Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Impressions of Daytona - Sweet Sixteen?

For the second year running, there were sixteen caution periods during the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Despite an interruption that accounted for 1h 25m, during which time the race was actually stopped with the red flag, the time spent under full course caution this year was actually less than during the 2013 edition of the race.

Last year, you will remember, we had heavy fog in the early morning, which led to a full course caution of 1h 45m, so at the end of the race, the total time spent actually racing was seven-and-a-half minutes longer this year than last. With the cars stationery for around an hour while the rescue workers did their jobs following the Gidley/Malucelli incident, it was never going to be a record distance: in the end, the Corvette DP of Bourdais/Fittipaldi/Barbosa completed 695 laps, fourteen fewer than in 2013.

By the way, for the purposes of timing the race, I am assuming that the time spent stopped was actually part of the full course caution: but the “lap time” for the stoppage lap was just over an hour.

Had the cars been running behind the safety car for that period, they would certainly have been able to complete more laps than in 2013; but they weren’t, so they didn’t. In the end, the race distance (695 laps) was the same as in 2008, when there were 22 caution periods for 122 non-racing laps. I always struggle to count the number of laps under caution, what with wave-bys and what-not, but by my reckoning, the race winner passed the start/finish line 95 times while the yellows were waving.

I’ll confess here to not having followed the race itself very closely, as I had no professional involvement this year and too many other things to do at home on the domestic front. But from what I did see, it didn’t feel to have much of the American Le Mans Series about it and it did feel to have a lot of Grand-Am about it. I’m not really surprised by that, of course, as the United SportsCar Championship has clearly been a takeover rather than a merger, despite all assurances to the contrary.

From the data that has been forthcoming from the timekeepers, though, I have managed to extract the total time spent in the pits for the first three finishers, and it looks like this:

No. Car No. of stops Total Time in Pit Lane
5 Action Express Millenium 29 36m 59.915s
10 Velocity Wayne Taylor 30 40m 29.334s
9 Action Express 29 38m 23.274s

Note that, as regular readers will be aware, the time spent in the pit lane includes the time taken driving down the pit lane, and the pit exit point at Daytona is just round turn 1. By my calculation, the time taken for this without stopping is around 49s, at the mandatory speed limit of 60kph, so the actual time spent working on all three of these cars indicates the high reliability factor of the Corvette DP.

It is worth making the point that time lost in the pits during the Daytona 24 hours is not as significant as at other endurance races, though, since so much time can be recovered under the caution periods. Speed on the track (particularly in the last eight minutes), is all-important.

No analysis from me would be complete without looking at average lap times; even though a hard-earned few seconds gained on the track can be wiped out by someone else's front bumper lying on the track and causing another full course caution. Let's look at the fastest 100 laps of each of the top three finishers:

No. Car Average Lap Time
5 Action Express Millenium 1m 40.485s
10 Velocity Wayne Taylor 1m 40.196s
9 Action Express 1m 40.981s

For comparison, the average lap time over the same distance by last year’s winners, the Chip Ganassi Riley-BMW, was 1m 41.996s - an indication of the changed regulations as much as of technical progress, I fear.

Interestingly, the average of the no. 6 Muscle Milk Oreca-Nissan for its best 100 laps was 1m 41.653s, so maybe the organisers' performance balancing of DP and P2 could have been fairer. We'll see at Sebring - where again I will have no professional interest, unless someone reading this has any bright ideas!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Long Distance Runners in Dubai

The Dunlop Dubai 24 hours was an enthralling affair, and it was delightful to see Stadler Motorsport taking the spoils of victory. I'll confess to a feeling of Schadenfreude when misfortune struck the big teams - not that there are works teams, but it is undoubtedly true that there is factory interest in the goings-on at several of the pit garages, and to see a truly private team triumph in those circumstances is never a bad thing... pour encourager les autres - to be rather polyglot.

I walked down the pit lane after the race, and found the Stadler Motorsport team celebrating their victory, and it was a joy to behold. The delight of the “little man” when he overcomes the odds and triumphs against the “big guy” is easy to understand, and – the vagaries of the Creventic regulations aside – it was hard to find anyone who didn’t enjoy seeing the Swiss team savouring their win. To say it was like a lottery win would be unfair: although luck played its part in the win, the car was, as Rolf Ineichen noted, dirty but unscathed – throughout the 24 hours it had had no contact with anything – neither the barriers nor another car. It may not have been the fastest, but all five drivers conscientiously stayed out of trouble.

In my dailysportscar article, I pointed out that the lion’s share of the driving was done by Rolf Ineichen and Christian Engelhart, and I thought that here might be a good place to develop that theme a little, by looking at the number of laps completed by each driver in the race. The top ten, in terms of number of laps driven, were as follows:

No. Car Driver Laps km miles
38 Mercedes Marc Basseng 249 1,344 834
20 Porsche Rolf Ineichen 247 1,334 827
888 Ferrari Jordan Grogor 219 1,182 733
38 Mercedes Rob Huff 214 1,155 717
10 Lamborghini Jeroen Mul 207 1,118 693
30 Ferrari Jan Magnussen 205 1,107 687
9 Porsche Emmanuel Collard 188 1,015 630
30 Ferrari Matt Griffin 188 1,015 630
20 Porsche Christian Engelhart 187 1,010 626
2 Mercedes Adam Christodoulou 185 999 620

It is also interesting to note that 5 drivers did duty in two cars: the most notable of whom were probably Jeroen Bleekemolen and Khaled Al Qubaisi, who both drove both of the Black Falcon Mercedes-Benz SLS entries. Compared to the drivers above though, they were relative lightweights, completing just 163 and 134 laps respectively in total.

Javier Morcillo only just failed to break into the top ten above: he drove 52 laps in the no. 28 Team LNT Ginetta and 119 in the no. 127 KPM Golf, making a total of 171 laps altogether - more than nine hours measured in terms of time at the wheel. That is practically the same time that Basseng spent at the wheel, admittedly driving a lot faster, and covering around 200 miles further, but nevertheless a mighty effort. Interestingly, in a reciprocal agreement, Paul White did double-duty in the same two cars, but only did 66 laps in the Ginetta and 54 in the Golf.

For completeness, the other competitor who drove in two cars was Ralf Oeverhaus, who drove the no. 27 BMW Z4 for 128 laps and the no. 159 Bonk Motorsport BMW M3 for 34 laps.

All fascinating stuff, and if I weren't so busy doing other things, I might ramble on for longer.

I always welcome your comments and encouragement though, so please leave messages below!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

World Endurance Championship - Season Review

I suppose I always knew when I started this blogging thing, that there might be times when nothing inspired me to write. I suppose I also knew that, as there is no money to be made from blogging, there might be times when my motivation to write anything was also reduced. There are also the other things in my life that occupy my time, such as my family, my day job, writing for dailysportscar and - hard though it may be to believe that I have any - other interests.

All of this has kept me from posting anything recently, and if you have been visiting and have been disappointed not to find anything, then I apologise, but hopefully the year ahead will be a year of change: and that might mean I get to write more; but it might equally mean that I don't.

Anyway, here we are in 2014, and it is almost too late now to look back on the year past, but I am keenly aware that, at some point during 2013, someone asked me about fuel consumption at different circuits, and I promised that I would write something on the subject.

I have now had a chance to crunch some numbers, and in the following table show the respective fuel consumption figures for each of the factory LMP1 cars in each race (figures shown are miles per gallon):

Race No. 1 Audi No. 2 Audi No. 3 Audi No. 7 Toyota No. 8 Toyota
Silverstone 6.94 7.01
5.57 5.61
Spa 7.10 7.17 7.21 5.01* 5.74
Le Mans 7.82 8.01 8.19 6.70 6.68
Interlagos 7.50 7.77

Austin 7.03 6.79

Shanghai 7.05 6.97
5.31 5.22*
Bahrain 6.91 6.51*
4.28* 5.06

For the purposes of the calculation, I have assumed that the car always started with a full tank of fuel (which is probably fair enough), and always finished with an empty tank (which is patently wrong, particularly in those cases - shown with an asterisk - where the car stopped before the end of the race).

Even so, and although it is an interesting exercise to mull over the fuel efficiency of Messrs McNish, Kristensen and Duval, or to ask what was different about the configuration of the no. 3 Audi at Le Mans, it is probably still misleading data, as it is the average fuel consumption for the whole race, including periods of slower running: for example, behind the safety car. So questions about the actual consumption of the cars are not answered.

So what I have done in the table below is to take a single stint and calculate the fuel consumption for that stint, based on the distance covered in the stint and the amount of fuel put in the car at the end of the stint. I have, as far as possible, chosen stints that were unaffected by Safety Cars or by adverse weather, and also chosen only a 'full stint', where the car was refuelled to within 90% of its total capacity. Within those constraints, I have then chosen the fastest stint as given by the average speed achieved during the stint. What is interesting is that it is not that much different.

Race No. 1 Audi No. 2 Audi No. 3 Audi No. 7 Toyota No. 8 Toyota
Silverstone 6.95 7.12
5.60 5.68
Spa 7.23 7.37 7.28 6.13 5.83
Le Mans 7.14 7.28 7.37 6.32 6.28
Interlagos 7.30 7.59

Austin 7.17 6.93

Shanghai 7.14 7.26
5.48 5.64
Bahrain 7.00 7.16
5.23 5.26

So what does it all mean? Well, I like to think that you, my dear readers, are a fairly intelligent lot, so to a large extent you can work it out for yourselves. Remember that these are miles per gallon figures, so the higher the number, the better the consumption (although it is interesting to compare these numbers to those that we get in our road cars. Maybe I shouldn't complain so much about the 23 mpg that I get!) To me, it seems that the teams are setting themselves a fuel consumption target, and are going as fast as they can on that amount of fuel.

Certainly, looking at the Audi figures, and recalling that they ran in both long and short tail form during the year, the variation in consumption is just 10%, whereas the average speed variation is over 25%.

Also, it is clear that a lot of fuel can be saved behind the safety car (or in the wet), as at Le Mans - although, if you look more closely, notice that Audi's race-long fuel consumption average was 11% better than its single stint average (calculated for the most economical car, the no. 3), whereas Toyota (no. 7) was only 6% better.

At Toyota, it seems that their improved competitiveness in the later season races came at the cost of worse fuel consumption, which matches what you might expect - going faster means using more fuel.

And finally, the higher altitude of Sao Paulo seems to help the fuel consumption - the calculation no doubt goes that less air into the engine means that less fuel is also required for the same amount of energy.

I have to admit that this exercise was less illuminating than I had hoped - like a lot of research, it is interesting but not earth-shattering. I hope it was worth it nevertheless. And I hope that 2014 is a good year for you all too!