Tuesday, 11 May 2010

'Kid In The Candy Shop' GT1 At Silverstone

Firstly, I must apologise for the astonishing lateness of this post. And the length.

On May 1-2 I was lucky enough to have a media pass for the round of the FIA GT1 World Championship held at Silverstone, UK. I must stress that they didn’t just fall into my lap – I write articles on http://www.thecheckeredflag.co.uk/ that somehow seem to be important enough to get behind the scenes.

There that’s the shameless plug over.

Now, despite the fact that the weekend was the third event in a little over a month I’ve had credentials for I am still a little ‘kid in a candy shop’ when I get there.

I spent many of my pre-teen years going to races around the south-east of England, sitting on grassbanks and in grandstands, straining to listen to the at track commentary while watching cars flash by, and the fact that I’m now getting into places that the 10-year-old me would have gladly sold his sister for is not lost on me.

I am also aware I’m a very, very tiny minnow in a very big pond, and occasionally I am made fully aware that my feet are some distance from touching the bottom.

The Saturday this feeling comes sharply into focus.

Arriving frightening early I put my laptop on a table in the media centre (the racing media are incredibly trusting when it comes to leaving hardware in full view, not that anyone would want my laptop, as it doesn’t even have a battery) I head out to find the Matech Competition pits – a team with whom I have managed to get an interview with for the weekend.

When I return to the media centre I find my laptop surrounded by the (relative) glitterati of racing media. There are the teams’ official press officers, LAT Photographic to my left, a cluster of Speedhunters to my right. The man from Autosport is in the next room (I always wonder whether if I steal his logo emblazoned jacket means I automatically get his job).

Despite this there is none of the “who are you anyway?” attitude I have expected, though I do feel a vague wave of distain from the man from Matech when I explain I don’t have “a card” and scrawl my phone number on a piece of paper ripped off the bottom of the Formula Three entry list leaning on the side of one of the team’s trucks.

As a whole the people from the team are very accommodating, considering it’s a race weekend and they spend nearly the whole event struggling with the car. I get a distinct feeling of power as I am let into the back entrance to their pit garage, emerging beside their blue and white Ford GT just as the public autograph session is finishing at the front of the garage. This feeling is only increased when I am let into their hospitality suite for the interview itself.

However, the highlight of the weekend is getting down to the pitlane.

For as long as I’ve watched racing on TV the work of a pitlane reporter has seemed like the best job there is. As soon as I saw the words “pitlane pass” in the paperwork for the weekend my eyes probably lit up, with little pitboards coming up in them the way dollar signs do in those of cartoon bad guys.

Let me tell you now; there is nothing like a racing pitlane, even during a practice session.

I get to stand feet away from a Corvette as it burbles by in the pitlane (I have spent many years listening to commentators claim there is ‘nothing like a Corvette’ and now I am finally in agreement with them).

There is noise everywhere. I stand feet behind a Lamborghini as it roars into life and feel an uncomfortable warm feeling in my right ear, the only thing that convinces me that I’m not deaf is that I can still appreciate the Nissan GT-R than rumbles along behind it.

Two of the Maseratis sweep into their pits infront of me, one coming worrying close to reliving me of my lower legs as I stand in the open entrance to a GT3 team’s garage while the Vitaphone team change the tyres on their two MC12s. Much of the GT3 team – Phoenix Racing – come to the front of the pit to watch the stop, then either retreat back into the garage, or put their fingers in their ears.

When men who spend their working days around cars are putting their fingers in their ears you know it’s going to be loud.

And it is loud, even with my fingers in my ears it’s loud, a feeling confirmed by the fact the whole pit seems to vibrate, as well as my internal organs.

The pitlane during the GT3 race is even more chaotic, with every car having to make a stop within a tem minute window it can get pretty crowded, a only made worse by the fact their trolleys of tyres and equipment are lined up on the pitlane as the GT1 teams are occupying the main garages. I haven’t a clue who wins, but it’s a way to watch a race that is simply unforgettable.

It’s dirty, loud, smelly and more than a little bit dangerous, and that’s how to watch racing.

Watching the GT1 races from the media centre, taking notes, is great, but a little too sanitized, like watching the race from your living room on TV, occasionally looking out the window. It’s improved in the second race as I am one of several people in the room commenting on the race, but it’s still not the same.

I am a racing fan, and there is something fantastic about eschewing the media pass for an hour and standing on a bank on the outside of the new Arena section straining your ears for the at track commentary over the assorted whines and rumbles of racing engines watching the race with the public.

Of course, that doesn't mean I'll be turning down credentials anytime soon.


  1. Really great read, GT1 sounds like a good place to be. As someone who's spent a bit of time in pit lanes and such, 2 points for you;

    1. Get some business cards, doesn't have to be complex, just name, number and email will do. You never know when you'll need them.

    2. Get Get Get Get Get Ear Plugs, I cannot stress this enough. Get Ear Plugs! I get a set of 3 pairs from Sainsburys for £2. Cars sound awesome but it's not worth the risk to damage your hearing, you still hear them, you just don't get the ringing for a few days after!

    Keep it up, really good reading!

  2. Good stuff James. Interesting that the media centre feels a bit sanitised, I guess the regulars need it that way in order to follow the race on TV and then are hustling between garages etc to get interviews.

    The GT pitlane sounds awesome! And yeah I'd heard the same about the Corvette, was blown away when I witnessed it for the first time on the Wellington straight.

    I (eventually) was there too as you might've read, sorry we didn't meet up and if I'd been bothered about getting there at a reasonable time I'm sure I'd have contacted you for a quick chinwag. About what I have no idea. As it was I was rushing about getting my first post-winter trackside 'fix'.