I knew it was too good to be true. The sun was shining as I brought the mighty Skoda to a shuddering halt behind a silver Mercedes at the gates of Silverstone and a cheerful security guard waved me through, saying, “Just follow David Coulthard…”
First, the good news: Silverstone is ready to host the 2010 British Grand Prix and the revised layout has been granted FIA Grade One status pending what circuit boss Richard Phillips describes as “a couple of tweaks”. This in itself is a remarkable achievement given the severity of the last winter; my local sports centre has been retiling its swimming pool since November and it still hasn’t reopened yet.
The chief motivation for amending the layout was Silverstone’s new contract to host Britain’s MotoGP round. Bridge corner was adjudged too dangerous – you wouldn’t want a bike to have the same shunt as Andrea de Cesaris did in the Jordan in 1991 – but the bridge itself is integral to the circuit infrastructure, and for reasons too boring to go into at length they couldn’t just build a bigger one. Ron and Leon Haslam essayed several laps on a pair of roadgoing superbikes, while David Coulthard appeared in the Red Bull demo car (which I think is a 2006 Toro Rosso chassis with the 2009 RBR nose and rear wing), and Damon Hill took HRH the Duke of York round in the Santander two-seater.
It’s too early to call the possible effects of the new section but it represents an effective and imaginative use of existing space. Village corner has a tricky approach (complicated for the demo runs yesterday by ‘green’ asphalt, lots of dust, and a large stage directly in the drivers’ sight line), the effects of which were more pronounced for the bikes, which had a very gradual turn-in phase. The short squirt to the Loop will emphasise traction and may provide a further overtaking opportunity if someone has overcooked their approach to Village and run wide.
True to form for this part of the world, almost as soon as the engines were fired up after lunch the skies began to bruise. I was due to have a run in the Santander two-seater once the BBC finished filming, and after commiserating with one of the Motorcycle News testers (green surface? Dust? Rain? On a GSX-R1000? After you, Claude) I donned my flameproof garb. As I finished lacing up my Sparcos I realised it had all gone rather quiet. Enter the two-seater, on the back of a truck.
David Coulthard had been driving Martin Brundle round at the time, and apparently the radio conversation went something like this:
MB: I think there’s something wrong with the engine.
DC: No, it seems okay.
DC: Yeah, there’s something wrong with the engine…
A very long afternoon ensued as the mechanics traced the fault – a blown crank oil seal – and finally had to give up and call for a new engine. Still, there was amusement to be had. I learned that my otherwise risible phone insists on trying to substitute “Trundle” for “Brundle”.
My optimism ebbed and flowed as the clock ticked around towards the curfew point of 7pm. At around four o’clock the skies cleared and the sun shone once more. Almost everyone else except the various camera crews had gone home. I felt as if I was going to have the last laugh on this one. What a shame the car was still in several pieces, on axles stands, with a puddle of oil underneath.
It was half past six before the beast was reassembled and Martin set out for an installation lap with Sky’s John Desborough shoehorned into the back seat. In very short order a man in a suit appeared brandishing a walkie talkie. This is never a good sign, and indeed he seemed very put out that the car had sallied forth without appropriate clearance. Off he flounced, still gesticulating with his walkie talkie, muttering darkly that at 7pm the ambulance (an insurance requirement) was going to leave and that would be that.
The vindictive clouds chose this moment to gather again and deposit their contents upon this hallowed loop of Northamptonshire asphalt. Cue further delay as the car, now with James Allen strapped in the back, took wet tyres. You can see the video of their journey, including the new section of track, on James’s site.
I had the fireproof gear on and was about to slip on my crash helmet when the grumpy troll in his ambulance arrived at the back of the garage to signify that playtime was over.
So, a disappointing end to the day, but nothing that a restorative pint of Kingfisher, a deluxe mixed starter and a chicken jalfrezi at Farnham’s finest curry house couldn’t sort out. And there’s always a next time…