Strange, isn’t it, to think that in the history of the Blancpain Endurance Series we hadn’t had a British winner outright before Silverstone, nor had a race been won by an Aston Martin.
The arrival of the Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT3 changed all that, and in part you can thank bad German weather for making it happen. AMR boss John Gaw was of the opinion that if the car survived the Nürburgring 24 Hours with little damage, it might be OK to race at Silverstone. Thanks to the race being red-flagged for nine hours, there was plenty of life left in the car. A well-run car was always going to be tough to beat, and the Aston is well suited to Silverstone, but the added factor of Darren Turner (in his Blancpain debut), Stefan Mücke and Frederic Makowiecki was irresistible. ‘Mako’ is one of those hidden stars: everyone accepts he is a tremendous GT driver and yet he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Thankfully, his link with AMR is changing that and not only did he dominate his stint in the race but he also produced the qualifying lap of the weekend, probably the season: it is rare for a car to set pole time in Q2 but on just one flying lap, Fred managed it. It was stunning to watch.
But it was interesting to see the reaction to a works team. No-one seemed to complain in the same way that they do when Audi’s might turn up at the Total Spa 24 Hours. Maybe AMR did it more subtly, as Audi tends to arrive with huge hospitality structures, security guards on the team garage and an army of personnel. Gaw wouldn’t be drawn on what the final Aston Martin involvement would be at Spa, but it would be tremendous to see another top squad challenging Audi’s recent stranglehold on the Belgian classic.
There is a school of thought that says teams like AMR shouldn’t be in Blancpain, but the series has evolved over its brief history. Yes, it was aimed initially at amateur drivers, but the Pro Cup has really boomed this year, and teams are realising the benefit of the series and numbers are growing in the class too. That said, the Monza race lost its lead battle after two-thirds and for all the battling at Silverstone, there was only ever one winner!
Paul Ricard comes next for the end of what you might call the Sprint Season and then we have the two extra-length races, namely Spa and the new 1000-kilometre race at the Nürburgring. Spa is always an epic weekend and one that you should come to. It is so different from Le Mans and there is always a full weekend of racing, such as British F3, Lamborghini Super Trofeo and the touring car and GT series of the Belgian Racing Car Championship. The parade into Francorchamps is always worth watching on Wednesday afternoon but it is what happens on Saturday afternoon that always makes you tingle: that flood of cars pouring through Eau Rouge and up Raidillon. It is a fabulous spectacle and one that you rarely get anywhere else. We are looking at over 70 cars at Spa this year and there will be a lot for us to try to keep tabs on during the broadcast. In contrast, one of the weekend’s pleasures is to sit on the bank at Pouhon during a practice session, frites in one hand and a can of Jupiler in the other, and watch this endless stream of cars pour past.
But the Spa race always affects the championship, partly because of the points scored at six and 12 hours and partly because teams often field extra cars and different drivers, plus we get new teams joining in for that race. It is full of possibilities and the Blancpain Endurance Series website will keep you up to date on how the entry is shaping up.
Who knows, there may be a real manufacturer slugfest if Audi gets serious opposition from Aston Martin. Stand by!