Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Goodwood Festival of Speed

What on earth to make of the Goodwood Festival of Speed? Thanks to a work colleague who had a spare ticket that he was willing to part with, and to Goodwood’s policy that 12-year-olds could get in for free, I went along for my first-ever proper Festival of Speed on Saturday. I use the word ‘proper’ as I had visited the “Moving Motor Show” in 2012, but this was my first time at the Festival of Speed itself. I had been to the Revival Meeting in 2003, and had really enjoyed it – it is a race meeting, after all – but the Festival had never quite held the same appeal for me.

My son Robin was in his element though. From the moment we parked up in the car park, and a McLaren MP4 12-C drew up alongside us, until we spotted an Austin Healey 3000 in the same car park on our way back to the car some nine hours later, Robin delighted himself, getting up close to some true motoring icons.

For a young, impressionable Top Gear Magazine reader like Robin, there was something to see at every corner, but for me, somehow the event failed to hold me in the same thrall. The Festival of Speed is, as someone said to me, a big garden party. It unquestionably attracts some extremely well-heeled folk, for whom perhaps the British Grand Prix has fallen out of favour, but for whom the social ‘see and be seen’ events at Wimbledon, Henley and Glyndebourne are opportunities to parade the latest addition to their wardrobe, jewellery box, garage or (dare I say it?) bedroom. And like all good garden parties, you invite some ‘ordinary people’ as well, in order to gain credibility in the eyes of the public.

But this is too cynical a view. Especially as the over-riding feeling at Goodwood is one of naïve enthusiasm, where the commercial and political realities of modern motorsport are far from evident. Gathering together winners from F1, WEC, WRC, BTCC, Moto GP and other disciplines beyond my ken, means that there is indeed something for everyone; and the wealth of manufacturer stands presenting their message, gives even more breadth to the appeal of the event. A Festival indeed.

It may be that the very breadth is what makes me feel uncomfortable at Goodwood. At Le Mans, there is a certain security in the knowledge that my fellow-spectator knows about the WM-Peugeot, about Jean Rondeau and about Jaguar’s and Bentley’s heritage. But at Goodwood, there is the Sin R1 and the Peugeot Onyx, about which I know nothing, and there is a song and a dance about Peter Fonda and Captain America. And the fact that Spana and Tauro make road cars has somehow passed me by. I know about the 250 GTO’s racing heritage, but what is a 599 GTO? Am I alone here in feeling somehow overwhelmed by it all? I did take some recompense at Robin’s joy at seeing a real Ferrari F40, though.

I found the whole affair somewhat unstructured: we never quite knew what was happening or where we were supposed to be. It was unfortunate that the Vulcan bomber display coincided with the action on the track before us, although there had been nothing going on for the previous hour. Maybe I should have been listening to the commentary more closely on the radio – quite how that could be described as “free”, when the event programme cost £15, was something of a mystery. The raceday programme at Le Mans was a mere five euros. At least the queues for hamburgers and ice cream were pleasantly manageable.

The ‘festival’ mentality was carried over into the lack of structure of the event. The fact that one would suddenly ‘happen upon’ something or someone of note – for example Lord March himself strolling through the crowd trying (and failing) to look inconspicuous, or Andy Wallace on his way from A to B, or Derek Bell on his way back, was kind of nice, but if there was something you particularly wanted to see, then it was rather random whether you would succeed or not. You always had the impression that by doing this, here, now, you were missing something else happening somewhere else.

The activity on the hill was similarly haphazard. Some runs were competitive, being against the clock; but most were merely demonstration runs. With the track being so narrow, and run-off areas non-existent, you couldn’t doubt the wisdom of this approach, but it meant that watching the action on the track was as much of a lottery as the goings-on in the paddock. And again, this may be as much a reflection on my approach as on the event, but I found the “blink and you’ve missed it” nature of the runs up the hill annoying as well. Driver interviews, when they were out of the car at the top of the hill, were sometimes live, and sometimes delayed; the pictures on the screen, similarly were sometimes of live action and sometimes repeats. If you’re only looking occasionally at the big screen, you’re not in a position to follow a narrative flow of pictures.

This sounds far too negative; you’d think I hadn’t enjoyed my day. Wrong; I had a really good time, and I am so glad I went. Many of my gripes are because I didn’t have a proper strategy for the event: I just turned up and followed my nose (or Robin’s). Maybe I needed to be a VIP or have a proper guide, telling me where to go and what to do next.

Or maybe it’s because the pleasure is in just being there. History is not made at the Goodwood Festival, but it is celebrated. And for that, you need to approach the event in a different frame of mind. I’ll know next time!

(All photos: Robin Truswell)

Friday, 5 July 2013

Le Mans 2013

I have been somewhat slow in posting anything about Le Mans 2013 on this blog. There are a number of reasons for this; among them: firstly, that I was busy in the immediate aftermath of the race writing up a long analysis for Racecar Engineering, which should appear in the next issue of that magazine. Secondly, I have been busy at the routine tasks of my day job. Thirdly, that I seem to have had lots of jobs to do at home that needed my attention. But fourthly, and perhaps most relevantly, I’ve spent a good deal of time mulling over the death of Allan Simonsen.

I’ve commented on death in motorsport before in these pages, (here, if you missed it) and it is not my intention to repeat my thoughts on the matter. However, when one considers the scale of some of the accidents that have occurred at Le Mans in the past twenty years or so, I was somewhat taken aback that the accident that looked relatively innocuous at first viewing could have such terrible consequences.

Emotions run fairly high as a matter of course in the Radio Le Mans commentary box, particularly at Le Mans, and I found myself on more than one occasion having to re-focus attention on the on-going race, rather than dwelling on sentimentalities. It was the first time that I had been hooked into the team Skype channel, which enables John, Eve, our London studio and some others, to have off-air ‘conversations’ during the broadcast, and thus it was that I learned the news before the official press releases were issued. And due to the nature of the news and how it broke, we at Radio Le Mans had to confront it, head-on and for real.

Although I wouldn’t count Simonsen as a friend (I have few enough of those), I had met him on a number of occasions. I was impressed watching him at first hand in British GT races, and had interviewed him for circuit PA in the pit lane. There was also the inaugural Dailysportscar Cricket Match in 2008, which Allan attended,  and which provided a memorable opportunity to chat on a range of subjects, including the pronunciation of his surname, about which he was relaxed.

But I think it was the very fact that we have dodged the bullet so often at Le Mans that was the reason this year, that its impact, when it hit home, was so shocking. It was a hard race, in every way.

But, to use a well-worn phrase, back to the race. What a well-deserved, well-executed and thorough victory it was for Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Loïc Duval! A slow puncture aside, it was a fault-free run, as it had to be, given that there was always at least one Toyota close behind.

After the race, though, there was a press release from Audi that got me thinking. “Audi most efficient in the field”, it read, and there’s nothing quite like an extravagant claim to get me rushing for calculator and spreadsheet. The Michelin Green X Challenge is something of a dark niche, but having failed to get to the bottom of the calculation used, (despite email requests to Michelin, answers have not been forthcoming) I have developed my own “Index of Efficiency” for the 21st century.

Just as in the 1950’s and 1960’s my “Index” is based on the simple ratio of average speed divided by fuel consumption. The average speed is the speed of the car when it is on the track, so it is a matter of subtracting the time spent in the pits from the aggregate time of the car for the race, and dividing by the number of kilometres completed. It being France, fuel consumption is calculated in litres per 100kms.

However, since diesel has a higher calorific value than petrol, (measured in megajoules per litre), I apply a factor of 13% to the diesel-powered cars to come up with the following:

Average Speed (km/h)
Fuel Consumption (l/100km)
Index of Efficiency
Audi e-tron quattro
Audi e-tron quattro
Audi e-tron quattro
Toyota TS030 Hybrid
Toyota TS030 Hybrid

No argument, then, that Audi had the most efficient car at Le Mans. But more interesting, perhaps, is a comparison with last year’s race, in which Audi achieved an Index of Efficiency with the winning car of Lotter, Tréluyer and Fässler, of 5.870, compared to Toyota’s 5.017, which admittedly only completed around seven hours of the race. Audi's second-placed R18 e-tron quattro, in the hands of Kristensen, McNish and Capello, achieved an even more impressive 6.127.

In case it is not already clear, the way this calculation works, a higher Index of Efficiency means a more efficient car. So although Toyota would appear to be much the same as last year, it seems that this year’s Audi is up to 10% less efficient than last year’s car.

The Michelin Green X Challenge works the other way round - i.e. a lower index indicates more efficiency. But the same pattern is evident in that calculation too: last year Audi won with an Index of 5.26, this year it was 6.10, an even more significant change.

Unfortunately, in order to qualify for the Michelin Challenge, you need to finish the race, so figures for Toyota are not available for 2012; however, it is possible to make a comparison between Audi and Rebellion. Last year, Rebellion’s most efficient Michelin Green X Index was 83% of the best Audi, this year it was 91%; further evidence that Audi sacrificed efficiency for speed this year.

Now normally, I do not spend a lot of time fretting about the Michelin Green X Challenge, or on matters of fuel efficiency – after all, racing is more about speed than efficiency. But in 2014, the regulations are going down the route of allocating fuel based on the efficiency of the engine, and so understanding the nature of these calculations is going to be critical.

At the beginning of this year’s WEC season, Ralf Jüttner admitted that the reduced size of the engine air restrictor had forced Audi to take the less efficient route in order to stave off the challenge from Toyota. In defining fuel allocations for 2014, the FIA / ACO will be looking at the evidence from 2013, and could well find themselves in the role of kingmaker.

For sure, there will be plenty of to-ing and fro-ing before regulations are issued, and even after they're published, don’t be surprised to see some adjustments as we go through the early season races of next year as well.

Of over-riding importance, though, is that measures taken in response to Simonsen’s accident are well-considered and well-judged. It is essential that lessons are learnt, but the response must be appropriate. The FIA and ACO have a lot of difficult decisions ahead. I do not envy them the task.

Postscript: Following further analysis, I also picked up on Audi's assertion that the winning car completed the race using 16 sets of tyres. This means that each set lasted, on average, 21.75 laps. Last year's winning car though, completed 378 laps on just 13 sets, an average of 29 laps per stint. I leave it to the reader to decide whether 2012 or 2013 was the more 'efficient' victory!