Monday, 29 February 2016

Speculation about the distant future...

I’m not really one to peer into crystal balls and make predictions about the future, but I do listen to and read what a lot of people are saying and writing about motorsport, whether it is Formula 1, WEC, GT or whatever. I also spend time on my own thinking about those things and the things that history can teach us. One thing that has been gnawing away at me recently is where we might be in, say, eight to ten years’ time. I was half-considering a blog post on the subject, and then this photo from Martin Spetz was posted on twitter – with a caption by Graham Goodwin (the editor of “Spot the prototype!” - so here I go:

Although I would hate to see it happen, and at the moment I’ll admit it seems extremely unlikely, but just suppose that the LMP1 technology race self-destructs: that Porsche, Audi and Toyota move out, leaving the playing field to the privateers. Meanwhile, the manufacturers that have been pouring their multi-million dollar R&D budgets into GT programmes want more exposure on the world stage, particularly at Le Mans.

Then reflect on the extent to which sportscar racing categories are already controlled by regulation, and consider how difficult it would be – or not – for the FIA Endurance Committee to come up with a formula that made a full-house manufacturer GT car able to compete with a privately-entered prototype over a long distance race.

It’s not a fanciful possibility. Twenty years or so ago, readers may recall – and if you’re too young, then buy Quentin Spurring’s “Official History” for the 1990-1999 decade – there was such a balance of performance. The Dauer 962 was a GT car (officially), and won the 24 hours in 1994 ahead of prototype opposition from Toyota. In 1996, the Joest-entered TWR-Porsche beat the works 911 GT1’s. In between, of course, a McLaren (entered ‘privately’) triumphed against Yves Courage’s prototype in the hands of Mario Andretti, Eric Hélary and Bob Wollek.

Balancing performance has come a long way in twenty years, and I don’t see any good reason why the ‘privateer prototype’ class that we have in the WEC, along with the American IMSA prototype class, should not be restricted (by different amounts) so that a less-restricted GT class could be within 5% of each other’s lap time. That 5% difference could then be equalised by allowing the GT cars a larger fuel tank and faster refuelling procedures.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that this is going to happen in 2017, or even in 2018. But it strikes me that a solution has to be found to the two struggles going on in endurance racing at the moment: first that the privateer wants to enter races with more than just a class full of privateers as competition; and second, that there seems to be as much or more interest from manufacturer teams in GT racing than in prototypes.

Although Toyota, Audi and Porsche claim relevance of technology transfer from race-track to road car, both Audi and Porsche are already active in the GT3/GTE arena, and Toyotas competes successfully in GT500 racing in Japan with the Lexus brand and surely would not be slow in converting to a new, uprated GT class on the world stage?

Just imagine the prospect: here is a purely speculative entry list for the 2022 Le Mans 24 hour race:

Prototypes: GT Cars:
Rebellion-Oreca Audi
Courage-Peugeot Aston Martin
Strakka-Dome Bentley
Ligier Porsche
Alpine Lamborghini
Gibson McLaren
Oreca Ford GT
Kolles-Lotus BMW
Manor Mercedes
Mazda Nissan
Riley Jaguar
GM-Corvette Ferrari
Ginetta TVR

Inevitably, I fear, there would be debate about whether manufacturer teams should be allowed in the Prototype class. My suggestion would be that it should be restricted to private entries, but that becomes a difficult definition to regulate, especially when things as important as Le Mans victories are concerned. But then Le Mans’ history is littered with examples of works entries masquerading as privateers (as 1995 and 1996 show), so maybe we shouldn’t get too precious about this.

There is also the whole matter of crew composition, amateur drivers and grading, which I have deliberately avoided. Despite my misgivings, there are quite simply not enough world-class drivers available to crew fifty or sixty cars with three drivers per car – so non-professional drivers will inevitably be part of endurance racing for many years to come. Rightly so, for herein lies a good deal of the attraction of the place and the event.

The important aspect of this vision is that while the concept of multi-class racing has been key to the success of endurance racing over the years, it may be that – just as in the world of touring cars – equalising the top of some classes might have some benefit.

What do you think? Am I barking mad?

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Dubai, Daytona and Bathurst... oh, and Monza!

I often seem to find myself apologising for not posting more on this blog, but regular readers – if there are any left – will know that my priorities lie elsewhere than posting idle chatter here.

Having been fortunate enough to spend a very enjoyable time in Dubai commentating for for the Hankook-sponsored 24-hour race, I dug into the data and posted an analysis of that race on And although I did not travel to either Daytona for the Rolex 24-hour race or to Bathurst for the Liqui-Moly 12 hours, I was able to get hold of similar amounts of data for each of those races, from which I could provide further articles for dailysportscar. Writing anything here then seemed a little superfluous – or else too much like hard work! But I was then inspired by the “GT Debate” on Midweek Motorsport to ponder further on the wisdom of having three races in a four-week period on three different continents (none of them Europe). However, the fact that only two drivers participated in all three is perhaps a good indication that there is sufficient interest across the world for such an intense start to the season.

Whilst the sixty hours of racing certainly meant a hectic travel schedule for some, the internet and live streaming provided the opportunity for others – and I was one of them – to observe the unfolding of events from the comfort of their homes. Those who did stay up witnessed some first-class racing and excellent entertainment.

Helped by the benefit of hindsight, not to mention a fair old distance, I thought I would see what lessons we might be able to draw by stepping back and looking at all three races together. A “long view from afar”, if you see what I mean.

For the purposes of comparing like with like (more or less), and sticking to the principle of looking only at GT3 racing, I am only going to consider the A6 (Pro and Am) class from Dubai, the GTD class from Daytona and class A (AP and AA) at Bathurst.

First, a reminder of the top six from each race.
Pos. Dubai Daytona Bathurst
1 Audi (WRT) Audi (Magnus) McLaren
2 Mercedes(Blk Falcon) Porsche Nissan
3 Audi (ABT) Dodge Viper Bentley Continental
4 Mercedes (Hofor) Aston Martin Audi (Phoenix)
5 Audi (Optimum) Lamborghini Mercedes (Erebus)
6 Mercedes (PreciSpark) BMW Audi (GT)

I’m not really sure what conclusions to draw from this, since each race had very different entries, but if one were to award a “cup” for the best manufacturer, you’d have to work hard to convince me that it shouldn’t be presented to Audi, closely followed by Mercedes.

But spare a moment to look at the list of manufacturers that is represented in that list of top six finishers… ten altogether. Then notice that Ferrari isn’t even on the list!

All three races run to rather different regulations, and on rather different types of track, but nevertheless, I thought it would be fun to compare the total distance achieved by the winners in each race. To make matters fair, I have multiplied the winner’s distance at Bathurst by two, as it was only a twelve-hour race!

Dubai Daytona Bathurst *2
Distance km 3,174.6 4,027.7 3,690.6
Distance miles 1,972.6 2,502.7 2,293.2
Percentage 78.8% 100% 91.6%

The final row shows each distance as a percentage of the distance covered at Daytona. (Note that this is the race distance achieved by the class-winning Magnus Audi, not the ESM Ligier-HPD of the overall winners. The ESM team completed 736 laps in the 24 hours, a distance of 4,216.7 km, or 104.7% of the distance covered by the leading GTD car.)

One of the things that makes endurance racing so fascinating is that there are so many elements to success. In addition to having a fast car, you need to have a crew of drivers who can work together, you need to be efficient in the pits, and you need the car to be reliable. Not surprisingly, the way that the regulations work on pit stops is different in each race, but nevertheless, it is interesting to compare the total time spent in the pits by the winning car in each of the three races:

Dubai: 1h 23m 20s (25 stops, 4 drivers, 17 changes of driver)
Daytona: 40m 58s (28 stops, 4 drivers, 11 changes of driver)
Bathurst: 18m 32.371 (13 stops, 3 drivers, 5 changes of driver)

More than anything else, this really just goes to show the difference in fuelling regulations – Dubai using the separate refuelling area, and Daytona stipulating a slower refuelling rate in order separate the GT-LM cars from the GTD entries. What it does demonstrate is that to win any of these races you need to have a fault-free run… but of course, at Bathurst, the winning McLaren’s run was anything but perfect: the Nissan that finished 1.276s behind stopped 11 times for 13m 54s and the fourth-placed Audi made only 8 stops, spent only 11m 09s in the pit lane and still finished on the lead lap!

But while not stopping (for too long) is important, motor-racing is supposed to be all about speed, isn’t it? So let’s just check out the fastest lap times around each circuit: ultimately, it should be that which plays the largest part in defining which of the races goes the furthest.

Speed of fastest lap:
Dubai: 1m 58.712s (163.727 km/h) – 84.0%
Daytona: 1m 45.873s (194.812 km/h) – 100%
Bathurst: 2m 01.567s (183.987 km/h) – 94.4%

It is not just setting a fast lap time, though. Most people reading this know that I will go to my grave bleating about average lap times, but one means of calculating this for the whole race (a method that I seldom use, I must admit) is to take the distance covered and divide it by the total time spent on the track (as opposed to being in the pits).

This give the following - call it the winner’s average speed on track:
Dubai: 139.28 km/h (80.7%)
Daytona: 172.50 km/h (100%)
Bathurst: 157.59 km/h (91.4%)

But rather than measuring the speed on the track, this is actually measuring the amount of time that the race is neutralised: either by the dreaded Safety Car, or – in the case of Dubai – of the Code-60 periods.

So how long was each race under full course caution? In the table below, don’t forget that Bathurst is only 12 hours. Here are the details of the Race Neutralisations at each event:

Dubai: 4h 20m 09s (18% of race) / 545 laps green (93% of race laps)
Daytona: 5h 10m 52s (22%) / 593 laps green (84% of race laps)
Bathurst: 3h 04m 31s (26%) / 245 laps green (82% of race laps)

It is interesting – but also obvious, when you think about it – that the percentage of race laps lost is different from the percentage of time spent under caution. At Dubai the average speed under caution is 60km/h, at Bathurst around 90km/h and about 120km/h at Daytona behind a Safety Car.

There is a strong argument that we now have a golden era for GT racing, worldwide. The last time that it was so popular was probably in the early 1990’s when prototype racing self-destructed and GTs – led by the BPR Organisation – were the only game in town. But perhaps more momentous were the Group 5 GT cars of the late 1970’s: when ‘silhouette-style’ racers were produced by specialists, but prompted by factory support from Ford, BMW, Lancia and Porsche. Then, as now, major manufacturers saw the benefit of racing to improve the image of the breed.

It also gives me an excuse to dig out some photos from my collection: stirring stuff, don’t you agree? I wish I had taken my camera to more race meetings - somehow it was just a bit too much clutter - otherwise there would certainly be a Zakspeed Capri here...


In closing, let me offer you a somewhat whimsical thought on those first three races of the year. With 98 cars taking the start in Dubai, 54 at Daytona and 36 in Bathurst an awful lot of competitive miles were covered in the sixty hours that comprised those races.

Total distance covered:
Dubai: 232,556km
Daytona: 186,018km
Bathurst: 46,349km
Total: 464,924km

To try and put that number into perspective, consider that the moon is, on average, 384,400km away from the Earth. Or that the circumference of Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, is 439,264km. The competitors in the first three races of the year, went – in total – further than either of those!