Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Dubai 24 hours - Plus ça change?

I was lucky enough to be back in Dubai again a couple of weeks ago, to see the 13th running of the Dubai 24 hours and once again, it got the New Year off to a good start. This was my seventh visit to the race, and the entry was overflowing and as mouth-watering as ever. Race organiser Creventic has spent a good deal of time and energy adjusting the Sporting Regulations for this season, and finally we were to see the fruits of their labours.

Before that though, there was the traditional Welcome barbecue, held on the Wednesday evening prior to the race: this year at the Dubai polo club, since a change of ownership at the Dubai Autodrome precluded the consumption of alcohol on the premises. It was a splendid spread, and in my opinion, the opulent surroundings made for a wonderful atmosphere, compared to sitting in the back of the paddock as we usually did.

I sensed a different atmosphere in the city of Dubai as well this year. For the first time in my experience, building works on new projects seemed to outstrip those abandoned projects from the 2008 financial crisis. That’s not to say it didn’t still make me feel a little uncomfortable – my impression remains that Dubai’s foundations are quite literally built on sand, and the place still lacks heart, for motor sport as well as much else.

That said, the weather this year was particularly pleasant, there was plenty of optimism around and nearly everyone had a smile on their face: a marvellous antidote to a British winter.

Creventic CEO Gerrie Willems was keen to stress that the Touring Car Endurance (TCE) Series was to have its own (simultaneous) race as the GT Endurance Series, but to my eye this was largely a cosmetic change – what we had (as always) was an enormous entry (91 cars, of which 89 started, including one from the pit lane) split into various classes, some of which were for GT machinery, and others were for Touring Cars with various degrees of modification.

The key change, as far as the GT3 classes were concerned, was that the split of A6-Pro and A6-Am no longer involved the need to keep above a “minimum reference lap time”, something that had been a part of the Dubai 24 hours since I first went there in 2012. This led to fewer entries in the A6-Pro class, as teams worked out that running in A6-Am meant a lower minimum weight limit and a higher fuel allocation at each pit stop, for the cost of a combined “Am” driving time of 12 out of 24 hours. In the case of last year’s winning squad from Herberth Motorsport, this meant that both Daniel Alleman and Ralf Bohn would have to drive two hours longer than they had done in 2017, theoretically costing up to two laps, but putting less strain on the car than running in the Pro class.

Doing the maths is often dangerous in planning an assault on an endurance race, as Herberth Motorsport knows well. Being the quickest does not always translate into being the winner, especially when you are surrounded by eighty or ninety other cars. But running without the constraints of minimum reference lap times meant that speed, more than ever in previous years, would be of the essence in this year’s 24 hours.

Indeed, lap times dropped significantly in practice and qualifying, and a new race lap record was inevitable. It is interesting to look at the improvement in times compared to the 2017 race:
Car Best Lap 2017 Average Lap 2017 Best Lap 2018 Average Lap 2018
Manthey Porsche 2m 00.077s 2m 01.3s 1m 59.660s 2m 00.6s
Grasser Lamborghini 1m 59.717s 2m 01.5s 1m 58.199s 2m 00.7s
Black Falcon Mercedes 1m 59.198s 2m 01.5s 1m 58.541s 2m 01.0s
WRT Audi
2m 00.403s 2m 02.4s 1m 58.452s 2m 00.4s
Herberth Porsche 1m 59.516s 2m 01.8s 1m 58.792s 2m 00.9s
Hofor Mercedes 2m 04.605s 2m 05.3s 1m 59.479s 2m 01.2s

It is not my habit on this blog to add too many words to the numbers – they should speak for themselves and I hope readers are smart enough to draw their own conclusions. However, it is probably worth noting that the famous GT3 BOP changes every year, so year-on-year comparisons are not always fair. Here are the alterations from 2017 to 2018.
Car Restrictor Diameter 2017 Restrictor Diameter 2018 Weight 2017 Weight 2018
Audi 2x38.0mm 2x39.0mm 1260kg 1240kg
Lamborghini 2x38.0mm 2x39.0mm 1275kg 1260kg
Mercedes 2x34.5mm 2x36.0mm 1325kg 1330kg
Porsche 2x43.0mm 2x41.5mm 1225kg 1265kg

Use these two tables together to see who you think did the best job at Dubai this year – apart, of course, from Black Falcon, who won, and arguably deserved a one-two finish.

Among Creventic’s other innovations this year was the introduction of a specific class for GT4 cars. In previous years, this class has been combined with SP3, but lessons have been learned and the classes are split this year. Somewhat bizarrely, the Ginetta G55 is eligible for both classes (surely this will change?) and only one example raced as a proper GT4 car. There is, of course, a great deal of interest in GT4 this year; new cars are available for the first time from Mercedes, Audi and BMW, as well as existing offerings from Porsche and Ginetta. As with GT3, the racing is critically dependent on a fair balance of performance, so let’s close this piece with an analysis of the performance of each.
No. Team Car Best Average %age
40 Brookspeed Porsche Cayman 2m 12.777s 2m 14.2s 2.36%
84 Winward/HTP Mercedes AMG GT-R 2m 10.769s 2m 12.6s 1.14%
233 Besagroup Mercedes AMG GT-R 2m 09.581s 2m 11.1s 0.00%
239 Perfection Racing Ginetta G55 2m 11.315s 2m 14.3s 2.44%
241 ALFAB Racing McLaren 570S 2m 11.436s 2m 13.3s 1.68%
247 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT 2m 09.682s 2m 11.4s 0.23%
248 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS GT 2m 09.648s 2m 11.2s 0.08%
264 Black Falcon Mercedes AMG GT-R 2m 12.568s 2m 13.9s 2.14%
252 Sorg Rennsport BMW M4 2m 13.109s 2m 15.2s 3.13%
268 3Y Technology BMW M4 2m 11.084s 2m 13.2s 1.60%
269 3Y Technology BMW M4 2m 11.191s 2m 12.7s 1.22%

The BMW is obviously the newest of the crop, so their margin (1.22%) from the best will surely close. The table above doesn’t take account of driver ability, but it seems both the Porsche and Ginetta might need a helping hand at some point. If you can tear yourself away from the Touring Car battles, GT4 looks interesting as well.

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