Fans of worldwide motorsports generally have a difficult time around the Easter holiday, as most forms of auto racing tend to take a break during the holy week to spend time with friends and loved ones. Fortunately, the European Le Mans Series didn't get the must not race memo, and the 39 racecars of the worldwide series will take to the twists and turns of the historic Silverstone Circuit for the 4 hours of Silverstone on Saturday, April 19 as part of a great feast of endurance racing..
Built around the runways of a former military airfield, then the base of the Royal Air Force in the 1940s, the Silverstone circuit was leased in 1948 for three years by the Royal Automobile Club of England with events beginning in 1950. Renovated and modernized in the early 1990s, and again in 2010, it has hosted the Formula One British Grand Prix continually since 1987, with the first one being held in 1950.
Alongside F1, Silverstone has welcomed endurance racing from 1976 including, most importantly, a round of the World Championship for Sports Cars. Since then races in Britain of 1000km, 6 Hours or 3 Hours, for prototypes and grand touring cars, have always been a feature on endurance calendars.
The ELMS 4 Hours of Silverstone will gather together no fewer than 112 drivers representing 25 different nationalities, including at least three drivers who call the United States of America home.
IMSA Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda driver Matt McMurry, 16, landed a seat in the Zytek Z11SN Nissan fielded by Greaves Motorsport in the opening round of the European Le Mans Series, with veteran sports car standouts Tom Kimber-Smith and Chris Dyson as his teammates in the LMP2 class car.
It's yet another step up for Arizona native McMurry, who has raced or tested in a dizzying array of cars in the last 12 months. He has driven in P2, Prototype Challenge and Prototype Lites sports cars and also has raced in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda and Formula Mazda Bondurant open-wheel formula cars since last year.
"I'm just getting as much seat time as I can," McMurry said about jumping between so many cars. "Driving a Corvette is a lot different than a P2, but it still helps. Even though there are huge differences, there are always similarities."
McMurry also is preparing outside of the seat for the challenge of racing in Europe for the first time on the fast, fearsome Silverstone Circuit. He is watching video of past races at the track and talking with his driving coach, 2007 Prototype Lites champion and Mazda factory prototype driver Gerardo Bonilla. And like most 16-year-olds, McMurry is playing video games to help learn the circuit layout. He also may get time this week in a high-tech simulator in England.
There will be plenty of challenges for McMurry this weekend in the English Midlands. He is climbing to the fastest and most powerful car of his career. He is paired with two winning veterans in Kimber-Smith and Dyson.
And even some of the simple facts of this event are new for McMurry. For example, this will be the longest race stint of his life, as he expects to put at least 80 minutes behind the wheel during the four-hour race.
"One goal is just to stay consistent throughout the whole stint," McMurry said. "I don't think it will be really hard, but it will be challenging to keep my pace up the whole race."
The Silverstone race is an important path toward McMurry's immediate goal of becoming the youngest driver in history to start the 24 Hours of Le Mans this June. Former Formula One driver Ricardo Rodriguez was 17 years, 4 months when he competed in an OSCA S750 TN in 1959 at Le Mans. McMurry will be 17 years, 7 months in June 2015, so his time to set the record is now.
Although the battle of words has continued between the USA and Russia for more than a month now, perhaps the racetrack will be the best place to settle differences between the two world powers. One of this weekends race favorites has to be Russian based team SMP Racing. Both a race winner and champion in its first year, SMP Racing team was awarded the GTC crown in 2013. In 2014, the Russian team is entering three Ferrari 458 Italia GT3s in the GTC category and one F458 Italia in LMGTE, plus two LMP2s in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
"We are still taking the necessary steps for our growth which is all going well at the moment," stated Team Manager Benjamin Durand. "The team has always had ambitions and appetite comes with eating. Last year's good results motivated us. We have even been contacted by Ferrari about moving to the next class up, and the Italian manufacturer has provided us with a driver to help us make further progress this season. These partnerships are part of what we have developed this year but it's also the logical progression for a team wanting to move from GTC to GTE.”
Signatech Alpine won the LMP2 championship in 2013 with a victory in Hungary, two second places in Italy and the Red Bull Ring, and two fourth places at Silverstone and Le Castellet. The team is back to defend its title in 2014 with the Alpine A450 Nissan plus one of its 2013 drivers, Nelson Panciatici, and newcomer Paul-Loup Chatin .
“Firstly, this is my favorite track and it really is a legendary place in motorsport," added Paul-Loup Chatin, 2013 LMPC European Champion. "I want to show that we are on the pace. Having won the title last year, there is a lot of expectation and pressure on the team. This year, I have to back up the good 2013 result and to do that it's important to start the year well and with good results. That would be a very positive way to start the season.”
Unfortunately, it will be a bit of a struggle to find good television coverage for the ELMS here in the United States, but we will be able to see a one hour highlight program on on MAV TV (satellite) and Race Fans TV (web). Avid fans of the European Le Mans Series will also be able to follow each of the season's races on the official website with LIVE images and informed commentary from Radio Le Mans.
Coverage is better for our friends across the pond, as the satellite cable channel Motors TV will broadcast LIVE and direct the entirety of each of the rounds. One hour round ups from each event will be broadcast on satellite channels in Austria (ORF), the Czech and Slovak Republics (Sport 5), Finland (Nelonen Media), Germany (Sport1+), Greece, Turkey, Cyprus (Fox Sports) and also in Italy (Fox Sports 2), not forgetting Malta (Melita) and the UK (BT Sport).
Portugal, which will host the final round of the season, will also broadcast one-hour highlights shows on its national RTP2 channel. In Ukraine, the events will be broadcast live on the Sports TV cable channel. Other European countries such as Hungary or France will offer enthusiasts of European endurance racing news from each round on Mens Up TV (France) and RTL Klub, Pro4, Sport 1 and M2 (Hungary).
The Middle East is very interested in the ELMS and will LIVE broadcast races on its OSN and Sports TV satellite channels, while SuperSport will show the "hightlights" shows.
And that's not all because the European Le Mans Series will also be taken by a large number of channels in Asia. Speed Channel will cover Australia, and Ten Sports Taj TV will cover India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, The Maldives and Buthan.
In New Zealand fans can follow endurance racing on the Sky Network, while True Vision and Solar will disseminate the round-up shows in Thailand and the Philippines. Fox International Channel will broadcast the highlights for the Pan-Asia network.
Across the world, Eurovision, SNTV, Motorsport Mundial, Max Power, Planet Speed and Omnisport will offer news and clips of the 2014 ELMS season to fans worldwide.
On Sunday, the the FIA World Endurance Championship takes to the track for a six hour test of speed, and the FIA F3 European Championship will be on track all weekend. Spectators can purchase tickets from £35 for Sunday, £10 for Friday and £20 for Saturday or buy a "three day pass" online today for only £40. Access for children under 15 years of age, accompanied by an adult, is free.
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