Eventful - even beyond the chequered flag in ELMS opener

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Anyone attending the opening round of the 2016 European Le Mans Series at Silverstone last week would have one of the series most intriguing and eventful races seen for a long time.

In terms of the Aston Martin Racing entered teams the weeks leading up to this event had already paid witness to the failing of 'best laid plans' in terms of 2015 GTC Champions TDS Racing withdrawing both their ELMS and LM24 entry prior to the series official test at Paul Ricard, then there was the swapping out of AMR factory driver Jonny Adam from both the Beechdean entered ELMS car as well as the factory WEC entry in favour of his customer team commitments before a surprise confirmation of a late, one off entry for the Gulf Racing's RoFGo Collection V8 Vantage GTE - a move that once again brought the AMR back to the envisaged two cars for Silverstone.

Full season entrant Beechdean Motorsport were there with their familiar liveried #99 blue and white GTE-X2 chassis with a now revised driver line up of team boss Andrew Howard with Alex MacDowall now racing alongside AMR factory driver Darren Turner who took the place of Jonny Adam for the Silverstone event only.

In the garage next door saw the welcome return to ACO rules racing for what we believe to be a one off entry (at the moment) for the #96 RoFGo V8 Vantage GTE of Roald Goethe along with his long term hired hand and driver coach Stuart Hall with the addition of AMR's factory driver Richie Stanaway.

With the event taking place in mid April the weather at the Northamptonshire track is not always conducive to 'unhindered' motor sport with both of Friday's Free Practice sessions being a mixture of very wet and wet track conditions. As with any AMR car having little/no running time on any of the new for 2016 Dunlop wet and intermediate tyres these conditions at least gave the teams some critical live test data from which to work but despite that dilemma the two Astons were at the head of the timing screens in FP1 and both mid table for FP2!

Come Saturday morning the continuing wet weather had turned exceptionally cold to a point were snow was actually falling (but not settling) with the final WEC practice session due before the ELMS GTE Qualifying session being abandoned due to the track conditions!

Indeed by the time the ten minute ELMS GTE qualifying session started driving conditions were awful with heavy spray as well as little/no type temperature being maintained but despite this it was Richie Stanaway who mastered the conditions best to secure the #96 Gulf Racing car the GTE class pole. The #99 Beechdean would start their race further back in seventh in class.

Once the 45 car field choreographed themselves onto the starting grid outside the National Pits the skies had cleared, air and track temperatures had risen (slightly) to allow for a start on at worst a damp track. The anomalies of the Silverstone configuration meant that the grid would form on the National straight but the race would begin (and finish) on the International Pit Straight outside the Wing building. Two formation laps were the order as these were the first 'dry' laps any of these cars had completed over the weekend.

Chaos ensued with the grid immediately at the start line when an LMP2 car hit the pit wall just as two or three LMP3 cars got a bit too excited on cold tyres spinning off immediately in front of the causing GTE pack causing pole setting Gulf Racing car of Stuart Hall needing to take avoiding action. Fortunately for all there was no significant damage for those involved and there followed some of the best racing and car craft seen from Hall and the chasing Alex MacDowall in the Beechdean for many races with MacDowall securing the then fastest GTE lap time during the first hour of his double stint.

Being next door to one another the timings of the pit stops would be critical for both Aston teams, particularly Beechdean as their pit bay was beyond that of the Gulf car.

Pitting for tyres and fuel slightly earlier than their chasing adversaries the #96 and #99 cars would find themselves P3 and P4 respectively to one another at the top of the first hour just as the first FCY was issued for a spinning car - positions that would allow for some very close racing for the next hour before their ensuing driver change pit stops.

Turner was next up in the #99 and he would be up against Roald Goethe in the #96 - an unfair balance we know but that allowed for the #99 to move ahead and clear of the not just the #96 but also the chasing JMW and AT Racing Ferrari's to lead the GTE class for the first time.

Coming into the final hour of the four hour ELMS opener the lead opened up by Turner in the #99 Beechdean was lost at their final pit stop and driver change that allowed team Boss Andrew Howard to finally get in the car but a 10-15 second problem with Howard's belts or driver radio connection delayed the car enough to allow the JMW Ferrari to take the class lead. Over in the #96 garage pole setter Richie Stanaway climbed aboard the RoFGo car for his stint to chase down the AT Racing Ferrari that was now ahead of them.

At the chequered flag however it would be the JMW Ferrari who would cross the line first one lap ahead of the Beechdean. An apparent last corner banzai move by Stanaway saw the #96 grab third from the AT Racing car that would end up at one point in the gravel at Club before being able to take the chequered flag.

That was the result as it first appeared but the incident between the #96 and #55 at Club would be immediately investigated and the #96 would be adjudged to have been the cause of an avoidable collision and would be awarded a four minute time penalty - a penalty that effectively swapped the finishing positions of those two cars.

Further to that and following post race scrutineering the #66 JMW Ferrari would be excluded from the results for running a non homologated part on their car. The error on JMW's part would move the Beechdean up from second to first and the #96 Gulf Racing car back into third!

All in all not a bad day at the ELMS for the Aston Martin guys!!

The teams will now have a months break before round two of the 2016 European Le Mans series starts at Imola, Italy over the 15/16th May.

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