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 dailysportscar.com)

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