Saturday, 26 May 2012

Some idle thoughts about the WEC

Hybrid or not?

I wasn’t at the six hour WEC race at Spa, but I have spoken to a few folk that were, and I have the data from the race from Al Kamel Systems. Because of the unsettled weather, and the absence of Toyota, it is very difficult to draw any conclusions about what was going on at Audi, but the consensus seems to be that the non-hybrids seemed to be at an advantage when it was dry, whereas they seemed to suffer more of a handicap when the track was wetter.

There are two big questions to which I would like to know answers though: First, how close to their true potential were the Audis running? And second, which car has the greater potential: the hybrid or the non-hybrid?

The trouble is that I see no way of getting answers to these questions, as the relevant people at the Ingolstadt marque who know would be perfectly justified in not telling anyone.

Let me make it absolutely clear - I do not believe that the drivers, engineers and mechanics at Audi were not giving their absolute all during the six hour race at Spa (and during qualifying beforehand). But I do believe that, if circumstances had been different, there were things that could have been done which would have made faster lap times possible from both the R18 ultra and the R18 e-tron quattro.

Of course, when we get to Le Mans, it will be a very different situation. Will it though? It saddens me that none of the reports coming from Toyota fills me with much hope that the Japanese challenge will amount to very much. I hope that their announcement that they will attempt to lead the race on pace was inspired by bravado rather than a strategic approach. The car is bound still to be fragile, especially bearing in mind the rumours that are emerging to the effect that following its accident, a fairly major re-work of the design has taken place. What it needs to do, though, is to finish the race. To me that means that they should be reducing their pace to one at which they think they can achieve reliability. If that means it can’t keep up with the Audis, then fine. But pushing is courting disaster, especially against an adversary such as Audi.

Everyone I have spoken to at Audi (and regular readers will know that I talk a lot to Audi people) has expressed disappointment: (a) that Toyota wasn’t at Spa and (b) that the challenge has not been more mighty. While it would be foolish to be complacent about Le Mans, Audi really only has to compete against the event itself.

More than knowing the answers to those Audi questions, I would like to know the answers to some Toyota questions. Why only plan to have one car for the season? As someone pointed out last year - Toyota would be putting themselves at a disadvantage immediately by compromising the amount of data that it is possible to gather from the races they do compete in.

I have not been in the TMG facility at Cologne, but surely it must have the potential to work at a more productive rate than has so far been evidenced? The incremental costs of approaching the season in a more committed fashion are not that great, compared to the overall outlay of competing in the first place. There would seem, to my mind, to be a serious risk that they don’t even get two cars to the start line at Le Mans. In some ways, it must be an indication of just how expensive it is to compete at the highest level these days, if the incremental cost of “doing it properly” becomes prohibitive.

Look at the situation at Audi. With the best will in the world, it is not necessary to run four cars, surely? What about the expense of that? Running two hybrids and a single non-hybrid for reference would surely be adequate. Audi sees the incremental cost of the fourth car as a worthy investment. Going into the 2013 season, it will be Audi that has the most data about running a hybrid in the WEC.

And a final question to ponder: What will happen in 2014? New regulations are already drafted, manufacturers are already evaluating designs. Where is the money for that coming from? Maybe, just maybe, that’s where Toyota’s budgets are focussed, while Audi is using up its allocation before the reins from the VW point of view are taken up by Porsche.


  1. I heard the Audi Engine (Berletzky?) speaking on an interview and he made the interesting point that Audi have always used LM as a testing bed for road car technology (direct injection petrols, diesel combustion chamber design and even these fancy new rear view screens) and so their 'spend' on racing is far more justified as part of the R&D budget. Compare to Peugot or, perhaps Toyota who are there to win races, but it's hard to see how it influenced their road car business. Corportate spend (as we all know from our day jobs) is challenged and scrutinised robustly and rightly so. The fact that Audi appear to have a larger pot tells me that 1. their 'business case' internally must be very strong to secure the funds and sold by a competent and charismatic team, 2. The R&D value realised by racing IS part of more than just marketing hype, it must be making a differece that translates to on road technology and sales.
    2014 and future racing should be about pioneering technology of the futre, but not to the extent that we end up with a grid full of squirrel friendly hybrids! Audi's model of pioneering technology whilst still making great looking cars (if not sounding) and also using their glory to build a brand is the one that all manufacturers must follow for sustainable racing budgets.
    Aston came very close, their V12 didn't sound that good by accident! What they didn't do was use LM technology in their road cars, although for a while that's what I though the straight 6 was about.

  2. Ref Toyota I wonder if their focus is on speed, after all they have just signed Sarrazan as the
    last driver who is very quick and with Davidson in the mix they could have a seriously quick car with the boost tuned up or even a Qualifying engine ? Which leads me on to the fact they had a an engine failure in testing could they have been testing a 'hot' engine? This would give them LM front row kudos over Audi and then they gracefully retire in the 1st half of the race? It saddens me to think they may be building as second car in the pit lane next week at Test Weekend though, but its probably going to happen.

  3. I'm quietly hoping that the enormous cost of F1 and the relative cost of top level sportscars may yet draw new manufacturers back to La Sarthe. Of course, timing is everything but we must be close to the point of the diesel domination coming to an end, does that mean that there is a real shot of an outright win for another brand in the next few years. Honda perhaps? many years do you write blank cheques to be at the back of the F1 field before you re-think? there's a thought, they are supposed to be coming back, let's hope it's in a big way.

  4. ^Lotus isn't paying for any F1 activity, as far as I'm aware. Team Lotus has turned into Caterham, and Lotus Renault isn't receiving money from Lotus anymore but both of them profit from the Lotus name still being used by the F1 team.

  5. If anything I would think Toyota are focused on outright performance over finishing the race and collecting data, the TS030 has already gone through one evolution, there'll likely be another for 2013. Audi can quite happily run multiple R18's as the car is fully developed, plus they've learned lessons from man years competing in LMP1.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Is not Audi's Le Mans challenge to answer your question Paul, Hybrid or Non-Hybrid ? Toyota put up a good display yesterday little Ant suggesting that 1st hybrid Pole is their objective, and Wurz displaying High top end and sector times... But I expect experience will out over 24hrs, and it is Audi's to lose... though of course they came close to throwing it away last year.. "La legende s'ecrit devant vos yeux" encore n'est pas