Monthly Archives: October 2011

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To Dance Or Not To Dance

Image being invited to the dance, and then, after preparing for the occasion, finding out that the invitation had been withdrawn. That, in effect, is the situation facing the competitors who run in the all-Porsche GTC category of the American Le Mans Series, who at this point won’t be allowed to participate next March in the ALMS’ Sebring 12-Hour 2012 season opener.

And, while there may not be much sympathy for these well off “gentlemen” drivers and their “rent a ride” car owners, in the larger picture the issue highlights the problems caused when one’s fate, in this case that of the ALMS, is determined not by one’s self, but by others. At the heart of all of this is the fact that Sebring will be a “dual” event which will not only be the opening round of the Panoz-owned series, but also the inaugural race of the highly anticipated FIA World Endurance Championship.

As it stands now, the GTC division will be excluded from the 12 Hours, whose entry list will be restricted to 60 cars, approximately half of which will be foreign visitors not running the full ALMS schedule, and who may or may not return for the Petit Le Mans finale. Indeed, adding insult to injury, it appears entirely likely the GTC clan will cut out of that affair was well.

Should things not change the GTC Porsche folks will be denied the chance to showcase themselves in the two most important 2012 rounds of the ALMS tour, something which could cripple their funding, both in terms of sponsorship and driver rental fees. About this time, you may be wondering why anyone should care other than those involved themselves. After all, the 911 GT3 Cup cars are patently slow moving obstacles to the rest of the rest of the ALMS field; moving chicanes that can cause unwanted accidents with their far quicker brethren.

Despite this, the fact remains that the GTC Porsches, along with the spec LMPC prototypes have saved the ALMS, which before they appeared had grids of only 25 or less, an unsustainable figure for a major league championship. Perhaps equally important are how the ties between the ALMS and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the organizers of Le Mans have shaped the series in the past and continue shape today.

For whatever reasons, when Panoz decided to create his series, he decided to do so in partnership with the ACO, leasing the technical regulations for the 24 Hour classic, and thus, in effect importing the Le Mans legacy to America. In the main, that decision has served him well, and the ALMS.

However, there have been problems in trying to formulate a season long championship around rules meant to govern a single event, particularly since that event and its ALMS offspring operate on different continents and in vastly different circumstances. The biggest of the problems over the years has been the size of the ALMS fields, which the better part of a decade had been too small for comfort.

That changed when the series introduced its two “spec” categories: the LMPC prototypes using French-built chassis powered by small block Chevrolet V-8s, and the Porsche-only GTC class. Now the ACO and the FIA are demanding that the Porsches stay home for Sebring, claiming that they do not fit the regulations proposed for the new FIA WEC.

The problem is that being denied access to the ALMS’ most important event has left many of the GTC contingent re-thinking their plans for 2012. As TRG boss Kevin Buckler puts it, “If they don’t let us race at the 12-Hour, I won’t run the series”, something echoed by the more cautious Alex Job. As he puts it, “I haven’t made any final decisions yet. But, given my need to serve my sponsors, I’m thinking along the same lines as Kevin.”

Given that between them, Job and Buckler had plans to enter no less than five GTC-spec 911 GT3 Cup cars, and given the fact that the class size in 2011 ranged between five and ten of the Porsches, their withdrawal could have a significant impact on the rest of the ALMS’ 2012 season. And, therein can be found the heart of the dilemma facing the ALMS.

While Sebring, with its dual status could be a major success story, what happens to the ALMS after the 30 foreign entries go home?

Clearly the prestige of its association with Le Mans, and the prestige of serving as the debut venue for the long awaited World Championship are of great benefit in establishing a new level of credibility for the ALMS. But, one has to ask: “At what price?”

No one believes that if the GTC community stays away for the rest of 2012 that the ALMS will automatically be doomed. However, it could be hurt at a time when self inflicted wounds do not lead the way to a better future. The ALMS and the ACO have a new agreement in place that gives the Americans much more freedom to chart their own course. Now is the time for them to use that freedom, something Buckler sums up with clarity when he says, “Keep in mind that the first world in the ALMS logo is the word ‘American.’ What we need is more American teams, not less.”

Buckler would not describe himself as a “prophet,” but in this case he’s right.

Bill Oursler, October 2011

Taming Porsche’s 917

Time, circumstances and money often are the mother of compromise. Such was the case of Porsche’s iconic 917, a 12-cylinder, 230 plus mile-an-hour monster that transformed the German manufacturer from a supporting cast member to the star of the sportscar racing in the first years of the 1970s.

In sum, the 917 was a car that shouldn’t have existed, but it did; that it did so was because the men of Porsche exploited the unintended consequences of a rules loophole made by the Federation International de L’Automobile, the overall governing body of the sport to revamp its prototype arena.

At the heart of the matter was the FIA’s overriding desire to rid itself of the American interlopers from Ford and Chevrolet, which trounced their European opposition at Le Mans and elsewhere during the mid 1960’s. After Ford’s second straight Sarthe triumph in 1967 with its seven-liter V-8 Mark IV GT40, the FIA, with less than six months’ notice, summarily slapped a three-liter displacement cap on the sports racers running in the World Manufacturers Championship.

This may have made the governing body happy, but not its promoters, who feared the wouldn’t be enough of the topflight entries to attract the public. To alleviate those fears, the FIA added a second tier prototype division which permitted engines of up to five liters, the caveat being that at least 50 examples of any particular car had to have been built.

What the FIA had in mind were the older, original Ford GT40s which used Dearborn’s small block V-8, and there Lola T70 coupe counterparts, likewise with small block Detroit power. The plan would have worked if Porsche, which was producing between 40 and 50 racers per year, hadn’t taken a closer look at the regulations and decided it wanted in.

As with anything, though, the devil here was in the details, as Hans Mezger, the head of Race Car Design at Porsche then, explains. “There were two choices for us: to build a three-liter car, or a five-liter car. With the minimum set at 50, we decided it was too costly, and therefore pursued the three-liter option which resulted in the 908 that won our first World Manufacturers’ title in 1969. However, after the FIA cut the requirement to 25 in the late winter of 1968, we changed our minds and went to work on developing what became the 917.”

Like all of its predecessors, the new 917 was evolutionary, not revolutionary, building on what had gone before. Indeed, in terms of its body shape, and tubular frame structure, it was nearly identical to the three liter 908, with the exception of having the driver’s compartment moved slightly more forward in order to accommodate the extra length of the new 180 degree V-12, with its unique central power pick up arrangement.

With nearly 600 horsepower on tap almost from the day it first went on the dyno, Mezger’s engine was a huge success. Indeed, such was its output, that the initial version had a displacement of four and a half, not five liters. Unfortunately, if the 12-cylinder was an award winning piece, the same could not be said for the rest of the pumpkin seed shaped car.

The basic problem was the aerodynamics of its low drag body which produced high speed instability, an issue which had likewise plagued the longtail streamliner versions of the 908, and the earlier 907. Using spoilers and winglets as Band-Aids, Porsche had cured much of the problems, making them competitive at Le Mans, which was the one race Porsche so desperately wanted to win.

However, those two latter prototypes were 190 mile an hour vehicles, while the new 917 could push past 230 mph with ease. At that speed, the Band-Aids didn’t work. In fact, about the only factory driver who liked the 917 was Vic Elford, who, as he put it, “knew from the moment I first saw it that I wanted to run it at Le Mans because, in my mind, it truly had the potential to win.”

Even so, Elford was not unaware of the 917’s aero issues. “Going through the ‘kink’ on the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans where you were doing well over 230, you had to be very careful getting off the throttle and onto the brake, lest the back start steering the front.” And, make no mistake about it: Porsche’s primary intention for the 917, like Elford’s, was to claim the company’s first outright victory in the 24 Hour classic.

Again Mezger:
”The most important thing for us was to win Le Mans. We believed that the longtail was the correct way to go if we were to accomplish that. And I think the fact that Elford and (Richard) Attwood had a commanding lead when they retired after 22 hours in 1969 proved we were correct in maintaining the same basic shape of the earlier cars.”

That was the good side of the equation. The bad was that unlike the 907s and 908s which came in a distinctly different short tail body for the lower speed circuits found on the World Manufacturer’s schedule, the 917 would enjoy no such luxury, a fact vividly remembered by the Porsche engineer.

“Because we were concerned that if we did what we had done with the 907 and 908 using separate long and short tail bodies the FIA might make us build 25 of each, something that was too costly for us to do, we made the longtail a detachable. Section that bolted onto the 917’s short tail decklid. Because of that the decklid had to slope down towards the rear, which we knew was not the optimum for the speeds it could attain on the slower tracks. But, we had to live with it that way even so.”

Moreover, Mezger’s boss, Ferdinand Piech, who was trained as an aeronautical engineer, wanted to keep the 917’s drag as low as possible, despite the fact that its horsepower, unlike that of the 907 and 908, made this unnecessary in its case. In fact the solution was simple: raise the rear portion of the short tail to form a downforce producing wedge. This curative measure had been demonstrated in July, 1969 when Jo Siffert had tested his new 917 Can-Am Spyder at Weissach.

Featuring a slightly raised, open rear tail, similar to the ones found on the McLarens and Lolas then competing in the North American championship, Siffert’s Spyder proved far easier to drive than the short tail coupes with their sloping rear decks. The problem for Mezger and his engineers was that Piech didn’t want to hear any of this.

What the Porsche men needed was for someone else to “discover” the solution and act on it. That someone turned out to be John Horsman, the chief engineer of John Wyer’s Gulf team that was contracted to race the 917 for the factory in 1970 and ’71.

In October, 1969, Horsman and company were introduced to their new car at a test session at the Austrian Zeltwig circuit where, ironically, a 917 coupe had scored the 12 cylinder’s debut triumph the previous August. Led by Mezger’s deputies, Peter Falk and Helmut Flegl, the Porsche delegation arrived with its Can-Am spyder and a truck filled to the brim with all the materials needed to revise the tails of the two coupes Zuffenhausen had brought for the session.

Horsman, who claims he ignored the Spyder completely, discovered that while the noses of the coupes and their windscreens were covered in bugs, their tails were mint, carwash fresh, with no bugs at all on the surfaces. This led to the obvious conclusion that the tails and their spoilers were not in the air stream, and that the only way to correct the problem was to raise their profile.

When the Englishman approached Mess Falk and Flegl, they were only too happy to “accept” his conclusion, opening the doors of the truck to reveal all the materials he and his mechanics would need to transform the tails. The rest is history, the revised coupes whose lap times had been several seconds down to those of the Spyder, now becoming its equal.

The next day the Porsche camp received the brass from Zuffenhausen, who may not have liked the fact that the 917’s drag had been increased, but who accepted the fact that its road holding qualities had been considerably improved. The beast had been tamed, and in the process was to become the dominant car on the Makes tour for the next two years before the FIA banned it at the end of 1971 much to the detriment of sports car racing itself.

Born amidst politics, the 917 thus became a winner through deviousness and intrigue, not to mention the curiosity that has led mankind to improve its lot in life.

Bill Oursler, October 2011

911 Heaven

OK, before we get started I have a financial interest in this book. Showing rare taste and perspicacity the authors of this fine tome bought (and paid for!) some images from me. Of course the really good stuff comes from elsewhere but I am very pleased to be part of this book.

So my interests disclosed, I can now talk about this new volume. OK, the first question is do we need another Porsche history, another 911 book? Surprisingly the answer after reading this book is yes.

The authors, Michael Keyser and Bill Oursler (who also contributes on DDC) are Porsche experts of long standing. Michael raced a 911 with great success during the 70’s including a win at the Sebring 12 Hours. To most of the sportscar fans these days he is best known for his book “A French Kiss With Death”, the definitive story of Steve McQueen and his film “Le Mans”.

Bill Oursler is, well he is Bill. Anyone who has been receiving end one of his long phone calls knows about the passion, deep knowledge and understanding of all things Porsche. I doubt if he can even recall the number of books, let alone articles that he written over the past 40 years.

As to the subject matter, the competition history of the Porsche 911 in all its mutations and evolutions give a very broad canvas on which to paint a compelling picture.

Engraved Slip Case

 

The first thing that strikes you when you pick up the book is the quality of the production that oouzes out. The engraved slip case is typical of the high standards of reproduction that match the quality of the content.

Barth & Singer

 

The Forewords are written by two figures who have been central to the story of the 911 in competition, Jürgen Barth and Norbert Singer. This is supplemented by the story of Michael and his relationship with the Porsche 911, from 1966 to the present day.

Boost Control

 

The content follows on in a chronological order. I especially enjoyed the sections dealing with the early years. The opening double page spread showing Eberhard Mahle completely sideways on the Rossfield Hillclimb back in 1966 makes you imagine that you can hear the throttle, full on, no lifting. Another favourite is the chapter on the customer developments of the 935, which grew more radical with the evolutions of the “Moby Dick” concept.

Four Wheel Drive

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 959 programme is also covered with the various developments both on and off road as are the GT1 projects.

Wallpaper

The final chapters look at the recent 911 GT3-R Hybrid and another of my favourite pieces, 911 In Posters that are extremely evocative.

So if you are a 911 nut, this book is for you. Well written, well illustrated and well produced it has a place on any Porsche bookshelf.

Only 2,250 copies have been printed, so get your order in soon.

HERE

John Brooks, October 2011

The Veritas – A Noble Effort

 

At a VLN race in April this beautiful Veritas RS was seen in the paddock at the Nϋrburgring.

At the end of the Second World War Germany’s industries lay in ruins. There was very little to support an immediate revival in motor sport except for some pre-war surviving racers, such as Bugattis, and mostly BMW 328 sports cars. But by August 1946 enthusiasts had made a re-start with a five mile hillclimb at Ruhestein in the Black Forest – it was won by the pre-war Mercédès Grand Prix star Herrman Lang in the 1940 Mille Miglia BMW Coupé.

Then in March 1947 three former BMW employees, Ernst Loof, Georg Meier (racing motorcyclist and ex- Auto-Union driver) and Lorenz Dietrich formed a company to build sports racers using the familiar BMW 328 mechanicals. They called the car a Veritas (Latin for “truth”) and basically customers would have to supply their 328s which would be stripped and re-built using a space –frame chassis based on two oval tubes, all clothed in a streamlined body; the finished product became known as the Veritas RS (Rennsport). Rising star Karl  Kling had already won the 1947 Hockenheim race in the Mille Miglia BMW Coupé when he gave the Veritas its competition début in the Eggberg hill climb – he retired with oil pump failure. But he went on to win the 2-litre German championships with Veritas, scoring five victories in national events in 1948 and seven in 1949.

It is interesting to note that German drivers were not allowed to race abroad before 1950, Germany having only joined the FIA in October 1949. So some Veritas cars found foreign owners, two for example coming to Britain for Dennis Poore and Ken Hutchison; 1938 Le Mans winner Eugène Chaboud drove one to finish a very creditable third in the Coupe des Petites Cylindrées behind two Ferraris at Reims in 1948 and Emile Cornet scored a win at the Grand Prix des Frontières at Chimay in Belgium in 1949.

There were of course only so many BMW 328 cars still  available (just 462 made at Eisenach originally) and these were now being gradually outpaced as the opposition grew. Loof therefore decided to make his own engine, a straight-six with single overhead camshaft which was designed by Erich Zipprich and manufactured by the aircraft firm Heinkel. Lack of development and consequent unreliability meant that Veritas, with limited resources anyway, struggled to survive. The company had also constructed some single-seaters to compete in the Formula 2 category and were making a series of road cars, the Komet coupé, Scorpion 2-seater cabriolet and the Saturn luxury 3-seater coupé; there was even the Dyna-Veritas with the famous Panhard flat-twin but when the company started to fall back on Ford and Opel engines the marque began to fade. Sadly Ernst Loof himself died of a brain tumour in 1956.

 

Veritas

David Blumlein, October 2011

All Shook Up

Rollin' & Tumblin'

I am a little confused, Where are the reports of carnage down the San Andreas Fault? How have they silenced the media, in California of all places? Is Famoso still standing? Surely the plates have moved?

David Lister has been kicking up a photographic storm for the second weekend in a row, this time at the California Hot Rod Reunion. He is on fire right now…………

Remembering Seppi…………..

Seppi

Forty years ago today I got on a couple of trains, then caught a bus on a journey to Brands Hatch. The Rothmans World Championships Victory Race was due to take place, a non-Championship Formula One event celebrating the World Titles of Jackie Stewart and Tyrrell. There was an Indian Summer back then, much like this year. So 40,000 or so flocked to the fabulous track on Kent’s border with London, all anticipating a grand finale to the 1971 season.

A Champion’s performance

After the death of Pedro Rodriguez in July, Jo Siffert had assumed the mantle of team leader at BRM. Their Tony Southgate designed P160 was running at the sharp end by the end of the year. Siffert’s dominant victory in Austria was followed by Peter Gethin outfumbling the rest of the pack at Monza, perhaps BRM would repeat their glory days of the 60’s. It was no surprise to see the Swiss ace on pole position, maybe he could round off the year with another win. Siffert made a poor start but was recovering well till on lap 15 his BRM left the road suddenly at Dingle Dell, one of the fastest parts of the track. The impact and consequent fire were severe, Siffert was asphyxiated in the delayed rescue, his only other injury was a broken ankle.

Immortals

I had managed to see both Jo and Pedro race the awesome Gulf Porsche 917 earlier that year, though that day belonged to Alfa Romeo. Now both were gone.

RIP Jo Siffert

Today at 3.00pm there will be a memorial ceremony at Fribourg Cemetery, as there has been for many years. Friends and family will join his son Philippe in remembering one of the purest racers ever.

God Speed, Jo.

John Brooks, October 2011

All Downhill From Here

Master James

As a snapper of sorts, I am only too well aware that most of what we shoot is inconsequencial. Often the subjects do not lend themselves to greatness, sometimes we do not live up to our potential as photographers.

So when we encounter an image that has subject and execution in harmony, that catches a moment of the human condition in perfection, those of us with eyes to see salute such a photograph.

The great Henri Cartier-Bresson expressed this quality in far more eloquent terms that I ever could.

“There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative, Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”

Photographers are guardians of the present and the past. Through our work, those who come after us can see how we lived, how we thought and what we did. It is, perhaps, the most powerful element of the photographer’s art. Until photography and film making arrived all we had to rely on was the written and spoken word and we all know how that can be manipulated or mistaken with the passage of time.

So on a morning when there is memorial service to Dan Wheldon scheduled at Indianapolis and the news over the mojo wire is of the death of Marco Simoncelli in Malaysia, it is good to remember the pleasures of life.

Here we see James Hunt in his full pomp having just won the 1977 United States Grand Prix. He is captured puffing on a tab, can of beer in hand, excitable Penthouse Pet at his side, it was the stuff of my dreams. And I could only dream about making images as powerful as this.

John Brooks, October 2011

 

 

The Power Game – A New World Order

It has been a generally held assumption in our business that the pinnacle of international motorsport is Formula One. Messrs Ecclestone, Mosley and the FIA have managed to convince most of the major motor manufacturers in the past twenty years that Grand Prix racing is the only game in town worth playing. This fable was held on to tightly by those who were not really seeing any success on the track despite the mountains of cash that they burned in pursuit of victory. The financial crisis of recent past changed the rules, even the largest organisations were forced to examine and genuinely evaluate all of their expenditures. Honda, Toyota, and eventually BMW, all looked at the return that they were getting from their F1 programmes and all reached the same conclusion, quit.

Whatever questionable benefits these brands were getting from the halo effect of being part of the culture of prestige, glamour and excitement that is 21st Century F1, was eradicated by the consistently poor performance of the teams that represented them, anyone could see that the cars were dogs.

Entering into the second decade of this century the priorities of motor manufacturers engaged in competition are changing fast. Power, performance and victory will always be a part of the motorsport mix but now other factors are in play. Sustainability, efficiency and economy are increasingly the primary motivators beyond that basic need for success in the sport. Even in defeat the brands are looking for a return on their investment, the simple formula of Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday does not hack it anymore.

These underlying trends go some way to explaining why Endurance and Sportscar racing should be heading for another golden age. As ever the principle “follow the money” will give a reliable compass point to the direction that we headed.

Modern day Grand Prix racing, with its proposed V6 turbo petrol technology and tightly specified rulebook, cannot provide the platform for manufacturers to achieve their extended objectives. In addition the old arguments of brand values being enhanced by proximity to F1’s prestige, glamour and excitement have been discredited, so where to go?

Perhaps the first question is why competition, why not just pure research? Major players like Volkswagen and Toyota have annual road car development budgets that are measured in the billions, Dollars, Euros, Yen, it matters not. There is enormous global pressure to introduce new technologies to answer the issues of reducing the dependence on fossil fuels and to cut emissions significantly.

At the end of July US President Obama announced an agreement with a broad coalition of motor manufacturers and other interested parties to dramatically increase fuel economy and reduce pollution for all new cars and trucks sold in the United States in the period from 2017 to 2025. The new standards call for incremental improvements each year in fuel efficiency to achieve a 2025 target of 54.5 mpg – almost a 100% increase on the 2011 requirements. Greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced to 163 grams per mile, approximately 50% of the current position. These are major changes and provide a huge challenge to the car industry. Where America goes, the European Union and the rest of the world will surely follow. It is held that competition is a sure fire way of fast tracking that process, diverting a small proportion of the road car budgets into the competitive arena will bring disproportionate benefits, well that’s the theory.

How all of these strands link into the direction that endurance racing is headed is now beginning to become clear. From 1950 to 1992 there was a FIA sanctioned World Championship for sportscars and long distance racing. Why that stopped is a topic for another day, but since that time the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), custodians of Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans, have steered their own course, largely pulling the rest of sportscar racing in their wake. Relations between the FIA and the ACO improved after the departure of the choleric FIA President Jean Marie Balestre, who engaged in outright warfare with the ACO during the final years of the World Championship. Max Mosley, who succeeded the Frenchman as head of the FIA was much more concerned with Formula One battles and largely left the ACO to get on with re-building endurance racing.  This restoration was essential as the great race was nearly bankrupt, a direct consequence of the rules introduced by the FIA in the final years of the World Championship. This created the perfect storm of a vastly reduced number of entries together with the substantial costs of building a new pit and paddock complex and making changes to the Mulsanne Straight in the form of chicanes.

Last year a new FIA President, Jean Todt, was elected. Best known for managing multiple F1 Championships at Ferrari, Todt was, before that, head of Peugeot Sport during their years of triumph in the World Rally Championship and also during their two victories at Le Mans. Todt’s style since his elevation has been to eschew the confrontational approach favoured by his predecessors; he has kept a much lower profile too.  He has tried to unify the FIA and the sport in the face of the growing threats to the very existence of such activities. Todt has also built on the worthy initiatives of Max Mosley to expand the remit of the FIA to promote road safety worldwide and to engage with the various government bodies on green issues and sustainability.

Under encouragement from Audi and Peugeot, the ACO created a new competition for 2011, the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, which was in reality a new world championship. Of course that designation cannot be used without sanction from the FIA, so it was not hugely surprising to see the presence of Jean Todt at this year’s Le Mans pre-race press conference. Nor was the announcement of the FIA World Endurance Championship for 2012, which will be run by the ACO in a partnership with the FIA. Peace in our time then, let bygones be bygones, honeyed words between the principals with Todt leading the chorus.

“For several years there has been collaboration between the ACO and the FIA, but this needs to be closer. An Endurance Commission will be set up at the FIA, involving manufacturers, privateers and the ACO. A working group will be put in place, their proposals to be approved by the FIA.”

So we have a World Championship for Endurance racing once more, but why now? What has prompted this sudden betrothal? The answer lies somewhere near the Corleone family strategy, “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” This is a marriage of convenience; The ACO needs World Championship status to attract manufacturers and it also needs the political influence of the FIA with those making the regulations that the manufacturers will have to comply with in the coming decades. The manufacturers want a platform that offers both technological and marketing benefits. The FIA wants to follow the money and keep some nominal control over what promises to be a very significant part of the motorsport world.
2012 will see the new Championship emerge with races in Europe (Le Mans 24, Spa and Silverstone?), America (Sebring and Brazil? Petit Le Mans?) and Asia (Zhuhai and Japan?). These races will all be of six hours duration (except Le Mans and Sebring) and will feature the usual multiple classes with trophies being awarded for Manufacturers’ Endurance World Champion, Drivers’ Endurance World Champion (both for LM P1) GTE World Cup Pro, FIA GTE AM (both for LM GTE but no drivers’ category), FIA LMP2 and the FIA Trophy for the best private team – open to all categories. So a contest aimed squarely at manufacturer participation but run broadly along the lines of the status quo. To figure out why this should be attractive to other parties not presently involved, the future has to be the answer.
There are a new set of regulations being drawn up at present, scheduled to be introduced for the 2014 that will provide the framework to transform endurance racing into the platform that will encourage technological development. The aim will be to limit the amount of energy available for each car with all starting from an equal point. There will be no restriction on hybrid technology systems that will recycle the energy produced and not utilised by the engine. If one considers that even the most efficient petrol engine used in current road cars is only utilises 20-30% of the petrol’s energy in driving the rear wheels. The rest of the energy is consumed in thermal or frictional losses or when the vehicle is ticking over at rest. Clearly there are big gains to be made if the right technologies can be employed. That is the Holy Grail that the new World Endurance Championship offers.

There are three manufacturers competing in the LMP1 class at present, in reality only Audi and Peugeot are likely to have the resources and financial firepower to go to the brave new world, Aston Martin are not. It has been officially announced that Porsche will return to the top class with a form of petrol hybrid. This has led commentators to assume that Audi will leave the endurance arena, the logic runs that the bean counters will not allow such duplication of effort, and more importantly budget. My sources from Germany disagree with this obvious conclusion, saying that after the victory at Le Mans this year, Audi have been given the green light to compete in the Great Race for the foreseeable future.

Why these conflicting messages? The answer lies in the determination of the Chairman of the VW Board, Ferdinand Piech, to accelerate the pace of development of alternative power technology and other fuel efficiency measures. Ruthless by reputation, this highly talented engineer is arguably the Ultimate Car Guy and sees that for Volkswagen to meet its primary objective of being the world’s leading motor manufacturing group, in the face of the proposed changes to fuel consumption and emissions, radical measures are necessary. The logic runs that two approaches along different lines will fast track the optimal solutions. Few would bet against the mercurial Piech getting his way, as those who have opposed him in the past have found to their cost. As if to support this pan-VW assault on the WEC, comes the news that the new Chairman of Bentley, Wolfgang Dürheimer, wants to take the brand back to the tracks, Bentley Boys anyone?

Which other manufacturers are looking to join this trio of heavyweights? The answer would appear to lie in the East. Toyota have announced a programme for 2012 incorporating hybrid technologies. Certainly there is a sense of unfinished business in respect of the Japanese company and the Le Mans 24 Hours. They could also do with a rebuilding of their reputation, publically battered in the blizzard of US Congressional Hearings in 2010, as a result of road safety issues.

Nissan are also looking seriously at a full blown attempt on the FIA WEC. However the tsunami back in March has derailed these intentions and may end up leading to a delay or postponement of the plans, time will tell. Persistent stories are found in the media of Jaguar, now owned by Indian conglomerate, Tata, commissioning a Le Mans project. Some say with Williams Grand Prix, who took BMW to victory in 1999.

All of which ties explains the unlikely union of the FIA and the ACO at this point in time. Big budget projects with a complicated technological package will result from this initiative and both parties feel the need to involve the other. The face of Endurance racing will be fundamentally changed and hopefully so will the world of road cars and personal transport.

 

John Brooks, October 2011

A Trick Of The Light

Corkscrewed

The combination of Laguna Seca in the fall, Rennsport IV and David Lister is irresistible. This gallery of images from last weekend is inspirational, shows how the job should be done, from composition to post-processing.

A MasterWerk.

John Brooks, October 2011


I Like A Bit Of A Cavort……..

I don’t send solicitor’s letters…………I apply a bit of……………pressure.

The immortal lines from Chas in the epic movie “Performance”, all understated menace.

Perhaps a bit more Max and Paddy-like were the antics of the GTE Pro leaders on the last lap of the 6 Hours of Estoril. Rob Bell and Richard Lietz, in a typical Ferrari/Porsche battle, had been going at it, hammer and tongs, for over an hour. It was an utterly engaging contest between two top line pros in two top line cars, either would be a worthy winner. Most other photographers had legged it back to the pits for the finish but Pedro and I just knew it was all going to kick off…and it did. Handbags swinging, panels bashing, the pair contested the penultimate corner, whoever emerged in front would win, simple as that. Well, our Geordie Lad held his nerve and his line to take a well deserved victory, proper GT Racing.

To both drivers and both teams, Salut!