Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Reading the signs, drawing conclusions and personal opinions

From early in the week leading up to the Six Hours of Fuji, my weather widget was suggesting that some fairly heavy rain would arrive on Sunday, although it would be dry and sunny before that. This meant that although Practice and Qualifying would most likely take place in ideal conditions, the race itself would be affected by rain. For once, my forecast was reasonably accurate, and the rain was so bad on Sunday morning that the race was started behind the Safety Car. For 17 laps (38m 19s) the Safety Car led the field around and if it wasn’t entirely the same as 2013, there were certainly echoes of that event, which had to be aborted after just sixteen (non-racing) laps.

The world has moved on since I first started going to endurance races, but in days gone by, conditions that greeted competitors on Sunday morning would probably have meant race officials delaying the start, pending a decision based on whether things seemed to be improving or not. When they decided that the race could proceed, then it things would get under way, and the race would run for its full distance. If there was live TV coverage – and most likely there was not – then they would just have to deal with it, much as commentators at Fuji had to deal with talking about cars following the Safety Car for more than half-an-hour. That’s just what commentators do.

I sometimes wonder why TV companies can deal with cricket, which can often be delayed for hours due to inclement weather; or tennis, where the duration of the event is completely unpredictable, and yet demand that motor races should start and end at a specific time, “for the sake of the show”. I recognise that TV coverage is important to the sport, but occasionally I think that we get the horse and the cart the wrong way round with motor racing. Television is there to observe the event, not to direct it.

Be all of that as it may, the rules are clearly written these days to deal with such situations that we had in Japan, and we were treated, not to inane pictures of marshals pretending that they were fishing in a brook, but to the action of racing sports cars being waved off the echelon formation, to join the ‘race’ behind the Safety Car, which moved off the grid punctually at 11am, the scheduled start time.

Time spent behind the Safety Car is part of the race, of course, so as soon as the race got underway, team tacticians up and down the pit lane started to work out how they could use the time to their advantage. It was an opportunity to try to second-guess the officials – how long would the Safety Car stay out? Would the track be dry enough for “wet” as opposed to “monsoon” tyres when it went green? Was it worth putting the “silver” driver in the car?

Even though those first seventeen laps weren’t racing, they were part of the race, and provided plenty to keep spectators at the track and viewers of the TV and Internet streaming pictures entertained. It was nothing, though, compared to the action that started as soon as the green flag waved. The beauty of the World Endurance Championship is that it is racing that works on a number of levels – on the strategic, tactical level working out when to pit, how to make the fuel last, etc. but also on a pure racinglevel; providing great action on the track: nose to tail, side by side stuff, and more overtaking than you can shake a stick at.

In a race of fluctuating fortunes throughout the field, Porsche once again emerged at the front of the race for the overall lead, the 919 Hybrid proving once again to be too fast when it mattered. Audi’s aerodynamically-updated R18 e-tron quattro was clearly an improvement, not only setting the fastest lap of the race, but also keeping the Porsches out of the lead for 50 laps: nearly a quarter of the race.

The Dumas/Lieb/Jani Porsche was able to establish a lead of nearly a minute, thanks to fortuitous timing of a Full Course Yellow, just as the car was coming into the pits to refuel. It (briefly) re-ignited the debate into how to ensure that race neutralisations should be implemented without disrupting the pattern of the race, but I think that will have to be covered in another post at another time.

The race really turned Porsche’s way when Audi made a bad decision to put AndrĂ© Lotterer onto dry-weather slick tyres halfway through his stint, though. It is interesting to speculate on what might have happened had he been left on the ‘slick intermediates’.

Let’s have a look at the numbers:

No. Car Driver Stint Start Stint End Laps Average green lap time
17 Porsche Hartley 13:23 14:31 40 1m 36.586s
17 Porsche Hartley 14:32 15:33 39 1m 31.261s
18 Porsche Lieb 13:25 14:31 40 1m 36.508s
18 Porsche Lieb 14:32 15:31 37 1m 31.520s
7 Audi Lotterer 13:15 14:20 38 1m 37.219s
7 Audi Lotterer 14:21 14:33 7 1m 43.348s
7 Audi Lotterer 14:34 15:31 36 1m 32.092s
8 Audi di Grassi 13:18 14:19 36 1m 37.808s
8 Audi di Grassi 14:20 15:15 34 1m 34.087s

In the same time period that Lotterer was doing his seven laps on slicks, the two Porsches were averaging 1m 35s, so it is fair to assume that Lotterer, had he not have switched, would have been lapping eight seconds per lap faster for those seven laps. Additionally, had AndrĂ© kept the ‘slick intermediate’ tyres on (as Hartley, Lieb and di Grassi all did), then he would have saved not only the second stop to switch back to the inters (58.441s), but also the twenty-two seconds that it took to change to full slicks at his first pit stop.

Add all this together and you get (56+58+22=136) 2m 16s. Go back and look at the official results, and you’ll find that the winning Porsche finished the race 2m 16.479s ahead of the Audi (although it was a lap ahead, you can still calculate the winning margin).

Now of course we must remember that the Lieb/Dumas/Jani Porsche (that finished second) was served a drive-through penalty for not respecting the yellow flags, and then was slowed artificially to allow its team-mates, which had suffered torque problems throughout the race, to pass for the sake of championship points. So to put the case that Audi could have won the race is probably wrong. However, on a track where Audi has never won, surely there must be some cause for optimism in Ingolstadt and at Joest Racing in the remaining two rounds of the championship at Shanghai and Bahrain? Even though the odds may be slim, Audi is not going to give up the silverware without a fight.

No comments:

Post a Comment