How much would an advertiser pay to have their product displayed on top of pit road for every person coming on the pit walk to see the ad?Â I have no idea, but the fan interaction was priceless.Â Good call, WEC.
The second example was a breakfast with full hot meal buffet for the media and invited guests was hosted by Automobile Club de lâ€™Ouest (ACO) president Pierre Fillon and the FIA WEC CEO GÃ©rard Neveu.Â The breakfast was kicked off by GÃ©rard Neveu with a few comments of future ideas for WEC and followed by his desire to learn any way he or the organization can be of better service to the fans.
I truly felt GÃ©rard Neveu was open to listen to any ideas I may have had, but I could not think of any at the time and settled for taking a selfie photo with him which turned out to be quite fun!Â While the food was slightly grander than the â€œdonuts with the track presidentâ€ at Watkins Glen International, the intent was the same.
The CEOâ€™s themselves attended and not just sent a PR or communication manager. Make yourself available to people where you can listen to complaints and ask for circuit or event improvement ideas.Â Good call, WEC.
I want to extend a big racing family thank you to Serena Panzeri, whom my trip would not have been possible. With the United Kingdom choosing to drive on the opposite side of the road than USA, Serena drove and navigated the highways of London and country roads around Milton Keynes with the ease of a WEC pro driver!
I always enjoy meeting race fans and Silverstone was a big event for the question, â€œAre you Vickie Miller?â€ How lovely to meet so many race fans from the UK area. Thank you all for saying hello and joining in the meet-up event on Friday. You all made my trip so much more enjoyable.
Thank you all for reading and I welcome your comments. I have no affiliation with IMSA, TUDOR, FIA WEC, ELMS, etc. just a fan. There are many blogs and websites where you will find statistics, results, and scoring from the race; this is â€œjust the way I see itâ€. Got a response? Follow and tweet me @viclovesracing