“Silverstone! Hang on, haven’t we been here already this year?“
“Yep, but that was on the International layout, this time we’re on the National”
“Right then, let’s give that a go!”
A race meeting in England on an August bank holiday weekend can only mean one thing, every single possible variety of weather imaginable all in the space of a day. Actually, scratch that, often within the space of an hour!
We set off from our garage in Exeter on Saturday afternoon in glorious sunshine, before driving through some torrential downpours on the way that slowed the motorway traffic to a crawl. It seems we’d still gotten off pretty lightly though as the BTCC Teams at nearby Rockingham were having all sorts of problems with flooding, thunder and lighting, and even two tornados! Tornados, in England!
Anyway, back at Silverstone we arrived just after six and parked up with a few others teams while we waited for the Saturday racers to clear out of the garages before we could move in. Some of us passed the time with a look at the on track action, some went to the pub, and others laughed at Chris Ayling locking himself out of his coach! 😉 (Although Paul did help him get back in so all was well in the end!)
With the garages cleared we had everything unloaded and set-up in double quick time so we could get down to the important business, the Saturday evening BBQ and spending time with our racing family and friends that had popped in to see us. A good evening was had by all before we pitched the tents in the relative luxury of the garages and got some sleep.
Raceday morning came around rather earlier than we’d have liked, but a quick and painless scrutineering is always welcome and before long we were being called up for qualifying. Despite some threatening clouds overhead, the drivers at least went out onto a dry circuit, this being doubly good for us as Brian looked to learn this new circuit to him. Fortunately the Silverstone National layout doesn’t feature a great deal of corners and for some reason that we forgot to check with anyone, qualifying was twenty minutes instead of the usual fifteen.
Brian on track in qualifying. (Photo used courtesy of www.barcsoutheast.co.uk and Rafal Biniszewski, thanks!)
Despite saying all that however, a few light spots of rain mid-session did nothing for the drivers confidence and Brian suffered a few off track moments as he learnt the circuit. Luckily there’s plenty of run-offs at Silverstone and no damage was done so once back in the pits we could have a quick look at the car to cure a vibration. Problem solved and we could then check the incar video from qualifying as Ross did his best to persuade Brian that unless our racecar had suddenly taken on the characteristics of an F1 car, there was no way in hell he was going to get round the tight right hander onto the back straight in 3rd gear at 70mph! Points for persistently trying however!!!
Cut to a couple hours later and as the drivers lined up in the assembly area for race one, the inevitable happened and the heavens opened. One or two heavy drops fell before an absolute downpour sent the teams ‘legging it’ (for there really is no other word for it!) back to the pitlane as the cars were led back in. It was simply too wet to even consider starting the race with all the cars on slicks.
The pits were a hive of activity for a couple minutes as everyone scrambled for wets and any quick changes they could think of. Turns out we needn’t have rushed quite so much as the sheer volume of water had flooded the track and resulted in a further delay for a few minutes while that was sorted out.
Wets then! (Photo used courtesy of www.barcsoutheast.co.uk and Rafal Biniszewski, thanks!)
With the rain easing (but the circuit still massively wet) the cars were back out for another attempt at a start. Two formation laps due to the conditions and then they were underway as a giant wall of spray accelerated across the line. Up at the front Malcolm Blackman was the only one with a clear view from pole position and he took full advantage, looking very quick and taking another win as he marches towards this years title. Lewis Smith gave chase early on but dropped back so it was Steve Burrows who took second place, just hanging on from Simon Smith in third. After a steady start Brian was doing well to stay on the track and in amongst the tail of the field until the wiper decided to stop a couple laps from the end. An inconvenience but a manageable problem with such a sloped windscreen, unfortunately the steamed up inside was more of a problem however and signalled an early end to the race with Brian pulling into the pits at the end of lap seven.
Back out on circuit and Ian Hales broke down on the start finish straight a lap or so later which triggered a red flag and a slightly early end to the race as the car was in a difficult place to recover in such bad weather conditions. On the plus side that means we rather fluked a classified 13th place finish!
Of course with the race now over, the weather began steadily improving as we dried off the car and waited for race two. As race time drew nearer (and with only a few more brief sprinkles of rain) there were many frequent visits to the pitwall from all the teams to have a look at the circuit conditions and how much spray was being kicked up by the other ongoing races. At one point just about every car in the garages was up in the air, surrounded by a selection of wet and slick tyres, it really was a close call! In the end everybody opted for wet tyres with the exception of Ray Harris, Philip Blackford….and us!
As the cars lined up in the assembly area (which was damn near dry) and the sun shone, it looked like 100% the correct decision. Provided you could stay on track in the early laps, and it didn’t suddenly decide to rain, then the slick shod cars would be flying by the end. That was the plan anyway, and Ray Harris certainly thought he had a chance as he tried desperately to stay in touch with the wet runners in the slippery early laps. He managed it pretty well and by the end of lap 4 he was in 11th place, within 20 seconds of the lead. Lap 5 and with the circuit drying he set comfortably the fastest lap of the race so far, then another fastest lap, surely Ray was in with a shout of a win here! Then he didn’t come past again. Caught out by some water being dragged onto the dry line at Becketts, it was straight to the barriers and race over, an unlucky end to a great brave drive!
Whoops! (Photo used courtesy of www.barcsoutheast.co.uk and Rafal Biniszewski, thanks!)
In our race Brian was struggling to slow the car down and get any speed going with the slick tyres. He wasn’t helped when the power steering kept intermittently failing and the engine kept cutting out either! We’ve since traced the problem back to some form of electrical power interruption as the in car video was also flicking in and out along with the power steering, engine, and everything else! Cue retirement just a couple laps from the finish.
(Photo used courtesy of www.barcsoutheast.co.uk and Rafal Biniszewski, thanks!)
Up at the front of the field an absolutely epic fight was taking place for the win, call us biased if you like but it was honestly one of the best races any of us have ever seen…in any formula of racing! Lewis Smith made the early running but Malcolm Blackman slipped past on lap five in what was so far a relatively text book race. Keith White hadn’t read the form book though as he closed in on the pair of them, passing Lewis on lap eight before moving into the lead two laps later!
Getting close at the front! (Photo used courtesy of www.barcsoutheast.co.uk and Rafal Biniszewski, thanks!)
Lewis took advantage to retake second from Malcolm while Simon Smith had also closed in, making it a four car fight for the lead. By the end of lap five and Steve Burrows had also caught up the leading group after banging in a series of fast laps. Five for the lead!
As the drivers slithered through to start their final lap on what were by now completely ruined wet tyres it was still Keith White that held the lead, but it was now Simon into second with Lewis right on him, Steve into fourth and Malcolm dumped down to fifth….still absolutely anyone’s race though!
From our vantage on the pitwall we’re still not entirely sure what happened throughout the last complex of corners on that last lap, even after many people viewing from the grandstand excitedly told the story afterwards. Whatever it was it was epic, and all we saw was Simon Smiths bright green Autocross BMW come screaming onto the pit straight, holding the inside line, arm waving through the side window to sneak the win by 0.113 seconds from Keith White just to his outside. Steve Burrows took another podium and must have been wishing for a few more laps while it was Malcolm Blackman in fourth and Lewis Smith now a distant fifth after an off track moment in that last complex. A truly brilliant race and a massive congrats to all involved, but especially to our racing mate Simon on his first win, what a way to do it, fantastic, it’s long overdue and we’re all delighted for you.
Excellent ‘photo-bombing’ from Richard Smith! 🙂
That was it for an eventful Silverstone then, Brian won’t be racing the next meeting at Rockingham in September but he will be back out for the season finale at Brands Hatch on the 5th / 6th November, see you there!