The European Le Mans Series continues to surprise and were it not for late penalties for the Nielsen Racing squad a podium position was the target for Saturday’s 4 Hours of Silverstone. As ever, pace, strategy and luck all played a role in the fifth and ninth places.
Things got off to a tricky start when the pre-event test at the Northamptonshire circuit was effectively washed out during the build up to the fourth round of the championship. For Colin Noble and Tony Wells in the #7 Normal LMP3 this compounded with the cancellation of much of the first free practice session due to an on-track incident.
The team worked hard to find a good balance on the Norma in the second session, trying different wing levels and damper settings and come qualifying the team were relatively content with sixth for Colin and 11th position for James Littlejohn in the sister #8 Ligier.
In blustery conditions the race got underway, with Colin maintaining his place and James making good initial progress to run in eighth. The light spots of precipitation soon turned into a more persistent rain with a majority of the LMP3 field opting to pit early into the event for wet weather Michelin tyres.
Colin had made best use of the opening laps to move fifth ahead of the #6 360 Racing and once the stops had shaken out, the Scotsman ran behind the #11 and #6 entry once again. The leading LMP3 however opted to stay out on the slicks and in hindsight, proved to be the best decision, albeit a close call.
With the circuit drying quickly, Colin was back in eighth with work to do. As Colin does, he got his head down and made up ground to run third before pitting again. The strategy was to take a long stop for fuel at this point, with the aim of regaining the positions when rivals had to do the same later in the race.
With 55 laps in the books, Colin handed over to Tony in fourth position ahead of a long safety car period. As the race played out, Tony moved up to second, but in the late stages found himself under pressure before light contact with the #11 saw him forced to take a drive through penalty. From this point it was damage limitation and the experienced Am racer did a great job to secure the sixth-place finish.
Following the initial gains in the #8 Ligier, James continued to make gains through his stint to run fourth at the half-distance mark. Once he handed over to Nobu Yamanaka, making his debut at the Silverstone circuit, the race was on to finish in fifth position. Ultimately however a penalty for a pitstop infringement dropped him to ninth position at the chequered flag.
The team now regroup and prepare for the fifth round of the European Le Mans Series which takes place the weekend of 21-22 September at Spa-Francorchamps.
“It was tricky at the start in the conditions and we struggled a little with the car – to get the most out of it. Saying that we ran as high as second and I was happy with the pace we were able to extract as the stint progressed. We could have gained a bit by staying out (on slicks) but we gained some back to by taking our long stop early, but we were looking good in what became a bit of a lottery out there.”
“I made a clean start and a few people made mistakes so I was able to take advantage and then as the rain started to come down I was called in for wets but looking back, it was still grippy out there so perhaps we could have stayed out and make the slick tyre work. We were then back in the thick of it, but we’d made a setup change this weekend that wasn’t as beneficial as we had hoped. Perhaps the lack of practice played its role, but it was the same for everyone and I know now what I would have liked differently! Nobu had a good two-hours plus to gain further experience, so there are a lot of positives to take to Spa.”