Thursday, 26 January 2017

Fun with Creventic in the desert

Of the 92 cars that took the start of the 2017 Hankook Dubai 24 hours, 16 were in the A6-Pro class: full-house GT3 cars unconstrained by limitations on lap time and driven by a mix of drivers classified as Pro, Semi-Pro and Am. Creventic’s regulations require each car to have a maximum of two Pro drivers and a minimum of one Am driver, with the Pro drivers not being allowed to drive for more than a total of twelve hours, and the Am driver(s) having to complete a minimum of two hours. The classification of drivers is specific to Creventic, but is broadly based on the FIA’s Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze, with Platinum and Gold drivers being defined as Pro, Silver as Semi-Pro and everyone else as Am.

The A6-Am class requires teams to lap outside the “minimum reference lap time” of 2m 03s (or 2m 05s if in the so-called AM-BOP advantage sub-class). Often this has proved a recipe for success in overall terms – Hofor Racing having come home fourth overall last year, and Dragon Racing’s Am-class Ferrari having finished on the overall podium in 2015. This year’s race was different in that respect, though. The first six cars in the overall classification were all in the A6-Pro class.

The top six consisted of three Porsches, two Audis and a Mercedes, the only other contenders for the win, Lamborghini, having fallen by the wayside with various problems. In the end, it was not a nail-biting finish, the main point of interest in the closing stages being the fight for second place between the Manthey Porsche and the second-string (no. 3) Black Falcon Mercedes. That’s not to say it was a race without interest; with strategy, tactics and incidents aplenty throughout the race to hold the attention.

Famously, the Herberth Porsche 991 GT3-R had Brendon Hartley on its driving strength, and once again the plain white Porsche was a picture of perfection – not only running faultlessly for the entire 24 hours, but also running fast enough to match the lap times of all but the Black Falcon Mercedes AMG GT3s. Its victory was well-deserved.

It was no real surprise to see Hartley slotting in smoothly, without disrupting the low-key approach of the team. The World Endurance star neither hid from nor hogged the limelight, and seemed to revel in the whole experience. Arguably, the race fell to Herberth as a result of two incidents on the track, which significantly delayed its two chief rivals. The more significant occurred just before dawn, when Khaled Al Qubaisi took the wheel, for the first time, of the no. 2 Black Falcon Mercedes that had been right at the front of the field up until that point. Contact on the 11th lap of Khaled’s stint inflicted sufficient damage to the AMG to render it hors de combat for the remaining seven hours of the race.

Much earlier in the race – in fact after just three hours had elapsed – Otto Klohs, in the Manthey Porsche, was on his first ‘out’ lap when he had a coming-together, resulting in a delay returning to the pit and an unscheduled pit stop while repairs were affected (and no doubt the driver’s confidence was restored).

Psychological factors aside, the incident on the track and Klohs’ lap back to the pits cost it around 40s, and the repairs cost a further 1m 20s. Taking account of the Code-60 under which the stop took place, the total time lost (compared to the Herberth Porsche, which was at that point behind the Manthey car) was around 2m 30s. Herberth’s winning margin was two laps, or 4m 46s, so to say that the incident cost them the race is probably over-egging the pudding somewhat, but at least they might have been able to challenge, and exert some pressure on the (unflappable) Herberth crew.

Whatever the ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’ were, the true strength on Herberth Motorsport’s side is their consistency. The balance of the driving line-up is far better than most of their competitors. For Herberth, unlike Black Falcon, the drive time regulations seem to have no impact at all on the strategy.

It is always interesting to compare the driving times of the individual drivers in each crew, and this is shown below. Hopefully the colour-coding helps.

Finally, a look at lap times. For the purposes of the tables below, I show both the best lap achieved by each driver in each of the top six cars, and also their “best stint” time. This is derived by taking the average lap time for the stint by ignoring the ‘in’ lap, the ‘out’ lap and any laps affected by Code-60. I have also, for this purpose, ignored the opening stint for each car, since the three or four laps of traffic-free running skews the average significantly. Inevitably, however, this leads to some averages being from a much smaller sample than others, and of course the track conditions change over the course of the race, so I am aware that some of the figures may be misleading. Nevertheless, the comparisons are interesting.

911 Herberth Porsche Best Lap Best Stint Ave
Daniel Alleman 2m 01.310s 2m 03.6s
Ralf Bohn 2m 01.808s 2m 04.2s
Robert Renauer 1m 59.516s 2m 02.4s
Alfred Renauer 2m 01.506s 2m 03.1s
Brendon Hartley 2m 00.514s 2m 02.1s
12 Manthey Porsche Best Lap Best Stint Ave
Otto Klohs 2m 05.092s 2m 06.3s
Jochen Krumbach 2m 01.534s 2m 03.8s
Matteo Cairoli 2m 00.077s 2m 02.1s
Sven Müller 2m 00.321s 2m 02.3s
3 Black Falcon Mercedes Best Lap Best Stint Ave
Abdulaziz Al Faisal 2m 00.942s 2m 03.5s
Hubert Haupt 2m 00.979s 2m 02.1s
Yelmer Buurman 1m 59.198s 2m 02.4s
Maro Engel 2m 00.194s 2m 02.5s
Michal Broniszewski 2m 03.108s 2m 04.9s

As always, I am happy to hear your comments, so do let me know if you have any!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Looking back on the 2016 WEC season - LMP1

The 2016 World Endurance Championship was closely contested between three manufacturer teams: Porsche, Audi and Toyota. In 2015, Toyota had a pretty rotten season, it being clear early on that the car simply wasn’t quick enough, and attention turned to the development of a car that would be better able to contend against the two siblings from Germany. Whether or not Toyota succeeded is not necessarily as easy a question to answer as it might seem, as a look at the championship positions is really too simplistic.

Similarly, one might argue that Audi came into 2016 with a significantly upgraded version of its R18 e-tron quattro; a car that was fast, but fragile, and one that failed to do itself justice over the course of the season.

I have had many such discussions with people since the season ended in Bahrain last year, and – as is my wont – I have spent some time trying to work out how best to answer these questions objectively, using the data that I have managed to collect over the season.

I would like to think that, if you are reading this, you might also have read my piece about Aston Martin’s season in the GTE-Pro class, and how it was affected by the Endurance Committee’s decisions in their attempts to Balance Performance. It is here if you haven’t.

In any case, the method that I use there, and that I am going to use in this analysis, is to base an assumption that a car’s outright performance can be judged by looking not at its single fastest lap in the race, but in the average of the best 20% of green laps in the race. Taking the best car in each race by this measure, and then comparing the competition as a percentage against this, reveals how much slower each car was, relative to the best.

Over the whole season, this data looks like this:

(I know, this is far too small to read... click on the image, to make it bigger!)

Also, in preparing these numbers, I have taken only the better-performing car from each manufacturer. At Silverstone, the figures for the no. 1 Porsche, the no. 5 Toyota and the no. 8 Audi are based only on the first green period before the FCY.

A common assertion these days is that endurance racing is a sprint, from start to finish. There is no room for taking things easy, for looking after the machinery. In the pits, there is not a lot to separate the teams. It is all down to the quickest driver and the quickest car. Well, yes it is; but that doesn’t tell the whole story either. If it did, then the results of each race would reflect the graph shown above.

To make this easy to compare, I show below the finishing positions of the best car from each of Porsche, Toyota and Audi in each race.

The obvious conclusion from this is that only Le Mans and Bahrain provided race results that were true representations of the performance of the cars in each race. And anyone who was at Le Mans will know that the result of that race was hardly what had been expected either.

This view is too simplistic though, since the finishing position does not show the relative distance between cars at the end of the race. Instead, we should look at this, which shows the average speed over the whole race, as a percentage of the winner.

This shows much better how close the races were, particularly in the latter part of the season. In the first two races of the season, Audi was able to convert its performance advantage into victories. At Le Mans though, the “car with the four rings” was simply not fast enough. Their podium at the Circuit de la Sarthe only came at Toyota’s misery. It is interesting though, that Toyota had a car that was not as quick as the Porsche. Although Toyota had a clear performance disadvantage at Mexico, the margin by which they lost the race was very small.

After Le Mans, the performance of Audi (in particular, the number 8 car) was outstanding: in terms of speed, the car was only beatable at Mexico and Shanghai. The fact that this was not translated into victories is evidence that there is still – thank heavens – more to winning a race that just being fast. The points table could have looked rather different if Audi had capitalised on these performance advantages.

The fact that the performance graphs are so different from the finishing position and race speed graphs underlines the fact that there is more to the WEC than speed alone. Drivers are correct when they give credit to the team for success. And having fast drivers and a fast car is not enough to win titles, as Audi has proved in 2016.

Creating a winning squad is an art – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It will be interesting to see who has put the pieces together most effectively in 2017.