Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Merry Christmas to all my readers

As we approach the shortest day, the holiday season, and the turn of another year, it is a good time to reflect on times past and anticipate times still to come. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my ramblings on this blog over the last twelve months; I have certainly enjoyed receiving your feedback (when there has been any) and also looking at the widespread geographic spread of the readership. You are truly at all corners of the globe (or maybe I have one reader who travels a lot)!

I certainly don’t want this to become a news website, nor a source of results, race reports or re-hashes of PR interviews. What I’m trying to do here is to share some of my thoughts – either by recalling past experiences or by taking an ‘angle’ on some aspect of racing that you may not find elsewhere.

I’ve been blessed with an affinity for numbers and an eye for seeing patterns, so much of what I put here is the result of my playing with the vast amount of data that is available these days. I’m also lucky enough to meet with some of the personalities of the sport from time to time, and if they tell me things that I can’t publish anywhere else, then I’ll certainly post them here, provided that I have permission to do so, and if I think they will be of interest.

If you’ve read my autobiographical pieces here, you’ll know that I’ve been going to motor races since the 1960’s, that I first went to Le Mans in 1981 and that I’ve been commentating since the mid-1980’s. In 1998, my daughter was born and (encouraged by my wife) I spent less time at the races, and more time with my family, especially after the birth of my son in 2001.

You may also be aware that throughout this time, I’ve had a full time job in the IT industry. In 2012, though, I’ve spent more time at races, and more time writing and organising the writings of other people, than at any time since getting married 16 years ago; and balancing the requirements of work, family and motor-racing has become more and more difficult.

So, next year, I’ve decided to reduce my IT working to four, rather than five, days per week. This will obviously cause a 20% drop in my salary, but I am optimistic that there will be sufficient money to be made from motor racing to compensate. And I’m hoping that cutting my working week will enable me to devote more time to things that people might be prepared to pay me to do, while still being able to spend time being a husband and a dad.

The first such will be the Dubai 24 hour race on January 11th / 12th, at which I shall be commentating, along with John Hindhaugh and Jim Roller. I seem to have spent a lot of time with John this year, and hopefully he’ll be prepared to spend time with me again next year. We certainly aren’t Murray and James, but I like to think that we work well together and make a reasonable double act. And I’m hopeful that we’ll be allowed to do more of the same in 2013.

I’m also grateful to Andrew Cotton at Racecar Engineering and Marcus Schurig at sport auto, both of whom have provided outlets for my analysis this year, and both of whom I am hoping will do so next year as well.

Then there’s the stuff I do for www.DailySportsCar.com. The trouble with the Internet is that it is such a vast and unregulated resource, and there are not many people making a living out of writing in the medium.  In its chosen field, DSC is without doubt one of the leading players, but that’s not to say that its quality could not be improved. As a member of the team of enthusiastic amateurs that contributes to that website, I feel responsible to be part of that continuous improvement, and I hope that I can be. DailySportsCar has a high-quality reputation, and is recognised by the industry; I hope that I can be part of improving its readership figures and securing its financial footing in 2013 and beyond. But that will take time as well.

So wish me luck, then, in 2013: and if any of you, my loyal readers, knows of any opportunities that might suit my rather eclectic mix of skills, please do let me know. Find me on facebook, twitter or LinkedIn. If you’ve read these pages during the year and think that I could do something for you, then I’d love to hear from you!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, 10 December 2012

1990 - Debut on Eurosport!

Some readers may be aware that I spent three years of my life, between 1989 and 1992, living in the USA. Initially, my employers had suggested that it would be for a period of up to six months, but as usual, it took me much longer to do what they wanted me to do than it should have.
At the time, my work as a commentator in the UK was taking off nicely, and I was faced with a choice: either to give it all up and try to start to make contacts in the motor-racing world in the USA; or to accept the fact that I would have to spend some of my (admittedly quite good) salary on transatlantic flights and continue to commentate at Silverstone, Snetterton and Brands Hatch.
I opted for the latter, but also used the fact that I was in the States to broaden my experience of racing by visiting NASCAR, Indycar and suchlike. And it was in the vein of reaching out that I contacted Eurosport, and found myself the job of English language commentator for their coverage of the World Sports-Prototype Championship at Montreal in 1990. I wasn’t required to perform any kind of audition and although I was told that they wouldn’t pay me very much, they did undertake to pay the costs of my flight from New York to Montreal and to provide me hotel accommodation for the duration of my stay.
No email in those days, so everything was arranged over the phone. I was given a reservation number at ‘Le Grand Hotel des Gouverneurs’ in downtown Montreal, from which a shuttle bus would take me to and from the circuit, just over the river, about half-an-hour away.
The hotel was indeed a grand place. And I was especially surprised on checking in to find that I had been upgraded to a suite on the top floor. Well, it wasn’t quite the top floor, as once I got to the penultimate floor, I discovered that the suite had a further flight of stairs inside, which led to the bedroom.

It seemed something of a waste that I was alone in this marvellous room, (in a rather nice city), and that there was no-one to share it with. They obviously spotted that I was Billy No-Mates when they decided to upgrade me - I clearly wasn't the type to invite loads of ne’er-do-wells and trash the place.

It was first time that I had been in Montreal, although I had visited Toronto a number of times. I was struck by the ‘French-ness’ of it all. My attempts to speak French were warmly welcomed, in stark contrast to my experiences speaking French in France, which were so often ridiculed. As I only arrived on the Friday evening, and was due to return on Sunday night, there wasn't much time for any sightseeing, but I did wander out on Saturday evening, found a pleasant restaurant nearby, and felt confident enough to try speaking my best French. I thought I was doing pretty well, especially when the waitress beamed at me: ‘You’re not American, are you Dutch?’

Despite this, I found Montreal an enchanting city, one that I vowed to return to; and indeed, one that I would dearly like to visit again sometime.

The races in 1990 were 480kms and had a maximum duration of three and a half hours and the plan for the race was that I would have a co-commentator in the shape of John Watson. The snag was that he was sharing one of the works Toyotas in the race with Geoff Lees. The idea was that he would drive the middle stint and then come and join me to cover the final third of the race. I was slightly concerned that this plan was flawed, not least because the TV compound, where the commentary boxes were situated, was on the opposite side of the track from the paddock, and about a mile away from the pits. I've extracted the circuit map from the Media Guide that we were issued with - the commentary position was between the infield lake and the Bronze 32 grandstand.
I remember between practice sessions, on the day before the race, going to find Wattie, partly to introduce myself and partly to get a feeling for what was going to happen. I was very keen to make a good impression, not just on John, but also in my role as a TV commentator, in the knowledge that my audience would be far larger than I was used to – even compared to a British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
In particular, I wondered, how was Wattie going to get up to speed with what was happening in the race? If he’d been driving, he would be able to bring great insight to that element of the race, but might somehow be missing the bigger picture of the battle at the front (as it was expected) between Mercedes and Jaguar. Then there was the first public appearance of the new Peugeot 905, in the hands of Keke Rosberg, prior to a full onslaught on the Championship in 1991. If that was in and out of the pits, would Watson even have seen it?
I was eager to ensure that we did a good job and didn’t appear unprofessional. Watson surprised me, being very off-hand about the whole performance: “it’s only Eurosport, nothing important,” was his opinion on matters. “Don't worry, I'll get over with you when I can.”
I have already mentioned that the positioning of the TV commentary boxes was not ideal. The view of the track was minimal, and at that point the cars were travelling at very high speed indeed. My normal practice of keeping a lap chart running was virtually impossible: the high speed combined with a very narrow field of view meant that I watched the largest portion of the race on the TV monitor. In addition to live TV pictures, I also had a timing screen and a small monitor with a fixed view of cars going into (or occasionally being worked on) in the pits.
What I had not quite worked out at that stage in my ‘commentary career’, though, was the need to talk only about what was happening on the pictures. I felt it was far more important to tell viewers the other things that were happening – after all, they could see the pictures, what they must want was to know what else was going on, surely?
My other big mistake was not to introduce the ad breaks properly; as the producer counted down to the break, I would merely reach a natural pause in the commentary, and wait for him to go to the break. All the while, he was waiting for me to say something like “don’t go away, we’ll be right back in just a couple of minutes”.
Of course the race itself was something of a fiasco; despite being the venue for the Canadian Grand Prix, somehow the World Sports-Prototype Championship didn’t carry the same weight, and in the end the race had to be halted prematurely after Jesus Pareja in the Brun Porsche 962 met a fiery end when a man-hole cover crashed through the windscreen having been lifted by a car he was following. Lucky to avoid being hit in the face by the flying disc, he was luckier still to escape unscathed from the ensuing fire.
Unfortunately, the TV cameras caught none of the action and I was left wondering what was going on as eventually the pictures cut to a burnt-out shell of the Porsche. The race was finally stopped after a brief period behind the safety car, and despite initial information being that there would be a re-start and a two-part race, it eventually became clear that, having dodged one bullet (almost literally) no-one wanted to take any more risks.
With little information coming through from the race organisation, and lots of talkback from the Eurosport producer in London, I was stood down with 49 of the scheduled 110 laps remaining. So I took a taxi back to the airport and was never asked to work for Eurosport again. Shame really, as had things turned out differently, I might have made a better job of it and managed to get my foot in the door.
What I didn’t know, was that my parents, who were holidaying in Andorra at the time, happened to be visiting a local café which had Eurosport on the TV in the corner. Mum wouldn’t believe it was me commentating until my name appeared on the screen, despite my Dad’s assertions. And until very recently, when it came to my attention that the race is now on YouTube (isn’t everything?) I had never, ever seen the results of my efforts!
The amended entry list (click to enlarge)

Monday, 26 November 2012

Statistics from the 2012 WEC season - GTE Pro

Last week I posted a summary of the numbers from the LMP1 class of the 2012 World Endurance Championship. This week, I am looking at the GTE Pro class. In many ways, this was a more closely contested class than ever, with a battle between three manufacters throughout the eight races of the championship.

For the sake of simplicity I'm going to limit this analysis to just three cars:
  • the no. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia, driven by Gianmaria Bruni (not Bahrain), Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander (Sebring, Le Mans and Bahrain);
  • the no. 77 Felbermayr Proton Porsche 911 RSR (997), driven by Marc Lieb, Richard Lietz, Patrick Pilet (Sebring) and Wolf Henzler (Le Mans); and
  • the no. 97 AMR Aston Martin Vantage V8, driven by Stefan Mücke, Darren Turner and Adrian Fernandez (Sebring, Le Mans and Silverstone).
The championship certainly boiled down to just these three, and with one or two exceptions (of which more as we go through the detail), they had relatively trouble-free runs throughout the season.

First, I would like look at average lap time - but across a season covering eight different circuits, this makes no sense, so instead, the table below shows the average speed achieved by each of the three when it was on the track (i.e. distance covered divided by time, deducting time spent in the pits).

Car No.51 Ferrari77 Porsche97 Aston Martin
Season Average Speed (excluding pit stops) 172.68 km/h 167.22 km/h 171.04 km/h
Season Average Speed (excluding Le Mans)160.54 km/h 159.94 km/h 157.65 km/h
Potential Season Average Speed (excluding pit stops)180.11 km/h 179.53 km/h178.50 km/h

Readers may recall that the Felbermayr Porsche failed to finish at Le Mans, and since this is by far the fastest circuit (and the longest race) on the calendar, it has something of a disproportionate impact on the results, so I also show what happens if you remove Le Mans from the analysis.

The "Potential Average Speed" is calculated by taking the fastest 50% of laps achieved in each race during the season, and then weighting the average by the length of each individual race.

To summarise, there seems little doubt that the Ferrari is the quickest, on average, although towards the end of the season, the Aston Martin was certainly catching up, but this cannot be seen by merely looking at the season average.

What is not taken into account are the changes that were made to the regulations during the season - e.g. the performance breaks granted to the Porsche from Silverstone onwards, or the reduced fuel tank size for the Ferrari after Bahrain.

Conventional wisdom tells us, however, that average speed on the track is only half the story. The other half of the story is the time spent in the pits. Here are the numbers:

Car 51 Ferrari77 Porsche97 Aston Martin
Average stint on tank of fuel191.1 km 175.6 km 174.2 km
Total time spent in pits5h 14m 23.427s 1h 25m 50.367s 1h 57m 58.353s
Total time spent in pits (Silverstone onwards)47m 19.185s 44m 47.510s 35m 58.280s
Total number of pit stops61 57 66
Total number of pit stops (Silverstone onwards)23 26 25
Average Median Pit Stop Time1m 25.943s 1m 21.105s 1m 24.580s

Due to problems for the Ferrari at Sebring, the Aston at Spa and the aforementioned failure of the Porsche at Le Mans, I have added the numbers for the final five six-hour races for a more realistic comparison. However, even these numbers are unduly affected by longer stops for the Porsche (at Silverstone) and for the Ferrari (at Shanghai).

Perhaps one of the most telling statistics is that the AF Corse Ferrari managed to complete the six hours at Interlagos spending just 5m 36.551s in the pit lane. To show this was no fluke, at Spa its total pit time was 5m 36.613s. Neither the Felbermayr Porsche not the Aston Martin managed to complete a six hour race with less than six minutes in the pits.

The caveats regarding Average Stint Length and the explanation of the Average Median Pit Stop time can be found in my previous post about the LMP1 figures - there is no point in repeating myself here.

What is rather fun, though, is to put the "race parameters" (speed, stint length, pit stop time) into the prediction software and see what comes out. So, if we use an "average circuit", and say that each car has an "average" race, then we get the following results for the "Six Hours of Average":

Car No.51 Ferrari77 Porsche97 Aston Martin
No. of pit stops5 6 6
Projected number of laps161 161 160
Projected Time Taken6h 01m 36.056s6h 02m 36.635s 6h 02m 44.512s

Winners distance: 1,063.96km

Note: The lap length of the "average circuit" is 6.608km and the fastest GTE lap in this "race" was 2m 11.418s, but I'm not sure which driver did it... suggestions welcome!!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Statistics from the 2012 WEC season - LMP1

Now that the World Endurance Championship season is over, and Christmas only a little more than a month away, it is a good time to reflect on the past season. Inevitably, I suppose, this summary will focus on the numbers.

Let's look at the LMP1 class first, particularly the works Audi and Toyota teams. The following table shows the average speed across those races in which Audi and Toyota competed together. For the purposes of this, I have included the first five hours of the Le Mans 24 hours, then compiled the data from the six hour races at Silverstone, Interlagos, Bahrain, Fuji and Shanghai.

Car No. No.1 Audi No.2 Audi No.7 Toyota
Average Speed (excluding pit stops) 188.40 km/h 188.31 km/h 189.56 km/h
Total time spent in pits 44m 56.867s 55m 02.654s 55m 39.240s
Total number of pit stops (excluding penalties) 38 39 42
Average stint on tank of fuel 157.23 km 158.12 km 141.48 km
Average Median Pit Stop Time 1m 07.148s 1m 10.965s 1m 04.484s

A word of explanation is appropriate here, to describe some of my calculations.

Average Speed is the total distance travelled in all the races, divided by the time spent by each car on the track. I have subtracted time spent in the pit lane.

Average Stint length is slightly debatable figure, as I have attempted to include only those stints where the reason for stopping was for re-fuelling. I have excluded any stint that was affected by a safety car period, and any where the reason for the stop was for some other reason: e.g. to repair damage. However, some stints are curtailed because of tyre wear - and towards the end of a race, stints may be shortened to balance the final two stints. Hence this row is somewhat subjective.

The "Average Median Pit Stop" time is calculated by taking the average of the median pit stop times from each race. The median is the middle value of the pit stops, arranged in order of length (in the case of there being an even number of stops, it is the average of the middle two). I have done this to reduce the impact of long 'repair' pit stops and short 'splash and dash' stops. I have also excluded Stop and Go penalties from this calculation.

However, it seems that the No. 2 Audi suffers here due to longer stops in the early stages of Le Mans and at Interlagos, which materially affected its average.

Also, note that the numbers for car no. 2 are a mixture of data from the non-hybrid Audi R18 ultra that was used at Silverstone and Interlagos, and the hybrid-engined e-tron quattro that was used everywhere else.

I'm not entirely sure that there are any great surprises from this data. The Toyota is demontrably quicker, but it cannot go as far on its tank of petrol as the diesel Audis. Although the Toyota spent more time in the pits altogether, the average time for each stop is less. This is mainly due to more efficient use of tyres in the races at Interlagos and Fuji. It also made more stops.

As a purely academic exercise, I thought it might be interesting to project these figures across a theoretical seventy-two hour race. This is equivalent to the entire WEC season, including the twelve hours of Sebring, twenty-four hours of Le Mans, and the six other six-hour races. Note that the average speeds shown above include time spent behind the safety car, so in a sense, safety car periods are allowed for.

Car No. No.1 Audi No.2 Audi No.7 Toyota
No. of pit stops 84 83 94
Projected Distance Covered 13,268.4 km 13,247.0 km 13,328.2 km

To put this into some sort of perspective, this means that over the course of the WEC season, the leading cars could just about get from London to Cape Town - and the Toyota's winning margin is less than 60km!

What this 'aggregate race' fails to do though, is to take account of the length of a particular race, and the length of a lap at an individual circuit. In effect, there is an underlying assumption that the pit is available whenever the car needs it, and that each pit stop will refuel the tank to capacity. In reality, particularly on a long cicuit like Le Mans, where re-fuelling is only possible every 13.6km, compromises have to made in order to optimise the overall strategy.

Extrapolating the the actual data from the first five hours of Le Mans across the full twenty-four hours, assuming that the pace and strategy continued as it started, and that no safety car periods occurred, provides the following potential result at Le Mans, had the Toyotas kept going:

No. Car No. of pit stops Projected Distance No. of Laps
1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro 33 5,444.34 km 399
7 Toyota TS030 Hybrid 36 5,435.18 km 399
3 Audi R18 ultra 33 5,433.52 km 399
8 Toyota TS030 Hybrid 37 5,418.02 km 398
4 Audi R18 ultra 33 5,410.51 km 397
2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro 34 5,400.46 km 396

Note how the first three cars are separated by less than a lap at the end of the race. Yet another indication of how close things were this year!

Postscript: A good deal of crunching of numbers has gone on in the background here, which I have spared you, for the sake of readability. Leave me a message below if you would like further details, or if you spot any errors.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Radio Le Mans - the first time

Next year, it will be twenty-five years since my debut on Radio Le Mans, although the radio station itself first broadcast in 1987. I didn’t have a driving licence at that time, but my good friend Paul Coombs drove me over in his VW Scirocco, and we camped in the ‘Camping des Tribunes’, on the inside of the newly-installed Dunlop chicane. Paul was not really a motor racing fan – what brought us together was a shared passion for real ale and curry – but a mutual friend of ours was also going (in his Lotus 7), and I think their plan was to spend some time visiting some chateaux in the Loire valley.

I knew Neville and Richard Hay well enough, and I knew that, following a broadcast of the PA commentary on a local FM transmitter in 1986, and some success running similar ‘special event radio’ at Brands Hatch and Silverstone, a chap called Anthony Landon was planning to broadcast a dedicated English language commentary on a transmitter at Le Mans. Neville had said that he was sure that the team would want to use me in one way or another, so if I was going to be there anyway, then I should come and find them.

The caravan that served as the Radio Le Mans studio was easy enough to find, and I duly showed up on the Wednesday afternoon, only to be told, politely, that with Neville, Richard and Bob Constanduros, there wouldn’t really be any need for me. Instead, I went and found myself a job helping John McNeil, who was running the abdex-sponsored Dune Tiga that Neil Crang, Duncan Bain and Jean Krucker were driving.

Landon Brown (the company that did the deal with the ACO to run the station) obviously judged 1987 a success, and in May 1988, at the Silverstone 1000kms meeting, Ian Titchmarsh and I sat down with Anthony, Harry Turner and Jim Tanner to discuss whether we’d be able to provide a ‘Silverstone-style’ PA commentary for the twenty-four hours of Le Mans. Without quite being sure what we were letting ourselves in for, nor what we’d be starting, we agreed, and arrangements were duly made for me to travel over with Steve Ancsell, an accomplished radio presenter with BBC Radio Solent (or was it South Coast Radio? – the memory fails). Other members of the team were Andy Smith, BBC Radio 4 sports correspondent, and Janice Minton, an experienced press and PR lady. Harry Turner, from Landon Brown, was also going to be joining in where necessary and Neville Hay and Joe Saward were providing expert analysis from the studio, albeit with no view of the track. The idea was that Ian and I would be in the grandstand opposite the pits, while Janice, Andy and Harry would patrol the pits with radio microphones, bringing driver interviews and updates.

Technical support was by Wireless Workshops, who set up a studio in a caravan, towed from the UK, and an FM transmitter, which would broadcast the radio signal. Funding was from Silk Cut and Castrol, sponsors of the TWR Jaguar team and Ian Norris, their PR man at the time, would join us on air from time to time, along with various other guests as they could be found.

In those days, of course, the pits were far more rudimentary than they are today. There were no permanent garages, and the cars were prepared under awnings in the paddock, then wheeled into position in front of their pit stalls before each practice session. Communication to the signalling pits at Mulsanne corner was through fixed line telephones – each of the pits had a handset in the back linked to a handset around 4km away, in a row of concrete huts on the inside of the corner.

The media centre was a temporary structure as well. It was a simply a large canvas marquee containing a few rows of trestle tables, each row with a single power point which those journalists who had electric typewriters had to share. Phone sockets were in even shorter supply – some brought portable fax machines with which to file their copy, but the major titles were phoning in and dictating their reports.

There was also a press gallery in the grandstand – on the floor below where the radio and TV commentators were – this enabled the press corps to actually watch the race, being able to watch cars going past and / or being worked on in the pits.

It would be wrong, of course, to suggest that technology was non-existent: the race was being broadcast on live TV and there was electronic timing being displayed on screens around the circuit. The cars were not equipped with transponders, though, so the timing was dependent on the timekeepers (positioned just at the entrance to the pit lane) identifying the cars, and matching each car to a signal from the timing beam on the start finish line. Inevitably, mistakes were made, and delays in updating the screens were common.

TWR’s solution was to bring over a team of RAC timekeepers (led by Eric Cowcill, who is to this day a director of Timing Solutions Ltd), who timed the race and displayed ‘live’ timing to the Jaguar pit. Although it was completely unofficial, and the timing ‘line’ was in front of the Jaguar pit rather than on the official start line, it was usually more accurate than the data that the organisers were providing. Mercifully, Ian and I were also able to get a line to this system, and thus were able to keep ourselves up to date with the positions.

I maintained a lap chart through the race as well as I could, although I knew, from experience working with various teams over the years, that keeping a traditional block chart wasn’t feasible. So at some point it turned into a list of positions and a record of significant pit stops as they occurred. At some point during the night, Ian went off for a break and the radio station played a few songs, interrupted every now and then for an update from the pits or from me to report on position changes. I felt that it wouldn’t be possible to pick the chart up again if I took a break, so somehow, I just carried on through the night.

The commentary booths themselves were just a row of glass partitions with a view of the start finish straight, but open at the rear, where a corridor ran along the back. At the start of the race, as more than twenty commentators from all nations described the 55 cars crossing the line, you had as close as you could imagine to the biblical story of Babel. As the night wore on, fewer commentators remained – although most would reappear at points during the race to provide updates to their listeners.

Simon Taylor was reporting for BBC radio, and kept his vocal chords moist in-between his broadcasts with boiled sweets of various flavours. He was positioned next to Ian and me, and being the generous chap that he is, kept passing sweets to us. I found it rather awkward to suck a sweet and talk at the same time (although Ian managed perfectly well), so I left each sweet on the ledge that supported the glass panel on either side of the booth.

Bizarrely, when Janice Minton came up to the commentary level in the grandstand on Sunday morning to watch the race for a while before going on her next shift in the pit lane, she saw the rows of brightly coloured boiled sweets on either side of my commentary booth, and became convinced that it was my method of keeping track of which car was where on the circuit. It’s an idea that I’ve tried several times since, but I just can’t make it work, so I’ve stuck to pen and paper ever since!

It was a momentous race, as the Jaguar of Andy Wallace, Johnny Dumfries and Jan Lammers managed to stay ahead of the works Porsche of Derek Bell, Hans Stuck and Klaus Ludwig, and there are so many parts of it that stick in the mind. In the early stages, after Lammers had managed to sneak past the Porsche to take the lead and was heading the pack through the Porsche curves, was Ian’s remark: “…the sight – and we hope it won’t be a brief one – of Lammers in the Jaguar going into the Porsche curves – they’ll have to rename them – leading the race.”

Then there was Klaus Ludwig in the early stages, coughing back to the pits on the starter motor, having tried to go too far than the Porsche’s fuel would allow.

Janice’s description – I think it was the Mazda team – who had dismantled their gearbox and the bits were strewn over the pit lane: “I remember I took our toaster apart once, and it looked like that… it never worked properly again.”

The WM team, turning up the boost on the Peugeot engines, and exceeding 400km/h down the Mulsanne Straight.

Hans Stuck, on Sunday morning, as rain began to fall, exhibiting his legendary car control in his pursuit of the leader.

Derek Bell admitting, with less than an hour to go, that even though the Porsche and the Jaguar were still on the same lap, the gap was too big for Stuck to close.

And of course the release of emotion at the end of the race, when the number 2 Jaguar took the chequered flag; and it seemed for a while, that the whole region became British.

Then there was the drive home. Steve Ancsell had left on Sunday evening, so the plan was for me Andy Smith to give me a lift home. Smith had an Alfa 75 and Ian Titchmarsh was in his 164, and the plot was hatched that we would stop off in Rouen-les-Essarts on the way home for some lunch. I rode with Titchmarsh for the first part of the journey, and how Smith managed to keep up I’ll never know. No toll roads in those days, and for the most part, no dual carriageways either.

And a few weeks later, back in England, Autosport editor Quentin Spurring complained to Ian Titchmarsh and me: “it’s all very well you going on the radio and telling everybody what’s going on, but you’ve ruined the atmosphere in the bars and cafés – people all used to talk to each other, but now they’re just listening to their transistor radios.”

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Audi S6 - Affordable?

What you regard as affordable is obviously very subjective. I learnt many years ago that there were some people in the world that had the kind of money that I could never aspire to, and that equally, there were people in the world who could hardly aspire to the level of spending that I occasionally indulge in.

Four years ago, when my father died, he left sufficient money to each of his children that I decided to spend a portion of it on a brand new car, and I ended up getting an Audi S4 Avant. Apart from a couple of relatively minor incidents, I’ve been very happy with my choice, and regular readers will know of my fondness for the “marque with the four rings”.

Just occasionally, I get the opportunity to drive other cars from the Audi range, and recently, I had the latest Audi S6 Avant to evaluate for a few days. And here is where the introduction is relevant, as the S6 is not cheap motoring. But neither is the S4 that is my everyday transport – it just depends on how much disposable income you have.

The basic price of the Audi S6 Avant is £54,590 but the one I drove had more than £10,000-worth of optional extras on it, including a head-up display, electric boot, 20-inch wheels, dynamic steering and Bose surround sound – each adding more than £1,000 to the cost. Again, depending on your priorities, each may or may not be worth the money: but Audi at least gives you the choice to decide for yourself.

So the car I had the use of would have cost very nearly £70,000 to put on the road (including a tax disc at £815!). But it is a very good car, and given the choice, I would far rather have it than the S4. Would I be prepared to pay the difference in price though? Possibly.

The heart of the S6 is its engine: it is very, very wonderful indeed. If anything would convince me to buy the car, it would be the engine. My S4 is equipped with a 3-litre, mechanically supercharged V6, giving 333PS. The S6 has a 4-litre, twin-turbo V8, giving 420PS. For my money, or rather for somebody else’s money, that makes all the difference. In truth, there are not many occasions when you really need those extra 87 horses in normal, everyday motoring - but the V8 gives you such a lovely exhaust note, such a responsive growl, that it doesn’t always come down to the raw statistics. Sometimes it is the mind's response to the input from the ears that sets the pulse racing and the smile spreading across the face, more than a couple of tenths in the 0-60 figures.

The other significant difference between the two cars is the gearbox. My S4 has a manual box; the S6 comes with Audi’s S-tronic gearbox as standard. Now I’ve driven other Audis with this but it is remarkable how easy it is to get used to. By default, it works like an automatic, putting you in the right gear all the time, and giving you split-second changes as you accelerate. What it can’t do for you though, is to read the road conditions,  which is where the paddle-shift comes in. If you find yourself in the situation where you know you are about to need a lower gear, just flick the left hand paddle to drop it down a gear (or two), gently squeeze the throttle and you’re away, with none of the jerkiness that is often associated with the kick-down of a normal automatic ‘box.

I have to admit, that apart from this I hardly used the paddles at all. Except for occasional hard braking, when it just sounded better to have the gears tripping down as the speed reduced.

As for the optional extras, if you are in the market for such a purchase, then here are one or two very personal observations:
•    SurroundSound – I am not sure that spending money on a sound system for a car is ever worthwhile. I would far rather listen to my favourite music in the comfort of my living room without the inevitable background noise which accompanies driving.
•    Advanced parking system – I like the audible warning tone when reversing, and a rear-facing camera is good to distinguish branches and leaves from brick walls, but the “top view” is just overkill, in my view.
•    Head up display – remarkable useful. I found myself missing it when I was back in my own car.
•    High beam assist – just doesn’t work well enough.
•    Audi ambient lighting – very moody; very effective. I like it.
•    Advanced key – no need to lock or unlock the car… again it’s surprisingly easy to get used to. Get it.
•    MMI Touch – writing with your finger on a touch-sensitive pad. Not really necessary: I find the voice recognition that comes as standard far quicker, easier and more usable. The left-handed might find it easier.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Howden Haynes - Clever!

I was surprised, during the Fuji six hour race, when Allan McNish's number 2 Audi came into the pits when the safety car made its brief appearance in the fourth hour of the race. The car had just taken the lead, following the scheduled pit stop of the number 7 Toyota and the unscheduled stop to replace the nose of the other Audi after its rather abrupt coming-together with the Aston Martin. With not only the remains from the front end of the Audi, but also with other bits of bodywork that had been shed during the race, Eduardo Freitas made the call to neutralise the race and out came the two Safety Cars.

It seemed to me, with all three of the leading cars queued up behind the same safety car, that the best thing for McNish to do would be to stay out, expecting the safety car period to be brief, and then attempt to keep the Toyota behind when the green flag signal was given.

The Audi had been inexplicably slow in the first half of the race. No, that's not fair, the car certainly wasn't slow; but it wasn't quite as quick as either the Toyota or the Audi of the number 1 crew of André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler.

In the first stint, McNish had clashed with Marc Lieb in the Felbermayr Porsche, and since then, the car had never quite been itself again. By half distance, McNish and Kristensen were struggling, more than a minute behind the leaders, and losing on average half-a-second per lap to other Audi.

So, with just the Signatech Nissan of Jordan Tresson separating the Audi from the Toyota, and with fuel aboard for around thirteen racing laps, H called McNish into the pits. It looked like a bad call, as if McNish would have stayed out while the track was cleared, then he might have been able to keep Nakajima, with fresh tyres on the Toyota behind for a few laps after the safety cars had been withdrawn. Even if he would have managed that, though, he would have had to come in for fuel and tyres on lap 140, at which point he'd have lost 1m 20s, putting him nearly a lap behind.

Instead, although he was left waiting at the end of the pit lane for the next safety car to come past, McNish ended up at the tail of the other group of cars. This meant that when the green flag was shown to Tresson (with Nakajima poised to pass) at the start finish line, McNish was able to start overtaking as 'his' safety car was released half way round the lap. He had already dealt with five cars by the time he reached the end of the lap, and by the end of the first fully 'green' lap, was only 34 seconds behind the Toyota and 22 seconds behind the other Audi (in the hands of Fässler).

Fully fuelled and with a new set of tyres, the car was still 'slow', to the tune of half-a-second per lap, so it wasn't going to gain any ground on the other two, unless they had other delays. Crucially, though, it would only have to make two more stops, and both the Toyota and the other Audi would need three. In the end, it wasn't enough to make a difference to the result, but it did save itself around 47 seconds by my reckoning, and was even able (just) to stay on the lead lap to the end of the race.

Without quick thinking on the pit wall, that certainly wouldn't have happened. Well done, H.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Fuji Collective Test - Close!

There was a 'Collective Test' for the WEC cars at Fuji yesterday. Two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

As far as the privateer LMP1 teams were concerned, these sessions were primarily for shaking down and setting up - no long runs over 20 minutes were done.

But both Audi and Toyota used the afternoon to run some full tank tests. The results were as follows:
Audi No.1 (Lotterer, Fässler, Tréluyer): 35 laps with an average lap time of 1m 29.988s
Audi No.2 (Kristensen, McNish): 36 laps with an average lap time of 1m 30.782s
Toyota No.7 (Wurz, Lapierre, Nakajima): 32 laps with an average lap time of 1m 30.437s

The trouble is, that by my calculation, you will need to get 34 laps out of a tank to make it possible to run the race on just 6 pit stops, unless there is rain (unlikely) or a safety car.

So it will be very interesting to watch the Free Practice sessions tomorrow, and see if the Toyota can go the extra couple of laps. If it can, without compromising the lap time, then we could be in for a jolly good race!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Digital Revolution

Anyone who has lived through the last ten years will be aware of the Digital Revolution. The point where the mobile telephone ceased to be merely a way of enabling other people to call you when you were away from the office and actually became a fashion accessory isn’t quite clear to me. Nor is the reason why people continue to wear a wrist-watch when the time is displayed on their phone, which they seem to be constantly using.

And the Personal Computer, from being a glorified word-processor and calculator, has evolved into an everyday household gadget to be found in every home – in many cases being more utilised than the washing machine or even the television.

Linking these two, and bringing together the full power of the technology, is the Internet. Homes without ‘always-on’ broadband are now the exception, rather than the rule, and most people nowadays have a single media supplier, providing an internet service, TV and telephone.

What has become clear in recent years is that this is technology for the masses. Home broadband today is as fundamental a utility as gas or electricity. Computer ownership is as ubiquitous as the car or the refrigerator. In my opinion, we are in danger of underestimating the historical significance of the era that we are living in. The twenty-first century ‘digital revolution’ is every bit as important as the revolution in transport of the last century, or the industrial revolution of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

Maybe you think I’m stating the obvious; and in any case you’re no doubt thinking that this is not supposed to be a technology blog. True on both counts, and technology is certainly not my specialist subject, but bear with me. Failing to recognise the significance of the digital revolution is to fail to take an opportunity that occurs just once, at most, every hundred years. It is that important. And motor-racing, only just one hundred years old, has to be in a position to react. Indeed, being a competitive sport driven by speed and technology, motor-racing needs to push at the conventional understanding of the way that things are done.

There are two aspects to this in particular that I want to highlight here.

The first of these concerns the way that major motor races are presented to the public. Traditionally, television has been the most sought-after medium. Exposure on TV has brought the sport into people’s living rooms. Achieve this at a peak viewing period, when folk are browsing channels, and you increase awareness of the sport, hopefully attracting people to watch again, or even to attend in person; and most important of all: to buy the products of the company that’s providing the money to pay for the coverage.

However, these days there is such a preponderance of available channels on most people’s televisions, and those channels are usually tailored to the viewer’s interest area: drama, sport, news, etc. Also, the airing times of many motor-racing events are increasingly esoteric. All this reduces the numbers of casual viewers and instead, you get people watching who have made it a specific goal to find the programme concerned. Idle browsers are a rare breed these days.

Experience from the World Endurance Championship tends to suggest that there is a different type of viewer these days. This is no couch potato who comes across a six hour sportscar race and gets hooked on the mellifluous tones of John Hindhaugh and the dramatic shape of a modern sports prototype (nor even the other way round).

This new breed of viewer is the dedicated fan, who has live pictures streaming on the one hand, live timing on the other and live commentary on his headphones. More than likely he’ll also be keeping tabs on Twitter and Facebook as well and interacting with fellow fans in one way or another. This is unquestionably an intense way of following a race, but from what I can gather, the numbers of people doing so is increasing with every round of the championship. This is a global audience, independent of TV or radio, for whom the Internet is as much taken for granted as the fact that clean, fresh water comes at the turn of the tap.

And for the people who are paying to make the coverage happen, an increasing audience can only be encouraging, surely? The beauty (or in the view of the socially inept, like me, the peril) of social media is that it is very susceptible to ‘viral infection’, in the modern, technological sense. In other words, what used to happen by word-of-mouth now happens via the Internet, about ten times more quickly and a hundred times more effectively. Hey presto, advertisers find that their exposure grows.

Race organisers have to appreciate this shift in approach. No longer is mainstream television the target for their broadcast, but a TV production company that can provide pictures (and commentary) still needs to be an integral part of the package for the event. Get those pictures onto the web and the audience will do the rest.

But who pays for it all? Series’ organisers know that it costs money to get a series onto a commercial TV channel, even a cable channel that the consumer has to pay for. But if you’re putting that coverage onto the web, your costs can be much less. And if you can make your series attractive enough, then it will gain momentum as the size of the audience grows. This makes life easier for the entrants, who after all, ultimately have the most to gain from demonstrating to their partners that the global interest in their brand is growing.

Race organisers need to learn that just as stewards, timekeepers and marshals are essential elements to run a race meeting, so a production company, providing pictures and commentary, should be no different. Just as the printed (and TV) media have come to realise that the Internet is for many a much preferred source of news, so race organisers must appreciate that the broadcast of a motor race to a general TV audience may not be commercially viable, but that making it available to an interested, dedicated fan-base might well be.

A second, possibly darker, consequence of the digital revolution is the way that people actually participate in the sport. The Nissan Playstation GT Academy has shown how drivers can be trained in the isolated world of video games. Importantly, it has also brought drivers out of that world and into the ‘real’ world of racing. There is no doubt that it has had success in doing that, while at the same time succeeded in promoting its brand. So far so good.

However, there are many drivers out there who will remain in the ‘virtual’ world and will never make the physical journey to Silverstone, Brands Hatch or any other real racing circuit. Why not? Because they don’t need to. Their ambitions are constrained to the virtual racing world, and that’s as far as they want to go.

As technology makes such endeavours ever more realistic, so there is a whole marketplace that is being lost to those who make their money out of people going racing. Whether it is eight year olds going karting, or successful businessmen (and women) taking up racing later in life, I see it as inevitable that there will be a reduction in those who go and apply for their racing licence as the appeal of virtual racing takes hold.

I cannot imagine a world where ‘real’ motor-racing is replaced by ‘console’ gaming, but that might only be because my own imagination is conditioned by a lifetime of knowing the reality of Paddock Hill Bend, Hangar Straight, Pflanzgarten, Eau Rouge and Les Hunaudières.

I know what it’s like to drive a real car along those real bits of tarmac, because I’ve done so. And for me, a simulation would never do justice to the memories that I have, however good that simulation, because ‘being there’ is… well, just better.

But I might be wrong. The growth in popularity of Formula 1 was unimaginable fifty years ago. Who knows where it will go in the next fifty years (without Bernie, presumably)?

I believe that a hundred years from now, people will look back at this era and identify it as the turning point when a whole new way of doing things began. I think it’s worth pausing to ponder that; and consider what we all might do differently as a result.

The industrial revolution brought a new meaning to the word ‘horsepower’. I wonder if a casualty of the digital revolution will be the word ‘reality’?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

In the footsteps of 'Motorsport Norm'

I was invited to Snetterton at the weekend, by Peter Snowdon of the Aston Martin Owners’ Club, who asked me to commentate at the club’s final race meeting of the year.

I have written on this blog before about my fondness for Snetterton and it was great to be in Norfolk again – the weather was lovely, and I renewed plenty of old acquaintances.

It was ten years since I had last been at Snetterton, when I had commentated at a BTCC night race, and much has inevitably changed. Most significant of course is the new "Snetterton 300" circuit, which may not have come in for much praise from many of the competitors, but the changes at least make the track a decent length, and provide some great viewing for spectators.

A casualty of the changes has been the old commentary box, which has now been replaced by a well-appointed box above race control, on the inside rather than on the outside of the track. I was delighted, as I stepped into the commentary box on Saturday morning, to discover that the new box is called the "Norman Greenway Commentary Room". I would love to know who's idea this was, as it was a wonderful reminder to me of the man into whose shoes I felt myself stepping as I became the resident commentator at Snett during the late 1980's and into the 90's.

Norman was a great character, a great enthusiast and although he commentated all over the country, was always associated with Snetterton. He took the job seriously, but his sense of fun came bursting through his commentary, in a way which, when necessary, put what we do into a perfect perspective.

In a sense, the Aston Martin Owners' Club puts things into perspective too. The racing is quite clearly organised for the benefit of the participants and as a consequence is not really directed towards the (paying) spectator. For all that though, it was an entertaining day out. There was a fine race for fifties sports cars, featuring a great battle between a Mk 1 Lola and a Lotus 11, chased home by a Maserati 300S, a Porsche 356 and several XK120 Jaguars. A handicap race for pre-war cars provided typical confusion as the handicapper's penalties unwound themselves and the race reached its conclusion. A surprise highlight was the Elite GTS race, in which two Triumph TR4's got the better of the single TVR Grantura. One just had to be impressed with the standard of preparation in these races. Bearing in mind this was not a race which drew the crowds in like the Goodwood Revival or the Silverstone Classic - this was just enthusiasts practising their art.

The headline race of the day was the three hour AMR GT4 Challenge of Great Britain. The rules required three pit stops, each of two minutes duration. Except, that is, if you were Stuart Hall, in which case you had to make each pit stop of 2m 40s duration. Organiser Jamie Wall was aware of the controversy of this, as he was that a safety car period could throw his calculations completely out. In the end, despite a meagre 10-car entry, two of them contrived to fall over each other while lapping, and sure enough, the intervention came.

Unfortunately for Stuart, it worked against him, and he ended up losing by just 37 seconds to the car of Olivier Bouche and Pierre Mantello.

In conclusion then, a great day out - thanks to all those at Snetterton, and especially to the Aston Martin Owners' Club for organising it and inviting me along. Hopefully we can do it again sometime!

Friday, 28 September 2012

Britcar 24 hours at Silverstone - in a Wicked Camper!

This year marked my third Britcar 24 hours - having seen Ferrari triumphs in 2010 and 2011, the one thing that was certain, was that there wouldn't be a hat-trick in 2012 - in fact there wasn't even an Italian car in the entry list this year.

Back in the eighties, I often went to Snetterton for the Willhire 24 hours (in fact, in 1989, it was the Willhire 25 hours, so organised in order to celebrate the Norfolk van rental company's silver anniversary). In some ways, despite the differences, the Britcar 24 hours retains something of the character of the Snetterton race - although it hasn't, in my experience, achieved the same sense of carnival.

As an unashamed fan of 24 hour races though, there is something special about having a round-the-clock endurance event within a couple of hours drive of home. By no means is it, or does it try to be, Le Mans; but neither is it the Nürburgring, Spa or Daytona. In the view of series creator, James Tucker, Britcar has its own ‘culture’, which is all of its own, and which shapes the character of the 24 hours.

It was a little disappointing, then, to see just 33 cars take the start of this year’s race (and two of those were in the pit lane as the pace car led the cars around for the start). I attended with my 11-year old son, Robin - it was not the first race meeting he’d been to, but it was his first 24 hour race and I must admit I wasn’t sure what he’d make of it. We’d hired a campervan for the occasion, which we’d been able to park directly behind the commentary box, and my idea was that he’d find it easy enough to crash out, and allow me to follow the race.

In the end, he managed very well, although I suspect that the drama of the winning BMW ahead of the Class 1 opposition may have been lost on him. “I was a little bit disappointed,” he said to me on the way home, “that it wasn’t more… exciting!” I knew what he meant, but then his favourite racing thus far has been BTCC and its explicitly forceful supporting races from Ginetta G50s and Renault Clios.

But he gave it a go, and he is fully 13 years younger than I was when I saw my first 24 hour race - by the time he reaches my age, it’s entirely possible that he’ll have seen more than 100 24 hour races (especially as there are so many to choose from these days).

What of the race itself though? In many ways, it was a wonderful demonstration of endurance racing in the classic sense. Very few, if any, of the competitors had run a 24 hour test prior to the event, and very few, if any, had a trouble-free race. What was particularly enthralling was the ability of the winning BMW to do so against competition that was a good deal quicker than it, over a single lap. But reliability issues intervened, preventing any of the Class 1 cars from closing the gap.

Average lap times always make interesting reading: here are the top few.

17 - Neil Garner Mosler: 2m 08.958s
6 - Team LNT Ginetta G55: 2m 10.276s
16 - Mike Brown Aston Martin: 2m 12.515s
28 - MP Motorsport BMW M3 GTR: 2m 17.155s
51 - Optimum Ginetta G50: 2m 18.948s
52 - Corum Sport Chevron GR8: 2m 19.182s
33 - Team Tiger Marcos Mantis: 2m 19.625s
26 - Cor Euser Lotus Evora: 2m 20.299s

Note that these are the averages of the fastest 200 laps for each of the cars shown.

The MP Motorsport BMW's times are clearly the class of its class - but to an extent, this is also due to the way that the averages work - if you complete more laps, then you have a bigger sample and so the fastest 200 represents a smaller percentage of the total number of laps.

You can read elsewhere the detail of the misfortune to strike the Class 1 cars - Jake Yorath on dailysportscar.com or Bruce Jones in Autosport - so here I will list the effect that those misfortunes had, in terms of the time spent in the pits for some of the leading runners. Note that in the case of those cars that received a tow-back to the pits, this is something of an estimate, since the timekeepers are unable to record a proper "Pit In" time if the car comes into the back of the garage on the back of a lorry - in these cases, I measure the entire time lost from the point that I became aware that the car had stopped, until it emerged again from the pit lane.

75 - Red Camel Seat: 53m 31.822s (12 stops)
28 - MP Motorsport BMW M3 GTR: 1h 10m 03.374s (25 stops)
79 - Brunswick Automotive BMW: 1h 14m 33.452s (17 stops)
98 - MMC Motorsport Seat Supercopa: 1h 19m 14.612s (20 stops)
60 - Perfection Racing Aston Martin GT4: 1h 26m 20.409s (21 stops)
16 - Mike Brown Aston Martin Vantage GT3: 1h 44m 39.658s (30 stops)
17 - Neil Garner Motorsport Mosler: 4h 06m 38.597s (24 stops)
6 - Team LNT Ginetta G55: 8h 47m 05.679s (24 stops, incl 2 tow-backs)
51 - Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G50: 8h 52m 27.750s (24 stops, incl 2 tow-backs)

Finally, remember too that the regulations demanded that each pit stop had to be a minimum of 90 seconds, from pit in to pit out, which obviously impacted the lengths of time shown. In the case of the #75 Seat, one of its stops was a stop / go penalty, as its first pit stop was five seconds short.

In the end, it was the pit stops as well that decided class 4, as a look at the average lap times in the class shows:

75 - Red Camel Seat: 2m 31.459s
79 - Brunswick Automotive BMW: 2m 30.758s
98 - MMC Motorsport Seat: 2m 29.009s

Again, the averages are over the fastest 200 laps for each car.

In an era where 24-hour races are increasingly becoming 'sprint' events; where reliability issues are the exception rather than the rule, I found this year's Britcar race refreshing in many ways.

I'd also like to see James Tucker's vision for the race come true - in which the race morphs from the Britcar 24 hours into the Silverstone 24 hours - certainly global awareness for Silverstone 'brand' is greater than that of Britcar. But if that is to happen, then the race should be more truly representative of the eligible cars out there, by which I mean that we need a proper grid of GT3 cars.

As I've already suggested, there are enough places for GT3 cars to participate in 24-hour events these days: the job of Silverstone and Tucker must be to make that happen on these shores.

Footnote: If anyone reading this wants more detailed analysis of lap times for any particular car, please let me know... I'm sure I can dig it out of somewhere!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Why Toyota won at Interlagos

After my rather feeble effort to forecast what was going to happen at the Six Hours of Sao Paulo at Interlagos, I thought I should try to explain what happened - and why I was wrong!

I have to admit that I was both surprised and pleased at Toyota's victory: to win against an adversary such as Audi in only its third race was indeed a worthy achievement, and I heartily congratulate the Japanese manufacturer.

The tables below should be familiar, as they are in the same format as my analysis following the Silverstone race. I think they show quite clearly how Toyota raised its game between Great Britain and Brazil. I suggest you look back at the Silverstone tables and compare them side-by-side to these.

Since it won the race, I show the driving stints for the Toyota first:

Stint Driver From time To time Laps Notes
1 Lapierre 12:00:00 12:46:27 33 Plus lap to grid and FL
2 Lapierre 12:47:19 13:36:03 34
3 Wurz 13:37:22 14:27:15 35
4 Wurz 14:28:07 15:22:12 36 Incl 4 laps behind SC
5 Lapierre 15:23:30 16:13:07 35
6 Lapierre 16:13:58 17:03:38 35
7 Wurz 17:04:59 17:54:34 35
8 Wurz 17:55:10 18:01:08 4 To finish

As you'll see, practically the only thing I got right was that the Toyota would have to make one more stop than the Audis, but - and this was important - it was able to go an additional seven and a half minutes on its first tank of fuel, compared to Silverstone, and was able to continue at this consumption rate, while continuing to extend its lead.

Now here are the details for each pit stop:

Pit Stop Activity Time in pit lane Fuel added
1 Fuel only 52.2s 68.47 litres
2 Fuel and tyres, driver change 1m 19.3s 71.22 litres
3 Fuel only 51.4s 69.29 litres
4 Fuel and tyres, driver change 1m 18.0s 69.90 litres
5 Fuel only 51.8s 71.17 litres
6 Fuel and tyres, driver change 1m 21.0s 72.26 litres
7 Fuel only 36.3s 24.69 litres

The total time in the pits - add it up - was just 7m 10s, compared to over 9 minutes at Silverstone - although with different pit in and pit out points, comparisons may be misleading.

What is worth comparing, is the Toyota's performance in Brazil against the two Audis, of course. Here are the equivalent tables for the no. 1 car, which came second, just a minute behind the Toyota:

Stint Driver From time To time Laps Notes
1 Tréluyer 12:00:00 12:52:21 37 Plus lap to grid and FL
2 Tréluyer 12:53:12 13:33:39 28
3 Fässler 13:34:50 14:29:03 38
4 Fässler 14:29:53 15:30:37 40 Incl 4 laps behind SC
5 Lotterer 15:31:56 16:24:23 37
6 Lotterer 16:25:13 17:16:44 36
7 Lotterer 17:17:59 18:02:09 31 To finish

Pit Stop Activity Time in pit lane Fuel added
1 Fuel only 51.0s 55.33 litres
2 Fuel and tyres, driver change 1m 10.7s 39.93 litres
3 Fuel only 49.9s 55.44 litres
4 Fuel and tyres, driver change 1m 18.2s 55.32 litres
5 Fuel only 50.3s 54.23 litres
6 Fuel and tyres, no driver change 1m 15.1s 50.49 litres

Now you'll have to look back at the Silverstone analysis here, but you'll notice that the pit stop times between Toyota and Audi are quite comparable here. At Silverstone, Toyota was losing out by at least 5 seconds on each stop.

Clearly, the two areas in which Audi had the upper hand at Silverstone - fuel economy on the track and time to refuel in the pits - have both been addressed by Toyota in the intervening three weeks. If steps of that magnitude can be taken (to say nothing of the four thousand-odd mile transport question) in that timeframe, one wonders what will happen at Sakhir.

You can be sure that minds immeasurably superior to mine are at work at Ingolstadt. If there are bags of sand to be removed, now would be a good time to remove them. On the other hand, is Le Mans so important, that Audi would be prepared to sacrifice a few races? After all, the WEC crown is still beyond Toyota's reach.