Heading into the weekend, Aston Martin had not taken an overall Blancpain GT Series race victory in almost five years. Their most recent triumph? Silverstone in 2013.
On Sunday afternoon the British marque returned to the top step of the podium in emphatic fashion, with the #76 R-Motorsport car delivering a dominant performance at the very same venue. Converting pole into victory is a rare feat at Endurance Cup events, but that is exactly what they achieved.
While their win rarely looked in doubt, there was tension a little further back as the #114 Emil Frey crew battled to secure a first podium finish for Japanese brand Lexus. And, with one British racing star calling time on his career and another bagging his first win in the series, there was plenty to talk about when the chequered flag flew on Sunday afternoon.
BENTLEY STAR SMITH BOWS OUT
Guy Smith ended his career as a factory driver at Silverstone, bringing down the curtain on an illustrious stint behind the wheel.
Smith has played a vital role in Bentley’s modern motorsport history: he was part of the brand’s entry to the Blancpain GT Series in 2014, and claimed victory in only their second race. Among his other achievements, Smith also secured Bentley’s first win on U.S. soil and claimed victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2003.
He will now step back from driving duties with the M-Sport squad, but will remain involved through ambassadorial and advisory roles. He’s not even taking a break from the Blancpain GT Series paddock: Smith will attend the upcoming race at Paul Ricard (1-2 June) and the Total 24 Hours of Spa (26-29 July) with the team.
Unfortunately, his final race did not have a fairytale ending, with the #7 crew qualifying 22nd and dropping down the order early on. They fought back, but in such a competitive field even a spirited effort could only take them as high as 21st at the chequered flag.
Nevertheless, Smith received a fitting send-off from fans and colleagues at his home race.
DENNIS MAKES HIS MARK
While Smith was contesting his final race, another Brit was winning for the first time.
It was quite a week for 22-year-old Jake Dennis, who began by testing for the Red Bull Formula 1 team in Spain and ended on the top step of the podium at his home event, having scored his first win in the Blancpain GT Series.
Dennis delivered a highly impressive stint, passing Tristan Vautier for the lead and then building an advantage of 16 seconds. He later admitted to not having enjoyed much success at Silverstone in the past, something he made up for in style over the weekend.
EMIL FREY CELEBRATE FIRST PODIUM FOR LEXUS
During the closing laps of Sunday’s race, the scenes in the Emil Frey Racing Lexus garage were almost unbearably tense. Driving the #114 machine, Norbert Siedler was holding off the charging Dries Vanthoor, but the #1 WRT-Audi seemed certain to find a way past.
Siedler, however, had other ideas. When the Austrian driver crossed the line in P3, the Emil Frey crew erupted in celebration. The emotion of this result – the first podium finish for Lexus in the Blancpain GT Series – was plain to see on the faces of drivers and mechanics alike.
After scoring their first points last time out at Brands Hatch, the Emil Frey Lexus squad looked to have made a major breakthrough at Silverstone. They were quick in practice, at the head of the field in qualifying, and competitive throughout the race.
With the Total 24 Hours of Spa on the horizon, this new alliance seems to be clicking at just the right time.
SILVER CUP JAGUAR MISSES OUT
For much of Sunday’s race, the #54 Emil Frey Jaguar looked certain to secure Silver Cup honours. As was the case at Monza, the crew of Alex Fontana, Adrian Zaugg and Mikael Grenier held a considerable advantage over their class rivals and were focussed on scoring a strong overall result.
During the final hour of the race, those plans fell apart. After a slow pit stop the car was seen to have shed its right-rear wheel nut and soon came to a halt at Luffield. It was game over for the #54 crew.
But, once again, the venerable Jag had shown the pace to dominate its class. The car will be back in action at Paul Ricard, where it must once again be considered favourite for Silver Cup honours.
GOOD LUCK CHARMS AT R-MOTORSPORT?
Silverstone attracted a healthy crowd of fans to enjoy Sunday’s three-hour race – and it drew a few famous faces to enjoy the action, too.
Red Bull Racing Formula 1 boss Christian Horner was present on Sunday. The Englishman has links to the Blancpain GT Series through his Arden squad, which has partnered with R-Motorsport to run the team’s race-winning Aston Martin V12 Vantage.
Commentator and former grand prix driver Martin Brundle was also present on Saturday and Sunday. Brundle was at Silverstone to watch son Alex, who drives for R-Motorsport and came home in fifth place aboard the #62 V12 Vantage.
Given how well the weekend went for the Swiss squad, they may need to extend invites for Horner and Brundle to attend every race.
AGE IS JUST A NUMBER FOR GARAGE 59 ACE
Veteran driver Chris Goodwin was part of the Am Cup-winning Garage 59 McLaren crew on Sunday afternoon. Speaking afterwards, he estimated that his first race in an SRO-run championship was in China, more than 20 years ago. The event in question was the Zuhai 3 Hours, the concluding round of the 1995 BPR Global GT Series, where Goodwin drove a Lotus Esprit S300.
But Goodwin is not the only veteran of that race still enjoying success on the international stage. Stephane Ortelli, who finished on the overall podium as part of the #114 Emil Frey Lexus crew, was also competing at Zuhai that day in 1995. The conclusion? Age is just a number.
AUDI’S PODIUM STREAK ENDS, GRASSER EXTEND POINTS RUN
Between Sprint and Endurance Cup events, Silverstone represented the sixth race of the Blancpain GT Series season – and it was the first in which an Audi did not finish on the overall podium.
The #1 R8 LMS got very close, however, with Dries Vanthoor coming home just half a second behind the third-place Lexus. All in all this was a good result for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT squad, even if they narrowly missed a spot on the rostrum.
Silverstone also saw Steijn Schothorst and Kelvin van der Linde fail to register points for the first time in 2018, with the #66 Attempto Racing Audi coming home in 19th. As such, the only drivers to finish every race among the points-paying positions are Grasser Racing crewmates Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart. The reigning champions have not won since the opening race at Zolder, but they are staying in the hunt through consistency.
WRT-AUDI CONTINUE TO LEAD ENDURANCE CUP STANDINGS…
Belgian Audi Club Team WRT remain in control of the Endurance Cup standings, with the #1 crew of Dries Vanthoor, Chris Mies and Alex Riberas sitting 11 points clear of the #76 R-Motorsport trio. The gap is smaller on the teams’ side, however, with WRT leading R-Motorsport by just five points.
In Pro-Am, there is a three-way tie for the lead between Rinaldi Racing, Strakka Racing and AF Corse, all of whom have scored 30 points from the opening two events. The #6 Black Falcon crew lead Silver Cup, 10 points clear of the #54 Jaguar. And, in the Am Cup class, the #89 AKKA ASP Team crew of Eric Debard, Philippe Giauque and Fabien Barthez hold top spot. The trio were class winners at Monza and took second at Silverstone to keep up their strong start to 2018.
…AND EXTEND ADVANATGE IN OVERALL TITLE BATTLE
Silverstone represented another good result for Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, whose drivers have extended their lead at the top of the overall standings. Mies and Riberas have 70.5 points, while Vanthoor is second on 67.5
Their nearest challenger is now Raffaele Marciello, who took home a second-place finish at Silverstone, with 49 points. In the teams’ standings, WRT lead Marciello’s AKKA ASP squad with an advantage of 92.5 to 63.
Much could change at the upcoming events, however, with extra points on offer for the 1,000km contest at Paul Ricard and a significant haul available at the Total 24 Hours of Spa. Those races are likely to define the championship, though WRT have certainly given themselves a good platform with their strong early results.