I’m Watching… #2

This weekend was all about one race…. at least, it was supposed to be.

We all know that F1 races are quite boring this year. We also all know that the battle between Audi and Peugeot for overall honours over the 24 Hour race at Le Mans has turned into an epic annual contest which has been enthralling for several years now, with further depth through the classes.

Not this year.

Le Mans 24 Hours

I didn’t think the 2010 24 Hours was a classic, but a mediocre race at Le Mans is more evocative than a decent race at many other venues.

- LMP1

It promised much, but as early as Wednesday night’s qualifying session Peugeot laid down lap times so fast as to effectively smack down the improved Audi’s challenge in terms of an out and out race. This was going to be a reliability run rather than a strategic battle, and with Peugeot having successfully completed a 30-hour endurance test it looked all sewn up before the race had started.

As it turned out, Audi’s race pace wasn’t that poor and they seemed to be able to maintain their top pace for much longer – Peugeot had far faster cars but they couldn’t maintain 3m19s laps for long. This mean the French team held a 1 or 2 lap lead over the German team for a considerable amount of time, but no more. All of the seven cars were pushing.

In terms of an actual race, things went wrong early when a Safety Car period for Mansell’s crash split the frontrunners, giving the four Peugeots an extra minute over the three Audis. On the green flag the Audis held that gap for ages, proving they could’ve got amongst the Pug’s early on had they been given the chance. Once we were into the meat of the race the Peugeots were easily the things to have and they extended a gap, so there wasn’t much in the way of racing, either passing or on pit strategy.

This was ‘run until someone either wins or breaks’. Eventually all four Peugeots broke down or were involved in incidents (and one of them broke surprisingly early), and the Audis didn’t ran near-flawlessly save for an ‘off’ by TK. Win sealed, go home. It wasn’t enthralling waiting for something to happen for so many hours. Interestingly it was the faster car from each team that dropped back – that is unless the others were managing their pace while these two pushed to catch up) and while both cars put in their customary supreme stints overnight, it wasn’t for the win.. Didn’t grab me.

Petrol cars:  AMR were ‘best of the rest’ for nearly the whole race but died near the end, leaving ORECA’s other car to take the spoils. Not necessarily a bad result, it had been quicker than I’d expected it to be and could’ve won it on merit, but as it turned out it was the last car standing. Again though, not much of a race because the team I expected to really hustle AMR – Rebellion and its pair of Lolas – suffered all manner of difficulties, which was a shame. This sub-class turned into a survival of the fittest. I know that’s what Le Mans is about, I guess we’ve just been spoiled with a different type of fight in the past.

- LMP2

Two cars were the class of the field: the two HPD (nee Acura) chassis run by Strakka and Highcroft. I tipped Highcroft for the win because they are so good in the US and this is Strakka’s first year with the car, plus Highcroft had 3 good drivers and Strakka had 2+ 1 average. As it turned out it went the other way, Stakka’s experience of 24-hour racing shone through and they led the class throughout – well done to them. Highcroft were racing outside North America for the first time, in a 24 hour race for the first time, unfamiliar with the ACO’s different way of doing things and without as much support gear with them as they are used to. Highcroft ran into several difficulties during the race but they seemed to pick themselves up and push on, all credit to them. Unfortunately this meant the expected duel between the two never really materialised for any length of time.

There were a few other good teams – notably RML – but they couldn’t stay in contention, and there were the usual few makeweights/fieldfillers.

- GT1

Pathetic. To think that this class used to provide the best race in the field, and now the cars can barely finish let alone even beat GT2. In fairness to the class it has been completely neutered so that the power advantage it had is now reduced, they barely have a time advantage over the GT2s, while the extra weight and fuel consumption and therefore extra pit stops drops them back every time. I’m sure the development this style of racing is famous for would recover much of that over the coming years, they won’t be allowed the chance to find out, the class has been removed for 2011 in the mistaken belief the cars can’t be turned into endurance racers. Ostensibly this is because of the increasing cost of the previous regulations which did need addressing, but the ongoing bunfight between the SRO and ACO has lost us the chance to rebuild the class at a more reasonable cost – instead we get some lame GT2 sub-category for amateurs. A real shame.

- GT2

This class featured the best racing and the most contenders for victory, and the highlight of the entire race for me was the on-track race for the lead between the Corvette and the Risi Ferrari, the positions changing from straight to straight for several laps – at sunset, no less! That’s Le Mans fever right there. It was a real shame the Risi car suffered the gearbox problem, and then (much) later the two Corvettes had their own issues with one breaking the other apparently being pushed off track by a Peugeot, if not by physical contact then by not giving the ‘Vette the racing room. Attrition hit this class too, leaving the Felbermayr Porsche to take the win.

A very high attrition rate throughout the field this year, was that due to underfunded teams, a harder pace, or some other unknown reason? I have a feeling it is a mixture of those things. Still, new rules for 2011 and 2012 see the 24 move into a new era – let’s see what it brings.

F1: Canadian Grand Prix

What a race! This was easily the best Formula 1 race of the year. Every season F1 throws up two or three excellent races, this was one of them and the best F1 race I’ve seen since Brazil’s title decider last year. There was action throughout, split strategies and sometimes it seemed like guesswork. The soft tyres were entirely inappropriate for what turned out to be a far more abrasive track than Bridgestone anticipated, yet that was exactly what created such a good race. Could the softs last long enough? Had they brought a compound step higher this could’ve been another snorer. Thankfully Bridgestone won’t be around to make use of that lesson next year!

McLaren were expected to walk away from the rest with their F-Duct, but then they deployed their ‘interesting’ strategy of using the soft tyres first in the hope of a Safety Car that never came. And yet… it worked! I’ve no idea how they pulled it off, in a race with so many early stops it left the Lotus of Kovalainen in 7th for a short while it was difficult to know what was going on for a while, thankfully I had the aid of live timing else I’d have been completely lost.

One more note on Canada – did you see how full those stands were?! Absolutely brilliant, and I’m sure there were more than usual. Welcome back to the schedule, Montreal – you were missed.

Other

Among this glut of racing I managed to catch the England v USA World Cup game, which ended in a disappointing but perhaps expected draw. I have a feeling both teams can win their remaining games and will both qualify, I hope so.

I also booked my ticket to the Goodwood Festival of Speed! I’ll be there on the Sunday and I’m really looking forward to it.

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