Reigning, four-time American Le Mans Series GT1 champion Oliver Gavin is making his FIA World GT1 Championship debut with Mad Croc Racing at Silverstone this weekend. Since 1991, Gavin has raced on all iterations of the Northamptonshire circuit and, having completed a day's running in the Corvette C6.R, offered his view of the new Arena layout.
Q. What are your first impressions of the track?
Oliver Gavin: I think the circuit flows very nicely – I'm very happy with it. It's got a nice combination of corners and some nice challenging stuff. There are two or three corners that are nearly flat and one or two that you have got to have a lot of commitment. The style of Silverstone has been carried on. The first right of Abbey and then the following left are a good combination, and then heavy braking into Village.
Surprisingly, the tarmac has got good grip – great for getting the power down – and it is really unusual running on the National straight. You have got so used to racing under that bridge. They have done a cracking job with it, I'm really very happy with it.
It's done a couple of things that you'll have to be careful of, it's increased the brake wear and it's harder on rear tyres, because there are more longer, harder acceleration periods in lower gears. I think that it is going to be a fantastic track, not only for us but for Formula 1, for MotoGP, they have really ticked all the boxes.
Q. Which is the most challenging of the new corners? Abbey looks tricky.
OG: Abbey is a place you will want to watch in qualifying. You have got a little while building up to it. It's not like Becketts where it all sort of flows one into another. At Abbey, you come down the straight really psyching yourself up for it. You can run quite a lot of kerb on the inside and every time you go through it you have to a run a little bit more. Even if you run wide, the next left is not so much of a problem but then it is trying to get the thing slowed down for Village. You have to get the car in a straight line early otherwise you are likely to start lighting up the right.
The bumps are still there going into Vale which makes the car light and move around. Club is a little more tricky now because it has an extra little angle on it and it is a bit tighter than it was before. It's nearly flat for us. You have to short-shift it a little but and just breathe on the throttle a little through Turn 10 – on new tyres it will be flat. In the race you are going to have to nurse it and that's the same at Turn 15 [on the exit of the Loop]. That will be a good place to catch cars that are not quite so good on the rear, get a run down the straight and overtake them into Brooklands. I think there could be quite a lot of action there.
Q. So you think braking could be an issue this weekend?
OG: Well speaking to the AP guys, they are seeing higher temperatures. It's not a concern, it's just a thing you have got to deal with – your cooling. It's also the second half of the lap that you see this, so it is natural that you will come into the pits with a higher brake temperature because you have done all this braking in the second half. In the first half of the lap you really don't do all that much braking and then all of a sudden you have got Vale, a little bit of Abbey, the new Arena section, into Brooklands, all of which are high-speed, heavy braking and a lot of energy.
Q. So does that mean the changes have made it a more physical circuit for you?
OG: I think it is, it is certainly more challenging. I don't whether that's because it's new and your mind is working a little bit more – you are trying to think about new lines, where you need to be, where the bumps are, which kerbs you can and can't run. Maybe it's that you are processing a bit more rather than just running through the same old routine at Silverstone.
For example it has changed your perspective at Brooklands because you are coming into it at a much higher speed and I still haven't found my braking point down there. I'm trying to go a little bit deeper all the time and it is quite bit of track. You have got where the old track joins in, you are aiming for the big bit of track on the left-hand side at that curbing area – so you sort of guiding it in, and with a GT car it is sliding around and pushing, and it takes a little time to get to the apex.
Q. Will corners like Abbey make an impression for the Formula 1 drivers?
OG: I think it really will. The exit of The Loop, if there is a car struggling for traction in front, braking into Brooklands is going to present a really good overtaking opportunity. You'll see, whether it's a McLaren with its F-duct or just a car with a straightline speed advantage, there will be some action.
There are some extra opportunities for overtaking for the formula guys. Whether it has opened it up completely we will have to wait and see. The two places that I would go and watch the really ballsy guys are still Maggots/Becketts area and the new Abbey – which is impressive for sure.
Q. You've driven on several iterations of the Silverstone circuit. Which was your favorite?
OG: I drove the fast version in 1991 with the modern Becketts but with the fast Abbey without the chicane. And Bridge when it was really fast with the old Abbey. In fact I drove the F3000 cars with that corner and it was pretty quick. So just for an all-out fast circuit with a lot of challenging high-speed corners, the circuit in '91 was great fun. But I think here now what they have is a good mixture of high and low speed, with good braking areas that I hope will produce overtaking opportunities. I guess we will find out on Sunday.
Q. Are you enjoying the new FIA GT world format?
OG: I be able to tell you on Sunday. This is my first event. There are some things I can see are going to be a lot of fun, but there are also some things that could be quite frustrating. I'm used to races that last a minimum of two hours and 45 minutes, and you get used to your strategy, whether that be to manage fuel or tires, or looking after things.
Q. So the one-hour events takes away some of the strengths of the classic endurance driver?
OG: It really does. It did make me laugh in the drivers' briefing that there was some complaints about drivers' behavior at Abu Dhabi. But what do you expect if you give a group of professional drivers these high-powered machines and you say, 'OK, you have got an hour to race one another,' and the longest each driver is going to be in the car is 35 minutes. That's not long to do your bit, make a difference and try and get the car as close to the front as possible, or in the lead, so that when you come to your pit stop you have given your crew as much of an advantage as possible.
Q. Would you say it's more like a touring car race now then?
OG: Pretty much. Then they start complaining that we are driving the cars like touring cars. Well if you lay out the format, you create the ingredients, then that's what you get. It's not rocket science. If you go down this direction then you are going to end up with more touring car, panel-bending racing.
Q. Maybe they need to make the cars slightly less expensive, then?
OG: That might be one of the things teams are concerned about. They are looking at it with wide eyes, because I think a wing mirror on an Aston Martin is something like $28,000. So you start smashing expensive pieces of carbon fiber, wings and splitters, things like that, it does become an expensive episode.
There is an awful lot in this series that is evolving and just dawning on a lot of people and I'm sure that by the end of the year people will have a much better idea about where this category fits in to the whole world of sports car racing.
Q. But the combination of hard racing and supercars that people can relate to could make a strong formula for entertainment, couldn't it?
OG: It could well do. I'm enjoying it.