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.

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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!

McLaren take triple victory

There has been so much spectacular McLaren action this weekend it’s been almost impossible to keep up ad I’m still a bit confused about who won what and where, however basically our GT3 superstars have been showing the world what McLaren is all about by taking three victories across three different series. Count them. Three.

Pirelli World Championship

Another week, another couple of rounds of the Pirelli World Championship and another chance for McLaren factory driver Alvaro Parente to show the world how the McLaren 650S is the best GT3 car on the planet, and he’s pretty awesome too. This week we were in Barber, otherwise known as the Grand Prix of Birmingham, which has a whole other ring to it as a British person. Putting aside that mental image and focussing on the racing, one of the Cadillacs tried to drag race the McLaren to the first corner. Clearly not going to win that one and that was that. According to Parente it was a little more challenging than that but he made it look easy. Parente finished second in the second race of the weekend and is now third in the GT class driver championship.

Blancpain Endurance Cup

Back in Europe, the opening round of the Blancpain Endurance Cup was everything I love about endurance racing. After three hours it was a mere three tenths of a second that separated the winner from the losers. It was the #58 McLaren with Rob Bell, Come Ledogar and Shane Van Gisbergen that took the victory from the second place Mercedes (it felt so good writing that!) It was a tough battle in the last half an hour but the McLaren won out, naturally.

Sadly for the #59 car there was contact on turn one which meant they had to spend some time in the pits and only managed to finish in 36th place, which was still better than 21 other cars, so, er, good.

International GT Open

The first round of the International GT Open was bitter sweet. To give some context to my perspective, there’s a special place in my heart for car #88 with Kevin Estre and Swede Alexander West. As my adopted home and place of minimal motor racing (comparative to the UK), it is truly a beautiful thing when I get to support a swedish driver in a McLaren. It also gives me plenty of excuses to talk about McLaren with random swedish people. Garage 59 had been on track for a double podium finish right up until the last lap when tragedy struck in the form of some other random competitor in an unimportant Lamborghini. Luckily the second McLaren of Benham and Tappy was there to step into the void ensuring a McLaren win. As it should be.

Super Formula

Last but most definitely not by any means least, let us not forget McLaren reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne’s exciting Japanese debut the Super Formula. Clearly all warmed up after his fantastic points scoring venture in the Bahrain GP a few weeks ago, he finished in third place. I don’t care if people say it’s just hype, he will be a champion one day.

Brand new McLarens (and some WEC)

I missed a bit of McLaren action last weekend as I was too busy schmoozing with the endurance elite at the WEC six hours of Silverstone. The sun was shining (after a flurry of snow) giving an illusion of warmth, there were six hours of pure racing and there were plenty of  cups of tea; the only thing missing was McLaren. I long back to ‘95 when the stars all aligned as Le Mans and McLaren came together and the McLaren F1s GTRs (multiple!) destroyed the rest of the field, finishing in 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th. Please, please, please McLaren! Anyway, for the purposes of the World Endurance Championship I transfer all of my McLaren love over to the Toyota Hybrid. Now that is a gloriously beautiful car. I think I may possibly love Le Mans Prototypes more than anything else on Earth.

FullSizeRender

I digress… So while I was freezing to death on an airfield in Northamptonshire, McLarens were strutting their stuff all round the word. Well, Shanghai, Long Beach US of A and glamorous Brands Hatch (which incidentally claims to be the UKs best loved circuit) competing in F1, the Pirelli World Championship and the British GT series.

F1

The third grand prix of the season and a third win for Nico Rosberg, it was a slightly different story for McLaren. Whilst obviously disappointing that both cars finished just outside of the points (12th and 13th) a few positives could be taken from the race. Firstly, that since no cars retired, it gave McLaren a chance to really understand their race pace and it is a noticeable improvement on last year. Not only that, but the fact that reliability is also going in the right direction is something to take comfort from. I am also particularly excited to see that Eric Boullier has truly taken on the spirit of McLaren with some epic Ronspeak in his post race reflections including describing Jenson’s fastest lap as “a spirited circumnavigation of the Shanghai International Circuit” and summarizing his overall race as having “pugnaciously realised the maximum available out of his necessarily more dynamic three-stopper.” Please somebody let me be a fly on the wall in a Dennis/Boullier meeting one day.

Pirelli World Championship

The PWC season is also already in full flow with Long Beach marking the 5th race of the season and the first PWC win for McLaren factory driver Alvaro Parente, after a post race technical infraction relegated first place all American sounding Johnny O’Connell in the Cadillac down to second place. It was a close race for the 650S GT3 and whilst Parente obviously would have preferred to win on track, I’m pretty sure McLaren deserved to win anyway so I’ll take it.

British GT

Meanwhile, exciting things were also transpiring across the pond at Brands Hatch for the first round of the 2016 British GT series, so exciting in fact, I don’t really know where to start. I guess it should be with the McLaren 570S! The money cannot buy (yet) coupé version will be the safety car this year. I have never wanted to see a safety car out on track so much. Bring on plenty of small and safe crashes which much debris requiring an averagely long safety car stint. But wait, there is another brand spanking new McLaren 570S in the GT4 form actually taking part in the racing. The cars are in their final development year before being available to buy for those lucky so and sos who can afford one. Although with the fancy luggage compartment in the 570S maybe I could get myself some McLaren luggage (yes, that is a thing and I want some), sell my apartment and move into the car instead. After all it has a whole 220 litres of storage. What more could a girl need?

The season kick off didn’t go as well as it could have done for the Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse team and their McLarens (a team name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but admittedly does look cool in writing). The 650S GT3 entry got screwed around primarily by a multi-car accident that saw luck against them as they fought in a crowded pitlane. Eventually the race was red flagged due to another incident leaving the team forced to settle for 7th having already battled their way through the field, however pace was good and things are looking promising for the future rounds. The GT4 sister car (can it be a sister car if it’s actually a different type of car…?) had 16 year old Sandy Mitchell at the wheel. Sixteen years old! The youngest driver ever in British GT history, as well as it of course being the debut for the McLaren 570S GT4. Having similar bad luck to the GT3 car, they ended the race in sixth but having shown that their pace was blisteringly fast in comparison to the rest of the field. Roll on the next round of British GT with hopefully less rain and crashes and red flags. Hmm it is British GT, I won’t hold my breath.

One step away from the podium

The Blancpain GT series has kicked off for real this weekend with the sprint series. McLaren GT customer team Garage 59 are the team to watch out for with two glorious McLaren 650S GT3s, in stunning black, white and orange Mclareny colours. With an insane 38 cars signed up for the first round and a wealth of hot young talent throughout the field, this year is surely going to be a brilliant year. Not least for Garage 59 with arguably the best driver combo of shiny gold and platinum ranked McLaren superstars in Alvaro Parente, Rob Bell, Craig Dolby and Martin Plowman racing in cars #58 and #59

First up, Misano, Italy, and things are looking promising as Alvaro Parente makes it into second place in an insanely competitive qualifying session that sees the top 15 cars all within one second of one another. As the drivers all line up on the grid for the cold, damp, darkness of the night time qualifying race, Lady Luck’s evil sister struck with car #59 which failed to get away from the gird and proceeded to spend the first 15 minutes of the hour long race in the pits. Dry/wet/in between conditions which are not a McLarens friend, coupled with incorrect tyre pressures meant that car #58 slipped right down the pack, however with a new set of slicks on a drying surface, Bell, the fastest man on the track, managed a speedy drive back up to 9th.

Rob Bell started in the #58 car, managing to get up to 6th, helped along a little by the scuffles up front and a drive through penalty for Vanthoor. It was pretty much a race on his own until after the pitstops when, with some pretty special overtaking, Parente made short work of Rast in the Audi, and moved the #58 up into 5th place. Car 59 was not so lucky as they were dished out a drive through penalty for speeding in the pitlane. A mechanical failure for third place Rosenqvist moved Parente up once again, finishing only one step away from the podium. A solid finish for the first race of the season.

Despite the army of Audis, there were four different cars finishing in the top four and I can’t wait to see how the McLaren is going to get along when not hampered by non-McLaren friendly weather conditions. This is shaping up to be a very exciting year in the Blancpain GT series. Roll on Monza in two weeks time when the endurance races also kick off!