Saturday, 27 September 2014

Driving stints in Texas

During the 6 hours of Circuit of the Americas, a message came up on the timing screens to tell teams that the driving time regulations would still apply, despite the fact that the race had been suspended for 49 minutes, and drivers had been allowed out of their cars during the stoppage.

It got me thinking a little bit, so I have worked out the number of laps driven and the time in the car, for each driver in the LMP1 category. For the purposes of this table I have included the time spent by drivers in the pits, so that the sum of the times for each car adds up to six hours, and the sum of the laps completed adds up to the number of laps completed by each car in the race (unless I have made a mistake).

No. Driver No. of laps Percent Time Percent
1 Loïc Duval 48 31% 1h 32m 16s 26%

Tom Kristensen 52 33% 2h 40m 38s 44%

Lucas di Grassi 57 36% 1h 49m 51s 30%

2 André Lotterer 49 31% 1h 34m 38s 26%

Benoît Tréluyer 42 27% 2h 19m 41s 39%

Marcel Fässler 66 42% 2h 07m 33s 35%

7 Alex Wurz 78 50% 2h 29m 40s 41%

Mike Conway 47 30% 2h 32m 14s 42%

Stéphane Sarrazin 30 20% 1h 00m 17s 17%

8 Sébastien Buemi 69 44% 2h 10m 58s 36%

Nicolas Lapierre 58 37% 2h 53m 50s 48%

Anthony Davidson 30 19% 0h 58m 08s 16%

9 Christophe Bouchut 53 37% 2h 50m 14s 47%

Lucas Auer 33 24% 1h 16m 21s 21%

James Rossiter 54 39% 1h 56m 06s 32%

12 Mathias Beche 67 45% 2h 16m 59s 38%

Nicolas Prost 24 16% 0h 49m 36s 14%

Nick Heidfeld 58 39% 2h 55m 33s 48%

13 Fabio Leimer 37 42% 1h 21m 39s 33%

Dominik Kraihamer 22 25% 0h 44m 24s 18%

Andrea Belicchi 29 33% 1h 58m 53s 49%

14 Romain Dumas 28 18% 0h 53m 01s 14%

Neel Jani 75 48% 3h 24m 47s 57%

Marc Lieb 53 34% 1h 44m 09s 29%

20 Mark Webber 46 30% 1h 28m 18s 24%

Timo Bernhard 59 38% 2h 56m 18s 49%

Brendon Hartley 50 32% 1h 37m 25s 27%

I will leave readers to draw their own conclusions from all this, but feel that one or two of my own conclusions might also be appropriate. Firstly, it is noticeable that Toyota seems to favour one driver in each car over the others. Both Buemi and Wurz drove the TS040 twice during the race; at the start and again at the finish. Audi cycled their drivers through one driving shift each and Porsche split their strategy, giving Dumas, Jani and Lieb one stint each in the no. 14 but allowing Webber two stints (at the start and at the end) in the no. 20.

Surely minimising the number of driver changes must be the best strategy? Although tyre usage plays a role in when to change drivers.

It is also interesting - or perhaps fun would be a better word, for it is hardly an illuminating statistic - to see who actually achieved the fastest average speed for his stint. Probably by virtue of it being the shortest, that honour goes to Romain Dumas at 174.7km/h. Benoît Tréluyer, in the winning Audi, actually set the second slowest stint of all, completing his 42 laps at an average speed of just under 100km/h, but at least he kept it on the track.

And even though Neel Jani was at the wheel for longer than anyone else, it was Alexander Wurz who actually drove more laps than anyone else in the class, with a total of 78.

If anyone wants the same information for the P2 class or GT cars, then you'll have to bribe me: send whisky or leave a begging message below!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Red Flag in Austin

There was much fuss and bother when the 6 hours of Circuit of the Americas had to be stopped, after just over an hour and a half's running on Saturday evening.

Various claims and counter-claims were made, regarding whether or not the correct procedures had been followed, and what the impact of those procedures was on the outcome of the race.

There is no doubt that the outcome was affected, but in my opinion blame should not (indeed cannot) be put on the race direction, officials or even the regulations. Rather, it was merely a question of circumstance, particularly adverse weather conditions, timing and, as is so often the case in these matters, a little bit of luck.

In the event that it is necessary to ‘suspend’ the race, the regulations say that both the pit entry and pit exit will be closed. From the data to which I have access, it seems that three cars managed to side-step this rule and come in to the pit lane anyway: the no. 9 Lotus (Christophe Bouchut), the no. 81 AF Corse Ferrari (Stephen Wyatt) and the no. 90 8 Star Ferrari (Gianluca Roda). No disrespect to any of these, but I don’t believe that any great injustice was done by permitting these transgressions to go unpunished in the overall scheme of the race.

In the pits already, at the moment that the race was suspended were the following cars:

No. Car Class
7 Toyota TS 040 Hybrid LMP1-H
26 G-Drive Ligier-Nissan LMP2
30 ESM HPD Honda LMP2
47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan LMP2
65 Corvette C7.R GTE Pro
95 Aston Martin Vantage V8 GTE Am
98 Aston Martin Vantage V8 GTE Am
99 Aston Martin Vantage V8 GTE Pro

It is unfortunate, but inevitable, that with the pit exit being closed, these cars could not rejoin the race and had to remain in the pits until the time that the proposed restart was known. The regulations forbid repair work during a race suspension, but re-fuelling and tyre changes, along with changes of driver may be done.

Where Race Director Eduardo Freitas used his discretion was in his decision to allow (for safety reasons) tyres to be changed on those cars which were on the start-finish straight. No particular heights of intellect are required to justify the wisdom of that decision, but some of those teams in the pit lane must have been looking enviously over the pit wall, while those on the track were able to get a ‘free’ tyre change.

The procedure for resuming the race is perhaps slightly confusing, but is still reasonably simple, and relies merely on the cars being stopped at the ‘red flag line’ in the same order as that in which they were when the race was suspended. There’s no ambiguity in this, as there is no overtaking allowed at all when the red flag is shown.

The objective of the procedure, in word and spirit, is clear: to line up the field behind the leader and get on with the race. To this end, those cars between the red flag line’ and the leader were, three minutes before the resumption, waved around on a single lap (no overtaking allowed) to take up position at the back of the field behind the leader, who moves into position behind the Safety Car.

The cars which were thus waved around were (in the order that they were on the track):

No. Car Class
57 Krohn Ferrari GTE Am
97 Aston Martin GTE Pro
51 AF Corse Ferrari GTE Pro
88 Proton Ferrari GTE Am
14 Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1-H
91 Manthey Porsche 911 GTE Pro
92 Manthey Porsche 911 GTE Pro
12 Rebellion R-One LMP1-L
75 Prospeed Porsche GTE Am
37 SMP Oreca-Nissan LMP2
71 AF Corse Ferrari GTE Pro
27 SMP Oreca-Nissan LMP2

These then lined up behind the cars that had been left on the grid, and in so doing, crossed the Start-finish line and were credited with another lap.

The cars that were left, lined up and ready to set off behind the Safety Car, were:

No. Car Class
2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro LMP1-H
13 Rebellion R-One LMP1-L
1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro LMP1-H
8 Toyota TS 040 Hybrid LMP1-H
61 AF Corse Ferrari GTE Am
20 Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1-H

So, to summarise, there were eight cars in the pits, twelve that were waved round for a lap, six remaining on the track, and three that came into the pits (despite the pits being closed, but unpunished), accounting for all 29 cars in the race.

Personally, and from reading the regulations, I can see no cause for complaint against those cars that were stopped on the circuit - if marshals provided assistance to anyone, it was merely to move the cars from unsafe positions. Provided that assistance is not used to start the engine, then no offence has been committed.

What the regulations do not make clear, in my opinion, is what would have happened had the leader of the race been in the pits at the time of suspension, and in a sense I think we are lucky that it did not happen, as the leader (Fässler in the no. 2 Audi) only exited the pits 16 seconds before the red flag was shown. (I hope that this was not the reason, though, that it took so long for the decision to suspend the race to be taken.)

A clarification of the procedure to be followed should the leader be in the pits when the red flag is shown is thus the only area of Sporting Regulations that I think needs to be considered. For the rest of it, I felt that it worked as well as it could, under the circumstances. Sure, some folk lost out and others gained, but only to the same extent as would have happened anyway if the race had been neutralised by a normal Safety Car Intervention. It was cars going off into the scenery and strategic choices on suitable tyres that had the biggest impact on the race order.

I'll be writing a further analysis for dailysportscar in the coming days - in particular attempting to answer the question whether Audi only won because of the deteriorating power of the no. 14 Porsche, or whether Fässler would have caught Marc Lieb anyway.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Trying to predict the unpredictable

I am not about to go into the details of my personal life, but circumstances have contrived to make it almost impossible to get anything written on this blog in recent weeks and that is something that saddens me. The fact is that I both enjoy writing my thoughts up here, and also enjoy reading your comments and watching the statistics.

It’s not that I am lacking inspiration in any way, either; it is merely that I have not been able to devote enough time to transforming my ideas into words to make it worthwhile posting them here.

Anyway, in anticipation of the upcoming WEC race this weekend – the nattily-titled 6 hours of Circuit of the Americas – I’ve been looking at what might happen. With so much having gone on behind the closed doors of Porsche, Toyota and Audi since Le Mans in June, it is only possible to speculate about who might be quickest. But that has not stopped me in the past, and it isn’t going to stop me now.

What became clear after Le Mans was that both Toyota and Porsche reduced their pace (in the time-honoured fashion) in the vingt-quatre heures this year in order to improve their chances of reliability. Hence, I would expect both Toyota and Porsche to be quicker than Audi in Texas, and for Toyota to be quicker than Porsche.

In terms of average lap times for a stint around the 5.513km circuit, that means something like:
Toyota - 1m 49.4s
Porsche - 1m 49.6s
Audi - 1m 49.9s

And in this brave, new world of fuel efficiency, stint lengths like this:
Toyota - 27 laps
Porsche - 28 laps
Audi - 25 laps

On this basis, only Porsche will be able to run a six-stop strategy, both Toyota and Audi will need an extra stop.

All of this is assuming, as always, that neither the weather nor Safety Car will play a role in the race. And there have been suggestions of rain in the area on Saturday evening – although my latest ‘skunk works’ forecast calls for a dry race throughout. Last year, the weather was good, but the Safety Car came out for fifteen minutes in the first hour, allowing 187 laps to be completed in the six hours.

If we do get a dry, green race then that would suggest that 190 laps would be possible this year. In the end, it will come down to the question of who is able to maintain the suggested average lap times above as well as double-stinting the tyres… for that will be the key to winning the race, in my opinion.