Tag Archives: Audi

image_pdfimage_print

View from the Perimeter

Lee Self is one of the Elders of the Turn Ten tribe, that mythical assembly that convenes each March in Highlands County to worship at the Great 12 Hours. He is also one of the truly good guys and I can personally attest to him being a mean provider of concierge services. Lee dropped me a note earlier in the week describing his latest adventure and I can think of no finer way of kick-starting DDC back into life this winter than a tale from our favourite piece of Florida real estate.

unnamed (16)
The Amazing Randy and I went to Sebring Saturday to the Sebring Vintage and Used Racer Festival.

unnamed (15)

I went back over to the track early Monday morning, to see what I could see. Drove straight to the Airport and had a quick breakfast at the Runway Cafe. It was decorated with World War II Hendricks Field vintage photos………

unnamed (11)

Did I mention it was Dec. 7th, Pearl Harbor Day here in the US? So I was right in the Period, very cool and most appropriate.

unnamed (13)

Went out to my car, got the little camera and shot some of the inside decor.

Walked back out to my car, really didn’t see anything, got back in the car and drove over to the Hotel that Don Built, you know, Chateau Elan.

unnamed (9)

I parked, sat for a bit. walked on, then back out to the car to poke around at my camera gear, then down the side towards the track, easy to get to and nobody watching over the area.

unnamed (14)

Then back to the car, drove around over to the Office/Gate. I asked if I could go in and look around. Got a stiff “NO!”

Why not?

“TESTING, GO AWAY!”

unnamed (4)

So I went back out to the main road, turned left towards the power building and down the outside where they park pre-race staging campers. Well, they’re building an Ice Cream Bar factory in that field, lots of trucks, workers and traffic, so off into the mess I went, ended up at the west most edge of the circuit/airport property at the end of the runway.

unnamed (1)

I could see the last turn before the long original straight down to T17, but just a bit of it, and at my max distance with a 200mm lens. Got some shots of the GTLM Porsche 911 turning laps, which he did on and off most of the day.

So anyway, I look to my right and see a Mexican fellow with a jeep looking down the runway, through the fence. He sees me taking shots, no problem. He said the airport called and said there was a cow and calf in the property, he was looking for it.

unnamed (2)

So enough from there. I drive back to the track entrance area, and just drive right past the gate, then the hairpin then and then zoom into the industrial park. Drove around in there a bit, to see where I could go, and what I might be able to see of the track… not much luck, but I did notice a perfect parking spot in the General Parking lot right as you enter the park (right where the chicane used to be) pulled up in there, parked and just watched for a while. noticed I could see the cars sweeping past from leaving the hairpin through Fangio Chicane and in places on the outside I’m high enough to see track clearly.

unnamed (7)

 

Maybe 45 minutes, maybe an hour goes by. I drive back over and park at the Airport / Runway Cafe parking lot, right where the cars exit Tower Turn. I have a clear view of the corner. I walk out by the road, and wait, the 911 keeps going by. Then I notice If I look straight ahead, due north I can see the Audi rig, set up next to the former Peugeot building. I can see the mechanics and engineers working around the car.

unnamed (6)

Suddenly it comes out and has passed in front of me and is gone before I’m ready. It does a full circuit lap, then right back into their pit box setup. and they push it right back into their “garage”.

unnamed (5)
So I wait……and I wait…and I wait….. then I hear radios behind me, I don’t turn around. It’s the authorities. (Sebring Airport Authority)

‘What are you doing?’

‘Watching,’ I said.

‘Who you work for?’

‘Nobody.’ I said I was watching the Audi guys, that I made paintings of racing cars, and that I had the idea to do a Skunkworks-type image, and was watching to see what I could see.

unnamed (10)

I had the camera in hand, my kit on my belt, I whipped out my business card, introduced myself. They were cool, I had a Turn 10 hat on, he asked if I was with their crew?

‘Yep, I make the hats and stickers’ I said.

So it turns out his name is Ricardo, and he is best buds with Sammy who is Lola’s husband and the names keep coming………… but the best part is I know all of the folks he’s talking about.

unnamed (8)

He says, ‘Ok, shoot away, just don’t go across the perimeter road.’

‘No problem, the sensor will do the work.’ I said I was gonna stick around, walk the perimeter road up to the hairpin and back. He said no problem. So that’s what I did for the next two hours. Got Audis, Got Porsches. Even saw the security guy giving me the eye on one of his passes and got a nice wave in return.

unnamed

Eventually I head back to the car, so I drive back to Chateau Elan and order some lunch. Watch for the Audi through the window. then took my Iced Tea and sat on the back porch, by the pool for at least half an hour. The didn’t come back out by 4:00pm, and I was done, If you saw the Audi test video on FaceBook it was shot from right there on Hotel grounds.

unnamed (3)
It was nice shooting, never on Raceway property, working all the angles, just for fun, but serious fun, y’know.

 

Lee Self, December 2015 – images copyright and courtesy of the author

A Very Classic Car Show

To Birmingham’s NEC with The Special Correspondent for the 2012 Footman James Classic Car Show. The Show has expanded this year to fill even more halls and the extra space is very welcome.

Of course it being the NEC there are always a few issues………….the lighting in the exhibition halls remains sub-standard and arguably in breach of Health & Safety legislation, and the level of grumpiness shown by those unfortunate to travel to Birmingham by car was at an all time high. Tales of 45 minutes to get parked at the facility were common, not excusable at such a venue. On the other side of the ledger, those of us arriving by train were greeted by an enthusiastic bunch of staff, who cheerfully steered us all the way to the other side of the site. One could not fault that welcome, so credit where credit is due, more to the point the staff were still there and still cheerful we came to leave.

Once inside the Show there was a bewildering array of automobile heritage, the quality of the content certainly matches any other event of its kind, anywhere. There were so many jewels to see, such as the Aston Martin Atom, a prototype built in 1939. This was the only example of the marque that David Brown drove before acquiring the company in 1947, all of the glories that followed can be traced back to this advanced car and the impression it made on DB.

While in the fullness of time out Special Correspondent will produce one of his Rare and Interesting pieces I propose to have a quick look at what was on offer that caught my eye. A car that represented a significant step in the German Auto industry was to be found on the Audi stand. The work of Paul Jaray back in the ’20s inspired Ferdinand Porsche when designing the Wanderer Type 8.

Porsche would develop the aerodynamically efficient shape when producing one of his masterpieces, the Volkswagen. Jaray’s Ugly Duckling turned into a swan.

The Coventry Transport Museum’s collection provided another pioneering vehicle, the Ferguson R4 Prototype. Harry Ferguson designed a four wheel drive system back in the early ’50s, it featured independent suspension and Dunlop disk brakes and Maxaret anti locking device, all very advanced for the time.

The backbone of the Classic Car Show is the support provided by the car clubs. Stand after stand featured great cars backed up by real enthusiasm and deep knowledge of those manning the exhibition. Questions, no matter how basic, were generally answered with patience and good humour. So while virtually all the stands had something to interest there were some that I preferred to others. A tad Orwellian I suppose, all exhibits are equal but some are more equal than others…….Bugatti for instance had several fine cars, all promoting the scene at Prescott…………….from the early days to the present.

The Maserati stand also had a nice bunch of cars, I have always been a fan of the Trident, even more so since visiting the factory a few years back.

Strange, but Ferrari does not appeal to me in the same way, though who could resist this Dino?

This gorgeous Continental was the pride of the Bentley/Rolls Royce stand.

One strange trend that was more common than might have been expected was adorn a “barn find” with some straw…………..what this achieved was anyone’s guess.

And of course the trend was taken to the next level with a string of onions draped on a Citroën Traction Avant……………..no stereotypes here then, no none at all……………..what next we hesitate to enquire?

There were a few competition cars at the Show, mainly sportscars such as the Jaguar XJ220 that won its class at Le Mans in 1993 but was subsequently disqualified, a casualty in the long running conflict between TWR boss, Tom Walkinshaw, and Alain Bertaut of the ACO.

No such problems afflicted the Aston Martin DBR9 in 2007, with a convincing GT1 class win.

Less successful was this TVR, first retirement in the 1962 race.

Shows such as this always throw up a few oddities, who could resist a chance to sit in a truck used by the Great Train Robbers?

Try explaining Del Boy to an American, eh Rodders?

And this optional extra for all aspiring Bond villains would prove very tempting on the M25 morning commute.

Candidate for the worst colour scheme on display………this Lea Francis Lynx, representing the end of the line for the marque.

The 2012 Footman James Classic Car Show was another resounding success and if you have even a sniff of petrol in your veins you should seriously consider making the trip in 2013, I will be there certainly.

Here is a gallery of images, please excuse the weird colour in some shots, them pesky lights again.

John Brooks, November 2012

 

 

 

Four Ringed Circus

They Call Me Mellow Yellow, Quite Rightly

I sometimes moonlight at other websites, well a change is as good as a rest. Hell, sometimes there’s even money involved and a girl’s gotta eat.

So I was really pleased to take the M4 down to Castle Combe a month or so ago. The target was the 2011 Audi Driver International.

My scribbles can be see HERE

John Brooks, December 2011

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

 

Chinese Burn – Part Two

Fear and Loathing

The first hour or two of the 2010 edition of Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans were a low point in Audi’s ultra successful Le Mans campaign of the past decade. They had largely dominated the period and now were been soundly beaten on sheer pace, by a quartet of Peugeot 908 HDi FAP coupés, the expensively revised R15+ just could not hack it.  It was a general assumption that the factory cars were bullet proof in terms of reliability, so Audi would have to keep plugging away and hope for better days.

Hanging In There

However the pace of the two factory diesel teams was extreme, pushing the cars to the limit………….and beyond. We were into uncharted territory, it was like a motorsport rerun of Ali-Fraser’s “Thrilla in Manila”, something was going to have to give.

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

Suddenly the screens were full of Pedro Lamy’s Peugeot limping around the track, front wheel askew, Bruno Vandestick, the irrepressible Le Mans commentator, whipping the crowd to attention. In fact the suspension had parted company with the monocoque, possibly this was the price to be paid for pole position, as this often occurs if cars are bouncing off the kerbs, whatever, the car was listed as a retirement. A small sliver of doubt crept into the French operation, a crack in their armour had appeared, what would be next?

Sand In The Machine

In fact it was Audi that was next to flinch. Tom Kristensen in #7 tripped up over Andy Priaulx in the BMW Art Car. The M3 was crawling back to the pits, afflicted with one of the many punctures suffered up and down the field. By the time the Audi had been pulled from the gravel at Porsche Curves and the rear repaired, three laps had been lost and so had any reasonable chance of a win. Priaulx put his hands up, admitting that he had misjudged TK’s speed. He showed considerably more class than Audi boss, Dr Ulrich, who stormed down the pit lane to shout at BMW’s Charly Lamm. I can think of a few team principals down the years who would have not have endured a similar exhibition so calmly, imagine trying that crap with Tom Walkinshaw. It was a confirmation, if any were needed, of the enormous pressure that the Audi head honcho was under.

Fire In The Hole

Darkness came and with it the Peugeot challenge gradually wilted, alternator failure and damage from a collision delaying two cars. Then came dawn and disaster at 7.02am as the engine of the #2 Peugeot exploded in flames, their race run. Audi was in front for the first time. This was amazing, Audi looked as if they just might pull off a major upset. The order came down from on high at Peugeot, go flat out and see if the Audis might be caught or break too.

Maximum Attack

The expression les merdes volent en escadrille best summed up the next few hours for the French as both of their challengers suffered engine failure while chasing the Audis. Olivier Quesnel maintained a terse “No Comment” when questioned about the root of the problem. In the paddock a whisper of piston broke took hold. It could explain as to how the cars were faster despite a 5% reduction in restrictor size over 2009. Whatever, Peugeot’s dream was now a nightmare.

Made it, Ma! Top of the world!

In the final analysis Peugeot shot temselves in both feet, failing to take a victory that seemed at one stage to be theirs alone. Credit must be given to Audi for never giving up and building a car that ran without fault, true Le Mans virtues. #9 spent only 36 minutes in the pits during the race. Another goal that it scored and one that may never be surpassed, was the distance record. #9 completed 397 laps or 3,362 miles, an average speed of just over 140 miles per hour. The previous record had stood since 1971…………evidence of just how hard the fight had been.

Copse Corner

How does a team pick themselves from such a public and crushing disappointment? Well it is the mark of true Champions to be able to do so and that is how you would describe Peugeot. At Le Mans there had been an announcement by the powers that be, there would be a new competition, the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, catchy name, that would, it was hoped, evolve into a proper World Championship. Silverstone in September would see the inaugural event.

That Long Black Cloud Is Coming Down

Audi fielded two R15+ prototypes against two 908s, one factory and one ORECA run. Pole went to Audi but there was a suspicion around the pressroom that the French still had the better car.

Second Best

So it proved with the 2009 spec ORECA-run 908 backing up the factory entry for a Peugeot 1-2. Audi defeated once again away from La Sarthe and Peugeot back on track.

Georgia On My Mind

A few weeks later and we were across the Atlantic for the Petit Le Mans. The two factories seemed evenly matched around the sinuous Road Atlantic track, the outright speed of the 908 being matched by the commitment the Audi squads in the persistent traffic.

Keep That Train A-Rollin’

As the shadows lengthened there was a three-way fight at the top of the order, it was going to be a scrap all the way to the finish.

Rage Against The Machine

Except it wasn’t. Capello’s Audi slowed and pitted unexpectedly, leaving the 908s to romp away. As the PR Release put it

Dindo Capello, who was leading at that time, had to come in for an unscheduled pit stop because an insert in his helmet prescribed by the regulations had come loose and the fireproof balaclava started to cover his eyes. Without being able to see anything, Capello had to let the Peugeot behind him pass and head for the pits in a blind flight.

In his own words. “But then the nightmare started. At first I didn’t have a clue as to what was happening. I had the feeling that the helmet was suddenly three sizes larger than before. We later found out that the E-Ject insert in the helmet had come loose. I was even lucky not to have had an accident since I was completely blind in one turn because the helmet slipped across my eyes. Even after so many years you can still experience something new.”

Another race to Peugeot, though the sympathy was with Audi.

Red Flagged

The final encounter of the diesels for 2010 was to be in Zhuhai, the ILMC title was at stake as was Audi’s pride.

Double Take

Once again there was little to choose between the factories and in the end it all came down to the last few laps and some questionable driving by a lapped Bourdais who impeded Kristensen’s pursuit of Sarrazin. Predictably there no action from the officials and a bit of light handbagging after the race but another win had slipped away.

Sign Language

For Audi 2010 had been a difficult year to say the least. Victory at Le Mans was the one shining light, they had been hammered in the DTM and the R8 GT3 project had failed to get the desired results. Something must be done.

Peugeot had recovered strongly from the nightmare in June and had serious plans to gain revenge for that humiliation. 2011 was going to another cracker.

John Brooks, November 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Chinese Burn – Part One

 

 

 

 

The final ever round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup will be held in a week or so at Zhuhai, next year the competition will be called the FIA World Endurance Championship. At the sharp end the titles are settled, so one might assume that things should be relaxed between Peugeot, the Champs, and Audi, the Le Mans’ winners. I somehow doubt this, proud teams such as represent the French and German manufacturers hate to lose, it is not in their DNA, as the phrase goes.

Golden Girls?

A question then that the protagonists, if not the average fan, will know the answer to. Leaving aside the 24 Hours of Le Mans for 2010 and 2011, when was the last time that Audi beat Peugeot in a straight fight? Unbelieveably you have to go back to Sebring 2009 when TK, Dindo and Nishy took the R15 to début win. That will be almost three years ago unless Audi takes the top spot next week. If this were a boxing match Audi would have counted out on a TKO.

Three years, 12 races and over 100 hours of competition; standing on the rickety photo stand at Sebring back then grabbing these podium shots, what odds would you have got on that forecast?  How has this dry run happened and how do Audi break this pattern and resume their rightful place on equal terms with their French opponents?

Diesel Drama

After the disappointments and failures of 2007 and 2008 Peugeot decided enough was enough. A new season and a new boss, Olivier Quisnel, sharpened their approach. Marketing distractions, like Jacques Villeneuve were dropped and Peugeot were honest enough to admit that they had to learn from the Top Dogs, Audi.

Candid Camera

I remember Allan McNush telling me that at Sebring, a camera crew from Peugeot had recorded every Audi pit stop, “I always waved at them”.

Carambolage

Whatever Peugeot learned from their home movies seemed to work, excepting this monumental folly. Naturally it was all the fault of the photographers and not the mob standing around oblivious………………

Sunrise

Peugeot were brilliant that weekend in Le Mans and it was Audi who always seemed to be on the backfoot. The R15 was something of a disappointment and the 908 always seemed to have pace to spare. Peugeot resembled their national rugby team when on song, almost unbeatable in that mood.

Scotch Mist

As if to reinforce the point that balance of power had shifted to the West, Peugeot even went after Audi across the Atlantic chasing them to Road Atlanta and Petit Le Mans.

A typically forthright start by McNish, who else, and a storming first stint nearly put the lead Audi a lap up. A safety car period put a stop to that and it was game on once again between the diesel rivals.

Blow, Ye Winds, and Crack Your Cheeks

This time there was a third contestant in the race, the appalling weather. No matter what Audi did it was matched by Peugeot whose confidence was sky high after the victory at La Sarthe.

Slip Sliding Away

It was Audi who cracked, a couple of minor spins as a result of aquaplaning, put the French at the front.

At The Car Wash

Then the race was first stopped, then abandoned. I was happy enough, carrying round a big lens or two supported by a metal pole in the middle of an electrical storm was probably not the cleverest thing to do.

So another win for Peugeot. Audi skipped the next confrontation at Sebring, they needed more time to develop the R15+………most of us were not convinced. There is nothing quite like racing around Sebring for 12 Hours to pinpoint any weaknesses in the team or cars.

Allez Les Blues

The next contest at Spa seemed to confirm the impression that Peugeot would beat Audi at Le Mans. Peugeot won at a canter leaving the Audis struggling. It was a bit of a confused race with the farce of the timing screen failing after a power cut. The race was halted while the problem was sorted…..’tis whispered that someone had forgotten to fill the emergency generators….never in Belgium said I.

View From The Top

The run up to the 24 saw Peugeot grabbing the first two rows on the grid, it looked as if it could be a really long race for Ingolstadt’s finest

Blue Train

The first hour or so of the contest confirmed that Audi had no answer for the French pace.

Part Two Tomorrow

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

MERGERS and ACQUISITIONS

Motorsports has its own language, just as does the other endeavors of mankind. So why, then, am I having to learn and deal with the language of the financial world when it comes to racing? The obvious answer, of course, is money: the ingredient without which neither motorsport, nor the rest of the planet would function, or even exist.

Anyone want to sit on my boat?

 

 

Clearly, the basis for Formula One is more greed than sport; a fact that might sadden and frustrate F1’s fans and true believers, but reality nevertheless. The sandbox that is sports car racing is perhaps less obviously based on greed. However, it too is financially driven these days as manufacturers increasingly are turning to it as a viable marketing tool not only to promote what is built now, but the technologies of the future which will reshape not only the sport, but the automotive industry itself.

Heavy Metal

 

America, where Detroit continues to try and rebound from the monetary crisis of 2008, there is less emphasis on performance than there has been in the past, the U.S. public more concerned with gas mileage than horsepower. Nevertheless, the real issue facing the Michigan-based manufacturers is their size and influence within the industry itself. With Chrysler now owned by Fiat, and General Motors having been forced to cut its brands down to just three to survive; only Ford remains a true global automotive powerhouse. However, there’s no need to worry for there is another global giant building up a head of steam in Europe, name Volkswagen.

Flying Start

 

Conceived by Hitler to provide Beetles to the German masses, the Volkswagen Group now embraces such prestigious brands as Bugatti, Porsche, Audi and Bentley, not to mention Lamborghini in its portfolio. And, it is this wealth which, friends and neighbors, leads us to the motorsports dilemma now facing VAG.

Racing Green?

 

 

Although the Italian nameplate has not won Le Mans’ Holy Grail, the other four marques have. Moreover, three of the remaining four could be in the running to do so again. However, those notorious bean counters are unlikely to allow Audi, Bentley and Porsche to compete for the same prize at the Sarthe, much less run against each other for a whole season. So, who goes where? That is the unanswered question.

When We Were Kings

 

 

Normally, it would be an interesting, maybe even a somewhat humorous discussion. However, in this case the future of the sports car competition universe could well hang in the balance. The reason for that is simple: the retrenchment by many of the participants on which the enclosed bodywork set of depended, particularly among the Japanese car makers, has drastically reduced the number of potential players down to just a few.

Vive La France

 

 

For the moment, only Peugeot appears committed to the sports car scene, with BMW perhaps moving to join the French manufacturer.  Two other likely candidates, Mercedes and Renault, are far more focused on F1, and will probably remain so. That leaves VAG’s Audi, Bentley and Porsche camps as the only resources for the two seat scene to draw on. But, what about Ferrari, you say? The Italians, in this case, likewise appear to want make F1 the mainstay of their motorsports efforts, providing only privateers oriented GTs machinery for the sports car arena.

Jump for Joy

 

 

So, who gets the brass ring at VAG? Is it Porsche, which needs, and has announced it will run a prototype at Le Mans in 2014; or will it be Audi, which, has, with the exception of 2003 and 2009, the latter occasion marking Peugeot’s only 24-Hour triumph in this century so far, has dominated at the Sarthe since the year 2000?  And, what about Bentley, which took the top prize at Le Mans in 2003, and which now, perhaps is ready to jump back into the fray? While it would be a tremendous boost to see all three fight it out, as we would put it in America, “it just ain’t going to happen folks.”

Wild Things Run Fast

 

 

Closing matters let me again introduce another possible scenario. Assuming that Porsche will take the lead at Le Mans, and assuming that Audi will continue in the German Touring Car Championship and with the R8 programs, could the be-ringed brand then follow Mercedes into F-1?  Perhaps? However, perhaps not. What if Bentley became VAG’s Formula One standard bearer and Audi returned to a rejuvenated rally arena where it could demonstrate the new automotive technologies now being developed just as it did with four-wheel-drive in the form of the Quattro during the first part of the 1980’s?

Some would suggest that all this is outlandish thinking on an old fart’s part. But, then again old farts have been known to occasionally get it right. In this case it is a case of “pays your money: takes your choice.”

Bill Oursler, August 2011

 

 

The Long Exposure

Le Mans, two short words that for those of us who make the annual pilgrimage to France defines a very long week.

Heavy Metal

All of those who attend the annual festival of speed and endurance are participants, players on the great stage. It is, perhaps, one of the defining qualities that makes this event so special, the sense of inclusiveness; we are all part of the story. Robert Altman should have directed Steve McQueen’s “Le Mans”, what a movie that would have been, at least it would have a plot.

Uniform Image

This element of participation runs counter to my philosophy regarding reporting events. One website that I was associated with until recently, adopted a policy of the bloggers relaying breathlessly their own activities at the meetings that they cover. The results are, by and large, both tedious and banal. Airline food or whether you get an upgrade is not something to comment on, nor how many times your pass gets checked, that is just reminding the reader that you have a pass. Whines about how long and hard the days are, should also be verboten, it goes with the territory. To be a part of the story requires the writer to have something interesting to say. Also he, she or it, has to be able actually tap on a keyboard in a manner that provokes others to spend time reading the purple prose. There is a sound reason why Hunter S. Thompson was unique.

Nevertheless, like all rules this one was meant to be broken from time to time. Le Mans is a kaleidoscope of random events underpinned by the final  24 Hours of competition, so during my time in France I jotted down notes and hypocrite that I am, I will share them with you, I hope they pass the entertainment hurdle.

The First of Many

2011 saw me clock up thirty-one editions of the Le Mans 24 Hours, three as a Page and Moy spectator back in the 70’s and the balance as a disreputable part of the Media Corps, a disjointed rabble, that ranges from the few ultra professional to the majority who are for the most part completely clueless. Before heading to France I resolved to try some different approaches to the task of covering the event, in the end some of this plan worked, some did not.

Simply Red

The role I was to play was different this year as amongst my assignments I was assisting the Greaves Motorsport team with their press activities. Crossing over to the “dark side” I even got to wear the team shirt and stand in the team shot in the Place des Jacobins, though the abuse and catcalls from my “friends” on the photographers’ stand made me consider the wisdom of this course.

Being part of the team, in however small a way, did change my approach to the race, none of this impartial crap, I was partisan as hell when it came to MY team. It was also a good chance to use the negative karma on those who have pissed me off during the past few months, you know who you are, and you know where you finished, if you finished. Selah!

A Fine Line

Looking back on the 2011 race, the sharpest images will be those of the two Audis being destroyed in two huge crashes. Allan McNish tried to pull off an overtaking manoeuvre, similar to hundreds that he has managed in the past, this time it did not come off. Anthony Beltoise in the Ferrari did not see his R18 coming and the contact sent the Audi spearing off the track, to be launched at the Armco beyond the gravel trap. Allan survived his flight as one might have expected in a well built car such as the Audi, but the photographers in the firing line were the ones who really rode their luck. One of them, DSC’s Peter May aka Pedro, remained calm enough after the incident to snap away at the wreck, intestinal fortitude I believe it used to be called. Best comment on the aftermath came from Tom Kristensen, courtesy of Andrew Cotton. He opined that as a result of the impact that Allan’s balls would be bigger than when he started the stint and that they would be blue like the Scottish flag…………..there is no good comment possible on that frankly disturbing image.

The Mike Rockenfeller crash later in the race looked much worse at first view, the unthinkable was on the team’s minds and the expressions on their faces revealed by the TV cameras showed that clearly. Rocky survived thanks once again to the engineering expertise of Audi and Dallara, God bless carbon fibre. Robert Kauffman, whose Ferrari drifted off line to initiate the disaster, got a public pummelling from the ACO who insisted that he sit out the rest of the race for causing the carambolage. In some form of mitigation, the GT drivers were complaining all week about the two big factory prototype teams. Their concerns centred on the rather desperate overtaking moves that the Werks cars were pulling, driven by the closeness of the opposition and the relatively torque-less 2011 engines. That and the blindness caused by the LED lighting, giving the GT drivers no idea of the proximity or closing speed of the diesels, that were about to pass. It is a problem that needs addressing, because if the likes of Marc Lieb and Jörg Bergmeister are making public statements, someone needs to listen and act.

The Last Lap

One decisive act during the week came from Sir Stirling Moss who announced his retirement from racing, at the tender age of 81. He declared that the prospect of racing the Porsche RS61 at Le Mans frightened him. Ever a man of principle and courage he said afterwards, “This afternoon I scared myself and I have always said that if I felt I was not up to it or that I was getting in the way of fellow competitors, then I would retire. I love racing, but it’s time to stop.” Knowing when take a bow and quit is perhaps not the most easy thing that faces us in life, most would fail to match Sir Stirling’s style. Motor Sport ran a feature recently on one his many day of days, defeating the Ferraris at Monaco 50 years ago. Now the last of the great drivers of the 50’s has hung up his crash hat, let’s hope that he enjoys his retirement.

Mazda Magic

Anniversaries pile up during the Le Mans event but can it really be twenty years since the garish Mazda 787B defeated the might of Peugeot, Mercedes Benz and Jaguar to win the race? Yes it is. So we had a chance to witness the victor again, to hear the unique siren call of the Quad Rotary engine. There were a couple of demo runs around the track with Johnny Herbert showing Patrick Dempsey how it should be done. During the Friday Drivers’ Parade, someone had the bright idea of letting Yojiro Terada and David Kennedy, both Mazda heroes of old, do a lap each of the city’s streets. At the conclusion of David’s run he gunned the engine as he rolled back into the Jacobins. A silly grin materialised on the faces of all who witnessed this sound, noise may be regarded as inefficient by some engineers but it very much part of motorsport’s appeal. The one piece of booty that I came back from France with was a copy of Pierre Dieudonne’s masterly tome, Never Stop Challenging, a history of Mazda in racing during the 70s, 80s and 90s. If you are at all interested in this period I urge you to get the book.

Friend of The Stars

Trying to do things differently this year, I shot the parade from the perspective of my team rather than waiting for all the drivers to go past one spot. It certainly was an eye opener; the crowds are, for the most part, completely bonkers. However it is an important part of the pageantry of the race, once again giving the paying public both proximity and participation to the stars, long may it continue. One trend that I saw this year was the use of water pistols by idiots in the crowd to douse the drivers in the parade as they went past sitting in the open cars. If that habit is not stamped out then I can see the drivers ditching the event, especially those who pay for the privilege of competing.  As ever a few morons will spoil the event for the rest, the forums are full of similar tales of selfish and ignorant behaviour in and around the campsites.

Y’All come back, now.

For the drivers who were making their Le Mans debuts, the whole Drivers’ Parade scene is a very strange happening, organised yet chaotic. Michael Waltrip had a bemused look on his face on the Friday afternoon. The double Daytona 500 winner must have imagined that he had seen everything in a 25 year NASCAR career but he was unprepared for the intensity of the Le Mans experience. His shock must have been total as he interviewed me for his personal blog, fortunately for the future of You Tube, the footage ended up on the cutting room floor, stardom missed again.

I read the News Today, Oh Boy…………….

Sunday morning I received a text from my old mate, John Dubrey, who was visiting the race after a gap of several years. Seen today’s Ouest France? You are in it!! A young French journalist had spoken to me at the Scrutineering on Monday and six days later I was in print, with a photo showing my attractive side, resplendent in Greaves Motorsport 2011 Le Mans team shirt and Turn Ten cap. Move over George Clooney………….yeah right. I had the piece checked out by a proper French speaker and I was as anodyne as one of my press releases, maybe a future in politics awaits.

You Make Me Feel Like Drinking

Memory Lane was a familiar destination during the week. Long time top F1 snapper, John Townsend, was on hand to shoot for BMW with the mighty David Lister. On seeing me in the press room he laughed and said he something for me on his Mac, dating back to 1983 and Monaco. It was as ominous as it sounded. Sadly, Leo’s career has been on the slide since this unfortunate encounter, you can judge the horror of the situation yourselves from the shot. As I recall Frank Bough was also outside the Tip Top that night, he even got a round in, thanking the TV Licence payers for their largess and we all know how that story went.

Arnage BMW

Even being out on track I was not safe from my criminal past. Back in 1995 I had misjudged a left turn outside the circuit and was hit by a speeding Donkervoort, totally my fault I have to admit. The two Dutch guys in the car were not happy with me but showed much more grace under pressure than I would have managed. During the race this year I was shooting at Arnage and there were two marshals also snapping away, they were between shifts. One came up and said, “You don’t remember us do you, Mr Brooks?” Their identities were revealed and a fresh sense of shame washed over me, I was once again mortified by my careless driving, that fortunately had no lasting consequences. They did cheer me up as they said how much they liked the retrospective pieces I write these days for a Dutch magazine, RTL GP. My head swelled momentarily but it soon passed as I struggled to get my Mojo working track side. Mojo was short supply in my case this year, the camera does not lie.

Motel Blues

Mojo is usually associated with music and the 2011 Le Mans 24 Hours had, like every other year, its own soundtrack that followed me round as I commuted to the track and the places to shoot. Cool as you like is the Richard Earnshaw tune “Rise” but perhaps the pride of place should be given to the late, great Gil Scott-Heron. His catchy “Racetrack in France” seemed truly appropriate even it was in reality about Le Castellet. This stuff helps while trundling around in the traffic.

Come the Hour, Come the Man

Back in the race there was an amazing struggle between the Peugeot trio and the surviving Audi. I, and a few others, had to eat our words regarding André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer. There had been doubts expressed regarding their position as factory drivers. Well they well and truly put those questions away with blindingly fast and error free stints. It is also worth remembering that they had to witness the utter destruction of their two sister cars in massive impacts, yet were able to strap themselves in and do battle with the French. If there were a tipping point when it became clear that they were going to win, it was after the safety car period following the Magnussen/Felbermayr accident. Tréluyer, in a mega quintuple stint held off the trio of 908s that were hunting as a pack, it was a race winning performance and I raise a glass to the Audi trio. Salut!

Mulsanne Straight

The changeable conditions and unseasonably low temperatures played havoc with both Audi and Peugeot at times, such outside factors making a big difference to how the cars performed. Both teams ran flat out and there was nothing to choose between the pit crews. When the Chequered Flag was waved by Daniel Poissenot on Sunday afternoon, #2 had a winning margin of exactly 13.854 seconds over the leading Peugeot, this equates to 763 meters. The victorious Audi R18 TDI covered 4,838.295 kilometres, at an average speed was 201.266 km/h. This is close competition by any standards.

Hens’ Teeth

For the third factory team in LM P1, 2011 cannot end soon enough. The Aston Martin AMR-One pair only managed six laps between them in the race, a disaster that all the excuses and post rationalising in the world cannot mitigate. Aston Martin Racing has built up a solid reputation over the last decade for extracting the maximum performance from their relatively small budgets, that reputation is now in tatters. The only comfort is that things cannot get any worse, the only way is up. The distraction of fire-fighting the LM P1 project has led to the V8 Vantage being left behind in the GTE wars, which are every bit as keenly contested as the prototypes.

Focussed

Greaves Motorsport had a trouble free race, winning the LM P2 class by a country mile and to be even a very small part of that success was great. The expressions on the faces of the crew, drivers and supporters, as Olivier Lombard crossed the line for the final time will stay with me for a long time. The whole team did a fantastic job and deserved the win, achieved on a combination of performance and reliability, no matter what some have said subsequently.

Another year done and dusted, Audi triumphant but at a high cost, the price was nearly too high. Peugeot, so close but no cigar, next year it could easily go the other way.

La Route est Dure, we would have it no other way. The Roads to Freedom are not easy.

 

John Brooks, June 2011

 

French Toast

 

Like the twin faces of comedy and tragedy, the 2011 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans displayed both the excitement and the potential for disaster that is inherent in motorsport. At a track where more than 80 spectators were killed when a Mercedes plunged into the crowd in 1955, causing the sport’s worst ever accident, Allan McNish’s first hour crash produced a rain of carbon fiber filled debris with the same killer potential as its infamous predecessor.

Fortunately, no one was hurt but that happenstance was more by luck than anything else. Moreover, one has to admit, that those in danger weren’t a mass of paying spectators, but rather a far smaller group of photographers and race workers. Nevertheless, the lethality of flying debris is a fact of life that all too often has been ignored by the industry, and continues to represent a problem today despite of the safety conscious climate in which racing currently operates.

Consider for a moment the consequences of the McNish crash happening in an area where there were large numbers of spectators. Would that same luck hold? In aviation there is the phrase “tombstone engineering,” meaning that the industry learns how to fix death causing problems only after deaths occur because of them. Motorsport in general and Le Mans in particular can be said of all too often approaching the issue in the same manner, rather than trying to get “ahead of the curve.”

The accident that destroyed McNish’s Audi R18, caused in large measure by the Scotsman’s excess of enthusiasm in trying to pass a slower GT Ferrari when it wasn’t necessary under the circumstances to do, was just one of two heart stopping incidences that could have led to the kind of tragic headlines that so often call the sport’s future into question. The second incident came during the evening hours when Mike Rockenfeller’s R19 was passing yet another GT Ferrari 458 going down the nearly 200 mile-an-hour run to the Indianapolis corner. With Rockenfeller along side, the inexperienced amateur at the wheel of the Ferrari moved over, forcing Rockenfeller into the grass, where it went out of control, crashing and exploding into the Armco barrier.

Such was the ferocity of the impact that many believed there was little chance for Rockenfeller’s survival. Happily, the same stoutness of the Audi’s monocoque that left McNish virtually uninjured, did the same for Rockenfeller who suffered only a severe concussion and a cut arm. Still, the question of why race officials let the amateur drive in the first place remains. Given that most acknowledge that Le Mans, with its high speeds and the great performance differentials between the prototypes and the production cars, is inherently one of the more dangerous events on the calendar, why would one increase that danger by permitting someone with limited, or even no experience in dealing with such circumstances to race in the 24 Hours?

It is not for me to answer that question, but rather the ACO. In the United States both the American Le Mans Series, and the Grand Am’s Rolex championship pay not only close attention to safety, including driver skills and experience, but make safety not a primary concern, but THE primary concern. This is not to say that the ACO isn’t safety conscious, because it is. However, sometimes, one has to wonder about their thoughts on the subject.

Consider the gravel traps the ACO has put into place in the name of safety that have for years been filled with sharp edged stones more than capable of causing tire failures when they are thrown on the racing surface as they are so many times during the event. High speed tire failures are not something anyone wants, and yet, despite so much evidence that the gravel used by the ACO causes them, the Le Mans organizers have done nothing to change the situation.

Consider also that the new breed of enclosed prototypes with their huge front tires severely restrict driver visibility, an issue which played a role in both Audi accidents, one has to wonder if the ACO will rethink whether or not it needs to redress that problem as well. The ACO has spent much time trying to reduce top speeds at the Sarthe circuit in the name of safety, and are to be commended for it. But, they’ve ignored some of those pesky details that also have a bearing on the matter in the process.

This year’s Le Mans was an exciting affair right down to the final laps with only 13 seconds separating the winning R18 from its Peugeot rival at the finish. No one wants to make it any more memorable for all the wrong reasons, something which will take both work and money. One hopes the ACO is up to the task.

 

– Bill Oursler, June 2011