Away from prying television cameras, preparations seem methodical and slow, but also deliberate and assured. In the rear of the garage, banks of machines flicker, as numerous software package begin to pick up signals from neatly placed sensors.

Standing apart from the army of personnel, Doug Crosbie looks to the Manor engineers and drivers ahead as they begin their preparations, before slipping into his own pre-session routine. This may only be the first practice session of the FIA World Endurance Championship, but there is still plenty to learn.

Crosbie - a Service Engineer with Dunlop assigned to the British squad - pulls on a black balaclava, as he prepares for this opening 105-minute practice. 'We have new tyre constructions; particularly new wets and intermediates, so we are looking for get feedback from drivers,' Crosbie notes. 'Our wet [tyres] are much improved and teams want to test them out and this is the right weather for it.'

Silverstone weather. Over the course of the three-day meeting in mid-April, the field is treated high winds, light and heavy rain, bright sunshine, overcast and afternoons and ...snow. By Friday afternoon, the rain has ceased and while the sun is breaking through the clouds, cold temperatures remain and the track is taking quite some time to dry.


While perfect conditions for immediate tyres, Crosbie knows that at some point in the session, a move to slicks will be necessary. This may only be a practice session, but occasionally race wins come down to making the correct tyre choice on the fly.

'We look at times and driver feedback,' says Crosbie. 'We look and try times, but it really is to do with driver feedback. We monitor a little the tyre pressures, but not really [too closely] - it's mainly driver feedback and also visually looking at the circuit [for dry lines].

'It's good to see where the crossover is, because that's a big learning curve, because they are still new tyres. It's just about getting the right time to call it [to change to slicks].'

Completing his preparation, Crosbie slips on a pair of black goggles, a black helmet and then finally black gloves. Indeed the only departure from Crosbie's shroud of black is the telling splash of Dunlop yellow that wraps around his shoulders and chest.

As others pour out onto the track to take their first steps of the WEC season, Manor are content to wait and allow rivals to set the tone. Finally after twenty-five minutes, two 4.5l Nissan V8 engines are fired up and Richard Bradley takes to the track in the #45 Oreca machine. Moments later former-F1 pilot Will Stevens does the same in the #44 entry. An installation lap apiece follows, and Crosbie takes tyre pressures, jotting down figures in a notepad.


A second run follows for Bradley and soon the 24-year-old Briton becomes the first LMP2 driver to break the two-minute barrier as the circuit surface continues to dry. Bradley - winner of the LMP2 class at Le Mans in 2015 with KCMG - is enthusiastic.

'One area where Dunlop have done a very good job is with their intermediate tyre. What we have seen in the past is Dunlop being the favourable compared to other manufacturers in these conditions is because their intermediate tyres have been fantastic.'

There is little doubt that as tyre technology continues to progress at an astounding rate, the intermediate tyre enjoys a wide window, although that is not to say it can produce the outright pace of a slick in warmer conditions, but for now Bradley can only be impressed.

'It looks very basic and when I first looked at it, I thought 'is that going to be able to keep on track in these conditions when it's cold?', but looks were deceiving because it was very, very good.'

'What you can do with the tyre is run it long into the dry and the conditions were starting to dry out a bit then and we ran it for a really long time, so I'm very happy with it.'

As the clock ticks down, there are plenty of happy faces in the Manor garage. In their opening session in the LMP2 category, the #45 entry secured 4th in the LMP2 standings, with a best lap of 1:51.792, set by Bradley.

While the team exchange comments and thoughts, Crosbie too appears satisfied with the afternoon's work. Pulling his balaclava clear of his mouth, the engineer shows a smile.

'It's gone well. I feel we have made a big step forward with the wet and intermediate tyre. [When changed to slicks], we felt they came in really well and lasted well.'

This may only be FP1, but it could prove key. Silverstone is known for its changeable conditions, but these variables could also apply to the rounds at Spa-Francorchamps, N?rburgring, Shanghai, Fuji, Austin and, of course, Le Mans.

'We would always like a bit more time [laughs], but we feel that we have done enough. We did a good bit of work over the winter.'

By Leigh O'Gorman

 

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