Tag Archives: FIA WEC

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A Primer on Sports Car Racing – 2015 – Part One

Our old friend János Wimpffen has agreed to share his wisdom with us here on DDC………this is the first of (hopefully) many despatches from the front.

2015 Le Mans Test

This is the first of series of reports which in cyber-terminology may be labeled as a “blog”. Much like others blogs it will be cumulative effort, building up from the start. It will have the elements of a travelogue, with commentary on local customs as well as more traditional race reportage—albeit in a more summary form. The objective is not to provide a lap-by-lap or hour-by-hour accounting of an event. Other sites do that, ranging from merely adequate to exemplary. Rather, a key point is to convey the atmosphere of a race meeting, offering some grander perspective on proceedings. But such embellishment is not being submitted merely for dispassionate pleasure but rather to position each race within the rather broad tent that defines contemporary sports car racing.

2015 Le Mans 24 Hours

 

To this end, we begin with what might be termed as a primer on the state of this branch of the motor racing discipline, circa 2015. The tone is to aim for a comfortable middle ground. Often, race reportage presumes that one is already familiar with the cadence of each series, conversant with the names of the teams and drivers, and aware of all the subtleties of rules and technical changes. We will not presume that, nor will we presume that the reader will necessarily be riding on every last nuance of detail. Instead, what we do postulate that since you, Dear Reader, are here—you are already a great fan of sports car racing, only that you are content to be familiar with the general trends. In such manner, there should be nuggets of enjoyment here, regardless of your ongoing level of interest and monitoring of each race and series.

2015 FIA WEC Ricard Test

Sports car racing, for many of its decades of history, has been subject to that old admonishment, “may you live in interesting times.” It is arguable as where exactly the 2015 season sits along the spectrum of interesting to dull, but clearly the tendency is towards the fascinating end.

2015 FIA WEC Ricard Test

The WEC has truly become global in scope and following, meeting or exceeding most expectations. The other series had at various times made forays into having a broader geographical reach but with the advent of the WEC they are all comfortably ensconced within a continental or regional framework.

2015 ELMS Imola

The most senior of these series and the most stable is the European Le Mans Series. Its origins were in the early noughties and ELMS has LM P2 as its headline class. The LM P2 category has come a long way over the course of a decade. It began purely as support to LM P1 and was always intended for privateer entrants. It still has that approach but LM P2 has matriculated from a “last man (barely) standing” into a consistent pattern of close, reliable racing at a very high level of professionalism. LM P2 shares a trait that many such classes have exhibited in the past. There was a time when the category was populated by a very colorful array of chassis and engine combinations. Over time a few key constructors have risen to the fore, in particularly Oreca, which dominates numerically as does the Nissan engine. Ligier and the Onroak-built Morgan, along with the BMW derived Judd motors have added variety and genuine heft to the class. They have been joined this year by the Gibson marque, which is actually the reincarnation of Zytek, the car itself a descendant of Reynard, by YGK and DBA (not at all confusing).

2015 Le Mans 24 Hours

 

Three GT classes can be seen in the ELMS and as with all other series; Grand Touring is in rude health. For past decade or so there have been three developments that have cemented GT’s popularity and close racing. First and perhaps foremost has been the emergence of GT3. These cars follow fairly tight homologation standards, are designed to be user friendly—read, good for novice and gentleman drivers, and are subject to the often controversial Balance of Performance standards. BOP’s aim is to regulate that no model exerts undue advantage for too long. Purists may bemoan that BOP goes against the grain of motor sport as being a contest for improved technology, but few can argue with results showing some thrilling contests. Of course, those at the short end of a BOP adjustment will complain—but such wailing has been with us since well before board tracks. BOP is practiced across a variety of classes and series and is the second pillar of GT’s ascendancy. It is manifested on cars largely through playing with aerodynamic features, widening and narrowing inlet air restrictors, fuel capacity, and occasionally through using ballast weights.

2015 ELMS Silverstone

The third major development over the past decade has been the introduction of driver classification systems. Depending upon experience, age, and history of success, drivers are rated as Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Bronze. Each series and each class then employs rules as to the mix required on the roster and for minimum/maximum times behind the wheel. Perhaps paradoxically after having noted the importance of GT3, it plays no role in the FIA WEC and is only one of the two GT classes in ELMS.

2015 ELMS Imola

There is an altogether new “budget” class in the ELMS for 2015, LMP3. Chassis specifications are quite restricted with Ginetta being the first to build to the regulations. All cars use identical 5.0-liter Nissan engines. ELMS race are uniformly four hours in duration.

2015 FIA WEC Spa

Most importantly, after 20 years in the wilderness, endurance racing has a World Championship, a platform for manufacturers to applying their technology and marketing. Now in its fourth season, the FIA World Endurance Championship is thriving. It has become the nexus of the most technologically advanced racing vehicles found anywhere. With three manufacturers (and a fourth if Nissan doesn’t fall flat) there is competition at the highest level in the hybrid based LM P1 class. The undercard of the LM P2 and GTE classes is as good as ever. Once again the Le Mans 24 Hours is part of the Championship—although the French classic has always more than adequately held up most of the sports car racing sky even when running to an independent formula. The FIA WEC hews to a very consistent schedule of locations and race lengths, with six hours being the norm apart from Le Mans. Classic European venues are matched further abroad by important new locales like the Circuit of the Americas in Texas, Shanghai, and Bahrain as well as the return of the venerable Fuji.

2015 FIA WEC Ricard Test

While it is vital to introduce and position the FIA WEC at the pinnacle of sports car racing there were no races attended during these particular outings. One of the attributes that sets the current era apart from the last time that there was a bona fide world championship (1992 and before) was that back then it was pretty much the only game in town. Yes, IMSA GTP was quite significant during the 1980s, albeit only in North America, but there wasn’t the plethora of other major events as there is now. This is partly the legacy of the lack of a world series during the intervening period. It allowed such players as IMSA, Grand-Am, SRO, ELMS, and (on a more fractured basis) some Asian series to cycle through, have their own apogees and perigees, and leave a lasting influence on sports car racing in general.

János Wimpffen, July 2015

 

Taking a look at the Tourist Trophy

The Tourist Trophy is the oldest motor race still being contested, having first been run in 1905 on the Isle of Man. In recent years the Trophy has been awarded to the winners of the Silverstone 6 Hours race, a round of the World Endurance Championship of which this race was the first for 2015. There are four classes, LM P1, LM P2, GTE Pro and GTE Am and the teams look upon the Silverstone 6 Hours and the forthcoming Spa 6 Hours in Belgium as workouts for the all-important Le Mans 24 Hour race in June, just as in bygone years the Six Hour and Double Twelve races at Brooklands were viewed in the same way.
2015 DB General
The Porsche 919 Hybrids took command from the start. Here Mark Webber sets the pace down the Hangar Straight into the fast Stowe Corner – it was not to last!

2015 DB General

The GTE Am-winning Aston Martin Vantage V8 leads its team-mate and the LM P2 Alpine through Stowe.
2015 DB General
The LM P2 Oreca 05 Coupé was new and offered strong competition in this class in the early stages.
2015 DB General
The CLM P1 was an old friend in new clothing but with an AER motor.
2015 DB General
One of the joys of long –distance sports car racing is the “mixture” that often occurs in the corners, compelling the drivers of the faster cars to negotiate the “traffic” carefully – all part of the job of winning a race. Here is a tight group of GTs and prototypes at Becketts.
2015 DB General
Here the Toyota which finished 4th swallows up the GT Aston Martin which came 4th in the GTE Pro class on the entrance to Chapel Curve.
2015 DB General
Always a threat are the Porsche Team Manthey 911 RSRs. This one is coming out of the fast curves at Becketts on its way to a disappointing 7th in class.
2015 DB General
The LM P2 Ligiers, introduced only last year at Le Mans, have become very potent contenders – this one was the well merited class winner which finished 6th overall.
2015 DB General
Here is the winning Audi R18 e-tron Quattro fighting to protect its slender lead after a late “stop-go” penalty for exceeding the track limits coming out of Club – it just held off the Porsche no.18 of the hard-charging Jani!
2015 DB General
One loses count of the number of times the excellent pairing of Bruni and Vilander have already won GT honours for the AF Corse team. Here they are doing it again in the Ferrari F458 Italia; the desperate Jani pursues the Italian GTE Pro car into Club Corner.
2015 DB General
The victors of the Silverstone 6 Hours, Fässler, Tréluyer and Lotterer can add their names to the prestigious Tourist Trophy.

David Blumlein July 2015

Money Counts

It all comes down to the money. With it, almost anything is possible. Without it; well, one might as well just stay home –if, of course, there are a few pennies in the pot to keep the lights on and the hearth fires burning. And, nowhere is money more needed than in the techno-end of today’s high speed, highly integrated, technology driven world.

Right now the rules makers at the FIA and ACO are in the process of writing new regulations that are intended to make international sports car racing a showcase. For what you say? A showcase for promoting and developing the advanced technology necessary for the global automotive industry to be able to build products that meet the demands of a greener, leaner, more efficient energy driven planet.

It is a noble pursuit. It is also horribly expensive. Moreover, it is horribly expensive at a time when the world is in an economic crisis, something particularly true for a Euro Zone whose very existence has been threatened by its fundamentally crippling lack of money and worthless amount of debt.

In the end, it is why Peugeot announced earlier this month it was pocketing its marbles (the ones shaped like pumpkin seed prototypes) and staying home. This decision should, if it doesn’t already, cause the movers and shakers to re-think what the role of the sport should be when it comes to not only its long-term future, but its long-term survivability.

P.T. Barnum, the great circus showman once said that if you want to send a message, “use Western Union”.  Today the telegraph has been replaced by the Internet, but the truth of his words remains as relevant now as it did a century ago when he first uttered them. Peugeot’s withdrawal will hurt the ACO and the new FIA World Endurance Championship, not to mention the American Le Mans Series’ Sebring season opener, which is also the debut of the FIA WEC, at the gate and in the pocket.

Until Toyota arrives, the Audi boys will essentially be unchallenged, something which will obviously diminish interest and revenues. Indeed, even with Toyota, one has to wonder how many Frenchmen will reach into their wallets to purchase a ticket for Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du Mans now that their hometown favorite won’t be there. It is time, perhaps, to remember that racing is not a viable venue for testing new theories, or being politically correct. All the major manufacturers have their own facilities to do that far better than they can on a public race track. Whatever motorsport might have been in ages past, it is now is purely entertainment, just as every other professional sport is. If the dog refuses to eat the dog food, no matter how much the producer might want it to be so, it isn’t going to be a best seller. Let’s face it, the revival of the Franco-German contest for superiority, in the form of the war fought between Audi and Peugeot at La Sarthe, was riveting; and riveting sells tickets. Put another way, it is the dog food which can make, and keep racing healthy, and prosperous.

Ironically, the very presence of manufacturers such as Audi and Peugeot, has created problems for the sport by pushing its privateer base out into the cold. The cost of trying to beat the factories has become prohibitive, even for the deepest pockets. All too often those in charge of motorsport forget that car makers are fickle; they don’t participate out of largess, or love of racing, but rather to meet their own perceived goals. In short, they come and go with a distressing regularity, leaving those behind blowing in the wind.

There are no easy answers here. Just ask the folks running the NASCAR Grand Am Rolex sports car tour which opens for business this weekend with the Rolex-backed Daytona 24-Hour show. Grand Am has solved the pesky issue of manufacturer involvement by banning them from doing so, and limiting high cost technology in the process. The Rolex championship is the poster child for a privateer oriented pro-racing title chase. Unfortunately, so far it has failed to gain any respect, or attention, from the bulk of its desired fan base.

When I was growing up in New York City I could watch the New York Yankees play for something under $10. Today, that same ticket costs in excess of $50 because of the salaries paid to the players. When I worked for Volkswagen of America’s Audi Trans-Am and IMSA GTO racing programs at the end of the 1980’s, the costs were but a small fraction of what they would be now.

There is no way to go back to the good old days. But, we can be careful and prudent, and even realistic about how we approach the future. If we do that, if we work at giving our customers what they want, instead of what we think they ought to want, then that future will be bright. If not; if we put agendas ahead of everything else, then, as they say, who knows what will be.

Bill Oursler, January 2012

 

– Bill Oursler

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

To Dance Or Not To Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Oursler, October 2011

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