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Un Mélange Manceau

Our Special Correspondent was at the 90th Anniversary Le Mans 24 Hours. He shares with us a different but important historical perspective on the world’s greatest motor race.

2013 Le Mans 24

The week leading up to the Le Mans 24 Hour race is always rewarding for a motor car enthusiast. This year marked 90 years since the first running of the race in 1923 and on the Tuesday there was a special celebration of the old Pontlieue Hairpin – the original circuit ran deep into the southern suburbs of the city, doubling back at a tight hairpin in Pontlieue, a favourite spot for those early photographers as the cars were travelling comparatively slowly.

2013 Le Mans 24

The roads still exist although the more distant approach sections are unrecognisable today as they have to cross the ring road. The corner was suitably adorned with signs of the time:
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The President of the A.C.O. Pierre Fillon unveiled the traditional sign marking the corner, having arrived in a contemporary (and boiling!) Vinot-Deguingand, a French marque which took part in the very first race.
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The 1924 –winning Bentley also did some runs. The corner was foreshortened for 1929-31 by which time the A.C.O. had purchased the land between the start/finish area and Tertre Rouge. Here they opened in 1932 the section of track which still comprises the Esses, and Pontlieue fell into disuse from then onwards.

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Present at the ceremony was the 1923-winning 3-litre Chenard et Walcker.
Chenard et Walcker (not to be confused with another French marque, Chenard, the cars of Louis Chenard one of which ran at Le Mans in 1924) was in the mid-Twenties France’s fourth largest car manufacturer, turning out some 100 cars a day in its factory at Gennevilliers in Paris. Not only did it take the first two places with its o.h.c. 3-litres in the first race in 1923, but a smaller-engined version won the 2-litre class in 1924.

2013 Le Mans 24

The company is also remembered for the exciting little Henri Toutée-designed 1100 c.c. “tanks” which had widespread success in sports car races in 1925/26. Two such cars, one with a larger engine, ran as private entries at Le Mans as late as 1937, albeit with no success.

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The museum at the circuit can always be relied upon to vary the exhibits and some recently loaned cars are worthy of mention. This year sees a serious revival of the Alpine marque with Renault not only developing a new production Alpine sports car (in collaboration with Caterham) but also adapting an Oreca 03 LMP2 car to run in the 24 Hour race as an Alpine A450. It was, of course, 50 years ago that Jean Rédélé’s company made its first venture into endurance sports car racing with the M63 coupés; there is one currently on show in the museum.
Their first attempt at Le Mans was unfortunately shadowed in tragedy – one of the Project 214 Aston Martins dropped all its oil on the Mulsanne Straight on the Saturday evening causing a number of cars to crash seriously, one of which was the M63 of the young Brazilian Alpine agent, Christian “Bino” Heins. His car flew off the circuit, struck a telegraph pole and exploded in flames, giving the poor driver no chance of survival. Despite this setback, the Alpine cars went on from 1964 to score manifold victories in endurance races in the smaller categories, especially with their A210 coupés.

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With a 3-litre limit slapped on prototypes from 1968, Alpine saw the opportunity to go for outright wins and Gordini developed a V-8 engine for them. This was initially tried out in an A210 coupé, this one-off prototype being re-named the A211.
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The car was raced briefly and came to Le Mans for the Test Day, but it was clear that the engine was too powerful for the chassis and the all-new A220 was designed.
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This is a V.P., a Verney-Pairard, the work of two enthusiasts, Just Emile Verney who had driven in every Le Mans race from 1931, and Jean Pairard, a Parisian industrialist. They were keen to create a not-too-expensive sporting car with a view to gaining the support of the Regie Renault for small series production. One of Pairard’s engineers, Roger Mauger, drew up a tubular chassis with all-round coil spring independent suspension and a Renault 4cv engine at the rear, the whole bodied by the French coachbuilder Antem. They took their first car to Montlhéry for some trial runs and the performance caught the eye of Franςois Landon, head of the Regie’s Competition Department. He recommended that they try for records and the car, duly adjusted aerodynamically with full wheel spats, ran in October 1952 at Montlhéry, taking eight International Class H records. The Paris Salon was just opening and Renault took over the car, giving it pride of place on their stand and re-naming it a Renault R1064!

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This car ran with the necessary lights etc. at Le Mans in 1953 along with a new coupé V.P. which had an oversize cockpit roof to accommodate the corpulent Pairard! The “Renault R1064” retired in the seventh hour while the little coupé, much handicapped by its excessive frontal area, finished last. No long-term support for V.P. was forthcoming from Renault and the R1064 reverted to being a V.P. once more! It then received revised bodywork for 1954 when it returned to the 24 Hour race.
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At the Drivers’ Parade, mercifully dry until the very end, it’s back to Chenard et Walckers. The real gem was this Torpille seen above.
At the 1927 Paris Salon Chenard et Walcker introduced two 1500 c.c. sports cars: one was a production version of their little “tank”, the Y8, and the other a more conventional model with cycle wings, this Torpille, the Y7. The latter was sold in “bleu France” as seen here, and both models were used in national competitions by private owners – no more works cars from the Gennevilliers company.

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In the Thirties they made some technically interesting models such as this Super Aigle 24. Their Super Aigle range adopted front-wheel drive at the 1934 Paris Salon when Citroën more famously did the same, and they also used torsion bar independent suspension. This Super Aigle 24 dates from 1936 and has a Cotal electromagnetic gearbox. Alas, these advanced features did little to save the company which was taken over by Chausson who substituted Ford and Citroën engines. By the early post-war period the Chenard et Walcker name was on a forward-control 2-cylinder van soon to be Peugeot-powered and then Peugeot produced.
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Perhaps it was appropriate that this year’s Alpine drivers should have been chauffeured in a Renault – a 1904 3.7-litre 4-cylinder Type U model.
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There are always representatives of the pioneering De Dion Bouton company in the parade. Here we see an example of their popular ID model, dating from 1919. It is interesting to note that the company gave up using their famous De Dion rear axle as early as 1911/12 yet it is still used on today’s little Smart!

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And so to the race. First, a small tribute to Allan Simonsen, by all accounts a lovely person and a highly-rated driver who tragically lost his life on just his third lap of the race. Here he is completing his second lap and starting his third fateful one just moments before disaster struck.

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And here is his class team-mate passing the tragic spot at Tertre Rouge where the public road joins the private section of track. At the specific request of Simonsen’s family the Aston Martin team carried on racing.
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Looking back at that first race ninety years ago, it is interesting to reflect on one or two similarities with today. In 1923 the organisers used army searchlights to illuminate the corners – here is the Dunlop Chicane illuminated using more modern technology:
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And the public road leading to the Arnage corner is still basically as it was –

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the left-hander at Indianapolis then the short straight to the right-hand bend.
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And here is the road out of Arnage looking up towards what are now the Porsche Curves but used to lead to the Whitehouse Corner – that road is still there.
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The gruelling nature of this race is reflected in the general state of some of the cars by Sunday. Here is the Murphy Team’s Oreca 03 looking distinctly grubby.
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And two AF Corse Ferraris which have seen some battle, this was #71

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And #51 was not much better
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The sudden rain showers can catch out the best.
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But to cross the line after 24 hours is worth all the effort:

David Blumlein July 2013

 

 

Chinese Burn – Part Three

Rock Around The Clock

The ever increasing speeds of the diesel battle meant that the ACO felt forced to bring new rules in for 2011. Smaller engines and other measures in turn meant new cars for Audi and Peugeot. Peugeot had their new weapons ready for the opening ILMC round at Sebring, Audi did not.

At The Setting Of The Sun

The Peugeot 908 is powered by a 3.7 V8 twin turbo diesel engine. The new regulations caused the loss of around 150hp and more importantly torque was massively reduced, so a completely new approach was needed. The Peugeot may have shared its model number and the windscreen wiper with its predecessor but nothing else. The aerodynamics concentrated on maximising the speed at the expense of downforce.

Blue Meanies

This aspect combined with the lack of torque meant a completely new technique to driving the cars flat out was also required. Keeping up the momentum was paramount and this accounts for the extremely aggressive moves that the prototypes have pulled when in slower traffic……..universally this has not been well received, especially by the professionals in the GTE class.

Pit Popsies

Another major change was the mandatory addition of a central fin extending from the cockpit to the rear wing. The aim was to prevent cars getting airborne but that has not been wholly successful. Both Marc Gene and Nic Minassian had dramatic crashes in their new Peugeots during the pre-season test programme. Nic ended up on the runway at Le Castellet airport, having cleared the barriers and fences. These incidents attracted the attentions of the FIA Technical department and further measures are now proposed.

Old School

The new regulation that has been announced by the ACO mandates that there has to be an opening at the top of each wheel arch, replacing the existing louvers at the front. These openings measuring a minimum of 200mm by 250mm, will mean that the top surface of the tyres will be visible through the bodywork. It is intended to reduce lift in the event of a car spinning sideways by equalising the air pressure around the wheels.

Brace of Audis

Audi were a few months behind Peugeot in the development of their own new car, so the R15+ was rolled out again at Sebring. While a team like Audi never gives up, their R15+ grand-fathered to conform with 2011 rules, were likely to struggle to match the outright pace of the French. The best hope lay in exploiting the considerable racecraft and Sebring Savvy that the team and drivers had accumulated over the years.

Very ‘Appy

In the end neither factory team stood on the top step, the 2010-spec Peugeot, run by the mighty ORECA outfit had a relatively trouble-free run and added Sebring to their list of Florida classics, having won the Daytona 24 Hours victory back in 2000.

Audi and Peugeot each lost a car from contention after a collision between Gene and Capello led to extended pit stops to fix the damage. Bodywork problems and a spin by Pedro Lamy dropped the other Peugeot while the second Audi had several punctures that stuffed their race.

Sebring Sunrise

On a positive note the new 908s had run without mechanical problems on what is considered to be the toughest track of them all. Next up would be Spa and the début of the R18. It was going to be even more serious now.

R18

The Audi R18 was certainly dramatic when seen in the flesh at Francorchamps. It was the first coupé from Audi since the distinctly undercooked R8C in 1999. Powered by a V6 3.7 litre diesel running only one turbo in contrast the usual twin arrangement, it bristles with the latest technology, supporting the marketing message “Ultra”. The question was, would it work?

Cover Is Blown

Peugeot hit problems during Friday when Pedro Lamy crashed after contact with another car. Both teams are very secretive about their cars, at least to the media, so the damage to the 908 will have been compounded by the fact that every telephoto lens in a 50 mile radius was focussed on the wreck. It would be a long night for the mechanics.

Fin De Siècle

 

 

 

Qualifying was also a disaster for Peugeot, with the session being red-flagged early on, before the 908s could set representative times. Then the session was cancelled as barriers were damaged beyond swift repair. Audi lined up 1-2-3 whereas their opponents could only muster 13-18-50, Sacre Blue!

Scottish Reel

The race got underway with the trio of Audis streaming up the Kemmel Straight in formation, then the day started to unravel for Ingolstadt. McNish spun into Les Combes, then Bernhard tagged a slower car, damaging the diffuser and Treluyer spun and got beached in the gravel at Fagnes. A long litany of similar minor problems afflicted the three Audis all the way through the race.

Hill Climb

The final result saw a 1-2 to the French with McNish/Kristensen/Capello salvaging a podium and some pride for Audi. The general consensus in that fount of false wisdom, the media centre, was that it was too close to call between the two factories. It was very difficult to draw firm conclusions about the prospects for Le Mans, a few weeks down the line.

It would be close, that much was certain, just how close we could not imagine.

John Brooks, November 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

Bump and Grind

Bill Oursler has sat down to consider the events that unfolded in the Central Highlands of Florida last week, here are some of his observations. John Brooks, March 2011.

So what did we learn from this year’s annual Sebring 12-Hour? The answer is not much that we already didn’t know. At Sebring both the slower 2011 prototypes and their 2010 spec predecessors, now hobbled by the rules so they don’t outshine the lesser performing 2011 models were present. And, in looking at the results, if the outcome of the venerable Central Florida affair suggested anything, it was that perhaps, at least at this stage, it might have been better if newer cars had been left home.

And, for those who might need further convincing that the new generation prototypes are ready. there is the fact that the fourth home 2010 bred Audi turbo diesel R15+ had spent more than a little time in the paddock. It was being repaired from its tangle with the second Factory 908 (which eventually struggled across the line in eighth) and lapped as quickly as 2011-spec 908 in front of it, once it returned to the track.


Now, if all of this doesn’t send the ACO boys reaching for the headache powder, perhaps the second place performance of the gasoline powered Highcroft Racing ARX-01e will.

Delivered to Highcroft less than a week before the start, with its paint figuratively still soft to the touch, it ran like a freight train, fighting for the lead for much of the way. Maybe, the ACO will solve the Highcroft Acura issue by simply not inviting it to come over this June; although, given the current Japanese disaster, that might seem like hitting someone when they’re flat on their back. (One never needs bad press, you know.)

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: motorsport in general, and the people in charge of Le Mans in particular, never seem to understand when they have a good thing going. In the last several years the current formula has worked out well, if not perfectly (keep in mind that the gasoline contingent could have used a little more help towards getting an even playing field with the diesels). More importantly, the ACO might likewise want to recognize that manufacturer participation is at best problematical, less centered around winning, than the strength of car sales and the amount of black ink those sales generate.

Differing, and constantly changing agendas over the years, have done little to make sportscar racing’s future a secure one. Stability, on the other hand, has. In a time of economic problems, forcing the sports car racing community to continually spend money appears to this writer to be somewhat stupid. In my view, the ACO ought to keep its fingers off the keys of its word processors and let stability, and the close racing it tends to create, reign and leave the advanced technology avenue to Formula One which now requires the presence of  lawyers and engineers to explain the rules to its fan base.

Bill Oursler, March 2011