Le Mans 2014

Although I didn’t post anything here I did do some Le Mans preview posts for Sidepodcast:

Le Mans Recharged – I did a bit of reading around to explain about the new rules and very different hybrid systems in the top LMP1 class.

Floating Points – the World Endurance Championship points situation before the race.

There is also a live thread here.

It has been a good race so far, lots of incidents and great racing. Let’s hope the rest of the race is just as good!

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FIA WEC Silverstone 2014 – Mini Preview

I’m off to Silverstone tomorrow for the FIA World Endurance Championship opener, but who is there and what does it all mean?

 

LMP1-H

Toyota Racing once again rely heavily on former Formula 1 talent for their LMP1 roster; Alex Wurz and Kaz Nakajima join with Stephane Sarrazin in the #7 TS040, with the #8 crew formed by Ant Davidson, Sebastien Buemi and Nico Lapierre (A1GP winner).

Over at Audi Sport, former Pirelli tester Lucas di Grassi takes the seat of Allan McNish in the #1 R18 e-tron quattro, alongside Loic Duval and Le Mans legend Tom Kristensen. The #2 car of 2012 LM24 winners Fassler, Lotterer and Treluyer is not to be counted out.

Porsche makes a return to the Prototype ranks with their new 919 Hybrid, Mark Webber is the obvious name to look for in the #20 car and he shares with Brendon Hartley who has impressed for other teams in the LMP2 class and elsewhere, and top sportscar stalwart and Le Mans winner (while loaned from Porsche to Audi) Timo Bernhard. The #14 is shared by top sportscar talent Romain Dumas (another LM-winner when loaned to Audi), Marc Lieb and Neel Jani, the latter you may know from Champ Car and A1GP.

LMP1 is split into two sub-divisions this year and these three heavyweight teams compete in a category called LMP1-H, or ‘Le Mans Prototype 1 – Hybrid’. This features energy recovery and fuel flow regulations similar to, but more open than Formula 1 in 2014. This allows each of the three teams to run a different hybrid solution. The rules are complex but the simplest explanation is to say a team can choose how much energy it can recover with their hybrids, anything from 0-8 MJ per lap of Le Mans (and this is adjusted by a ratio for the other tracks). The more energy you recover in this way, the less fuel flow per lap you are allowed. Toyota and Porsche are at 6MJ and, in a surprise, Audi at just 2MJ at this opening round. Last year’s restrictions on only operating hybrid above 120 km/h and in specific zones, has been removed.

Audi: 4.0 litre turbo V6 running on diesel, with a single hybrid system on the front axle with energy stored by flywheel; Audi elected to run to 2MJ rules, so less hybrid power in exchange for more fuel flow per lap compared to their rivals.
Toyota: 3.7 litre normally-aspirated V8 running on petrol, with a dual hybrid system using front and rear axles with energy stored in supercapacitors; Toyota are running to the 6MJ rules with the ability to use more recovered power, the talk I’ve heard on Radio Le Mans suggests they can do 8MJ easily if they want to, just not necessarily over a full stint.
Porsche: 2.0 litre turbo V4 running on petrol, with a dual hybrid system with F1-style braking recovery on the front axle and exhaust energy recovery on the rear. Porsche are also running to the 6MJ rules.

LMP1-L

The other ‘branch’ of the top class is LMP1-L, or ‘Le Mans Prototype 1 – Light’. This is aimed at privateer entries without manufacturer backing who cannot afford all this expensive hybrid stuff. There were due to be three entrants here too, but all three have run into supply difficulties building their new cars – especially with the common motorsport supplier base also having to work around the new F1 rules – so none of those cars are here.
Thankfully one of the teams has very sportingly decided to bring along their Lolas from last year for one last hurrah, and Rebellion Racing must be applauded. Their lead line-up in car #12 features Nick Heidfeld and Nicolas Prost alongside Mathias Beche. The #13 car has the pairing of Dom Kraihamer and Andrea Belicchi and remarkably they are joined by 2013 GP2 Champion Fabio Leimer. What does it say about GP2 (or Leimer?) when the Champ isn’t signed by an F1 team?
Lotus are one of the other teams and when they rejoin the series it will be with ex-Minardi ex-Spyker man Christijan Albers. OAK Racing were also building a car but seem to have put it off to 2015.

LMP2

The second prototype category is for privateer teams who buy chassis and engines. The dominant powerplant in LMP2 globally is now Nissan and they power the whole WEC LMP2 field, sat in the back of chassis from Oreca, Morgan (OAK), or Dome. The important note here regarding drivers is that this is a Pro-Am category.

Sadly the best and most high-profile teams have all withdrawn from Silverstone either because their new cars aren’t ready (Strakka Racing), or their financial backers are having a bit of difficulty (Millennium / ADR). This is a shame as it costs us the sight of last week’s Long Beach Grand Prix winner Mike Conway, and former F1 drivers Shinji Nakano and Stefan Johansson, as well as rapid drivers Oliver Turvey, Danny Watts and Jonny Kane.

We do still have Nicolas Minassian for SMP Racing although his team-mates across both cars are obscure to me to say the least. An interesting addition is Asian Le Mans Series team KCMG and it’ll be fascinating to see how they get on. Also SMP Racing from Russia, who have cars entered in the ELMS as well.

Hopefully the field bulks out a bit for the next round at Spa. In the meantime, the best LMP2 racing this weekend will be in the supporting ELMS.

GTE

Grand Touring Endurance for cars based on road-going sportscars is split into two classes, a Pro class and an Am class. The cars are identical but the latter, like LMP2, runs to a Pro Am format (a mix of some professionals and some.. not) whereas the former is stacked with top professionals throughout.

GTE Pro is the one to watch. It features:

Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander driving the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. Their #71 car will have hot GP2 talent James Calado and former Superleague Formula champion Davide Rigon.
Ram Racing’s #52 Ferrari has Alvaro Parente, who was hot in GP2 and WSR not so long ago, along with Matt Griffin who is very fast.
Then you have two Porsches, you can never count out the likes of Bergmeister, Tandy, Pilet, Holzer, Makowiekci and Lietz.
Finally there are the two Aston Martins. No Bruno Senna at this race, but they do have Darren Turner and Stefan Mucke and I wouldn’t necessarily rule out MacDowall, O’Young and Rees who might struggle against this field but should be there at the end.

GTE Am may be Pro Am but the Ams are quite good these days, and the Pros could race anywhere.
AF Corse signed GP2 man and Mercedes F1 tester Sam Bird for the #81 car at Silverstone and Le Mans.
Ram Racing are another team present in both GT classes, they have Johnny Mowlem and former ‘Stig’ Ben Collins.
Aston Martin are here too, with the all-Danish car likely a contender, programmer David Heinemeier Hansson is no slouch. Their other car has Pedro Lamy who is both an asset and a liability at times, at least when he did LMP1 for Peugeot!

My bets for the wins at Silverstone:
LMP1-H: Toyota #7
LMP1-L: Rebellion #12
LMP2: G-Drive Oak Racing #26
GTE Pro: Porsche #91
GTE Am: Ram Racing Ferrari #53

Full entry list.

Timetable.

The 6 Hours of Silverstone starts at 12:00 on Sunday with coverage on MotorsTV, Eurosport and Eurosport Player, the FIAWEC.com website and app (both subs), and in audio at RadioLeMans.com.

European Le Mans Series

Silverstone also sees the opening round of the ELMS with a 4-hour race at 2.30pm on Saturday again with coverage on MotorsTV, RadioLeMans.com and I think the ELMS website.

The ELMS features the LMP2 class and a much larger field of them than the WEC, and a little more variety in chassis and engine combinations.

Notable names include Christian Klein (#43 Morand Racing) and Karun Chandhok (#48 Murphy Prototypes), but I think it’ll come down to a battle between Jota Sport’s #38 with Filipe Albuquerque (who’ll drive the Audi #3 at Spa and Le Mans) and Harry Tincknell, whose manager is none other than Allan McNish, up against the #41 Greaves Motorsport car of ALMS winner Chris Dyson and ultra-fast Tom Kimber-Smith.

There is only one GTE class in ELMS and it runs to the same rules at WEC GTE Am. There are a whole fleet of Ferraris, 8 of them in a 13-car class. One of them is driven by footballer Fabien Barthez who apparently won the French GT championship last year, so look out for the #58 Team Sofrev-ASP entry. I think AF Corse will win this class, though they could be pushed hard by the Aston Martin and Gulf Racing teams.

The 3rd class here is GTC where the cars run to GT3 rules. A nice big field of 15 cars full of names I’ve never heard of makes it hard to pick a winner, but look out for Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen in the #60 Formula Racing Ferrari. Ultimately though I think it will be hard to look beyond the car of Alex ‘son of Martin’ Brundle and Ricardo Gonzalez in the #99 McLaren of GP2 team ART Grand Prix. Mika Salo was due to race this class but I think their car has been withdrawn.

My winners at Silverstone:
LMP2: Jota Sport #38
GTE: AF Corse #55
GTC: ART Grand Prix #99

Full entry list.

Depending on battery and coverage I will be attempting to tweet from @toomuchracing on Saturday and Sunday, and possibly uploading to my new Instagram accounts either @toomuchracing or @patwotton.

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Predictions For F1 In 2014

Everything changes in 2014, yet some things stay the same. I always say the teams split into groups, they always have. Occasionally teams move from one group to another and wholesale rule changes usually provide that opportunity.

My groups?  Championship Contenders, Upper Midfield, Lower Midfield, Slowcoaches.

Those Rule Changes

1.6 litre turbos with 100kg of fuel and a big step up in energy recovery systems – the new ERS is 10x more powerful than the old KERS – as well as harder tyres, bigger DRS flaps, and personalised car numbers. Throw in a load of new drivers and a lack of testing and this year looks to be the most exciting in years, especially the early races!

Here are a couple of great videos explaining the new rules. Red Bull’s is brilliant as ever, and good to see F1.com stepping up this year.

Red Bull Motors: http://www.redbull.com/uk/en/motorsports/f1/stories/1331638258301/new-f1-rules

F1.com: http://www.formula1.com/news/features/2014/3/15539.html

After seeing some practice and qualifying at Albert Park it is clear the new cars are much harder to control. This is brilliant! The drivers are really having to work hard. We could see drivers making errors and losing positions, even retiring, because they lose control. This adds to the uncertainty – no longer can we assume a car ahead of another will just stay there.

Here are my predictions for 2014:

Championship Contenders

Mercedes and McLaren will steal a march in the first few races. Ferrari and Red Bull, and maybe Lotus, won’t be far off but some won’t get their heads around finishing races until Barcelona. Interestingly, this year unlike so many in the past, there is no testing data at all for these cars at Barcelona – all the testing was done at Jerez and Bahrain.

In the summer, maybe before the summer break or maybe after, we will see the order shaken up. I see Red Bull having sorted their problems long before then and putting in a charge in the many, many races after August to cut down Mercedes’ lead. I still can’t get my head around that from September 1st there are still 8 races to go, which changes everything compared to what we were used to a few short years ago when it marked the end of the final 1/3rd of the season.

Drivers and Constructors titles will be between Mercedes AMG and Red Bull. Ferrari drivers will take points off each other and that will be the only reason they aren’t in contention but Ferrari could compete for the Constructors’. After summer I expect McLaren to slip back as they turn their attention to Honda 2015.

Upper Midfield

Lotus and Force India will be rejoined by a resurgent Williams, who’ll score several podiums. In theory Lotus shouldn’t even be in this group but their testing was woeful, and they skipped the first test entirely. If they can sort out their car by mid-year they’ll score enough in the latter half to make up any deficit they’ll lose now. Really though I wouldn’t put it past Williams to top this group, that’s how much they’ve improved. They’ll certainly score the points in the early part of the year. The continuing saga of Force India’s money will roll on and on.

Lower Midfield

Sauber and Toro Rosso could be joined by Marussia who look to have a promising car (unless they were running low fuel all winter to attract sponsors, in which case they’ll be Slowcoaches again). I see Marussia scoring a few points here and there especially if the car lasts to the end and others don’t. Mind you, after the first practices in Albert Park it seems they’ve dropped to plum last again – so who knows. The only way Sauber & STR will get out of this group, at least in the points standings if not the timesheets, is if they are reliable and faster cars are not.

Slowcoaches

In testing Caterham didn’t seem to have caught the others at all, which is a shame. But still they could score a point or two with the odd 10th place if their car can finish and others do not. They suffered terrible luck in testing, except in the final test – will that be enough? It’s possible Marussia and STR will drop to the back here.

Reliability

I think instead of pushing it and having cars not finish races we will see teams turn the settings down and have the drivers cruise. They did that early in the season, especially Melbourne, when the switch from V10s to V8s happened, I expect Melbourne this year to be the same. So instead of cars dropping out they’ll slow down. Prepared teams will still take advantage and take the points. By the time we get to Silverstone it won’t be so much of an issue.

Predictions

Champion Driver:  Lewis Hamilton
Champion Constructor:  Mercedes AMG
Most Wins:  Lewis Hamilton

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A Guide To.. 2014 TUDOR United Sportscar

Sportscar racing is a complicated beast at the best of times, and especially so when two competing series combine into one.

That is what has happened to North American sportscar racing in 2014. I hope this post will help de-mystify this brand new series and will go some way to explaining what is happening.

What Is It?

Name:  IMSA TUDOR United Sportscar Championship

Shorter Name: The officials seem happiest with “TUDOR Championship“, while fans and media are referring to it either as “TUSC“, or in a nod to the glory days of the 1980s, “IMSA“. Technically IMSA are the people setting the rules, and not the series itself, so when I say IMSA I mean the people running things.

Where Did It Come From?

The TUDOR Championship is a merger of these two series:
– American Le Mans Series (ALMS)
– Grand-Am Rolex Series (GA)

What Classes?

P – Prototype:
Daytona Prototypes from GA are combined with LMP2 cars from the ALMS, and the DeltaWing, all in one single class.
The LMP1 cars have been abolished, as of now you can only see LMP1 in the World Endurance Championship (WEC).
DPs have been sped up with more downforce. P2 cars have been slowed a little with Continental tyres (reckoned to be slower than Michelins & Dunlops used in WEC). The DPs will have an advantage at Daytona, which you would expected of cars called ‘Daytona Prototypes’. The P2s will regain the balance the rest of the year. Pro driver class, as denoted by red screen and mirrors.

PC – Prototype Challenge:
This is identical to the PC class in the ALMS. No changes. A budget class for spec cars to promote ‘gentlemen’/amateur drivers, who hire hot talent to make them go fast. Pro-Am class, as denoted by blue screen and mirrors.

GTLM – Grand Touring Le Mans:
This is the ALMS GT class. Nothing was changed since last year, and this is the only class not running Continental tyres. The specs are identical to Le Mans and the WEC’s GTE class, hence the Le Mans moniker. The only thing new are brand new cars from Corvette and Porsche. Pro driver class, as denoted by red screen and mirrors.

GTD – Grand Touring Daytona:
Ostensibly the old Grand-Am GT class merged with the ALMS GTC Porsches, but with modified – slowed down – GT3 cars added into it. In reality the old-style GA GT cars and the GTC Porsches are gone. This class is 25+ GT3 cars, albeit with a TUSC-mandated rear wing producing less downforce than FIA GT3 rules allow, and without many of the TC and electronics the FIA rules allow. Ferraris, Porsches, BMWs, Aston Martins. With so many cars this is potentially the most fun class. Pro-Am class, as denoted by blue screen and mirrors.

No longer racing:
LMP1 cars from the ALMS, and GX cars from Grand-Am. Neither class has a home in TUSC.

Where Do They Race?

The four endurance races from both series:

Daytona 24 Hours, Sebring 12 Hours, Watkins Glen 6 Hours, Petit Le Mans. Those four endurance races make up the North American Endurance Championship (NAEC).

Add in Long Beach, Detroit, Laguna Seca, Road America, Mosport. This is the most exciting sportscar schedule in the world right now.

Who Is In It?

P – Chip Ganassi, Extreme Speed, DeltaWing, Action Express, Muscle Milk Pickett, Wayne Taylor Racing, Starworks, Shank, Spirit of Daytona, and even OAK Racing sent a team for a full season.
PC – Starworks, 8Star, PR1/Mathiason, Performance Tech, BAR1, RSR.
GTLM – Corvette, SRT Viper, BMW Team RLL, Risi Ferrari, Porsche North America (run by CORE).
GTD – Dempsey, Magnus, Alex Job, NGT, GMG, Fall-Line, Park Place, Turner, Scuderia Corse.

Dyson Racing is notably absent now – but they WILL be back.

And nearly all the drivers you already know from both series.

Exciting?

Absolutely!

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British Grand Prix Heroes

It is the eve of the British Grand Prix.  Who is the best British F1 driver of all time? It is an oft-answered and much debated question, so when I and a load of other bloggers were asked by MoneySupermarket.com to rank our own top 3 and leave a few thoughts on each, I couldn’t turn them down!

I went for Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and John Surtees.

Here are the results along with comments from a whole collection of blogs – and there’s a surprise in there. If you click you’ll go through to their site where there’s a larger version.

British GP Heroes - Moneysupermarket

See, this is how you do it. I get a few content requests every now and then which I often just ignore. This was different, one of the few to approach in plain English, up front about who they are, and with a really good idea – rather than some awful PR-speak asking to ‘supply content’ and wanting me to link to a dodgy-looking casino site. There’s a lesson to be learned somewhere.

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Photos – FIA WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone 2013

I was at Silverstone in April for the European Le Mans Series and FIA World Endurance Championship weekend. I took along a new zoom lens to its first motorsport event, and by Sunday I think I was getting the hang of it!

I’ve attended the 6 Hours (and predecessor 1000km) for the last few years, this year it was moved from Autumn to Spring with the expected change in conditions. Saturday’s ELMS was run in torrential rain. Thankfully Sunday was much brighter and was mostly free of rain, but again the thermometers flattered to deceive, and while it was warmer than the day before it still felt much colder than readings indicated. In previous years I did it as a day trip but with the addition of ELMS I decided to stay in Northampton to see both races, and also to attend Sunday’s pit walk.

Saturday – See my post about Saturday’s European Le Mans Series race here.

Sunday April 14th – FIA World Endurance Championship

The first order of business was to get to the pitwalk. This was easier said than done. The free shuttle buses were few and far between and it took a good 30 or 40 minutes to walk from the Abbey/ex-Bridge area to the new Wing paddock complex, as there is no crossing point nearby. All this walking meant I missed the day’s Formula 3 race which happened at the same time, though I did bump into these guys. Was it worth the effort? Definitely.

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