Second place to McLaren in inaugural GT3 Le Mans Cup

Exciting news! There’s a completely NEW racing series, and it has a McLaren in it! It’s the GT3 Le Mans Cup and it runs with the European Le Mans Series which is brilliant because it gives me another excuse to watch Le Mans Prototypes. The series will consists of five races, each race lasting two hours and one special one hour race before the 24 hours of Le Mans. It’s like a stepping stone to the World Endurance Championship GTam category. The GT3 Le Mans Cup races are run on a Saturday which means plenty of time to keep up with all the other McLaren Sunday action. Happy news.

FFF Racing Team will be running a McLaren 650S, but that’s not even the most exciting part. Adrian Quaife Hobbs is back in a McLaren! This is a dream pairing, I love Adrian, he’s a fantastic and exciting driver. I’m not sure why he never really made it in GP3 and GP2 but he absolutely killed it during his AutoGP championship year and I love watching him drive. Japanese driver Hiroshi Hamaguchi teams up with Adrian in the McLaren.

The first round was at the legendary Imola. Despite being both the team’s and Hamaguchi’s first time ever driving in Europe they showed blistering pace all weekend, with Adrian topping the time sheets in free practice. The pair qualified in fourth, which turned out to be for the best as it allowed them to keep out of the chaos at the start as the second place Porsche collided with the first place Ferrari, taking them both off. This boosted the McLaren up into second place behind the TF Sport Aston Martin. The Aston was just a little too fast for the McLaren to keep up with but they held a strong and very impressive second position, making the race look easy. The next round is the extra special Le Mans on the 18th June and I am very excited, just in case I hadn’t conveyed that already.

McLarens topping leaderboards everywhere

Blancpain Sprint Series

I love the Blancpain GT series, it’s super accessible. There’s a nice app that reminds you of all the sessions and you can watch all of the action live on the website. There’s also comprehensive youtube coverage. It’s a fan’s dream. http://www.blancpain-gt-series.com/

This weekend Come Ledogar was substituting for Craig Dolby to make his sprint cup debut in car #59. His first time racing at Brands Hatch (I believe) meant that he was disadvantaged from the start with other drivers having a superior knowledge of the track, not least Rob Bell in the #58 McLaren who had raced there just a week earlier in the British GT championship.

Bell and Parente ran well all weekend, keeping near the top of the 37 car line up in free practice 2 and finishing Q3 in 6th place. They were unlucky in the qualifying race when #84 Bauman tapped the back of the McLaren, forcing them aside as he overtook. A move which he later got a drive through penalty for, completely ruining his weekend and thus considerably helping out in the championship following two previous very successful weekends. Whilst the commentators were surprised by the penalty I actually shouted at loud at the news. Vindication! A bit too much passion maybe, it was only a battle for eight place in the qualifying race… It was the Mercedes AMG of Schneider and Szymkowiak who got the top spot.

The main race happened just hours later. From a McLaren fan perspective it was a quiet race, a quiet weekend even. In fact, as we approached the final ten minutes of the hour long race I began to wonder what I might write about, but true to Parente’s usual style, there was a nail biting finish as a safety car bunched the field together, creating a final sprint to the end. Parente in 5th place at the time launched a final attack on the cars ahead of him. Easily leap frogging his way into 4th place, Parente then proceeded to hunt down third place, however sadly he just ran out of laps. Still snapping at the heels of the Bentley as they crossed the line, he finished just one tenth of a second  behind. One more lap and it would have 100% have been a McLaren Garage 59 podium. It was the #33 Audi of Ide and Mies who took the win.

Following the success of the previous sprint and endurance rounds, rather excitingly it is now Rob Bell who leads the Blancpain GT drivers championship. Silverstone up next.

Australian GT

Just to caveat, I find it quite hard to keep up to date with the Australian GT in detail, not least because I’m on completely the wrong side of the world, but it is worth the effort. There are five McLaren 650S GT3s competing in the series! FIVE! With a quarter of the field McLaren, it’s a delight to watch regardless of the actual racing.

Klark Quinn is the dominant McLaren driver, currently heading up the top of the championship, ahead of second placed Nathan Morcom in another McLaren. When googling Quinn to try and find out more I instead stumbled across some man who seemingly has a whole website dedicated to asking the question “are you ready to Quinnovate?” By the time I realised I had spelt his name wrong it was too late. I had spent way too long distracting myself trying to find out what quinnovating actually is and had no time to do any genuine McLaren Klark Quinn reading, so you’ll just have to wait for any deep and meaningful insights picked up by my thorough google researching.

The third round of the Australian GT series was held at Barbagallo Raceway. A big accident on the second lap led to a 20 minute safety car and a trip to the hospital for Geoff Emery. The race was then red flagged to enable officials to to get Emery out of the car and to the hospital and fix the barriers. He is reportedly “in good spirits” which is good news. The race was restarted with 20 minutes left on the clock of what should have been an hour long race. However, to compensate for the lack of pitstops, the race director decided to confuse everyone by adding half of the compulsory pitstop time on to everyone’s time at the end of the race, so no one really knew who was going to end up where. As it was, Quinn looked like he was going to win, was overtaken at the last minute by some Mercedes AMG and then ended up in fourth place after all the random times had been calculated. I literally have no idea what happened, but there are five McLaren’s racing so what else really matters?

Points all round for McLaren

This weekend we had both F1 in Sochi and British GT action in Rockingham. Similar results, but slightly different moods.

Formula 1

For the regular F1 fan, McLaren’s weekend may have seemed reasonably ordinary, ending up with a pretty good points finish, but for me it was a rollercoaster of emotions; nail biting through and through. Let’s start with Friday practice. McLaren have often looked pretty good on a Friday, raising hopes of a forward advancement only for a little disappointment when this does not materialise in the race on Sunday. This Friday was looking good. Saturday practice looked good too. The tension was mounting for qualifying, Twitter was alight with speculation over whether Button would make it into Q3 or not. Apparently there was some kind of Hamilton/Rosberg thing going on too but I barely even noticed that. I held my breath as Button crossed the line to finish Q2, but alas it was not meant to be. Less than one tenth of a second too slow and Torro Rosso had stolen our 10th place. We’d get them back though. Later.

Kvyat in the Red Bull gave Alonso a good start to the race by taking out a load of the mid field (and one front runner), clearing the way for his charge through the pack. JB was a little less lucky but at least managed to stay on track unlike many who found themselves in the wake of the young Russian. (That’s a little unfair to Kvyat but I just like the drama). The rest of the race for me was just nerves, would this end up with the glorious points McLaren deserved, or would something terrible happen – a crash, a mechanical failure, a bird on the track?  But no, Alonso finished in a well deserved 6th place. Jubilation! I peered further down the field, my heart sank as it looked as though JB was going to finish just outside of the points, until I realised that we were getting our comeback for Torro Rosso beating us in qualifying. Tenth place Carlos Sainz had been handed a 10 second time penalty, to be applied after the race, for forcing Jolyon Palmer off track during an earlier battle. Brilliant. That promoted Button up into 10th place and a double points scoring finish for McLaren, in addition to Alonso doing the 5th fastest lap of the race. Not bad for a Honda eh? Go team!

British GT

Meanwhile in the British GT championship, there was a little less elation and so much that could have been in a frustrating weekend that started off so well for both GT4 and GT3 McLarens. Just to get it out of the way – my major complaint about British GT is that it is comparatively difficult to follow. There are weird TV times several days after the event, no online live streaming or post race downloads or highlights that I can find and the reports are quite long and confusing if you haven’t had time to keep up constantly. This slightly spoils my experience of the championship which is sad because the racing itself is brilliant. However having said all that, they do have very comprehensive information about the drivers, reading a little too much like a dating profile, which completely adds to my entertainment.

In the GT4 class, Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell in the #59 McLaren 570S GT4 secured third place in qualifying and were looking favourites to win the race at one point, only to be handed a six second stop/go penalty for being too quick in their pitstop. What kind of a ridiculous rule is that anyway? The pair were then hampered by some intermittent electrical issue for the rest of the race but somehow McLaren magic (and good driving) enabled them to finish in 5th place. The race was won by the second place team, car #407, Aston Martin, in yet another post race exclusion as the first place #73 Ginetta naughtily did some overtaking under yellow flags. What is going on this year? I’m almost getting used to this post race exclusion thing for the victors and just cheering on the second place drivers to begin with. Still, it moved McLaren up one place.

Rob Bell and Alisdair McCaig in the #79 McLaren 650S GT3 didn’t have much more luck. Starting second on the grid but dropping back through the field early on due to an electrical issue meant that they were unable to manage any higher than seventh. Sad times after such brilliant qualifying from both cars, clearly they have the speed, roll on Oulton Park!