Video – Drone Racing!

Got to love the French. They invented Grand Prix racing, practically invented endurance racing at Le Mans, made cycling big with le Tour de France, organise and run the Dakar rally. The French just like anyone else will basically race anything.

Now they are racing drones… with lights on the back to make them look like Star Wars speeders or pod racers!

Event:  NCS Challenge, NoComp Stadium, Argonay, near Annecy, France

Video:  Herve Pellarin of Airgonay / www.airgonay.com

Extra points for the Argonay/Airgonay pun!

Formula E – The Beginning Of Electric Racing?

The inaugural FIA Formula E Championship begins Saturday, September 13th in Beijing. It’ll be the first of what should be ten rounds spread across the world between now and mid-2015.

Electric Racing?

Formula E is the first big global push to race electric cars, full-scale cars not models, with the aim of helping accelerate the technical development of the cars, motors and battery technologies, as well as promoting the benefits of electric cars to the public. To aid the latter goal the series will race primarily on street circuits in major cities, though there are some exceptions.

Street races they may be but these are not some poky little city cars. These are proper racing cars.

Development

The first season is the proof of concept. Can a capable electric power unit with all the necessary batteries and paraphernalia be successfully fitted to a traditional single-seater open-wheel formula car? Can 10 teams come along and race that car with two drivers in cities around the world? Can the batteries and all the tech be shipped around the world with all the regulations on battery transportation? Can you easily bring together so many big-name partners?

That’s why in the first season the car is standard. It features a lot of new technology, but it’ll be the same car and power system for everyone. In later years, maybe as soon as next year, the rules will be opened up and development will really begin.

This first-year car is built by Spark Racing Technology with some pretty hefty partners. The chassis is from renowned single-seater specialists Dallara. The electric motor is from a sister company to the McLaren F1 team (Wikipedia suggests it is the system from the McLaren P1 road car). The batteries are from Williams Advanced Engineering, a sister company to the Williams F1 team. Renault.. seem to be badging it! I’m not sure what else Renault do here. And finally, the tyres are from Michelin, uniquely for open wheel racing they are 18″ treaded tyres not racing slicks.

So far, so good. The cars have all been fitted together, they’ve been run by the ten teams at Donington Park in several test sessions. The next stage is to run a racing season. That begins tomorrow.

In the second and third seasons the rules are scheduled to be opened up. Teams will be allowed to develop the motor, the batteries, the electronics and bring in other suppliers. This is when it gets interesting! Expect the likes of Mahindra and Venturi to build their own engines and batteries. This is when everyone hopes the real technological push will come. The cars should end up getting faster, run for longer, be recharged more quickly.

The Future

In year one the cars can only race for 25 minutes before needing a recharge, yet the races are 45 minutes long. So they need a pit stop. But obviously it isn’t (yet) possible to simply recharge a battery in 10 seconds as you would at a pit stop for fuel. The cumbersome solution is to have two cars per driver, and the driver will jump into another car! It isn’t an elegant solution but it is a necessary one (mind you, they could have 2x 25 minute races..).

The idea behind this is to demonstrate the progress. This season establishes a baseline for the technology as it stands today. After the rules are opened up, perhaps by year three or four, the cars might be capable of doing the full 45 minutes without a recharge or a pit stop. Perhaps the speeds will increase, and perhaps the technology will get smaller so the cars aren’t as rear-heavy as they are this year (think of the weight of the batteries!).

So don’t be put off by the car-hopping madness. It is done deliberately. In 5 years’ time when Formula E is doing hour-long races with no stopping we’ll look back at 2014 and laugh at how ridiculously primitive the technology was that drivers had to change cars after 20 minutes. That is the whole point of Formula E, to prove how rapidly this stuff is improving.

Who’s In?

For full line-ups and bios have a read of links I’ll share later on. The teams include:

Amlin Aguri – from the remnants of former F1 team Super Aguri;
Andretti Autosport – top IndyCar team, formerly into sportscars and used to run the US A1GP team;
Audi Sport Abt – run by Abt Sportsline of the DTM;
China Racing – the former A1GP and FIA GT team, who have a bit of help from Adrian Campos who has tons of experience in GP2 and is now in WTCC;
Dragon Racing – IndyCar team;
e.dams-Renault – an arm of the crack DAMS outfit which have won practically everything there is to win in European open wheel feeder and development series. Alain Prost involved too;
Mahindra Racing – Indian team from the manufacturer which is into electric tech. I think they’re being assisted by Carlin Motorsport which is another top team in GP2, WSR and F3;
TrulliGP – Jarno Trulli of all people is running a team as well as driving for it. Has assistance from Super Nova (GP2, etc) as well as Drayson Racing from whom he bought the team;
Venturi – electric car manfucturer, backed by Leonardo di Caprio;
Virgin Racing – Richard Branson just had to get involved, and seems to include some of those who set up the Virgin F1 team (the team that became Marussia);

Drivers include:
Jarno Trulli, Katherine Legge, Antonio Felix da Costa, Sebastien Buemi, Nicolas Prost, Franck Montagny, Lucas di Grassi, Nelson Piquet Jr., Oriol Servia, Jerome d’Ambrosio, Karun Chandhok, Bruno Senna, Nick Heidfeld, Stephane Sarrazin, Jaime Algesuari, Sam Bird;
Sadly not present is Mike Conway who is a demon on street courses. Also not present at Beijing is da Costa busy on DTM duty, Takuma Sato acts as super-sub.

My Tips?

Teams championship:  e.dams

On driver line-up I’d say e.dams with Prost & Buemi, Virgin with Alguersuari & Bird, and Venturi with Heidfeld & Sarrazin are my favourites for the teams titles in that order (though I could easily swap Venturi and Virgin). I’m tipping e.dams for the teams title.

Drivers championship:  Lucas di Grassi (Abt)

It is impossible to call a champion driver at the moment but I do think it’ll be one of this six or Abt’s Lucas di Grassi, and Lucas has done prior work on these cars and knows all about energy usage from his job driving Audi’s Le Mans cars. Mixing it with them for wins and podiums will be Mahindra’s Senna & Chandhok, Aguri’s Katherine Legge and Andretti’s Franck Montagny. The others are either not good enough or drive for teams I don’t particularly rate.

Future of the series:

It looks very promising. It seems more organised than even A1GP when that started and that did look good, I was a fan, until it ran out of money and it all unravelled. That’s the real danger, running out of money after a promising start. Even if that does happen it will have made a difference, Formula E is making a contribution to automotive technology and not just running around in Lolas with flags on. I really do think the main reason people are sceptical of FE is less because of the tech and more because of the failure of A1GP, of Superleague Formula, of the Superfund series that never got going, even of FIA GT1. Starting and maintaining a global or continental racing series is very, very difficult.

When & Where?

Race 1 is at 8am UK time on ITV4, Saturday 13th September.

Other rounds:

22 November:  Putrajaya, Malaysia;
13 December:  Punta del Este, Uruguay;
10 January 2015:  Buenos Aires, Argentina;
14 February:  TBC;
14 March:  Miami, Florida, USA;
4 April:  Long Beach, California, USA; (1 week before IndyCar)
9 May:  Monaco; (2 weeks before F1)
30 May:  Berlin, Germany;
27 June:  London, England;

Practice, qualifying and race all happen in a single day. The series has chosen to race exclusively on Saturdays for some reason.

I Need More Info!

You’re in luck, the excellent Marshall Pruett of the also excellent Racer.com has put together a trio of previews.

- Firstly you need the Formula E “101”.

- Then ask Katherine Legge how it is drive it.

- Finally, Pruett and FE’s TV expert and IndyCar legend Dario Franchitti take a look at the entrants.

You can also read the previews at NBC Motorsports Talk:

- Chris Estrada’s basic guide to Formula E.

- Tony DiZinno’s driver and team breakdown.

EDIT – I also recommend BadgerGP’s 50 Things You Probably DIdn’t Know About Formula E.

And of course the site that has been tracking the series for the longest is Current E who have a ton of features and is the go-to place for information.

Anything else?

Well there’s the FanBoost concept, where you go to a website and vote for a driver to have an overtake assist for a few seconds. (Voting closes before the race starts.) I’m not voting because sport should be about talent and work, and fans’ involvement should be restricted to cheering from the sidelines.

How To Watch

In the UK all the races are live on ITV4. Please remember the races are held on Saturdays, it’ll be easy for that to catch us out. ITV4 will have highlights if you miss the races and I’m sure they’ll be on ITV Player. Highlights will also be on BT Sport.

In the USA the races will be on the FOX Sports channels.

The world feed will feature Jack Nicholls and Dario Franchitti on commentary with Nicki Shields in the pits. Additonally, ITV4 will have Jennie Gow presenting and Marc Priestley as analyst.

The Ridiculous Price of F1 Tickets

Formula 1 tickets are too expensive. There is nothing new in this, it has been the case for a while. That said, I’d blithely assumed they’d remained fairly static in recent years. It seems I might be wrong.

I buy my WEC tickets via Silverstone’s website so I receive emails from them. This week’s email says they are ‘offering’ the chance of a 0% interest loan, payable in 9 monthly instalments, to cover the cost of two weekend grandstand tickets for the 2015 British Grand Prix. Details here.

That cost? £755. Or to put it another way, for anyone reading in the US, that’s $1215.

Utter lunacy.

You shouldn’t need a loan to buy tickets! They should be a tenth of the price.

The parking pass alone makes up £65 of this. I didn’t know they charged for parking. As far as I am aware they don’t at any other race meeting.

Don’t misunderstand my point here. This isn’t an attack on Silverstone or the BRDC. None of this is the fault of Silverstone, nor any of the other circuits charging extortionate prices. They themselves have been charged eye-watering amounts for the privilege of hosting a Formula 1 race and the only way they can recoup this cost is through ticket sales; their other avenues of revenue – trackside signage, paddock hospitality, TV rights – having long since been redirected towards the F1 empire rather than the host circuit.

Honestly if they had chosen not to renew the British GP I wouldn’t have blamed them, the business model is crazy. They believe, perhaps rightly, that it is unthinkable to not have a British GP at all. And the only option is Silverstone, no other viable option exists without a serious upgrade (ask Donington Park how that went). So the BRDC are stuck in a bind; either lose the prestige of hosting this big halo event promoting and supporting the vast motorsport industry in this country, or keep it and force people to pay ridiculous prices to go and watch.

Somehow, Silverstone still managed to host a full crowd this year. This is more than can be said for Hockenheim, the Hungaroring, and even Monza. Throughout the F1 calendar fan attendances are declining almost across the board.

For a lot of GPs it doesn’t matter, the crowd is an afterthought, just as long as the rich countries in the Middle East and elsewhere continue to stump up their even-larger race hosting fees it doesn’t matter that nobody goes to Abu Dhabi, or that white elephant tracks are springing up in places like Korea and India only to be abandoned when the locals realise they are getting screwed.

The people to blame are the people running F1, the investment group which owns the F1 group who are maximising profit by selling races at ever-increasing fees and selling TV rights to broadcasters that charge people a fortune to watch the races (that’s a post for another day).

Surely the aim must be to make a Grand Prix the place to be. To fill the place with people who look like they want to be there. Silverstone, Melbourne, Montreal and Austin do this well.. at the moment. Price the seats to the market, fill the place, make it look like somewhere sponsors want to be seen. Keep the costs high for either the tickets or the TV package and fans might change their minds, the stands may empty, the sponsors might wonder why they are being invoiced so much for so little an audience.

It is a terrible thing for the world’s biggest and most popular racing series to race in front of empty grandstands. It is even worse to deliberately keep willing people from attending because they can’t afford to go, or under some pretence of ‘exclusivity’.

Anyway, I’ve only ever been to two Grands Prix and neither were at Silverstone. If I’m paying £400 I might as well travel, see other countries, it is more easily justified that way rather than paying £400 to see an airfield outside Northampton.

And I say that as someone who quite likes Silverstone. I go there every year for the WEC and the odd other things and plan to do so for a long time to come.

Spa-Francorchamps – A Fans Perspective

This is a tremendous short video by Will Hussey from this year’s Belgian GP at the fantastic Spa-Francorchamps.

This video captures the crowd, the atmosphere, the feel of the event just perfectly. I attended in 2010 and it was just like this except then it rained heavily, constantly. The only other things missing here are the waffles, the frites et mayo, and the selection of local beers in town. I think it is time to go back.

Author:  Will Hussey @racinghumour

Found via: Will Buxton

Something of a Return

2014 ELMS start

The first lap of the 2014 European Le Mans Series race at Silverstone. (Photo by P.Wotton)

Apologies for the long periods of silence. I’ve only written sporadically since last summer. Real life intervened. Work became stressful for multiple reasons, then some different reasons. Glad that’s all sorted. At about the same time, and more excitingly, I bought a house. Yay for me. Now all of those stresses are over I can relax and get back to what I enjoy.

August represents the 6th anniversary of this blog and it seems the turn of the month is a good time of the year to start it again.

For those who follow me on Twitter I never really went away. In fact I rarely shut up or stop retweeting. I aim to reduce frequency there and channel more thoughts here, sometimes a 5-tweet string is more appropriately hosted on a blog. And I miss blogs. Nobody blogs any more.

A refreshed blog theme (this one is even mobile-friendly), a different way of doing things compared to recent times and get back to the way it was in 2008 and 2009. No schedules. No weekly commitments. Occasionally long form, mostly shorter, snappier, more frequent. Finding and sharing things. Yes, I know, everyone else is doing the sharing thing now but many are just content aggregators and a few have a problem with source attribution. Tut, tut. I was doing this stuff years ago. Time to stick those elbows out like Marc Marquez and claim some space back.

In the meantime my eyes are going square (or should that be racetrack-shaped) from all the racing I’m watching, magazines and websites and blogs I’m reading, podcasts I’m hearing.

I’m watching too much racing, again

Are you?

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!

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.