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Silverstone vs. Silverstone - Comparing Le Mans and World Series by Renault events

Published by Lewis

The Peugeot 908 flies around Silverstone during the Autosport 1000km in 2008.
Credit: cmonville (creative commons)

Silverstone. The quintessential British racing circuit. Greasy fast food, Maggots and Becketts, plagues of souvenir stands and die hard British racing fans. Having been there twice, I've felt the buzz of the field going past many times. But surely my visits can't have been any different?

I first went to Silverstone in 2008, on a typically autumnal day. I was going to watch Le Mans Series, the final race of the season, the title decider. I was going as a guest of Peugeot, and as I sat in Luffield B with a Peugeot flag and cap in my hands, the field went past at an amazing pace. The atmosphere was electric, it felt as though a lightning bolt had passed through all of our bodies. It was a feeling I won't forget.

After a while, we went for a walk. There were lines and lines of souvenir stands. Magazines, caps, flags, books, programmes. It would have taken days to visit everything. The Le Mans organisers really knew what the spectators wanted.

The paddock was open that day, a chance for fans to see what was behind the pit lane. Across the infamous bridge, we walked past motorhomes, cafés and team personnel. I felt like a VIP, even though it was public. Every two minutes, you got a complimentary car sticker, or a free flag. They catered for everything. There was even an opportunity to buy used tyres from Dunlop or Michelin. Autosport (who were the title sponsors of the event) were also fantastic. I bought their magazine, then got laden with three free books. A truly awesome day.

I came back in 2009, to watch the World Series by Renault formula. My expectations were high. Brendon Hartley (a driver that I can't wait to see in F1) was driving, and I felt the same buzz as before as I stood at Becketts, watching the twenty-strong field fly past. I was lucky enough to stand at Bridge corner and see Fernando Alonso drive past in his Renault.

It was only when we started to go walkies that it failed to live up to my impressions. The only souvenir stands were official Renault stands, and the prices were outrageous. £7.50 for a fridge magnet?! The only free thing I got was a badly made flag, and the only attractions were the 'official ING funfair' and Renault's heritage. The paddock was non-existent, only for a few manic drivers driving crates of tyres around. You couldn't buy those. Renault disappointed me. They should've done a lot better. The pressure from 'Crash-gate' perhaps? All of the souvenir stands were gone, there were none of the cheerful helpers that pointed the way to confused fans. Even all of the mobile cafés were gone (I didn't want an official ING sandwich, I just wanted a normal one).

Overall, you could see the effort each set of organisers put in to the event. I don't think I'll be going to anything for Renault any time soon. Le Mans Series? Yes.