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.