European Le Mans Series Race 1: Too much British weather

‘It’s always very special to race here at Silverstone as a British driver’ Oliver Turvey, winner with Simon Dolan.

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On Saturday the European Le Mans Series which races over three hours took place at Silverstone. Won by the all British Zota Sport Zytek Nissan of Simon Dolan and Oliver Turvey it was unfortunately run on a typical British Spring day when there was enough water on the track to hold canoeing lessons. As downpours go it was not the heaviest, but the rain was horribly persistent, with drivers saying afterwards that it was some of the worst conditions they had experienced. LMGTE driver Johnny Mowlem went so far as to say ‘The only time I’ve ever seen worse conditions was in 2001 at Le Mans’. 2013 is the 10th season of the European Le Mans Series and this year there are five three-hour races spread over the season, at Silverstone, Imola, the Red Bull Ring, Hungaroring and Le Castellet.

After months of waiting and a couple of days testing at Paul Ricard twenty-five cars were on the grid for the first race of the season. This is many more cars than competed last year and shows that the endurance series is in good health. Each race lasts for three hours! That’s like driving from London to… well, I’m not sure where, it would depend on the traffic, and the roadworks but the point is it’s a very long way.

The track was wet from the start, with Oliver Turvey commenting that even the first lap ‘was really tricky just to stay on,’ and it wasn’t long until cars #62 and #47 spun, bringing out the safety car. Even at the lower speeds behind the safety car the plumes of spray must have been blinding, and with the headlights blooming out of the murky light it was amazing the drivers could see anything. At around third distance the leader Franck Mailleux in the Morand Racing Morgan aquaplaned off and hit the wall. It was the type of conditions where just keeping the car on the track was a success.

Elms spray

Spray during the bad weather of the ELMS race

With one hour to go the conditions were awful, with lots of standing water on the track that wasn’t draining away. The bright yellow lights of the cars shone out through the gloom and the water as fans hoped that the water would disperse and the safety car could come in and let the racing recommence. The weather didn’t improve however and when 75% of the race had been completed it was red flagged. As winner Simon Dolan pointed out afterwards, the safety car was probably the quickest car on the track in the conditions, and it was certainly the most comfortable with the drivers in the open cockpits getting drenched. ‘There was no visibility,’ Dolan added, ‘But we won’t really remember the conditions, we’ll only remember that we won!’

In the LMPC class Soheil Ayari and Anthony Pons brought their Team Endurance Challenge car home in first place, Ayari claiming that despite the extreme conditions he had ‘had a lot of fun behind the wheel. I enjoyed myself on this track even though it was quite tricky.’ Honours in LMGTE went to Christian Reid, Nicholas Tandy and Gianluca Roda. When the safety car came out ‘It was almost impossible,’ Tandy commented of his first drive in the ELMS, before adding that he really enjoyed driving when conditions were changing as ‘It’s a real good challenge.’ The Ecurie Ecosse BMW won the GTC class with Alasdair McCaig, Ollie Millroy and Andrew Smith sharing the driving duties.

It was great to see the European Le Mans Series back, and a shame that the British weather conspired to reduce the spectacle of these great endurance cars. But like cricket motor racing is at the mercy of the weather. Reigning champions Thiriet By TDS Racing came third and were happy to be on the podium in such a tricky race. It was a great weekend for Oliver Turvey in his first ELMS race and the teams now look forward to the next round at Imola on 17-18th May, when a full race should be possible and the relative strengths of the teams will become more apparent.

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