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.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Looking back on the 2016 WEC season - GTE-Pro

Over the course of the 2016 WEC season, I became increasingly dissatisfied as ever more adjustments were made to the GTE-Pro class Balance of Performance parameters. I have a great deal of respect for the technical wizards that work out how these parameters should be set in order to ensure good, competitive racing, but the fact that nearly every race was presaged by a missive from the Endurance Committee announcing further adjustments, smacked to me less of balancing and more of a handicap system based on previous performances.

The extent to which these were the result of lobbying by various manufacturers cannot fully be known. However, the fuss before the Le Mans 24-hour race this year, which resulted in the very awkward precedent being set of a new list of parameters being issued after qualifying, left little doubt that there was much to-ing and fro-ing going on between the representatives of the teams and the ACO.

Now that the curtain has come down on the season, the trophies have been awarded, and the dust has settled, it might be an appropriate moment to reflect on the season. The World Endurance Cup for GT Manufacturers was won by Ferrari ahead of Aston Martin, with just 7 points separating them. The Cup for GT Drivers wasn’t quite so close, but put the balance back to the British firm, with Aston Martin drivers Marco Sørensen and Nicki Thiim taking the champions’ trophy ahead of Ferrari drivers Davide Rigon / Sam Bird and Gianmaria Bruni / James Calado.

In a sense, then, honours were roughly even. But how much was that down to the teams and the drivers, and how much due to the Endurance Committee bulletins?

Throughout the WEC season, I measure the performance of each of the GTE-Pro cars by comparing the average of the best 20% of green flag laps in each race. Taking the best in each race as 100%, I then see where the other cars lie as a percentage of the best. To minimise the impact of different drivers, I merely take the better car in each race from each manufacturer. For Aston Martin, the picture looks like this:

At first sight, the fact that the Astons were victorious on three occasions, (at Mexico, COTA and Bahrain) matches fairly well with those races when their cars were the fastest. At the Nürburgring, the best that Thiim and Sørensen could salvage was third place behind the two Ferraris, despite having the fastest car.

But this ignores those Balance of Performance adjustments. To take everything into account here would be far too complicated – and probably beyond my capability – so I am going to simplify matters. For Aston Martin, there are two principal parameters that are used to affect their performance: the weight and the diameter of the orifice allowing air into the engine. Obviously, the greater the weight, the slower the car will be, and the larger the orifice, the faster the car will go. So I have combined these two figures for each race throughout the season into a single “performance factor”, taking the inverse of the weight and multiplying by the air restrictor size.

Looking only at the performance factors for Aston Martin, here’s what it looks like for each race:

Remarkably similar to the results graph, isn’t it? To my mind, this merely demonstrates that for most of the season, Aston Martin’s results were due as much to BoP adjustments as they were to any efforts of the team or drivers and I don’t mean any offence to any of them by that. The only anomalies are in the final two races of the season, where in Shanghai, the team seems to have under-performed, and in Bahrain, where they did surprisingly well.

As I already mentioned, partly the problem is that I have over-simplified matters. In Shanghai, the Ford GTs had the upper hand, as the Ferraris were handicapped with boost pressure restrictions. Similar limits were then applied to Ford for the final round at Bahrain, along with 20kg more weight. As a result, in the season finale, the no. 97 Aston Martin (in the hands of Darren Turner and Jonny Adam) was measurably quicker than the champions elect in the no. 95, and it is this car that shows the big boost in the final round. I suspect that Thiim/Sørensen were by this stage unconsciously driving with restraint, knowing that the drivers’ championship was in the bag.

Apart from the fact that there is an implication here that the FIA/ACO was merely chasing to catch up with the progress being made at Ferrari, Ford and Aston Martin, what seems wrong is that the organisation seemed to control the destiny of the trophies. I mentioned already that the adjustments between qualifying and race at Le Mans might be taken to set a precedent. What was particularly galling was that the ACO admitted that Ford had been hiding the true potential of their car from the scrutineers; an offence that went unpunished in all the re-adjustments to the performance parameters.

At the Spa 24 hours, Mercedes was accused of similar offences, and paid the penalty of a five-minute stop/go penalty to be served in the first hour of the race. Some red faces in board rooms no doubt ensued.

The problem with graphs like the ones on this page is that they do not really help racing teams in their pursuit of perfection. It may help encourage other manufacturers to take the plunge and enter the championship, but I am not sure whether it is then for the right reasons. I rather hope that 2016 has not set a precedent, and that “Decisions of the Endurance Committee” are somewhat fewer and further between in 2017.

For those who want them, here are the numbers behind the graphs above.
Venue Result Speed (%age) Weight (kg) Restrictor (mm)
Silverstone 3rd 98.77 1233 29.8
Spa 3rd 99.14 1213 29.8
Le Mans 5th 99.35 1183 29.4
Nürburgring 3rd 100 1183 29.8
Mexico 1st 100 1183 29.8
Austin 1st 99.88 1183 29.4
Fuji 5th 99.56 1183 29.0
Shanghai 4th 99.39 1183 29.2
Bahrain 1st 99.96 1183 29.2

Oh, and before I forget, Merry Christmas one and all!

Monday, 19 December 2016

‘That Horrid Motor Track’

Lack of time prevented me from writing about a splendid day out spent earlier this year at Brooklands, in the company of Charles Dressing and Paul Tarsey. We were hosted by the ever-enthusiastic and knowledgeable Allan Winn, the CEO of the Brooklands Trust, which looks after the Museum and the site.

The phrase ‘looks after’ hardly does justice to what Allan does – Brooklands is in the process of a grand plan for re-engineering, which will include a restoration of the Finishing Straight. If you are at all interested, I suggest you visit the website and then arrange a visit for yourself. You surely won’t be disappointed.

However, while digging through my memorabilia shortly afterwards, I came across the following, which was sent to me (I forget by whom) more than forty years ago. It is from a diary written in 1907, and apart from its content, I just love the period feel of the prose.

We went down to the Barnes’s at Fox Holm near Weybridge. Mr and Mrs Locke King came to dinner. They have been building this awful motor track and are so hated by their neighbours, many of whose houses they have simply ruined, that hardly anyone will speak to them. I was rather uncertain whether I had better go and see this horrid motor track, but as they offered to take me in the Fox Warren motor I thought it would be stupid of me not to go. I was well rewarded for going by having a nice talk with Mrs Wilfred Ward, the clever Roman Catholic (formerly Miss Hope Scott) who has written novels (One Small Scruple, Out of Due Time, and others). I made her acquaintance, first at Mrs Cave’s, at Ditcham, long ago.

The motor track is a perfect nightmare. It has cost more than £150,000 to construct; a great oval of cement 60-100 yards wide and more than 2½ miles round. It is for motor races. Within it stands a ruined farm and cut down trees, mere desolation. A more unenjoyable place to come to on a hot Sunday afternoon I cannot imagine. The beautiful Surrey landscape looks down into this purgatory of motor stables and everything that motors require, seats for thousands of spectators cut in the side of the hill. There were some twenty of these snorting beasts, and Mr and Mrs Locke King were there looking most depressed. But as she offered to drive me round in her motor I got boldly in and sat by her on the ‘box’. She put it to 43 miles an hour – I felt my eyes pressed in by the air at that terrific speed, and I could hardly breathe. I went round again in the Fox Warren motor, much slower. I find I don’t care to ‘go round’ – what I like are the lanes and roads and views, and the getting to one’s destination so quickly and easily. The enormous size of the arena, almost like a great Roman work, and the controlled strength of the motors, prevents this great horrid place from being vulgar. I might have felt differently last week when 20,000 spectators arrived, and 1,200 motors. No wonder the neighbours thirst for Locke King’s blood.
From A Victorian Diarist: later extracts from the journals of Mary, Lady Monkswell, edited by the Hon. E C F Collier, 1946

Which goes to show that you cannot please all the people all the time. Sadly, Lady Monkswell died in 1930, but I wonder whether she was ever won over to the sport? I fear probably not. Now if they would have visited Le Mans, it might have been a different story...

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Reflecting on the state we’re in

It had to happen, I suppose. It was inevitable that a major manufacturer would withdraw from the World Endurance Championship at some point. But in my view, the bombshell that Audi dropped when it announced its intention to withdraw from the championship at the end of the current season, is not as severe as the one that Peugeot dropped when it pulled out at the beginning of 2012. At that time, remember, the FIA had only recently launched their World Endurance Championship, and the title that Peugeot and Audi had been fighting over was the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, the final round of which the French manufacturer had won, with a dominant 1-2 victory by a lap over the nearest opposition.

In January 2012, the latest 908 HDI was already at Sebring, ready for testing, when the plug was pulled on the racing programme, leaving a large number of racing folk with uncertain futures, to say nothing of a gaping hole in the championship. By June 2012, two Toyotas had been hastily prepared to lend some respectability to the grid for Le Mans and in 2014, Porsche arrived with the immediately-competitive 919 Hybrid. And ever since, we’ve been treated to some of the best racing ever seen at such a high level of the sport.

But to put this into context, let us not forget that in 2003, 2004 and 2005 Joest Racing was not present at Le Mans (although obviously various team personnel were involved in the race). On the other hand, readers may remember 1996 and 1997, when the team cobbled together an entry for Le Mans – and ended up winning – with the WSC95 Porsche.

Joest Racing certainly has access to several R18s in their workshop, including a non-hybrid ultra that ran in 2012. Although it would be five years old next year, it would probably still be able to carry off the Privateers’ trophy. If Joest is going to continue to be involved in the World Endurance Championship, it is going to have to find some funding from somewhere. It wouldn’t be the first time. Think back to various Porsches 956s and 962s entered by Joest in the eighties – they had some substantial sponsorship packages. Don’t forget that Reinhold was a successful driver in the past. He didn’t get there by paying all his own bills. There may also be those in the Audi AG boardroom who would welcome the opportunity to see some “four rings” branding at Le Mans in 2017.

Racing goes in cycles. It always has. Periods of strength are followed by periods of weakness. And the period of weakness for which we are now headed is only relative. So I am not about to turn away from sportscar racing - I think there will be some great races next year. Nevertheless, I thought I would add my few thoughts here to those of everyone else who has written or spoken on the subject.

The first thing to say is that no-one in my circle of contacts has really expressed surprise at Audi’s decision to withdraw. Rumours that it was to happen at the end of 2017 were increasing and no-one denies that what Audi has been this year is nothing like the force that it was even as recently as two or three years ago.

Secondly, I do not believe that it is necessarily a good thing if endurance races are without fail close, exciting races with side-by-side racing and close finishes. Such is not the nature of the beast, and if those in control have such an aim, then we are headed in the wrong direction.

Thirdly, getting more manufacturers involved in LMP1 is not worth doing if it is not done properly. Whether it is BMW, Peugeot or Ford (all of which I could easily show up with a prototype in the next five years) we must avoid another fiasco like that of Nissan’s LMP1 foray in 2015. Although the episode demonstrated admirably that it is quite hard to do what Porsche and Toyota have done, the Nismo effort failed to deliver much else. The sport needs to get on with what it does and allow nature – or whatever it is that governs these things – to take its course.

Enough of the philosophy though: on a pragmatic level, what’s going to happen in 2017? Well, there are still things to be decided, for sure. The most crucial of those decisions is for Toyota. Take two cars to Le Mans, or three? The arguments given in previous years for only entering two cars are surely still valid? If not, and if the view taken in the Japanese boardroom is that extreme steps must be taken to avert the disappointments of Le Mans 2016, then the incremental cost of a third car is not as much as the potential benefit of having a 50% better chance of getting the car to the finish. Then, although Porsche has been tight-lipped on the subject, surely Weissach will respond with a third Porsche 919 as well? In turn, this would be good news for the ACO – needing to fill 60 garages at Le Mans – as well as for Messrs Jarvis, Tréluyer, Lotterer, Fässler et al.

Otherwise, it is difficult to see where the former Audi drivers might end up. One assumes that Lucas di Grassi and Loïc Duval will occupy themselves with Formula E, but what of the others? Well, I would suggest that they go and have a chat with Nicolas Lapierre. I grant you that LMP2 will look different next year, but I reckon that the Frenchman, who was unceremoniously dumped by Toyota at the end of 2014, might have some interesting thoughts on the competitiveness of the class and how much fun there is to be derived from the racing – if not the financial reward.

It was interesting that the Audi announcement specifically mentioned Formula E as being one of its focus points for the immediate future. While I agree with Gary Watkins in Autosport that the remarks might have been disingenuous, I wonder also whether it means that Daniel Abt’s team might be getting even more resource from Audi next year. Is a Formula E arms race about to start?

Back to endurance racing though. Even if the World Endurance Championship may have suffered a blow with Audi’s withdrawal, there is no sign of any reduction in interest in LMP2, LMP3 or GT racing. Talk of convergence of GTE and GT3 racing has been replaced by arguments about who can provide the best LMP3 racing. GT4 is flourishing on the national level. All in all, things could be a lot worse.

Stéphane Ratel’s Blancpain GT Series has announced a ten round series for 2017 – five for the endurance series, two of which depart from the normal three hours duration - the 1000km race into the night at Paul Ricard, and the showpiece Spa 24 hours, surely one of the highlights of the season.

The Creventic organisation – addressing a somewhat different marketplace from Ratel – is expanding in 2017, with a six-round GT series, featuring three 24-hour races, rounded off by a non-championship 24-hour race at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.

Now Creventic doesn’t really target the sort of teams that contend the World Endurance Championship, but nevertheless, if you include the ADAC’s Nürburgring 24 hours, you have six 24-hour races to participate in, if you are so minded, without counting Le Mans or Daytona. With several high-profile 12-hour races as well, is it all too much?

It depends. At the Brno Epilog 24-hour race last month, I had the sense that the culture of a 24-hour race has changed, certainly in the Creventic series. There was a time when nothing would be spared to get the car to the finish, when taking the flag was everything. At Le Mans, that culture still exists. But in some of the ‘lesser’ 24-hour races that we have these days, there is an element of “let’s just pack up and get some sleep”, which was new to me this year. At least in part, I think, that is because we simply have too much of a good thing. It is still special to race through the night, to pit yourself against fatigue and push through to the end, but like many things these days, “it isn’t like it used to be”!

I am put in mind of the athletes that one reads about these days that complete multiple marathons – often on consecutive days. I have nothing but respect for such people, but it is inevitable that by their actions, they devalue the single event. In effect, more is less. Those who have read Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘David and Goliath’ will know the effect of the inverted ‘U’ curve. Oftentimes, more is less.

As always, your comments are welcome!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Epilog Brno

A relatively disappointing 30 cars are on the provisional entry list for the first ever 24-hour race to be held in the Czech Republic this weekend – the Creventic-organised “Epilog” Brno 24 hours. Originally scheduled to be a 12-hour race, and hence with points being awarded at the half-way point, one briefly wonders what the point is of staying up all night, if there is nothing to play for but the honour?

That said, Creventic has always been about the participation. Their emphasis has been on providing the opportunity to enable enthusiasts to race, rather than on setting up a stage for prima donnas to preen their egos or mercenary ‘win at all costs’ pot-hunters. For sure the championship positions are important, but – I hope – the joy of racing will ensure that a good race to the end takes place.

Last year’s 12-hour Epilog attracted 50 starters, and the lowest number of starters for any of Crevetic’s International Endurance Racing Series races this year has been 43 at Zandvoort. With the cancellation of the Touring Car Endurance Series (TCES) race at Meppen in Germany, Brno has now been nominated as the final points-scoring round of the TCES, but this seems not to have bolstered the entry that much.

The A6 class – for the big GT3 cars – is down to a measly five cars, meaning that the distinction between A6-Pro and A6-Am will this weekend be blurred. In effect, there will be only one class; however, different balances of performance (BOP) will be applied as normal to provide entrants the opportunity to run as “Pro-BOP”, “Am-BOP-advantage” or “Am-BOP-neutral”. The evidence from previous races is that the only way that an “Am-BOP” car can win overall is if all – or should that be both? – the “Pro-BOP” cars strike problems.

That said, I’m hoping that the five cars that we do have will provide some good racing – they certainly provide variety enough with one each of Mercedes, Ferrari, Audi, Porsche and Lamborghini. Favourite in my book has to be the Precote Herberth Motorsport Porsche that has won the last three rounds of the Series in the hands of Alfred and Robert Renauer, Daniel Alleman and Ralf Bohn. The car has been perfectly prepared and the team’s races perfectly executed, so beating them is going to have to be done on pace.

Scuderia Praha has entered its Ferrari 488 GT3 – which, if it races, will be the first time this season that the latest Maranello product has competed in a Creventic-run race. I say if, because it looks to me as though Creventic’s Balance of Performance favours the normally-aspirated 458 GT3 over the turbo-charged 488. Certainly the 458 can match the pace of the 911, but will the 488 be able to repeat the team’s 2015 (12-hour) win this weekend?

If Scuderia Praha doesn’t, then who will? The Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán is probably the only candidate. The addition of Super GT hotshot Andrea Caldarelli won’t do the team’s chances any harm, but GRT will have to ensure reliability at least as good as the Barwell example managed at Barcelona in September.

Twenty-four hour races are always enthralling though. The challenge of getting to the finish is fascinating to watch, and if – make that when – races break out in the lower classes, for position, or even championship points, it is impossible not to get sucked into the story.

There are five 991 Cup Porsches to fight over class honours and there are three KTM X-Bows (one entered as an SP2 car and the other two in SP3) entered. Only two pukka entries are in each of the A2 and A3 classes, with the two BMW M235 cup cars being absorbed into class A3. but again, variety abounds with Ferrari, Audi, MARC Cars, BMW, Seat, Honda and Peugeot all being represented.

Perhaps the other talking point, as Creventic closes its books on what has been its most successful season so far, is the expansion planned for 2017. The team – or should I say ‘family’, for Creventic is without question the easiest group of people to work with in motor sport – has big plans for 2017, with a seven-round International Endurance Series headlined by GT3 cars, five rounds of the Touring Car Endurance Series as well as a yet-to-be-announced schedule of prototype races, commencing with three three-hour races in Dubai in January.

The world is, unfortunately, littered with examples of successful small enterprises that have grown too quickly, or too much, and have been unable to sustain their success. I sincerely hope that Creventic is not one of them, but the shift from what they currently do very well to what they think they can do sits uncomfortably with me.

And I hope that the relatively small size of the entry at Brno does not become regarded in the future as a symptom that failed to be recognised.

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!