Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A clean race and a clean sweep for Toyota

Surprisingly, the Six Hours of Fuji didn’t really throw up any surprises.

The two Toyotas made no mistakes and simply ran away into the distance, giving their opposition no chance. Maybe it was just the type of race that Nicolas Lapierre needed to take part in, to restore his self-confidence (if that was what was at the root of the “personal reasons” for not racing). As a previous winner at Fuji, he surely will not have had any difficulty in keeping the car at the front; it will likely cost him a world championship title.

It was a race that was enthralling rather than exciting. With its long straight, Fuji encourages a relatively low downforce configuration. This had the double consequence of increasing tyre wear and reducing fuel consumption. This, I think, goes part of the way to explaining why Michelin’s LMP1 tyres would not last for a double stint. The improved fuel consumption also enabled all six LMP1-H entries to complete the race on just six stops each.

The shortest stint of those six-stoppers was Mark Webber in the no. 20 Porsche, whose first stint was just 10 laps, having suffered a slow puncture. André Lotterer in the no. 2 Audi tried to make his tyres go for two stints, but had to capitulate after a stint of just 16 laps; which was the shortest stint that the Audi was capable of without having to make an extra stop for fuel.

Of course all this played into the hands of Toyota. It is no secret that the Japanese manufacturer holds the horsepower advantage, and provided the team found the correct balance, the rest was a formality. Toyota also seems to have learned Audi’s trick of getting the car to improve as the race went on. Both Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson set their cars’ fastest laps in the final hour of the race. Both the Audis set theirs in the first two hours.

The one moment of controversy was the Full Course Yellow (FCY) period, just before half-distance. The debris that had to be cleared from the track was quickly dealt with, and racing was underway again in less than three minutes, but inevitably the neutralisation affected some more than others. First though, to be clear: this was a Full Course Yellow, not a Safety Car Period. The regulations allow for both, and they are different. It was a procedure first introduced during the Silverstone 6 hours in 2013, and was felt then by race control to have worked well.

Just as with all procedures, though, it is important to understand what is and is not allowed. Under Full Course Yellow, the pit lane entry and exit remain open throughout. Cars must immediately slow down to 80km/h and must not overtake. At the end of the FCY period, messages will be displayed on the timing screens and green flags will be waved at all marshal posts. This is the signal for racing (and overtaking) to resume, “regardless of the positions of the cars relative to one another and to the line”.

Two cars took the opportunity to make pit stops: the no. 1 Audi, which was called in for Lucas di Grassi to hand over to Tom Kristensen; and the no. 27 SMP Oreca of Maurizio Mediani, which made a fuel-only stop. Everyone else stayed out, so in theory at least, should have pretty much maintained position. Here are the positions (and gaps) just before the Full Course Yellow was called.

No. Car Driver Laps Time Gap
8 Toyota Davidson 102 2h 34m 29.337s
7 Toyota Sarrazin 102 2h 34m 36.939s 7.602s
14 Porsche Jani 102 2h 35m 51.452s 1m 14.513s
1 Audi di Grassi 101 2h 34m 47.473s 26.040s
20 Porsche Bernhard 101 2h 35m 01.146s 13.673s
2 Audi Tréluyer 101 2h 35m 43.435s 42.289s
13 Rebellion Leimer 97 2h 35m 43.393s 6m 22.510s
26 Ligier Canal 95 2h 35m 17.285s 2m 46.400s
47 KCMG Oreca Howson 95 2h 35m 49.725s 32.440s
27 SMP Oreca Mediani 94 2h 34m 40.357s 27.421s
35 Oak Morgan Brundle 94 2h 34m 43.261s 2.904s
9 Lotus CLM Rossiter 94 2h 34m 56.672s 13.411s
51 Ferrari Bruni 90 2h 35m 37.877s 7m 27.057s
71 Ferrari Rigon 90 2h 35m 40.165s 2.288s
99 Aston Martin Rees 90 2h 35m 43.364s 3.199s
91 Porsche Bergmeister 90 2h 36m 09.631s 26.267s
95 Aston Martin Hansson 90 2h 36m 11.289s 1.658s
98 Aston Martin Nygaard 89 2h 35m 00.118s 30.837s
81 Ferrari Rugolo 88 2h 34m 59.194s 1m 41.394s
88 Porsche Al Qubaisi 88 2h 35m 22.905s 23.711s
75 Porsche Collard 88 2h 36m 10.725s 47.820s
61 Ferrari Skeen 87 2h 34m 35.957s 7.725s

The waving of the green flag is supposed to be simultaneous around the track, allowing driving to start racing again immediately: there is no need to wait until you get to the start-finish line or any other such restriction. And after a full racing lap, the positions (and gaps) were:

No. Car Driver Laps Time Gap
8 Toyota Davidson 106 2h 42m 06.609s
7 Toyota Sarrazin 106 2h 42m 09.015s 2.406s
14 Porsche Jani 106 2h 43m 34.110s 1m 25.095s
20 Porsche Bernhard 105 2h 42m 27.373s 24.498s
1 Audi Kristensen* 105 2h 42m 55.741s 28.368s
2 Audi Tréluyer 105 2h 43m 22.616s 55.243s
13 Rebellion Leimer 100 2h 42m 01.320s 6m 30.829s
26 Ligier Canal 99 2h 43m 01.247s 2m 37.553s
47 KCMG Oreca Howson 98 2h 42m 16.287s 52.957s
35 Oak Morgan Brundle 98 2h 42m 35.598s 19.311s
27 SMP Oreca Mediani* 98 2h 42m 59.693s 24.095s
9 Lotus CLM Rossiter 97 2h 43m 06.381s 1m 43.648s
51 Ferrari Bruni 93 2h 42m 11.679s 5m 53.962s
71 Ferrari Rigon 93 2h 42m 13.272s 1.593s
99 Aston Martin Rees 93 2h 42m 21.600s 8.328s
91 Porsche Bergmeister 93 2h 42m 32.678s 11.078s
95 Aston Martin Hansson 93 2h 42m 35.248s 2.570s
98 Aston Martin Nygaard 93 2h 42m 58.297s 23.049s
81 Ferrari Rugolo 92 2h 43m 01.859s 1m 46.760s
88 Porsche Al Qubaisi 92 2h 43m 27.994s 26.135s
75 Porsche Collard 91 2h 42m 38.140s 53.351s
61 Ferrari Skeen 91 2h 42m 41.261s 3.121s

Unless you’ve got a very big screen, or you’ve printed this out, it might be a bit difficult to compare these two, so here are the net gains / losses for each car, relative to the one ahead of it.

No. Car Driver Gain/Loss Time
7 Toyota Sarrazin Gain 5.196s
14 Porsche Jani Loss 10.582s
1 Audi di Grassi Pit loss 26.660s
20 Porsche Bernhard Gain 14.707s
2 Audi Tréluyer Loss 12.954s
13 Rebellion Leimer Loss 8.319s
26 Ligier Canal Gain 8.847s
47 KCMG Oreca Howson Loss 20.517s
27 SMP Oreca Mediani Pit Loss 15.985s
71 Ferrari Rigon Gain 0.695s
99 Aston Martin Rees Loss 5.129s
91 Porsche Bergmeister Gain 15.189s
95 Aston Martin Hansson Loss 0.912s
98 Aston Martin Nygaard Gain 7.788s
81 Ferrari Rugolo Loss 5.366s
88 Porsche Al Qubaisi Loss 2.424s
75 Porsche Collard Loss 5.531s
61 Ferrari Skeen Gain 4.604s

You will notice that I’ve excluded some cars from the comparison, as in some cases the car ahead had emerged from the pits. In other cases, the gaps are just misleading. In effect, it is not possible to disentangle the effect of the pit stop from the effect of the FCY. In these cases, I have measured the gain on the car that finished up in front, after the relevant pit stop. In the cases of the cars that stopped, I have indicated that the time they lost as a ‘pit loss’. And of course it is also impossible to disentangle the speed differentials during the racing time that is inevitably included in the four laps between the two positions taken for my reference laps.

However, it does look a little as if Matt Howson’s claim that he was delayed by the Full Course Yellow has some merit. At the end of the race, the KCMG Oreca was just 5.434 seconds behind the G-Drive Ligier. Whether the 20 seconds lost in the FCY would have made the difference between winning and losing the LMP2 class of course is another matter. And quite why Howson should have lost so much time is not clear either. Certainly, if one looks at the laps spent while the FCY was in operation, average speeds of the laps completed were between 90 and 100km/h. So most likely the difference came either at the start or at the end of the procedure.

In any event, speeds under FCY were investigated by the race director, and no action was deemed necessary. Just be sure that more controversy would have arisen if a Safety Car (or, heaven forbid, the red flag) had been used. And surely, any procedure that takes just two and a half minutes has to be good?

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