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 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.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Stint lengths at Interlagos

Was just checking the stint lengths achieved by Audi and Toyota in the Free Practice sessions at Interlagos - interested to note that both Audis managed 38 laps between pit stops - the longest stint that Toyota did was only 27.

So it looks like we might get a similar race to Silverstone - with a quicker Toyota having to stop more often than the more frugal Audi. Question is, will Toyota manage to keep their pace for the whole of the 6 hours?

My money is on Audi, again.

An update to this, following qualifying:
Given that the stint lengths are roughly as above (possibly 30 laps per tank for Toyota), there are two elements to the race: one is how much faster the Toyota is going to be able to lap than the Audi is; the second is how much quicker in the pits the Audi is going to be.

I reckon that if Toyota can lap a second per lap faster than Audi, and only lose 4 seconds per pit stop, then they (all other things being equal) could win the race.

However, if Audi loses only half a second per lap, and can gain five seconds per pit stop, then the race should go their way.

We'll know more after the first round of pit stops - and of course, if the safety car puts in an appearance, then Toyota's speed advantage is of no use at all.

Monday, 10 September 2012

A Wet Afternoon in Wales

We interrupted our family holiday this year when I noticed that we were within striking distance of Ruthin, North Wales. From reading David Tremayne’s excellent work, “The Lost Generation”, I knew that this was the town where Tom Pryce was born, and further, that the local authority had erected a monument to one of its most famous sons. So, with some grumbling, the rest of the family came along as well, and after asking for directions, we came upon the monument at the junction of Clwyd Street and Upper Clwyd Street.

For the local populace, it does not seem to be particularly noteworthy - certainly it seemed to me that more tourists were destined for the Gaol at the bottom of the hill - and to be sure, it is an edifice of distinctive taste; some of the perspectives are just plain wrong, and is it in colour, or was that just a trick of the light, reflecting off the wet bronze?

In any event, apart from a means of recommending Tremayne’s book, I think it is worth reflecting on the fact that Pryce - along with Tony Brise and Roger Williamson - was a truly a member of that ‘lost generation’ of great British racing talents whose presence on the racing scene I grew up with.

In 1974, Pryce won 100 bottles of champagne for being fastest in the first practice session for the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, and nine months later came his first Formula 1 win.

I was there at Brands Hatch on March 16th, 1975, as my blurry Instamatic photo on the right shows. (I was proud of it at the time!) Pryce was on pole position in the stunning-looking Shadow DN5, and  was very definitely in charge on one of his favourite circuits in far from ideal conditions. My diary entry for the day reads: “weather not good - snowed a little”.

According to Motor Sport magazine, the start was delayed while decisions were made on the question of tyres, but without question, Pryce outshone the stars all weekend. Despite a track described as ‘slippery’, Pryce not only won, but also beat Ronnie Peterson and Jacky Ickx in their Lotus 72s and the reigning World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi in his McLaren M23. His fastest lap equalled the existing lap record.

It was only while digging out the raceday programme for the event, that I was reminded that the Formula Atlantic race that opened the meeting was won by Tony Brise. The future seemed surely bright for British racers on that day.

As my involvement at Brands increased in the 1980’s, it was clear to me that Pryce was still held in high regard by the management there. Karl Jones and Tim Davies - also favourites at Brands - were not, however, on the same level, and despite the numerous champions that Scotland has produced, Wales is still short on motor-racing heroes.

Much has changed since Pryce’s accident in 1977, of course, but people still put both themselves and racing drivers in jeopardy from time to time. Only last month, at the Silverstone Six Hours, we saw a marshal running across the track to clear some debris during the race. And those who saw the antics of Neil Horan in the British Grand Prix in 2003 probably didn’t realise quite how close we were to a major incident. I’m not advocating any wholesale changes here, but just as we would never (would we?) see a repeat of the circumstances of Roger Williamson’s death in 1973, I believe that there are still lessons to be learned from Kyalami 1977. It seems to me that a human being sat in a racing car has a very different view of the world than one stood beside the track holding a flag (or a fire extinguisher).

The death of Tom Pryce was certainly needless; but let it not be pointless.

The inscription on his memorial reads:
“Fe gurodd y goreuon heb gefna ar ei gynefin”

“He beat the best without ever turning his back on his roots”