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have been able to keep Nakajima, with fresh tyres on the Toyota behind for a few laps after the safety cars had been withdrawn.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.


  1. Paul, Clever or Lucky ?? There is the old adage/quote that if you keep doing the same thing you'll get the same result at best.. I think treating the safety car as an opportunity when you have little to lose is probably what drove the decision here... Unfortunately the pace was not sufficient to jump #1, but nothing ventured.. I felt that for the good of the sport/competition it was only fitting for Audi to allow Toyota to have the win. If it impacted on several Japanese board room tables the following day it will hopefully re-invent another well-worn and re-worked saying 'Win on Sunday, funding on Monday' ! Hope Shanghai is as entertaining, best, Nick @nh247

  2. Not lucky, clever. He tried the same "stunt" at Interlagos, but they weren't fast enough missing Safety Car B (it was a long shot, as they were almost 30 seconds behind Toyota before. Even missing SC B, after race resume, they only lost like 1m05s when they would normally loose 1m20s on a green flag, race on stop.