Friday, 27 February 2015

Godzilla, by a whisker!

I wasn’t at Bathurst for the 2015 edition of the LiquiMoly Bathurst 12 hours, nor did I follow the race closely live on TV; but I did catch up on what happened after the event, and was surprised and pleased in equal measure that the Nissan GT-R NISMO won.

Pleased - because I have enjoyed watching Nissan’s exploits over the years: their approach is never one that follows the crowd and often seems outside some sort of comfort zone. It was also good to see two more graduates from the GT Academy, Florian Strauss and Wolfgang Reip, triumphing in a major international event against some serious competition. For Katsumasa Chiyo, the race must have been particularly satisfying, not only because of that sensational, race-winning penultimate lap, but also coming after his spectacular exit from the race last year.

And surprised, because although the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 has gradually moved up into contention over recent years, I have to admit that I expected the competition from Audi, Mercedes, Aston Martin, Ferrari and of course Bentley, to overwhelm Bob Neville’s small, close-knit team.

In the end, the race became less about endurance and more about race-craft; and that’s exactly what Chiyo-san had in spades. As ever, though, my interest turned to average lap times. If the outcome of the race had been purely based on speed, what then? The table shows the figures for the top seven finishers (all cars from different manufacturers, and although these were the highest-placed cars, they weren’t necessarily the quickest representative from each brand).

No. Car Average lap time
35 Nissan GT-R NISMO 2m 05.470s
15 Audi R8 LMS ultra 2m 04.628s
97 Aston Martin Vantage 2m 05.868s
10 Bentley Continental 2m 05.959s
36 Mercedes SLS AMG 2m 05.952s
49 Ferrari 458 Italia 2m 07.090s
32 Lamborghini Gallardo 2m 06.448s

Note that the averages are for the fastest 39 laps, which is 20% of the laps completed under green conditions, my standard way of calculating these things.

From the figures (and even having taken only a passing interest in the practice and qualifying sessions leading up to the race), it is apparent that the Phoenix Audi was comfortably the fastest car in the field. But the Nissan is still nearly 0.4s faster than the next quickest car, so perhaps my surprise at the car’s pace was unfounded.

As ever, the real surprise is how closely-matched the times are: less than a tenth of a second separated the Bentley, Aston Martin and Mercedes. And if one looks at the average lap time (over 20 laps) for the no. 77 AF Corse Ferrari (which had led the race, and was on the lead lap when it retired in the eighth hour after contact with the wall), that is more than 0.6s faster than the no. 49 Vicious Rumour Ferrari shown in the table above. The black art of performance balancing may not have got things absolutely right, but it was certainly not bad. And in any event, in a race dominated by Safety Car Periods, any failings that there may have been are not so apparent.

By my calculations, with that kind of an advantage, the Phoenix Audi could have lapped the entire field if there would have been around three hours’ non-stop green running. And that would have made the race a lot less entertaining for the many fans that stayed up (or got up) and watched it in its entirety.

But I am being curmudgeonly again and that was not my intention. Full course cautions are inevitable at a track like Mount Panorama and I will save my thoughts on them for another time. Hats off to all at RJN Motorsport on a thoroughly well-deserved win. Katsumasa Chiyo will be racing for the Nismo Athletes in the Blancpain Endurance Series in 2015, providing him with an opportunity to race in the 24-hour race at Spa-Francorchamps; but first, he will drive in the Nürburgring 24 hours in May. Maybe next time (surely there must be a next time?) I shouldn’t be surprised to see Nissan winning a 24-hour race.

France in June, though? That’s a different kettle of fish - and the subject of a post that I’ve not yet written!

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