Thursday, 30 December 2010

Christmas stocking

I must be the luckiest boy in the world! In addition to putting the 2010 Le Mans Annual and the DVD review in my stocking, Santa Claus also brought me a copy of the limited ‘Prestige’ edition of the new Le Mans encyclopaedia. This has been much advertised in Le Mans Racing Magazine, and should actually have been published in July, but various delays meant that it only appeared in mid-December. So Santa decided to intercept my copy and put it under the Christmas tree, to await my eager hands on Christmas morning. Through a number of complex circumstances though, it didn’t actually get opened until the afternoon of the 26th.

What an amazing book it is. Three volumes, in both French and (predictably stilted) English, covering every participant in the 24 hour race from the very first race in 1923 until the last race in 2010. However, more than just a photo of each car, as the previous Moity / Tesseidre book did, there is a cameo portrait on many of the significant entrants, and also coverage of those who came to the race without making the start (step forward Tim Lee-Davey!) And move to one side, Time and Two Seats, as you are no longer the biggest book on the bookshelf. Although I am not sure that the brushed aluminium case will go on the bookshelf – it might have to stay on the floor, such is its weight.

I admit that I pushed the boat out somewhat when I ordered it, as it is far from cheap. But there seemed to be only once chance to get it, and hence I decided that the Prestige edition was worth it. My copy is number 4 out of 500, and from the web-site, I would suggest that around 100 of them have already been sold. I am sure that the regular copy is just as good, just not as exclusive, but what I really want to know is who has numbers 1, 2 and 3. Anyone reading this, please let me know!

And when I have given it a more thorough going over, then probably a review for will be called for!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

More thoughts on team orders

More on team orders…

I wrote a few months ago on this subject, but the events of the weekend just gone have inspired me to raise the topic again.

I had my eye – although due to various family events, not my entire attention – on two events in particular: the Brazilian Grand Prix at São Paulo, and the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup race at Zhuhai, China.

In the first case, Red Bull Racing issued no team orders at all, and allowed their two drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, to finish the Grand Prix in first and second places respectively, even though that will still allow the possibility that Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso will be able to win the world championship by finishing third behind the two Red Bull cars in the final Grand Prix of the season at Abu Dhabi. Had the order been given to change position, allowing Webber to win the race ahead of Vettel, then Alonso would have to finish second in Abu Dhabi to clinch the title.

In the other case, in China, the Total Peugeot Sport choreographed their two team cars to hold up Tom Kristensen’s Audi as it chased down Stéphane Sarrazin in the Peugeot 908. Whether the result of the race was affected is not completely clear, but it is certainly clear that Bourdais’s actions in the lapped Peugeot materially affected Kristensen’s progress.

In both cases described above, the suggestion has been raised in various quarters that the ‘wrong’ decision was taken on the pit wall. Peugeot has been criticised for organising its drivers in order to ensure its car won the race, and Red Bull similarly criticised for doing completely the opposite, in the interests of the series championship.

There are differences, however: not least that Formula One and Sportscar racing are very different disciplines. In the one case, team orders (or lack of them) influenced primarily the outcome of the championship; in the other, it was merely a race result that was at stake. Also, Peugeot’s actions involved blocking another driver, or at least providing an overtaking challenge for that driver. Red Bull merely had to ensure that its two drivers swapped places. The opposition would not have been physically hindered.

Of course, another material difference in this discussion is the way that blue flags are treated in the two championships. When I started watching racing, the blue flag (held stationery) meant: “Another car is following closely” and (waved) meant: “Another car is trying to overtake”. Not the current Formula 1 subtext of: “after three blue flags, you must move over”.

What’s the answer? Who is right and who is wrong? Does anyone in Formula One or in the ILMC have a justification in crying “foul”? Readers no doubt will have their own opinions, but I think all is fair in love, war and motorsport. The prospect of a no-holds barred fight between Vettel and Webber in Brazil was tantalising (about the only tantalising thing about an otherwise pretty dull race). And had the glove been on the other foot in China, I am not sure that Audi wouldn’t have done the same thing.

In the end, it all goes back to a very old soap box of mine, which is that we seem to have forgotten these days that it is the manner of winning, not the action of winning, that makes competition worthwhile. Many things play a part in any victory, and one of those things is the way in which one deals with failure to win. Honesty, integrity and a little grace are excellent assets in anyone, whether they are champions or not.

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Yorkshire Dales

When I started this blog thing, it was my intention to limit myself to the subject of motor racing and although I have explored the edges of my subject occasionally, I have stuck pretty much to this objective. And I will continue so to do, I hope.

However, through this medium, and on the autobiographical theme, I am exposing myself in such a way that some of you may feel that you know me quite well, even if we have never met. That’s all well and good, and indeed to an extent my purpose for being here. No-one, after all, who puts themselves into the public domain, can expect their lives to remain totally private.

Bear with me, then, in order to reach the car theme of this post. And I am afraid it is only a car theme, not a racing theme; but there you are: complain at will.

Last weekend, I drove, with my family (Tatjana, my wife, Sophie, my twelve year old daughter and Robin, my nine year old son) to a cottage in Dentdale (actually just in Cumbria, but part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park). And - lucky me - I was given a car from the Audi press fleet in which to make the trip.

What car? An RS6 Avant, that’s what. If you’re not familiar with it, this is based on the A6 estate chassis, so it’s quite a big car. It quite happily took all the family luggage for a week away, along with various boxes full of food for the self-catered cottage that we were staying in, a cool-box, walking boots and umpteen jackets and coats. What makes the RS6 special though is not the luggage compartment; it is what’s under the bonnet. It has a 5 litre twin-turbocharged V10 engine, giving 572 bhp. That’s more than an R8, although by my reckoning, where the R8 Spyder gives you 305 BHP per tonne, the RS6 is ‘only’ 282. I am sure the performance figures are available elsewhere on the web for those who want to look, but the acceleration was quite simply awesome. As the car accelerated, there was absolutely no drop-off, it just kept on going faster and faster, with cars that were alongside at the traffic lights becoming smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror.

The car comes with a 6-speed tiptronic gearbox as standard and this too was a new experience for me. At first, I simply left it in fully automated mode, but as I became used to it, I found it extremely easy to use. And it also served as a way to avoid the jerkiness caused by the kick-down facility. The trouble was, with all four of us in the car, it would sometimes decide that two downshifts were necessary to respond to my demands for acceleration. This resulted in a massive jerk as 50 mph cruising suddenly turned into 70mph (officer) and accelerating (causing my wife, who suffers from neck problems, to complain bitterly). However, with a little practice, I could lift off the throttle, tap the left hand (downshift) paddle to select the appropriate gear, and then gently squeeze the accelerator to give the same phenomenal effect, but without the strain on the neck, either upshifting manually or letting the automatic system take over.

The seats were perfectly comfortable (although I do not enjoy heated seats, my wife does, and found this a further luxury), every possible setting of height, rake and steering wheel position being available, which I also like to vary as I travel, to avoid travel cramps. And the steering wheel helpfully moves up away from your knees when you turn the ignition off, to assist entry and egress for the more ‘traditionally built’ driver. And a courtesy light, fitted under the wing mirrors provides a useful floodlit area outside the front doors when you arrive at the car in darkness. Believe me, the darkness in the Dales is very dark.

Such luxury touches abound on this car, to the extent that one struggles to find shortcomings. There’s the price tag of course – but in my opinion there are plenty of less-worthy cars costing £80,000 and more on the market these days. And the fuel consumption is predictably very, very high: I was getting between 15mpg and 20mpg, depending on the traffic conditions. But here is a car that does everything; it ticks all the boxes. It has high performance; it’s comfortable and practical; and as well it is easy to drive and to live with.

The Audi RS6 combines the performance of a Ferrari with the function of a Land Rover. The only real alternative is to go out and buy two cars, which suddenly makes the price look more affordable.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Early memories

I thought it might interest readers to hear of my first motor sporting experiences, and maybe inspire some to leave a comment of their own about early racing memories. I had a notion that one day I might write an autobiography, but as the years pass and reality sets in, this looks increasingly unlikely, so this may be as close as I ever come.

I was always interested in cars and car racing. Where this came from, I have no idea. Certainly not from my parents. My father had more of a passion for boats and the sea, having served in the Royal Navy, and Mum was just, well Mum. And my two older sisters (much older) were more into The Beatles and Girl Guiding, and occasional dinghy-sailing.

I was probably about seven years old, when I remember we drove past Silvermere Golf Club (just off the A3 between Cobham and Byfleet) and I asked my father if we could go to Silverstone one day – word association, you know.

He suggested Brands Hatch was closer and would be easier, but in those days I hadn’t heard of the place, but I slotted it away in my memory to be brought back as and when required.

It was Mum, though, who happened across someone with whom she helped to do school dinners, and whose husband happened to be a marshal, who provided the real trigger, just before my tenth birthday. I had for several years swapped the doubtful pleasures of a birthday party (which I had to share), for a birthday treat (in which the attention was heaped on me). And this other dinner lady provided my mother with details for the Race of Champions, coincidentally held the day after my tenth birthday, 12th March, 1967. So when my loving parents offered a birthday trip to Brands Hatch to see the Race of Champions, I didn’t need to think about it for too long. This was Formula 1, after all, and all the well-known names (apart from Jim Clark and Team Lotus) would be there.

We arrived early on race morning (attending practice days was far in the future for me), and Mum had prepared a picnic lunch for us. In addition to support races, there were to be two heats of ten laps each for the Formula 1 cars, to be followed by a forty lap final. As far as I remember, the only purpose that the heats served was to establish the grid positions for the following race, but it meant that we had three Grand Prix-style starts to experience. And from our initial vantage point on Top Straight (as it was then), we had that experience to the full.

Forty-something years later, it is perhaps surprising that so many memories of that day still abound. Especially when I struggle to remember who won the last Grand Prix. In fact where was the last Grand Prix?

But I can clearly remember the first car on the track that day – the Honda (number 7) of John Surtees, who drove round at what seemed to me breakneck speed to take up his slot on the 3 x 2 x 3 grid. Earlier in the day, the only cars on the track were service vehicles and occasional road cars (I later learned that these were probably marshals going out onto the GP loop to take up their signalling positions). And with such benchmarks, the speed of a Formula 1 car, even on a warm-up lap, just knocked me for six.

Jack Brabham was the reigning World Motor Racing Champion, and hence was number 1, but that day he could not keep up with the Eagle-Gurney Weslake (number 5) of Dan Gurney. Brabham was the only one to pass Gurney, though, as he unlapped himself in the final, following a pit-stop. To my eye, even then, the Eagle was a more attractive car than the functional-looking Brabham, but with so little experience, I did not fully appreciate the iconic status of Dan Gurney’s mount.

After the race, I pushed my way to the fence in order to show my appreciation as the winning car was towed round the track on a trailer, with Gurney and his mechanics waving to the crowd on their ‘lap of honour’. Dad took a photo, as I recall, which I must have somewhere.

Then there was the queue to get out. In those pre-M25, pre-M20 days, the way home was through Croydon (and over the flyover – as hi-tech as civil engineering went then). But just getting out of the circuit, let alone getting to Croydon (with still another hour to drive thereafter) sent Dad into a rage of ‘never again’. Luckily he relented, and I went again to the Race of Champions for my birthday treat in 1968. Then I managed to persuade him to take me to the British Grand Prix in July, and it all sort of snowballed from there!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Britcar 24 hours thoughts

What a great weekend at Silverstone! The Britcar 24 hours was indeed a very thrilling race and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to be part of the commentary team. In the overall scheme of things, I suppose that we were lucky that there was such a good battle for the lead – it certainly made it easy to maintain interest and avoided the set-in of boredom at any stage. Looking back on it now, and with the benefit of my notes and the lap chart from TSL (thanks, Tony), it is staggering to reflect on just how close it was for so long. By my reckoning, the no. 8 MJC Ferrari and the no. 22 JetAlliance Porsche were at it hammer and tongs from midnight through to the finish at 4:30 on Sunday afternoon.

Of course, the battle was assisted in no small part by three factors: the two penalties to the MJC Ferrari, one for speeding in the pit lane, and one for going through the red light at the pit lane exit; and then the fact that the Porsche was held (wrongly, it would seem) at the pit lane exit for a lap while the safety car was out. These 'external' influences ensured that the two cars seemed constantly to be battling with each other.

In my opinion, it looked like the JetAlliance crew held the upper hand most of the time, but from the moment that John Gaw got in the Ferrari with two and a half hours remaining, the prospects for Witt Gamski's team changed completely.

I may end up giving a full analysis article to, but as a reward to my loyal blog readers (however many of you there are), here are some highlights:

Time in pits:
  8   MJC Ferrari:               38mins 16.3secs (17 stops)
22   JetAlliance Porsche:    35mins 18.1secs (18 stops)
42   AZT Porsche:             38mins 35.9secs (17 stops)

Driving time:
8 MJC Ferrari:                 No of laps          Time
        Gamski                            41                1 hour 30 mins
        Robinson                       203                9 hours 33 mins
        Gaw                              241                9 hours 49 mins
        Dryburgh                         80                3 hours 08 mins

22 JetAlliance Porsche:    No of laps          Time
        Lichtner-Hoyer                83                 3 hours 44 mins
        Eckert                             86                 3 hours 31 mins
        Seefried                         130                 4 hours 33 mins
        Nykjaer                         168                 6 hours 56 mins
        Rich                               121                 5 hours 17 mins

(Note: For the purposes of this table I have excluded the penalty laps for the Ferrari. In fact Robinson and Dryburgh each completed one more lap than shown).

Which brings me to my contentious matter. I said on the commentary at the time, and I have done some further analysis since, and I am pretty sure that Martin Rich drove a stint of 3 hours and 7 minutes, in contravention of the regulation limiting drivers to three hours. The stint in question was from 22:42 (when the car exited the pits, starting its 161st lap), until it re-entered the pits at 01:48 (completing its 230th lap). In between, the car also stopped twice (during safety car periods), but as far as I know, there was no driver change during either of these stops.

If anyone reading this can confirm or deny this, then I would be happy to know. I am not about to mount a protest or anything, just wanting to establish the truth of the matter.

At the end of the race, there were rumours flying around that the Porsche would be credited with an extra lap, on the grounds that it was wrongly held at the pit lane exit at the end of its 16th pit stop (at 12:56, Sunday lunchtime), thus giving it the win. It struck me that this would have been ironic, since the Ferrari had already been penalised two laps, one of which was for going through the light at the end of the pit lane when at red.

Fortunately, from the point of view of the credibility of the series, the result was allowed to stand, although I suspect that the JetAlliance crew might well have felt disgruntled. But surely there can be nothing worse than changing the result after the presentation ceremony? And in any case, without those two penalty laps that were applied to the MJC car, the race would have lost a good deal of its excitement.

Funny old business, isn’t it?

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Looking forward to the Britcar 24 hours

I was delighted when Brian Jones asked me to be part of the commentary team for the Silverstone 24 hour Britcar race. Partly because it is always nice to be asked to do something (far better than having to ask to do it), partly because it will take my mind off the fact that I am not at Road Atlanta for Petit Le Mans, and partly because I have never been to a 24 hour race at Silverstone, nor even to a Britcar race.

So, a weekend to look forward to, then. The timetable for the event is very busy indeed, with five support races taking place on Friday, October 1st, and a further eight races on the Saturday, before the 24 hour race itself starts at 4:30 in the afternoon. Considering that qualifying for all these events, not to mention day and night qualifying (and a warm-up) for the Britcar entrants all has to be squeezed in as well, the BRSCC is going to have a busy few days.

In comparison, I will have it fairly easy (I hope). Brian has asked me only to be involved in the Britcar race, which actually suits me fine, given my lack of familiarity with UK club race categories these days. And even then, I have been told to “arrange my own breaks” during the race itself.

So what is there actually to look forward to? More than 60 entrants in four classes, featuring everything from a fearsome Ferrari 430 to a humble Honda Civic. Not forgetting of course that this is merely one round of a nine-race season, which visits most of the leading UK circuits. And although I have to admit almost complete ignorance, having not been to a Britcar race before, the impression I get is that the series is built on the premise that the competitors’ needs are paramount, that entrants are to be encouraged, and that the competition thus arising will make for a spectacle that will attract spectators. A sort of “if you build it, they will come” philosophy.

Indeed, the very existence of the 24 hour race at Silverstone is very much down to James Tucker and his way of doing things. I have encountered James only twice – at the Nurburgring and at Le Mans 24 hour races – and I admire him for what he has contributed to what is after all a busy motor racing calendar. Britcar seems to me, an outsider, to have bridged the gap between the competitive track day driver and the committed club racer in a very inclusive way.

As for who will win, well, I am just not qualified to say. Personal allegiances would make the Rollcentre Mosler a favourite, and of course Martin Short is a former winner of the event. But it would seem foolish to exclude any of the Moslers, nor the (championship-leading) MJC Ferrari from a list of likely contenders. With a busy track, a wide disparity in driver abilities and car performance, keeping out of trouble and delivering consistent lap times will be key.

Hopefully, between Brian Jones, Matt James, Marcus Simmonds, Ben Evans and me, we’ll be able to stay on top of it, and it will be a good race.

Meanwhile, over the 'pond' in Atlanta, Georgia, Audi and Peugeot will be going head-to-head again in the second round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, in the ten hour, or 1,000 mile Petit Le Mans race. On the basis of what happened at Silverstone a couple of weeks ago (see my earlier post, below) Peugeot starts as favourite. But I fancy that the R15 will be more suited to the circuit, and the team will be keen to ensure that Audi reliability has been restored after the differential failure that forced Allan McNish to retire at Silverstone. The weather forecast is currently good, so it should be a straight fight. But with ALMS championships up for grabs, there will be plenty of things to watch out for, if your focus is not on the Britcar at Silverstone.

A very good way to round off my season.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010


After the Silverstone 1,000kms someone who had best remain nameless in the press office said to me: “What did you think of that, Paul? Not very riveting, was it?”

Actually, I think riveting described the race perfectly. It may not have been thrilling, and it may not have had an action-packed battle for the overall lead after the problem that struck Allan McNish’s Audi R15 saw him abandon the car with barely half-an-hour completed; but I was riveted. Faultless races from four of the top seven contenders meant that the top four places were predictable, but somehow one had the feeling throughout that the unexpected was just around the corner.

In the end, Peugeot were worthy and deserving winners. They were the two fastest cars and both of them had better fuel consumption than the Audi. And there was the knowledge from the early stages of the race that both Peugeots were capable of overtaking the German cars, when the need arose. Which of course it did, thanks to the fact, as Bruno Famin admitted – in jest – before the start, that Peugeot had adopted Audi’s strategy of qualifying on the second row of the grid. But Timo Bernhard, sharing with Dindo Capello, looked particularly uncomfortable in the early stages of the race, and it seemed clear that neither Audi was going to keep the Peugeots behind for long.

Most impressive, on the new circuit, was the elapsed time, a whisker over five hours and ten minutes: the sort of time taken to complete the 1000kms in the late eighties, before the bulldozers took up permanent residence at Silverstone. I suppose that's appropriate enough, given the record distance achieved at Le Mans this year.

The race for the other classes was enlivened by the penalties handed out to each of the class leaders for transgressing the limits of the circuit. I would have thought that the indications were fairly clear throughout free practice that this was going to be closely watched by officialdom, and it wasn’t long before warnings, flags and penalties started to be issued. Of the three class leaders to suffer, only the LMP2 Strakka Racing HPD was able to recover, with neither the JMW Aston Martin nor Steve Zacchia’s Hope Polevision FLM car adequately dominant in its class to be able to recover, as the inimitable Danny Watts was able to.

It was a fascinating race though, and I am glad I was there. A reasonable crowd seems to have shown up to watch, the weather was kind to them, and the new track layout seemed to work well.

But on the evidence of what happened at Silverstone, it looks to me that Audi is going to have to work very hard indeed to reverse its fortunes in just three weeks time in Road Atlanta, or at Zhuhai, in China, for the final Intercontinental Le Mans Cup round at the beginning of November. I suspect that the R15 will not be remembered as fondly at Ingolstadt as either the R10 or the R8. Attention must now focus on the R18, but I suspect that Audi will have even stiffer competition in 2011 as new regulations come into force.

It’s too early to be thinking about it, but I suggest that 2011 has some very lofty possibilities. But like all lofty things, they can end up in disappointment. Let’s hope not, anyway.

Friday, 3 September 2010

September comment for dailysportscar

Well, my column for has just gone in for typesetting. I won't post it here - might increase dsc subscriber lists if I force you to go there... but the theme of the piece is the McQueen rant (see below), then a few grumbles about driving standards and team orders.

Not particularly insightful, but it keeps my name in the limelight (?) until after the Silverstone 1000kms, when hopefully I'll be able to produce another of my analysis pieces.

It promises to be a good race actually - it will be interesting to see if the Audis are anywhere near the pace of the Peugeots. And I'm looking forward to seeing the new Arena track layout. Not sure whether we'll be using Stowe or Becketts boxes at the moment (or maybe both!) Hopefully the weather will be kind, and here's to the success of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Audi A5 Cabriolet

Thanks to the generosity of David Ingram at Audi UK, I have had the opportunity to drive an A5 cabrio for the past week. And to be brutally honest, I'm not quite sure what to make of it. It's a 2.0 TFSI (petrol), manual gearbox, and having played briefly with the 'configurator' on Audi's website, it will end up costing not much short of £40,000 if you were to buy one (it's the S-line). Which is about the same as the S4 Avant that I bought exactly a year ago today.

The main problem is that I can't quite decide about convertibles. I had the top down as much as possible, but it was only warm enough to make it a real pleasure on a couple of occasions. That's not a criticism of the car, as much as it is of the English climate. And unlike the R8 Spyder, it doesn't have that jaw-dropping impact on passers-by, which brings me to my second problem... is it an A5 or an A4? Back seat room is less than on my S4, and the luggage space is certainly less. And only specialists in the trademark 'fairy-light' patterns will notice the difference from the front. To me, the A5 sportback and the coupe look a bit special, and that distinctiveness is lost with the cabriolet.

Having said all that, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the car. It performs reasonably (211 PS), and it is a good drive. And it is a very good-looking car, it has a certain elegance about it that gives you a feel-good factor as you drive. The fuel consumption is good and it features many of the clever tricks that you would expect. Auto-stop/start, electronic handbrake, extending seat belt supports, all make the driving experience better. And I was impressed by the courtesy lights for the rear seat passengers embedded in the roof.

I suppose if you do not have the family requirements that I do, then it becomes a very sensible buy. And on the two days of the year when the weather is good enough - it's unbeatable!

The real drawback (and apologies, this may be merely that I couldn't find the right button) was that it seemed impossible to open the boot without removing the key from the ignition and using the remote control to release the catch. I expect there was a button somewhere, but it wasn't obvious, neither to me, nor the man who came to collect the car!

There is certainly something a bit special about convertibles, but I am not sure that they warrant the asking price. Your thoughts welcome below.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

A brief rant...

I am getting increasingly annoyed by the appearance of Steve McQueen’s pictures on various Le Mans ‘history’ websites. Even the ACO’s own website now has his picture alongside a caption “L’Histoire d’une course légendaire”. Without wanting to go into a review of the movie – although I might – the plain fact of the matter is that Steve McQueen was a movie actor, who never participated in the race, and apart from the film, has no connection with it. If you’re going to show the picture of a movie legend associated with the race, then show Paul Newman’s face – at least he finished on the podium.

The twenty-first century is dominated by icons – I have them all over my computer, for goodness’ sake; and the beauty of an icon is that in a single (hopefully simple) image, you can convey a whole lot of meaning. Steve McQueen may be iconic, but I would rather see the “Legend of Le Mans” meaning conveyed by a more appropriate image. The Le Mans start, for example, wasn’t only used at Le Mans, but was something very special to the race, and conveys very well the historic era.

Other Le Mans images would be the old Dunlop Bridge and the descent to the esses –somewhat easier to depict, perhaps, than drivers running across the track to their cars, or one that does it for me, a picture of a car, any car, rounding the old Mulsanne Corner, hugging the wall on the inside, with a marshal – or better yet, a gendarme – standing atop like a beacon.

Surely these would be more suitable images than a McQueen’s V-sign?

There is a tendency for movies, based on truth, but not accurate reflections of the truth, to become accepted - in particular, I am thinking of various Hollywood war movies which have americanised British war heroes - and anything that dilutes truth is a bad thing, in my book.

By all means let us rejoice in the history of Le Mans, in the legend that the race has become, but please let us use some more suitable iconic images than Gulf 917s and movie actors!

Friday, 23 July 2010


I have mentioned before that there seems to be a great deal of sportscar racing these days – the month of May was congested generally, and July and August are particularly busy if you are involved in the American Le Mans Series.

In theory, this is good for spectators and entrants alike, as there is clearly a greater supply of sportscar races than there is a demand. However, this means of course that the quality of the individual events is somewhat less. Just as in Formula 1 racing (I do struggle to call them Grands Prix), there may be too much.

The same tendency is now happening in the field of historic racing cars. So far this year we have had the Monaco Historique, the Le Mans Classic and with the Silverstone Classic and the Goodwood Revival meetings still to come there is ample opportunity to see historic cars of all shapes and sizes in some wonderful settings. And now I read of the ‘Legends of Motorsports’ to be run at Sebring in December.


There had to be a ‘but’, didn’t there? And I have to admit that I haven’t been to, nor am I planning to go to any of these events this year. I used to go regularly to Silverstone, to what was then the ‘Coys Historic Festival’ (no need to use the word ‘Classic’ then), and I have been to Goodwood’s Revival, although that was a good few years ago as well now. I enjoyed visiting the Masters Festival at Brand Hatch on the late May Bank Holiday weekend earlier this year: as always at such events, the access to the paddock was marvellous, and my son relished the opportunity to sit in a 1960’s Ford Mustang, whose driver was happy to stop and chat.

I was tempted to suggest that ‘Classic Racing’ is an oxymoron, but that would be unfair. I much prefer the term ‘Historic Racing’, and I am the first to say how much I enjoy seeing old cars out on the track and competing, much more than in museums. I do like museums by the way, but I fear that might the subject of a different essay. What I dislike is (a) when owners of historic machinery restore them beyond ‘reasonable limits’ to be more competitive and (b) when competitiveness becomes excessive and the racing gets out of perspective.

There is probably a greater disparity in driver talents in historic racing than in any other form of motor sport. I find it a shame that some of the ‘heroes’ of historic racing haven’t been able to find recognition elsewhere. Drivers like Martin Stretton, Barrie Williams, Frank Sytner and Gerry Marshall all competed in contemporary cars as well, but were undoubtedly at their peaks when driving historic cars. And at the same time, wealthy amateurs were having a go in their pride and joy – but did it really matter who won? Well, yes, of course it did, but you weren’t going to re-write the history book as a result.

What Historic (or Classic) racing lacks is gravitas. At the end of the day, winning in a historic race does not make the Ferrari 512P quicker, slower, better or worse than a Porsche 917. Particularly if the pair of them get beaten by a Lola T70 Mk III. Indeed those are all anyway somewhat subjective matters. What matters is whether the car won in its day or not. I doubt whether historic racing in forty years time will involve Peugeot 908s or Audi R15s, but if it does, and a Peugeot wins, it will not change the fact that Audi scored a clean sweep of the podium positions at Le Mans this year. That was important. That was what the manufacturers were spending millions of Euros trying to do.

A favourite car of mine is the Aston Martin DBR1 that won Le Mans in 1959. It is great that the very same car often appears in Classic races, as well that it often wins. But there is a danger that the notion enters the consciousness of the common fan that this car was dominant. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact that it won the Le Mans 24 hour race was totally unexpected (and a credit to John Wyer’s skill as a master tactician).

It’s a bit like having a tour around a WWII battleship. You can stare up and marvel at the big guns, squash down into the rating’s quarters, or stand up on the bridge and gaze through the windows, narrow your eyes and visualise an enemy coastline. But you can’t truly imagine the emotion of being in the heat of battle without talking to someone who was really there, and is prepared to talk to you about it.

That’s why folk like Stirling Moss, David Piper, Richard Attwood and Jackie Oliver are important. Get them out in the cars, and their juices start to flow. What’s important is to listen. Learn from history and you have the chance not to repeat it – I know, I am paraphrasing, but therein lies truth.

I’ve got nothing against historic racing in general. The very fact that it is hugely popular with spectators and competitors, is not (always) outrageously expensive and it provides a way of extending the active life of cars that might otherwise stay in garages is a vindication of the genre. And if the opportunity would arise, I would go to any of the events I have mentioned without hesitation. But not all of them.

My concern is that these events represent organisers attempting to cash in on commercial benefits and once again offer us, the consumer, more than is good for us. A lack of moderation seems to be a sign of the times we live in.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Bruno Famin's press release

So, Peugeot has issued the results of their post mortem. I am not sure how my readers (if there are any) actually find their way here, but it can be found in full on (or if you don't want to subscribe to dailysportscar). And you really need to have read both that and my own post Le Mans thoughts - which have been published only on - to make sense of this. On the assumption that you have, I shall proceed.

Firstly, I am impressed by Bruno Famin. I am also impressed by the English translation of his statement. (If only the publishers of the Le Mans annual would use the same translator, but that's another issue.)

Famin seems to get to the heart of Peugeot's engine problem without attributing any blame. It seems an honest and open analysis of what went wrong. There is the slight open question of what happened at the Sebring test, when a Peugeot arrived in the pits with a similar-looking flame from the exhaust pipe, looking suspiciously like an engine failure. Whether this alerted the men from Velizy to a conrod problem, and led to the development of the new part, we don't know.

It looks to me that the fundamental problem that Peugeot faced is the one of finding out where the limit is. I am reminded of one of Gilles Villeneuve's first tests in a Formula 1 car, when he spent the first session spinning at various corners, then went faster than anyone else had in the same car. In order to understand the limit, you need to go over it. Having a car that is reliable in testing is no use at all if your tests are not simulating race conditions.

By Famin's own admission, Peugeot's experience at Le Mans is limited to the four occasions they've been there since 2007. And of course Audi's experience since their debut in 1999 is augmented by all that they've learnt in their partnership with Joest Racing. In Famin's words: 'il est difficile de tout maîtriser' (or 'it is very difficult to master everything').

As Audi discovered in 2009, when the R15's radiators got clogged up.

In a way, I find all this heartening: it shows that Le Mans is still a massive challenge, not just for the privateers, but also for the rich manufacturers. I feel that I can now draw a line under the 2010 race - what a classic.

And I hope that between now and the end of the year, we get a good set of regulations for next year's race, which will enable next year's race to be the starting point of a new era of sportscar racing.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Making hay while the sun shines...

As I mentioned last week, I have been lucky enough to have the use of an Audi R8 Spyder for a few days. It has taken the children to school, brought me to the office, and been used to drive to the dsc cricket match and to visit my nephew and his family. I've done about 500 miles since last Thursday, most of them with the top down, and every single one of them has been extremely enjoyable. Today the man will come and take it away, and I will feel very sad. This will be an unwarranted emotion, since I still will have all that I had before - my 'usual' S4, the family, our house, and the good health of us all. But one gets greedy, doesn't one? In fact the whole business of the last few days have been filled with potentially undesirable tendencies - greed, envy, lust, arrogance, you name it.

But the fact remains that such things happen, and have to be enjoyed when they do. I have also been lucky enough to have been give two wonderful books in the last few weeks. The first is Audi's "Thirty Years of Quattro", which celebrates and documents the marque's various forays into motorsport over the last generation. Interestingly, not so many of them were four-wheel-drive vehicles, so I am interested to read how that is handled.

The other book that arrived recently was Reynald Hezard's "956 - Esquisses de Performances (Sketches of Performance)", which chronicles every single 956 chassis from Porsche - including all the liveries in which they raced. Like the Audi book, I haven't really read this yet, but having a thumb through reveals a deceptively mighty tome. The research seems meticulous - but I will have to reserve a definitive judgement until I have had chance to examine it more closely.

Whichever way you look at it though, even though I attend far fewer motor races than I did when I was younger and single, I still have every reason to be grateful for the good things that happen to me.

It won't always be this way, but it is important to make the most of the good times while they last.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Audi R8 Spyder

I am a very lucky boy indeed. At Le Mans this year, David Ingram, Audi UK's Product & Technology PR Manager, mentioned to me that he might be able to let me have an Audi R8 Spyder to try out at the end of June. Well, this morning a bright red Audi R8 Spyder was delivered to my front door for me to drive for a few days.

What a spectacular car it is! I don't think I have ever sat in a car worth more than £100,000 before, let alone driven one. Taking my young son to school, and then on the drive to work this morning, I hardly explored its potential, but it certainly does what it does in a very wonderful way. Fast? Of course it's fast. Very fast. But it is the handling that is most impressive. OK, so I'm not the kind of guy who's going to slide it around corners and try to get the tail to hang out. But on the couple of corners where I did attempt to go around more quickly that I would in my usual transport (an S4 - itself with 333PS and quattro drive) the R8 felt as sure-footed as you could possibly want.

And it has a fantastic exhaust note. The V10 purrs at low revs, no V8-style burbling, nothing raucous at all, but when you accelerate remotely sharply (even from 5mph to 30mph in town) you get this lovely, powerful sounding roar. 5.2 litres and in excess of 500bhp. That's more than a Formula 1 car had when I first started watching Grands Prix.

In terms of specifications, I haven't really noticed much. It has a radio, a CD player, a SatNav and it's supposed to connect to my mobile phone, but I couldn't get that bit to work. But I didn't try very hard. Who'd want to be on the phone when you've got the experience of driving to enjoy?

Thank you very much Audi. I am going to enjoy the next few days a lot.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Audi Time Spent in pits

Trawling through the data... first level confirms that pit stop times for the first three cars home were:

no 9 - Bernhard / Dumas / Rockenfeller: 33 stops (including 9 driver changes) total time in pit 35 mins 25 secs

no 8 - Fässler / Lotterer / Tréluyer: 33 stops (including 8 driver changes) total time in pit 35 mins 31 secs

no 7 - McNish / Kristensen / Capello: 33 stops (including 8 driver changes) total time in pit 38 mins 17 secs

Bear in mind these times include the time spent driving (at 60 km/h) the length of the pit lane, which takes approximately 24 seconds. So subtract 13 mins 12 secs from these times if you want to know the time spent stationery in front of the garage.

Also, the no 7 car was held at the end of the pit lane for approximately 2 minutes on its fifth stop (Capello at 20:57), due to the safety car being on the circuit.

Two years ago, the winning Audi spent less than 32 minutes in the pit lane, but then of course the regulations allowed tyre changes to be done much more quickly - by four mechanics instead of just two.

Further analysis later.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010


I am told that whatever Peugeot's problem was at Le Mans, they themselves don't understand it (yet). The cars arrived back at Velizy yesterday, and engineers started their analysis today. At the moment, they "do not understand exactly what happened".

And, tellingly, they "never had these sort of problem before".

It could take up to two weeks before they are prepared to release further information.

Fascinating stuff.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Back at home

Like many folks, I guess, this is my first day back at work following the return trip from Le Mans. Apart from ghastly traffic in Calais, and a brief brush with the Gendarmes at Broglie (anyone else get caught there, I wonder?) it was a good trip back, and all that remains now - apart from getting through my inbox and actually doing some work - is to reflect on a stunning race.

Reflection will take a little longer though. See dailysportscar for that, as I can't work out how to put graphs on this page.

Initial reactions though... and a record distance... and a record fastest lap - the fastest ever race lap at Le Mans. By Loic Duval of all people. About the only thing that Peugeot can bring home from this year's race. I will give them their due, they gave it their best shot. And it was spectacular. But I will come clean and say that I didn't really expect Audi to get a clean sweep of the podium - who did? Was Peugeot's strategy flawed? Well, it didn't work, but that's not to say that it could or should have succeeded. And it is not clear (at least not clear to me, yet) exactly what the engine problem was that stopped them. Was it simply a turbo blowing? I think not, as they would have been able to get them back to the pits if that were the case. And I'm pretty sure there were bits of metal dribbling out of the back of Montagny's car that were visible on the TV screens.

I suppose it was the fact that the Peugeot's unreliability was so predictable, in "flat-out" trim. I wonder if the night was cool enough that they could have run faster in the night, without compromising the reliability. It is a question of approach really, I suppose. Audi always seems to have "bring it home" on the agenda (someone maybe should have told Nigel Mansell). I get the feeling that the Audi engine does not have a setting that would have led to failures of the sort that Peugeot had.

Both Aston Martin (with the LMP1) and Corvette (with the GT2 car) also had engine failures in the closing stages. It seems to happen, as the ambient temperatures begin to rise, but nevertheless, it is still a shattering experience to live through. And didn't Strakka do well, with the HPD? A pretty much flawless race.

The winning Audi was pretty much flawless as well, of course, although it nearly had its own disaster in the pits when it collided with a cameraman, causing a fairly serious injury, it seems. It was fortunate for Audi that the damage to the car was limited to a broken mirror.

Here's a thought though. It wasn't the engine blow-ups that lost Peugeot the race. It was the problems which occurred that dropped them back in the first place. That electrical problem on the no 1 car. The suspension failure on the no 3. The driveshaft on the no 4. Can't think of anything in particular that hit the no 2, but I am sure there was something. More homework required there.

And if they hadn't have blown up, it really would have been too close to call. Having broken the distance record this year, what money on "closest ever finish" next year?

More reviews to come.

Friday, 4 June 2010


At this time of year, I find it increasingly difficult to concentrate on my day job. Le Mans is the highlight of my year - my 'fifteen minutes of fame' - and also a sporting event of significance. And this year, the outcome is extremely difficult to predict.

It will also be the thirtieth occasion that I have been to the 24 hour race at Le Mans. The first time I went, in 1981, I drove over (via Le Havre, if I remember correctly) with Malcolm Gimblett and Steve Davison in my old Alfasud. I wonder where they are now (Malcolm, Steve and the Alfasud)? We had camping tickets for Blanc Panorama, on the outside of the Dunlop Bridge, and arrived on the Thursday evening, while final qualifying was underway. The memory of watching the cars appearing under the bridge and heading down to the esses (at around 10:30 at night) is one that I will treasure forever.

My interest in motor racing had begun as a small boy (which by 1981 I most assuredly was not) - but during the late sixties and seventies sportscar racing did not hold much appeal to me. My dentist (an Alfa Romeo fan) was a regular at Le Mans had tried on a number of occasions to suggest that I go, but the purity of single seater racing had me in its grip in those days. By the time I got to Le Mans, I had already visited Monza, Monte Carlo and the Osterreichring, so quite why Le Mans had never got itself onto my agenda is a bit of a mystery.

In any event, after that first experience, I was back again in 1982, and again, and again. And many that I know now have had similar infectious experiences. We moved on from Blanc Panorama, to Houx (long before the annexe was built), then to 'Camping des Tribunes' - a bit more pricey, but on the inside of the Dunlop curve, between the track and the Bugatti circuit. I got a lift in someone's Austin Allegro (an ex-Panda car, blue, with white doors) one year, took my (rather shabby) Lotus Elan +2S for quite a few years, then another Alfasud, got a lift in Pablo's VW Scirocco when Hertfordshire Constabulary decided that I shouldn't have a driving licence and then took whatever company car I happened to have at the time. Until David Ingram took pity on us Radio Le Mans folks, and provided a succession of lovely Audis to take the strain from the journey.

Now, I can't imagine not being there. Even if (when) Radio Le Mans doesn't want me (or no longer exists), I will make the trip. In fact in some ways, I would quite like to go back to being a spectator... probably more than at any other event. There are so many different places to watch from, and 24 hours is long enough to visit most of them.

For now, though, there is 2010 to look forward to. It promises to be a belter of a race. Apparently there will be a nice shiny A3 in my driveway on Monday, which I will be taking on the 9:55am Dover-Calais ferry on Tuesday. I don't know where I shall be staying at this stage, but understand that it is a private home and hopefully I shall be comfortable. Robin Goodman will ensure that I get some food over the course of the race, and I shall stand (probably) and watch the whole race from start to finish from the commentary booth overlooking the pits. Hopefully I will be able to stay on top of the race, and if I do, I shall enjoy enormously being able to share it with many of you.

Here's to it!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Le Mans preview (for

By the time you read this, it will be June, and the focus, I suppose, of most readers of this will be on Le Mans, where yet another fascinating 24 hours is in prospect. There is no doubt that the battle for overall honours will once again be between the mighty (quiet) diesels from defending champion Peugeot and ‘only-beaten-twice-this-century’ Audi.

Regulation changes for this year’s race have centred on revised aero rules, and along with further reductions in the restrictor sizes for the diesels, we will see an increase in lap times compared with last year. By how much, remains to be seen, but bear in mind that changes to the regulations last year caused lap times to increase by three to four seconds a lap for the LMP1 cars, and I suspect we’ll see a similar increase this year. Don’t forget though, that in 2008 lap times improved by nearly eight seconds compared to 2007, so I suspect that we’ll not be far off the times seen three years ago, when Stéphane Sarrazin put the brand new Peugeot 908 on pole with a 3 min 26.344 secs.

I suspect that lap times for the LMP1 cars this year will be roughly the same as the times we saw in 2007, when Peugeot first arrived at Le Mans with the 908 HDi, and in which Stéphane Sarrazin set the first of his three consecutive pole positions in 3 mins 26.344 secs.

Theoretically, due to the way that the regulations have been altered this year, the petrol-powered cars should be closer to the diesels this year than they were last. However, my impression is that the challenge from the Aston Martin Racing cars is not as committed this year. As a result, I anticipate an excellent fight for ‘best of the rest’, between the Lolas of AMR and Rebellion, and the diesel-powered Kolles Audi R10s, possibly joined by the ORECA-AIM – and maybe even the Beechdean-Mansell Ginetta? Maybe not. But I would be surprised to see any of them as high up the order on Sunday afternoon as the Aston Martin was last year.

Another difference this year is that whereas last year’s timetable had Wednesday given over completely to free practice, this year there will be two hours of Qualifying on Wednesday night (from 10pm until midnight), following four hours of free practice between 4pm and 8pm, as well as the traditional four hours of qualifying on Thursday, between 7pm and midnight, with a break from 9pm until 10pm. This should provide a better opportunity for those who are minded to, to ‘go for it’, and could well give us an excellent fight for pole in all the classes.

In the LMP2 class, the Highcroft-entered Honda Performance Development car, with two former outright winners at the wheel, must start the race as favourite. However, I expect Danny Watts to put the similar Strakka-run car on the class pole. But speed is not always a recipe for success in this class, and Highcroft have less experience at Le Mans than any of their class competition. So RML, Quifel-ASM and the Kruse Schiller Motorsport entries must all be taken seriously as contenders for the class win by virtue simply of familiarity with the event, if nothing else.

Following the paucity in last years GT1 class, I am (guardedly) looking forward to seeing a race in the class this year. Although I would not be surprised to see the GT2 class winner finish ahead of the GT1 winner in the overall positions. The jury is still out as far as the future of GT1 is concerned; I think the ACO will need to re-evaluate what part the class has to play in the 2011 24 hour race after the dust has settled following this year’s race.

As ever, GT2 looks extremely competitive: perhaps even more so this year. The arrival of works teams from Corvette and BMW in the class, joining the vastly experienced ranks of Ferrari and Porsche entrants augurs for a very good race indeed.

So who will win? In terms of the individual classes, I will leave it to you to debate among yourselves. Along with the discussion of whether the Kolles Audis should be in class ‘LMP1-bis’, the name I coined a couple or three years ago for the ‘best non-works Audi / Peugeot’. Hopefully the ORECA Peugeot will be able to keep up with the works cars.

For the outright win, it really has to be one of the six works diesels though, doesn’t it? Audi or Peugeot? That is the question. The trouble is, that in answering the question, one only has the Spa 1,000 kms race where both teams raced against each other. And if you believe everything that was being published, even then the Peugeots were running in a Spa-specific set-up, whereas the Audis were in full Le Mans trim.

Certainly, when it was dry, and all other things were equal, the Peugeots were consistently quicker over the course of a lap. However, Allan McNish (who else?) in the no. 7 Audi set the fourth fastest lap of the race – behind two laps from Montagny in the no.2 Peugeot and one from Bourdais in the no. 3. If Peugeot were consistently so much quicker, I would have expected them to be more dominant than that.

Other points to note from looking at the lap times:
· Montagny was generally quicker than Sarrazin (note that Minassian did not drive no. 2)
· Davidson was generally quicker than Gene or Wurz
· Dumas was generally the quickest driver in no. 9
· Tréluyer and Lotterer were well-matched in no. 8
· The fastest laps of both Dumas and Tréluyer were quicker than Kristensen’s

But these are very general observations, and there may be good explanations for all of them.

Since I have the sector times from Spa, though, let me share some of them with you. Before I do, I should explain where the sectors begin and end.
· Sector 1: start line – La Source – Eau Rouge – Kemmel Straight
· Sector 2: Les Combes (pif-paf) – Rivage – Pouhon – Fagnes
· Sector 3: Stavelot – Blanchimont – Bus Stop – start line.

In sector 1, McNish again set the fourth fastest time, but this time it was behind two times from Davidson in no.1 and one from Lamy in no.3.

In sector 2, the best time from Dumas in no.9 was half-a-second quicker than the best that the no. 7 Audi could manage (in the hands of Capello). However, even the best that Dumas could manage was more than a second off the fastest Peugeot time through this sector.

And in sector 3, Dumas (in no.9), Lotterer (in no.8) and Capello (in no.7) were all quicker than any of the Peugeots. Interestingly though, McNish’s best time was nearly half a second slower than the car’s best – in the hands of Capello.

As I have mentioned in a previous column, at Spa, the ‘dress rehearsal’ developed into a ‘proper race’, and special circumstances (safety cars, power cuts, rain) mean that making predictions for 24 hours at Le Mans using the data of Spa is speculative and highly unreliable. And in any case, Spa is not Le Mans.

Whichever way you look at it though, it seems certain that, with the R15-plus, Audi has clawed back some of the advantage enjoyed by Peugeot at Le Mans last year. The race will be finely balanced indeed. In the end it will probably come down to the team that has the fewest incidents, whether they are of their own making or not.

My view? It’s too close to call. Lucky we don’t get ‘hung races’, like we get ‘hung parliaments’.

Paul Truswell

Sunday, 30 May 2010

The Masters Historic Festival at Brands Hatch

Had a very pleasant afternoon today at Brands... we only arrived at about 3pm and the man on the gate kindly took pity on me and charged me £12 to get in - plus a fiver for the programme. The pre-1966 touring cars were out practising when we arrived, and we then walked round to paddock hill bend to watch the World Sportscar Masters. It was excellent fun watching - the Osella driven by Richard Evans won the half-hour race at a canter, and unfortunately the Ferrari 512M was a retirement while running fourth.

We had a bit of a walk around the paddock - saw a Ferrari Enzo, of which you don't see many, and a couple of old racing drivers - of which you see quite a lot!

Patrick Watts made my son's day by allowing him to sit in his Ford Mustang... also saw Dave Loudoun, who hasn't been out for a year or three. Apparently he got the forms for his competition licence this year, but never quite got around to filling them in! Didn't seem to be missing it much though.

Afterwards, I managed to drag Robin out for a walk around at least a part of the Grand Prix circuit. A bit like going out onto the school field at your old school, it is the only bit that hasn't changed much... but then it has, in many ways. Reminded me though what a great place Brands Hatch is for spectators, especially when we emerged at the exit of Stirling's - what a good corner that is. Sean Walker and Ian Flux managed to get their Lotus Elan home first in the two hour "Gentleman Drivers" race. And we managed to get into the pit lane to congratulate Ian on his achievement. Followed by a walk down the pit lane and a visit into most of the garages, where we could look at some of the F1 machinery that we had missed on the track earlier in the day. And I couldn't quite work out what the Matra M670B was doing there - but it looked great anyway.

All in all, a fine afternoon out. Must make a day of it next time... if the family (and wife) permit it!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

38th ADAC Zurich 24h Rennen - aka Nürburgring 24 hours

An excellent weekend at the Nürburgring for the 24 hours. Drove over in my S4 Avant (did I mention my S4 Avant already? What a nice car!) via the Channel Tunnel with Graham Goodwin for company and had a troublefree journey in each direction.

Radio Le Mans (dotcom) operating out of the Aston Martin Hospitality Lounge, and a very pleasant place it is too. A limited view of the track (from the corner of the lounge where we are squashed), but access to the catering facilities, which are really, really good. It’s above the press room too, so access to information is good, although we probably didn’t make as much use of it as we should have done.

And – a first for the Nürburgring 24 hours – Radio Le Mans covered the whole race without a break. And why not, for the race was truly enthralling. There are doubtless better places than this if you want to find out what happened, but as Manthey Racing had provided the winning car for the last three years, and had a strong entry this year, it looked like a safe bet to me. But when it fell out as a result of a collision with a VW Golf that bounced off the barrier and into its path, the race looked to be turning to Audi. The R8s had looked somewhat on the edge throughout, but Marco Werner must have hoped to stay in the lead for somewhat more than the ten corners that he negotiated between passing the Golf / Porsche contretemps, and arriving at the Pflanzgarten and having a collision of his own.

As the other Audis also fell foul of traffic and breakdown, so the Manthey Hybrid Porsche established a lead that looked unstoppable. Until it stopped, victim of a broken gearbox. Which left us with a battle between the Hankook Ferrari and the Schnitzer BMW M3. The Italian car had previously been overhauled by the German one, as a result of some particularly slow laps during darkness, and but for that, a thrilling chase for the flag might have ensued. Maybe the Ferrari could have won. But a Nürburgring 24 hours with the first Porsche in only fifth place is certainly a sign of an unusual race.

With the 24 hours at Le Mans not many weeks away, a spot of reflection. First, I like the fact that the Nürburgring race is certainly not a sprint. Driving safely, and to a strategy, is the secret to success. On only a couple of occasions did it seem to me that an R8 would reach the chequered flag first, and on those my vision was of a smouldering, shuddering wreck of a car that wouldn’t complete another lap. The BMW looked nearly immaculate at the finish.

Second, it is very, very easy to crash at the Ring. With 197 starters, and back-markers being encountered on the leaders’ very first lap, traffic is inevitably a problem. More of a problem is the width of the Nordschleife and the fact that the barriers are not very far away. Thankfully, although there were incidents aplenty, none was serious and the race was a safe one.

Third, I am not sure about this business of being allowed to get a tow back to the pits if you stop on the circuit. It’s a good way of ensuring that the rate of attrition is not too high, but it has all the potential to change the strategy altogether. Why not take a risk here or there if you can get someone to bring you home and resume your race? With so many classes, many of which have few entrants, it is possible to get a good class result despite being stranded. The Aston Martin Vantage ‘Kermit’ still finished 3rd in class despite needing a tow back from somewhere out in the woods on the back of the Chairman’s Rapide. More significantly, it thus finished ahead of five other classified finishers in the class. It just doesn’t seem right to me.

My only other gripe is the way that the time-keeping system works. For some reason the no. 76 BMW Z4 was credited with 3 minutes (I think) which made following its progress very difficult, especially when you compared it to what was happening on the track. There might be no better way of doing it (just as towing cars back to the pits might be the best way of keeping as many as possible in the race), but it doesn’t seem quite right either.

Apart from these last two things though, I am really, really glad I went (thanks John, for having me! – and Eve). In some ways I would have preferred to go to Spa and miss Nürburgring, but I am very glad I didn’t miss that one. And I am looking forward to seeing another cracking good race again next year… maybe a proper race between Audi and Porsche?

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Grand Prix Saboteurs – Joe Saward

I have had this book for some time, but haven’t managed to pluck up the courage to pick it up and start it. Our Easter vacation in Portugal provided the impetus, and I found myself gripped before the aeroplane even took off.

Why should I have needed courage? Well, partly because I hold Joe in high regard – his writing is good, his intellect is strong and his memory phenomenal. In all areas, he is my superior. I guess I was afraid of having my inadequacies exposed. I needn’t have worried. This is an excellent book that will appeal to readers of many different backgrounds.

The narrative flows beautifully, and even though the detail is intense, this does not interrupt the enjoyment. I would hate to be submitted to a full examination to test my assimilation of the facts it contains, for there are too many. In terms of facts, the reader is fairly assaulted. I was reminded of the early Nick Park Wallace and Gromit films, in which it took three days to film two seconds of the film. I had an image of Joe, surrounded by books in a dusty archive somewhere in France, seeking to find just one name to insert into a paragraph, which already had twenty names in it.

I exaggerate. Not much though. But through this intensity of facts, two emotions come flooding out, filling me with admiration. First for the bravery of the folk around whom story revolves – principally the pre-war drivers William Grover, who won the first ever Monaco Grand Prix under the pseudonym W Williams, and Robert Benoist, who won the twenty-four hours of Le Mans in 1937, with the third chief character in the book, Jean-Pierre Wimille, who would triumph at Le Mans again in 1939, and then go on to an illustrious racing career after the war.

Second for the evident love the author has of his subject. More than eighteen years of research illustrates the passion that his topic holds for the author. Despite having only a passing interest in the activities of the French Resistance, Saward has whetted my appetite for his next book on this subject, which I can only assume will have even less reference to motor racing than this volume.

I felt that occasionally, we disappeared off on tangents that served only to illustrate the depth of the author’s research rather than further the plot, but we invariably came back to the matter in hand, and always did so with Joe’s engaging style intact. My other gripe concerned the number of typos (even one on the first page!), which were minor, but too frequent to be ignored.

Whatever kind of motor racing fan you are, even if you are not (so what are you doing reading this?) this is a story that I suggest you will find hard to put down. Thankyou Joe – well done!

Monday, 10 May 2010

Spa 1000kms – inconclusive, but who cares?

The 1000kms of Spa was full of action and incident and I am sure it provided a drama-filled six hours for those who were there; for those who paid their money to spectate. A tremendous battle for the lead, practically throughout the race between the two manufacturer teams from Peugeot and Audi. Great battles in the classes. Uncertain weather conditions. A forty-minute hiatus while power was restored to the circuit? Bizarre that.

I remember in the early 1980’s at Brands Hatch, there would often be a power cut around 30 minutes before the Grand Prix began, as 26 tyre warmers were all switched on at once. Much panic all round ensued. But the race was not delayed.

I found myself in two minds as the drama unfolded. The old-fashioned, backward-looking side of me wondered what all the fuss was about. Surely a motor race shouldn’t be dependent on a supply of mains electricity? I grant that it makes life difficult (if not impossible) for those in the media centre, gazing at TV screens and trying to keep a live audience around the world informed what was going on. And for those in the hallowed race control building, with its air-conditioning and walls of monitors; the Big Brothers, controlling everything and everybody, governing which flags are shown where, overruling marshals in their split-second judgements at posts around the circuit.

What about those spectators around the circuit though? Public Address loudspeaker coverage at Spa is any case somewhat patchy (I’ve been there as a spectator – I know). It must have been a bit odd for those campers up at Pouhon or Blanchimont when it all went quiet.

But then the 21st century side of me took over. We live in an age of electricity. In not many years to come, I am sure that advances in battery technology and increasing worries about mains supplies through traditional ‘non-renewable’ generation will mean that this era will become regarded as a quaint transitional period, when our dependence on wires to supply electricity become as outmoded as the need to have wires to ensure communication. We are not yet in that era though. We are still dependent on the wires for power. I can understand the worries of the race director, who, after all, bears the ultimate responsibility for the safe execution of the event. We have become used to having live timing screens – although I am convinced that RIS timing will have had back-up plans in place to do without power, as would Audi, Peugeot and the other major players. But for the world’s media, as well as for the safety of all concerned, I suspect that the decision to pause the race was the best one, at least to preserve the reputation of most concerned. As ever, I’m not sure that playing a ‘blame game’ actually would achieve anything.

Remarkably though, the ‘power cut pause’ did not spoil the race very much (from where I was sitting). We very nearly got through 1,000kms anyway. And we had a great race. Seen in isolation from Le Mans, the battle for the lead was excellent. Two major manufacturers, each using a slightly different configuration (Peugeot adapted their car for the particular requirements of Spa, Audi running in full Le Mans trim). Changeable weather conditions. Lots of traffic and several safety car interventions. A change for second place on the penultimate lap, and three cars on the lead lap at the finish. Great stuff.

And interestingly, the winning Peugeot spent more than three minutes less time in the pits than the third placed Audi. Yet at the chequered flag, the Audi was only just over two minutes adrift. So Audi could have won the race on pace alone. Hopefully the myth of dubious Peugeot pit strategy can be put to rest at last.

Yet if I were in Dr Wolfgang Ullrich’s shoes, I would be worried. He may have been able to make the most of the opportunity to enable his team to ‘gel’. The team may have learned a lot about the performance of the upgrades to the R15. But at Spa at least, the team was reduced to a pretty much one-car team against the three factory Peugeots. And even with the ‘dream team’ of Audi driving talent, there was no evidence of a significant advantage of the sort Audi enjoyed for so many years.

Peugeot may have had their moments too. But first, second and fourth places for their three cars with all the dramas that the race threw up is a highly creditable performance. First blood to the French, it seems to me.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

April Comment column for dsc

I sent this to dailysportscar for my end of April comment, I'm sure they'll post it soon!

I missed the Le Mans series race at Paul Ricard – “les huit heures du Castellet” – as we were flying off on our Easter family holiday. And having to contend with the ash cloud from Iceland’s volcanic eruption, as well as a water pump failure on my car (happily the Airbus was more reliable) getting back was a bit more arduous than I had hoped. As a result, I haven’t done my usual in-depth analysis of what happened.

Of course the re-vamped Audi R15 ran away with the race, and although the British-built Lolas filled the podium places, it is still clear that diesels enjoy a performance advantage over the petrol-powered cars. However, I was interested to compare the works Audi performance to the Oreca Peugeot 908, which finished just off the podium, following an 18-minute pit stop in the first hour. Despite (or perhaps because of) its delay, it managed to complete the race on two fewer pit-stops than the winning car (seven rather than nine), which had to make an unscheduled stop to fix a mirror, as well as a stop for wet-weather tyres. But even taking this into account, the Peugeot was able to cover 32 or 33 laps on a tank of diesel compared to the Audis clockwork stints of 31 laps.

It was running slightly slower than the Audi of course, which might account for the better consumption, and twice round Paul Ricard is still less than a lap round Le Mans, so the difference (if there is one) might not be important. And of course only the men from Ingolstadt know how much fuel actually went in at each stop. Sandbagging has been known before, after all. We’ll see in six weeks time.

Before Le Mans, though, there’s May to survive. I was looking through my diary (checking how long until Le Mans) and was astonished at the schedule facing the sportscar racing world in May. The action kicks off with the Silverstone Supercar meeting, featuring the second round of the FIA GT1 World Championship and the opening rounds of the GT3 and GT4 European Championships, all on the new Grand Prix circuit. The following weekend sees three of the newly revamped Audi R15s battling against a similar number of Peugeot 908s over 1000km of Spa-Francorchamps, and then there’s just week until the classic 24 hour race over the Nürburgring’s tortuous Nordschleife (or to be more precise, the ‘Gesamtstrecke’, which comprises both the Nordschleife and the Grand Prix ‘loop’). A week later sees the second proper round of the 2010 American Le Mans Series at Laguna Seca, California, which clashes with the third round of the FIA GT1 World Championship, again supported by the GT3 and GT4 series, which are at Brno in the Czech Republic.

Five major races over four weekends. I can think of many people who will be at three of those five events – a couple I know might even take in four. And when you think about it, for specialists of sportscar racing – and I am sure you would not be reading this if you weren’t a specialist – these events offer superb variety within the genre. Whatever you think of performance equalisation, the FIA’s GT1 World Championship certainly provides the opportunity for evocative sounding and looking machinery to go racing on a world stage, with a world title at stake.

The Spa showdown provides spectators and analysts alike a wonderful curtain-raiser for the Le Mans 24 hour race in June – just as the Silverstone Six Hours used to in times past. And at the spectacular Laguna Seca raceway, it will be enormously interesting to see once again the battle between the two flavours of Le Mans prototype running in a single class in a battle for overall supremacy.

Brno may be the poorer relation of the group, but at least the circuit has some character and a history, and should provide a stirring backdrop for the spectacular GT cars. One hopes that by then the performance arguments might have been sorted.

Differing formats as well; from the 199 entries (on my most recent list) for the 24-hour marathon at the Nürburgring, to the more manageable grids and easily-packaged-for-TV sprints for GT cars, with the 1,000km at Spa and the six hour distance for Laguna Seca providing a sort of (ideal?) happy medium.

But is this glut of sportscar racing a good thing? “Less can be more”, so the saying goes, but the opposite is also sometimes true. Looking at the amount of emptiness in a glass can sometimes be revealing. Audi was absent from Sebring, just as the factory Peugeots were from Paul Ricard. None of the American based teams contesting the ALMS will be at Spa, which is the first time that we’ll see the two major works teams going head-to-head. Spectators at Silverstone and Brno will see no fewer than six one-hour races, and I’m guessing that there will be many for whom the differences between GT1, GT3 and GT4 will not be apparent. And there may even be some who ask why there isn’t a race for GT2.

I sometimes wonder if it would be possible to have a World Championship for Le Mans cars. A single set of regulations, a single calendar, running at proper venues (Monza, Kyalami, Suzuki?). Send your list on a post card to the editor.

But the trouble is that today, there are too many people with vested interests; too many egos. I think that Bernie Ecclestone is to blame. Thirty years ago, he dragged Formula One out of the state that it was in and made it the global media circus that it now is. And now people see him as a role model. Who do you think is trying to be “GT Racing Supremo”? Or “Endurance ring-master”? “Le Mans Csar”, anybody?

As long as there isn’t a single autocrat (or powerful governing body) in control, it isn’t going to happen and we will continue to get a multiplicity of flavours of sportscar racing vying for our attention, each run by someone with a business model, a financial plan, but not necessarily any heart and soul for the sport. In the long run, the value of each individual event is reduced. The reason that the World Cup in football is special is that it only happens once every four years. Ecclestone has somehow succeeded in convincing us (has he?) that Grand Prix motor racing is still worth the name when there are nineteen or twenty events a year – those with longer memories than me will be able to recall the early years of the world drivers’ championship when only six or seven races counted. There were other races for Formula One cars of course, but a Grand Prix was something special.

Of course there should always be a place for strong national sportscar championships, which may need to cut their cloth differently, but wouldn’t fewer, bigger World Championship rounds bring in bigger crowds and be more worthwhile for the entrants?

Having said that, I have to admit that I’m expecting May to fairly fly by, and we’ll be at Le Mans before you realise it!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Encyclopedia of Le Mans 24 hours

Well, I have gone and done it. Not sure if my wife reads this, but if she does, I just hope she'll understand. I have ordered the new "L'Encyclopédie des 24 Heures du Mans" from Le Mans Racing. It comes out on July 12th and shows a picture of every car ever to have competed in the classic race. It seems to be an update of Tesseidre and Moity's previous publication, which went from 1923 to 1993, brought up to the present with the addition of a third volume.

It can be collected (according to the website) from the circuit during the 2010 Le Mans Classic meeting, saving the postage costs

Apparently some of the gaps in the original will be filled, as well as some of the non-qualifiers from races.

I am not sure it will be worth the price, but I'll maybe update the blog when it arrives. But it is the sort of thing that I should have, and with such things it is often better to get in the queue early. As I said, we'll see. I'm really rather excited about it though.

It has been a quiet month this month - we had our family holiday in Portugal disrupted by the air travel ban caused by the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

Audi (predictably) ran away and hid at the eight hour race at Paul Ricard (Le Castellet). What with all the palaver of getting home from Portugal (and recovering my car from Guildford Audi, where it had spent the duration having its water pump replaced) I never got around to getting into any of the analysis, save to note that the R15-plus was capable of 31 laps on a tankful of fuel, whereas the Oreca Peugeot could manage 33. Although I've said before that speed will always beat economy, that might be an interested pointer for Le Mans in June.

And May will be mad. As my DSC column for April will describe. Sportscar races all over the place.

Including the 24 hours of the Nürburgring, which will be my first race of the year. Can't wait. Hope the R8 water pumps are more reliable than those on the S4.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Personal ambition

I'm not sure if I should post this here, but here goes anyway. I have just heard that my name has 'been put in' for the Radio Le Mans coverage of the Nürburgring 24 hours. That's nice, as it's an event that I enjoy, having been to the last two. It's near where I used to live, I can speak the language (more or less) and it is usually possible to combine the pleasure of being there with the business of working and making coherent noises into a microphone. Two years ago, when the broadcast shut down in the early hours of the morning, I drove off into the forests and rubbed shoulders with 'real spectators', pressing against the fence watching the cars through Brünnchen, Pflantzgarten and the rest.

Last year, I have to admit here to the world, I left the track, and went back to a hotel for some shuteye. That was a first, and I felt very guilty (although well-rested) afterwards. But there were family issues then, and this year won't be the same, I'm sure.

The Nürburgring 24 hours is different from Le Mans, of course. More cars in the entry, far more amateur drivers and more an event for the participants than for the spectators. Although, having said that, the spectators turn up in droves (aka VW camper vans). The cross-section of humanity may be more limited than that seen at Le Mans, but there are many folk there having fun. I hate to say it, but they are stereotypical Germans, whereas at Le Mans, you get examples of just about everyone.

In some ways, it's a simpler race than Le Mans. At eight and more minutes a lap, your lap chart, if you have one, is much narrower. But the complexity of running eight or more cars out of a garage means nightmares for team managers. Co-operation is required. And the achievement of getting a production based car through 24 hours is not so great as getting a highly strung racer to the finish. However, if you've done it for a tenth of the price of getting a car to Le Mans, then I'm sure the sense of achievement experienced by those involved is just as great.

Given the choice, I have to say I would prefer Le Mans over the Nürburgring - its sense of history, of 'greatness' - legacy, if you will - is so great. But it certainly should rank as the event to go to, if you're just going to go to one event in the 'Green Hell' of the Eifel mountains.

Finally, on the note of personal ambition, is a message that arrived recently from a 'fan', for which I am very grateful. And I hope that we can make something work, despite my dramas this morning, which saw me waste three hours of my life while a failed water pump on my til then marvellous Audi S4 was diagnosed.

Maybe I have a future outside IT consultancy, but I will have to wait awhile yet to find out.

Friday, 19 March 2010


I really can't get excited about Sebring this year. With only eight prototype entries (not counting the PC's), and only two of those in with a shout of victory - there's not even really much of a fight for best petrol-powered car. Which is a shame, as I have watched the Daytona 24 hours shrink from being a guide to form at Le Mans to a "NASCAR-race for a long time", and where Sebring rose up to fill the gap, now it seems we have to wait till Paul Ricard (or maybe even Spa), to get those LM-type juices flowing.

No matter really, except that (and I know this is provocative, but bear with me) Americans have this tendency for trumpet-blowing, which is great when it's justified, but not so wise when it's not - ask those involved in the Afganistan fiasco.

Either it's a sign of things to come in Europe (and we've already seen reducing grids here), or it's a sign that American Endurance Road Racing is on the wane again.

Of course with GT1 gone, GM now in GT2, about to show Ferrari, Porsche and Jaguar how it's done, chances are the race for the GT class will be the best of the 12 hours. Just imagine the Prototypes have some problems, could Corvette win outright with a GT2? No, I don't think so either. But it would be an indication of the depth to which this classic race has sunk.

On a positive note, I truly believe that next year, the race will recover and that the 2011 12 hours will be a classic. I would love to be there, in one role or another. I just have to cover the cost of getting there - then convincing my wife that it's a good idea to go.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Deadliest Crash

I finally got around to watching this DVD last night (my wife couldn't really refuse, as it was my birthday, and having indulged in a curry from the local take-away, she kindly gave up an hour of Sims in order to watch with me).

It is made by Bigger Picture films, John Matthews' company, which also made the two films "In the Lap of the Gods" and "Chasing the Dream", featuring the inside story of Martin Short's exploits at Le Mans in 2006 and 2007.

Its documentary style sits well with the material Matthews has available, which is not quite as exclusive as the commentary suggests. However, interviews with spectators who were there capture the atmosphere and emotion of the event in general and the accident in particular. Even fifty years on, the sheer terror of being in that spectator enclosure comes over extremely vividly.

The first half of the film deals with the background to the event, and the lead up to the crash, rather than the disaster itself. This is probably a good thing, as there is only so much blood and gore that one needs. However, I felt that the analysis of the crash itself could have been better covered. The 3-D graphical representation of the pit area was good, but did not illustrate very much (other than the narrowness of the pit straight). The eye-witness accounts from the tribune area are powerful, but asking Fitch and Dewis their opinions of whose fault it was doesn't really help.

Although it would have been necessarily hypothetical, it would have been interesting to use the 3-D graphic to show the accident from the viewpoints of those involved, Hawthorn, Macklin, Levegh and Fangio. No mention was made at all of Fangio's avoidance, without which the death toll would unquestionaly have been higher. And that one line comment that Macklin was "out of control" wasn't really backed up by anything.

The thing I did want to hear from Fitch was his view of the Mercedes withdrawal, but either he didn't want to be quoted, or he wasn't asked. In either case, something of an omission, in my view.

Overall, though, an excellent documentary, thoroughly deserving of an airing on network TV (or maybe it was and I missed it - there was mention of collaboration with the BBC in the credits).

And I would commend anyone with an interest in this crash to look at, or anywhere else that Paul Frere's excellent account (written in 1975, I think) can be found.

The problem with analysing anything like this too deeply is that folks have different memories and points of view. Most telling, is John Wyer's account in "The Certain Sound" - he saw the spinning Austin Healey of Lance Macklin and completely missed the Mercedes of Levegh crashing - although he was no more than 30 yards away. He is also honest enough to admit as much, rather than taking a position for other reasons.

Deadliest Crash and Go Like Hell - I'm becoming quite a reviewer, am I not?

Monday, 8 March 2010

Looking forward to Le Mans

I know that the Le Mans Series is holding its official test this weekend, that Sebring is just around the corner, and that the attention of many sportscar teams and fans will be focussed elsewhere at the moment. But as the wintry days of February give way to more spring-like weather of March, I find myself pondering the prospects for “The Big One” in June – from a wider perspective.

One of the benefits of being alive in the 21st Century is the fact that everything works more reliably. Wherever you look, televisions, washing machines, central heating systems, even stuff like clocks, telephones, etc. they just work. Sure, things go wrong, but we have a much better understanding nowadays for why they go wrong, and almost inevitably, we take actions to ensure that they don’t go wrong again.

My parents, and their parents before them, became used to the unreliability of things, and became adept at fixing things, or at using things in such a way so as not to wear them out in the first place. They were cautious in their acceptance of new technology, as ‘new’ often meant ‘fragile’, and frequently also brought a level of complexity that meant that fixing became out of the question, and replacing became the norm.

Cars are especially a case in point. A perfect Sunday morning for my father was to be under the bonnet of his Ford Zephyr 4 (while the rest of us went to church), adjusting the points and fine-tuning the carburettor. Vocabulary, I fear, that will soon be lost forever. Apart from topping up the washer fluid, there is not a lot for me to do under the bonnet of my car, even if I would have the mechanical know-how.

The point is that, these days, we do not expect to have to carry out arduous maintenance on anything – we expect it merely to work. The Le Mans 24 hour race is similar. So many teams arrive at the race with a ‘package’ so reliable and so well-engineered, that they can justifiably expect (and not just hope) to get through the 24 hours without having to do much more than change the wheels and put fuel in the car.

I suppose I should applaud advances in engineering that allow sports racing prototypes these days to be driven flat-out for twenty-four hours. For it is the engineering precision and the understanding of the life-ing of components that go a long way to providing the improved reliability of many household items. It’s just that component failure during a 24 hour race is so unlikely these days, that it takes away some of the fascination of the race.

One of the (many) reasons that I stay up all night and monitor what is going on so closely at Le Mans is that ‘things happen’. But ‘something happening’ is becoming less and less common. I’m not really talking about accidents, or weather (it has been alleged that ‘it always rains at Le Mans’), but more about those failures of gearboxes, turbo-chargers, wishbones, etc, that ‘just happen’. Something that the team manager knew was a weak spot, and hopefully something that he had a contingency plan to deal with – be it telling the drivers to be careful over the kerbs, or a smart way of repairing – Audi’s quick-change drivetrain replacement being an example.

These things add uncertainty - add spice - and for the spectator add interest and fascination. In recent years, the 24 hours has turned into a bit of a long Grand Prix, in which if you have a problem, however small, your chances of a good result are ruined, as it is so unlikely that your competitor will have a similar problem.

Remember 1988, when Klaus Ludwig ran out of fuel in the works Porsche, and was forced to complete a slow lap back to the pits? Even though this handed an advantage to the no 2 Jaguar, there were sufficient (and justified) doubts about the Silk Cut car that everyone present was enthralled by the chase. In 1995, no-one really expected a McLaren F1 to survive a 24 hour race, let alone win. The film “Pursuit of Perfection” captures team manager Paul Lanzante stressing to his drivers the need to be gentle with every single gear change, to avoid hitting kerbs, to treat the car carefully. He knew that the only way to be in with a chance of victory was to ensure that the car was still in the race when the chequered flag fell. To put it another way, “to finish first, first you have to finish”.

Nowadays, though, (and this is not just my opinion, but one echoed by a number of drivers and team managers up and down the pitlane), to win Le Mans, you need to be flat-out throughout. Realistically, with three works diesels from each of the Peugeot and Audi factories, it would be a surprise if at least one car from each team didn’t make it to the flag without an unscheduled stop. And, most likely, the outright winners will be one of these. The romantic notion that all the works cars will have a problem and allow an Aston Martin, a Rebellion Lola or even the Mansell’s Ginetta to win is just pie in the sky. The fact is that the Le Mans 24 hours is simply much more predictable nowadays than it was in former times.

I am being a little unfair here. No disrespect to David Brabham, Marc Gene or Alex Wurz, but their car was not the fleetest of the Peugeots last year. Nor was the Audi R10 which won in 2008 quicker over a single (dry) lap than any of the French cars. In both cases, the triumph was one where efficiency and teamwork played vital roles. But the margins are so tight now, that pace cannot compensate for a problem.

Short of making it into a 48-hour race (now there’s a thought), I am not sure if there is a way to change this – you can’t un-invent technology, after all. However, there is one simple change that I would like to see to the ACO regulations concerning pit stops (although I am not sure that it really addresses the point I have been making here) and it is this. Forget about all this choreography about changing the wheels with one wheel gun and two mechanics and go back to a simple limit of four mechanics in total, who have to do everything: re-fuel, clean the screen, change the wheels, etc. And disqualify the car if it goes into the garage. Simple as that. All work has to take place on the apron in front of the car’s pit, where everyone can see it.

Think about it for a while, then tell me (or email the editor) with all the reasons why it would make things any worse. I know that this means that a more reliable car will be at even more of an advantage, but I guess I’m thinking that if certain repairs would cost a car more time being fixed in the pits, it would place a greater premium on the driver to ensure that the car steered clear of trouble, or the engineers coming up with better ‘endurance’ cars.

And of course it would improve the show for the spectators and make life easier for the Radio Le Mans pit reporters.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Go Like Hell

I've just finished reading A J Baime's new book - "Go Like Hell", the story of Ford and Ferrari's quest for speed and glory at the Le Mans 24 hour race. And a jolly good read it is too.

A couple of very minor niggles, but the sort of thing that really annoys me - I'll get them off my chest first, then proceed. Why, oh why do Americans increasingly omit the word "of" after the word "couple"? It is plain wrong English. And as I say, it annoys me. So we get "On a couple occasions..." and "A couple laps later..." Oh well, categorise it along with mis-spelling of "minuscule", which has been misspelt so often that the word "miniscule" even now appears in the OED. The other thing that annoyed me was Baime's failure to get the name of John Wyer's book correct - it is "The Certain Sound", of course, not "That Certain Sound".

But having got that out of the way, it is a really good book. As has been written several times, the author presents his story very much as a novelist would, which makes it extremely readable. Sadly this means that much detail is omitted - but I fear that if all the detail were there, the book would not only be impossibly long, but also too complex. Where it succeeds, is in making the reader want to do some more research. I found myself looking up Wyer's opinions in my own copy of "The Certain Sound", checking results and reports in Time and Two Seats, and even watching again "This Time Tomorrow".

The story tells more of the Ford side than of the Ferrari, I suppose; but having said that, John Surtees gets more than his fair share of the glory for his efforts for the Italian team, and we get a good insight into his side of the story. Baime basically reduces the number of characters in the story, which enables us to get to know a little better the ones that he does mention.

And Baime has clearly researched his story meticulously - although he has clearly visited Le Mans, I found myself wondering occasionally what qualified him particularly to write the book. Or even what motivated him to do so.

But all in all, an excellent book, and one which might yet inspire me to buy his next, which I understand is in preparation already.