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:
|7||Toyota TS 040 Hybrid||LMP1-H|
|30||ESM HPD Honda||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):
|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|
|75||Prospeed Porsche||GTE Am|
|71||AF Corse Ferrari||GTE Pro|
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:
|2||Audi R18 e-tron quattro||LMP1-H|
|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.