Friday, 22 July 2016

Some details from Paul Ricard 24 hours

In some ways the Paul Ricard 24 hour race, organised by the Creventic organisation for GT3 cars, 24-hour specials and touring cars, was an unusual race. It was not unusual to see a Porsche winning, nor was the warm, dry, sunny weather a surprise. What marked it out as unusual was the fact that only one of the leading runners had a fault-free race. Not only that, but those that had problems seemed to have more, and lost more time in the pits as a result.

Out of the ten A6-Pro cars entered, only five finished and a look at the time spent in the pits for each of these is revealing in determining the destination of the silverware.

Car No. Team Car No. of stops Total time in pit
911 Herberth Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3-R 20 1h 30m 28s
30 Ram Racing Mercedes AMG GT3 20 1h 48m 16s
27 SPS automotive Mercedes AMG GT3 22 2h 02m 11s
41 HTP Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3 24 2h 24m 25s
49 Drivex Audi R8 LMS ultra 25 5h 55m 15s

However, it is worth noting that the winning margin of the Porsche was 14 laps, or very nearly 32 minutes in terms of time. So although Ram Racing spent around 18 minutes longer in the pit than the Porsche, it still had another 14 minutes that was lost in straight speed on the track.

Let’s look at the pace of the fastest six cars – again I will constrain myself to the A6-Pro cars, and I am well aware that this excludes some quick A6-Am class runners - three of which filled the top six places - but we will return to them later.

Car No. Car Fastest lap Average of best 100 laps Average of best 20%
911 Herberth Porsche 2m 08.311s 2m 10.2s 2m 10.3s
30 Ram Mercedes 2m 08.512s 2m 10.3s 2m 10.4s
27 SPS Mercedes 2m 08.740s 2m 10.4s 2m 10.5s
41 HTP Mercedes 2m 07.261s 2m 09.5s 2m 09.5s
49 Drivex Audi 2m 09.315s 2m 12.3s 2m 12.0s
11 Scuderia Praha Ferrari 2m 08.259s 2m 09.8s 2m 09.8s
963 GRT Lamborghini 2m 07.805s 2m 09.9s 2m 09.9s
14 Optimum Audi 2m 09.023s 2m 11.9s 2m 10.9s
33 Car Collection Audi 2m 10.468s 2m 14.4s 2m 12.6s

Interesting is the fact that there is little difference between taking the fastest lap and taking the average lap times: the gaps are around the same - apart from the Lamborghini, which could not translate a fast single lap into as fast average laps. It does seem that the Audi R8 was at a (slight) disadvantage, and one wonders (quietly) what HTP was doing that made their Mercedes so much quicker than the other AMG GT3s.

And although the Hankook tyres are specified for all teams, the pressure and camber angle had a large role to play as well. The fact that (left-rear) punctures impacted the race so heavily bears testament to that.

Looking specifically at the difference between the Herberth Porsche and the Ram Mercedes, the British team’s fast laps were only a tenth or so slower than those of the German’s. Over 600 laps, that only accounts for one minute of the fourteen that I identified earlier as being the difference between the cars. To get to the bottom of this, it is necessary to look more closely at the lap times of the individual drivers.

An aspect of GT3 racing in general and Creventic-organised events in particular is that the cars are relatively easy to drive. “The car may break traction, but it does so progressively, and any slide is relatively easy to control,” one driver told me. That is not to say that all drivers can get the same out of the car though and not only the combination of drivers in crews was important, but also how the drivers were used. Here is the data for the drivers in each of the first five cars in the overall results.
911 - Herberth Motorsport Porsche
Name Laps Driving Time Best Lap Average Lap
Robert Renauer 174 6h 44m 59s 2m 08.311s 2m 09.8s
Daniel Allemann 153 5h 43m 12s 2m 10.470s 2m 11.6s
Ralf Bohn 133 5h 08m 15s 2m 11.120s 2m 12.2s
Alfred Renauer 131 5h 05m 26s 2m 08.774s 2m 09.9s

30 - Ram Racing Mercedes
Name Laps Driving Time Best Lap Average Lap
Stuart Hall 183 7h 09m 15s 2m 08.512s 2m 10.2s
Jamie Campbell-Walter 195 7h 23m 27s 2m 09.227s 2m 10.3s
Roald Goethe 49 2h 03m 19s 2m 15.794s 2m 16.4s
Dan Brown 150 5h 50m 16s 2m 09.922s 2m 10.6s

10 - Hofor-Racing Mercedes (A6-Am, minimum ref. lap time 2m 13s)
Name Laps Driving Time Best Lap Average Lap
Christiaan Frankenhout 155 6h 09m 04s 2m 11.937s *2m 13.3s
Kenneth Heyer 111 4h 08m 55s 2m 10.168s **2m 13.3s
Roland Eggimann 143 5h 41m 37s 2m 13.562s 2m 15.5s
Chantal Kroll 106 4h 17m 52s 2m 15.447s 2m 16.0s
Michael Kroll 62 2h 28m 09s 2m 16.537s 2m 17.4s
*excludes four joker laps
**excludes two joker laps

27 - SPS automotive-performance Mercedes
Name Laps Driving Time Best Lap Average Lap
Lance-David Arnold 143 5h 29m 32s 2m 08.740s 2m 10.2s
Valentin Pierburg 62 2h 36m 58s 2m 11.764s 2m 13.4s
Alex Müller 166 6h 39m 48s 2m 08.982s 2m 10.4s
Stéphane Kox 46 1h 53m 50s 2m 12.459s 2m 13.4s
Tom Onslow-Cole 158 5h 51m 49s 2m 09.352s 2m 10.5s

34 - Car Collection Audi (A6-Am, minimum ref. lap time 2m 13s)
Name Laps Driving Time Best Lap Average Lap
Ingo Vogler 124 4h 58m 51s 2m 12.830s *2m 14.1s
Elmar Grimm 152 5h 51m 36s 2m 12.597s **2m 14.0s
Johannes Dr. Kirchhoff 123 5h 09m 12s 2m 13.903s 2m 14.7s
Gustav Edelhoff 82 3h 10m 37s 2m 15.716s 2m 17.0s
Max Edelhoff 89 3h 27m 42s 2m 12.065s ***2m 13.4s
*excludes two joker laps
**excludes one joker lap
***excludes six joker laps

I have included the two cars in the top five that were from the A6-Am category in this analysis, and it makes interesting reading. It seems to me that only the HTP Mercedes, the Scuderia Praha Ferrari and the Grasser Lamborghini had the pace to beat the Herberth Porsche and all three had problems. The Precote Porsche, just as it did at Zandvoort, had a perfect race.

Herberth Motorsport celebrates its 20th anniversary in motor sport this year, having begun racing in 1996 in the ADAC GT Cup. Founded by Alfred Herberth (father of Robert and Alfred), it was a proud moment for him when his twin sons joined the grid of the Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland in 2003. The team was rocked by the death of Alfred senior in a road accident in 2012, leaving Robert and Alfred to take over the team. Somehow, I think dad would be proud of the team’s achievements this year.

The competition will need to improve its reliability, if not its pace, in the two remaining 24-hour races of the season at Barcelona and Brno. If Herberth hadn’t made it look so easy in the South of France, we would have had a better race!

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The State of Silverstone

I spent a rather good day at Silverstone last Friday – on the first day of practice for the 2016 British Grand Prix. It was one of those days when I got to experience racing from the spectator side of the fence – one of those days, indeed, that reminded me of those days when as a young man, I became a motor racing fan. It was the second such day in the space of a week, as I also attended the London E-Prix at Battersea Park, but apart from the fact that both involved single seater racing cars and the word “Prix”, there was not a lot in common between them.

Bearing in mind that we actually bought “Pit walk” tickets for Battersea, the cost, to the paying spectator, was slightly less to the Grand Prix Friday than it was for the E-Prix, although travel costs meant that the two days were very comparable in price.

I did the same ‘double’ last year and recorded my impressions here, but I have to say that Silverstone gave me a far better day out than Battersea Park, and without hefty persuasion from my son, I don’t think I’ll be going back to Formula E wherever it ends up next year. The trouble is that, whatever the organisers of the E-Prix do, they will struggle with trying to give the spectator a decent view of the track. And by its very nature, it is rather a one-trick pony: although the Park offers off-track entertainment, with only one race on the programme, it doesn’t really stand a chance against the offering that Silverstone serves up.

Arriving at Silverstone last Friday just as the first Free Practice session for the Formula 1 cars was starting, I sat in the grandstand opposite the pits and ticked off the cars in the entry list. My first (and probably only) complaint – the PA speakers were either not switched on at all, or were woefully quiet. Luckily I had remembered to bring my FM radio, so could keep up-to-date with what was going on thanks to the entertaining and informative commentary team of David Addison, Ian Titchmarsh and Bob Constanduros, assisted during support race action by Alan Hyde.

There were at least three big screens in sight on the pits straight, and the current standings were easily visible on the Rolex scoreboard gantry under which the cars drove as they exited the pit lane. Provided you knew that the second-named driver in the programme was the one driving the car with the yellow roll-hoop camera, and were familiar with the three-letter abbreviations of the drivers’ names, all was reasonably straightforward. I enjoyed watching Charles Leclerc at the wheel of the ‘first’ Haas, and knowing it was him rather than Gutiérrez.

For the GP2 Free Practice session, that came next, I moved round to the grandstand on the outside of Club Corner – and what a good view that provides! At £300 a seat for next year’s GP, I suspect it probably exceeds the Truswell family budget, but I would expect them to be sold out by Christmas!

One of the things I miss from my days of PA commentary at lower classes of racing is watching new, young drivers coming up ‘through the ranks’, and watching the young guns in GP2 and GP3 had me reminiscing anew at the same time as wondering which of the current crop would end up in F1 racing in future, which would find homes in prototypes and GT racing and which would sink without trace.

For the second F1 Free Practice session I wandered down to Stowe, and I found the availability of such a wide range of hot and cold food and drink simply astonishing. There was, quite literally, something for every taste, whether that was Indian, Thai, hog roast, burgers, fish and chips, beer, lager or simply coffee or tea. Of course, although it was busy on Friday, the crowd was probably less than half that which would be there on Sunday, so how they all coped as the weekend wore on, I cannot say. Based on Friday’s experience though, queuing times were entirely manageable.

And despite its reputation, Silverstone has some pretty good vantage points for the spectator. After the spectacle of Hangar Straight and Stowe Corner, I continued my walk: Becketts, Copse, Woodcote and Luffield, all pretty proper, by any measure, even if overtaking opportunities in a race situation would be limited at any of them.

Apparently even Bernie Ecclestone was complimentary about the place, calling it a worthy Grand Prix venue. Maybe at last the investment and dedication of the BRDC has been rewarded. I was also pleased to hear about the Silverstone Heritage Experience, which is due to open in October 2018. The idea, as Sally Reynolds, Chief Executive of Silverstone Heritage Ltd., told me on Friday evening, is to provide not only an additional attraction for those visiting Silverstone on racedays, but also to provide a reason for visiting in its own right. More than 450,000 visitors per year are anticipated to the interactive, inspirational and educational experience – to be housed in the World War Two hangar to the right of the main entrance.

In addition to providing a permanent exhibition, research facilities to the BRDC archive and tours around the circuit, a further objective of the project is to encourage more people into the engineering industry, recognising as it does the part that the UK-based motor sport industry has played in the development of the sport across the world. The project has received a £9.1 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and is looking to raise a similar amount from businesses and individuals to ensure that the proposed timetable is met. With the patronage of HRH Prince Harry, and Ian Phillips in charge of fund-raising, the project has a good foundation from which to move forward.

I look forward to seeing it all come to pass. Silverstone deserves it!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

LMP2 at Le Mans - Some Answers?

Less than three weeks have passed since the dramatic events of the 2016 Le Mans 24-hour race, but somehow it seems longer than that. I seem to have spent a lot of time discussing the emotions of the week with a lot of people. Having been to Le Mans every year since 1981, it remains a very special week, but somehow perhaps not as much of a highlight as it once was. That said, the impressions of 2016 will remain with me for a long time. I have read a lot of what has been written, and listened to a lot of what has been said in the last three weeks – but there has been so much that I have probably missed most of it. Undoubtedly the rights and wrongs of the stories from the LMP1 and GTE classes warranted the extensive coverage, and yet, somehow I feel that there are elements of the stories that might never be known – at least not in public.

But before moving on, I want to spend some time reflecting on the LMP2 class, which may have been put into the shade a little by the shenanigans in the other classes, but nevertheless holds stories of its own. It was interesting that the winning Signatech Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre, Stéphane Richelmi and Gustavo Menezes not only had a slower average lap time, but also spent longer in the pits than the second-placed G-Drive Oreca 05 of René Rast, Will Stevens and Roman Rusinov. As regular readers will know, I use the average of the best 20% of green laps to establish the ultimate performance of the car, and the results of the class were as follows.
Pos. No. Team Race Best Lap Time Race Average Lap Time
1 36 Signatech Alpine 3m 37.195s 3m 39.038s
2 26 G-Drive Oreca 3m 36.558s 3m 38.739s
3 37 SMP Racing BR01 3m 40.065s 3m 42.476s
4 42 Strakka Gibson 3m 38.795s 3m 41.968s
5 33 Eurasia Oreca 3m 38.605s 3m 41.700s
6 41 Greaves Ligier 3m 41.806s 3m 44.820s
7 27 SMP BR01 3m 39.445s 3m 42.371s
8 23 Panis Barthez Ligier 3m 39.629s 3m 42.721s
9 49 Michael Shank Ligier 3m 37.339s 3m 41.315s
10 43 RGR Morand Ligier 3m 38.734s 3m 41.406s
11 30 ESM Ligier 3m 42.146s 3m 44.037s
12 25 Algarve Pro Ligier 3m 40.450s 3m 43.218s
13 40 Krohn Ligier 3m 39.998s 3m 43.442s
14 22 SO24! Ligier 3m 43.769s 3m 47.349s
15 48 Murphy Oreca 03 3m 41.582s 3m 44.470s
16 31 ESM Ligier 3m 39.156s 3m 42.189s
17 34 Race Performance Oreca 3m 43.647s 3m 46.774s

And the time spent in the pit lane was:
Pos. No. Team No. of Pit Stops Total Time in Pits
1 36 Signatech Alpine 33 46m 53s
2 26 G-Drive Oreca 35 41m 12s
3 37 SMP Racing BR01 32 41m 05s
4 42 Strakka Gibson 33 39m 52s
5 33 Eurasia Oreca 33 52m 49s
6 41 Greaves Ligier 33 45m 07s
7 27 SMP BR01 36 1h 05m 13s
8 23 Panis Barthez Ligier 33 51m 33s
9 49 Michael Shank Ligier 32 49m 49s
10 43 RGR Morand Ligier 32 1h 16m 23s
11 30 ESM Ligier 30 45m 38s
12 25 Algarve Pro Ligier 34 1h 08m 37s
13 40 Krohn Ligier 32 59m 12s
14 22 SO24! Ligier 32 1h 39m 50s
15 48 Murphy Oreca 03 32 2h 10m 07s
16 31 ESM Ligier 31 3h 57m 50s
17 34 Race Performance Oreca 33 3h 33m 57s

There were also noteworthy performances from the Oreca 05s of both Manor and Thiriet by TDS Racing. Roberto Merhi, Matt Rao and Tor Graves held the class lead for 44 laps in the British-entered car and also set the fastest lap in LMP2, thanks to a lap of 3m 36.259s by Merhi. In the Thiriet car, Pierre Thiriet, sharing with Mathias Beche and Ryo Hirakawa, exchanged the lead for much of the race before Pierre came to grief early on Sunday morning in the gravel at Mulsanne corner. Their average lap times were: 44 (Manor) – 3m 39.448s and 46 (Thiriet by RDS Racing) – 3m 39.697s, so which compare well with the leading two cars.

However, it seems to me that not only the battle between Signatech and G-Drive is worth a more detailed look, but also the fight for the final step on the podium between the SMP Racing BR01 of Kirill Ladygin, Victor Shaitar and Vitaly Petrov and the Strakka Racing Gibson of Danny Watts, Jonny Kane and Nick Leventis.

It seems counter-intuitive that a car spending less time in the pits and with a faster average lap time (the G-Drive Oreca) should lose out to one (Signatech) that spends more time in the pits and has a slower average lap time. Inevitably, and obviously, something else is going on.

Examine the “Rising Lap Time” graph, shown below. This sorts the lap times for each car into ascending order and the plots them, best to worst, from left to right. Whichever line is closer to the x-axis is faster.

Hopefully this shows clearly enough – click on the graph to make it bigger – that the Signatech (blue line) is above (i.e. slower than) the G-Drive (brown line) at the left hand (fast) end of the range, but below for the larger, right hand end of the range. The conclusion is that although G-Drive was quicker for the fastest 80 or so laps, Signatech was quicker for the rest of the time.

The graph does not show – but I am not convinced it is relevant – that the no. 36 Signatech pitted during each of the three SC periods (ignoring the first SC period at the start of the race), shortening the planned stint as it did so… the 26 G-Drive didn’t come in at all during SC periods, hence its shorter time in the pit lane. The average pit stop time for a ‘normal’ stop was 1m 11s for #36 and 1m 12s for #26. Note that G-Drive also had a drive through penalty which would have cost it about 28 secs.

It is interesting that Slow Zones / Safety Cars, nor which driver was at the wheel, seem to have much impact on this pattern. What can be established is that the majority of G-Drive’s quicker times came in the final eight hours of the race, whereas the Signatech Alpine set its quicker times earlier in the race – when the track temperatures were cooler. All this merely goes to show that looking at the average of the best 20% may show the true potential of the car, but doesn’t always reflect its performance over a 24-hour period.

It is a very relevant feature of the LMP2 class that the crew composition must include at least one silver or bronze driver, of course, and in addition, each driver must be at the wheel for a minimum of six hours. To a large extent, this explains the fact that the all-Russian crew in the SMP Racing BR01 was able to bring their car home onto the third step of the podium ahead of the all-British Gibson 015S.

The following table shows the driver comparison for the first four cars in the class.
36 - Signatech Alpine
Name Grade Driving Time Best Lap Average Lap
Gustavo Menezes Silver 7h 08m 53s 3m 37.452s 3m 38.8s
Nicolas Lapierre Platinum 9h 07m 13s 3m 37.195s 3m 38.8s
Stéphane Richelmi Gold 6h 57m 39s 3m 38.112s 3m 40.2s

26 - G-Drive Oreca
Name Grade Driving Time Best Lap Average Lap
Roman Rusinov Silver 6h 54m 13s 3m 36.558s 3m 39.0s
Will Stevens Platinum 6h 54m 11s 3m 36.891s 3m 39.7s
René Rast Platinum 9h 33m 43s 3m 36.563s 3m 38.2s

37 - SMP Racing BR01
Name Grade Driving Time Best Lap Average Lap
Vitaly Petrov Platinum 9h 30m 32s 3m 40.065s 3m 41.8s
Victor Shaitar Silver 7h 37m 02s 3m 41.268s 3m 42.5s
Kirill Ladygin Gold 6h 14m 36s 3m 43.489s 3m 45.1s

42 - Strakka Gibson
Name Grade Driving Time Best Lap Average Lap
Jonny Kane Platinum 9h 25m 28s 3m 38.795s 3m 40.7s
Danny Watts Platinum 7h 53m 38s 3m 41.860s 3m 42.9s
Nick Leventis Silver 6h 02m 55s 3m 45.090s 3m 47.8s

The Average Lap time above is calculated as the average of the best 25 laps achieved, and it is clear that the star drivers are Rast, Lapierre (no surprises there) and Menezes, performing particularly well on his début. But G-Drive car is quicker (when it is quick), no matter who is driving, than Signatech. The French squad won as a result of being quicker when the competition was slower - and that was when the track was cooler. Twenty-four hour racing is all about consistency.

Just go back and look at that “Rising Lap Time” chart!