2016 Formula 1 Preview

In some ways the 2016 F1 season is for me a sort of season-long referendum. You see, for the last couple of years, I’ve been bored. And I’m not alone.

Engines

Not because of the engines. Hybrids are essential for relevance, for technological development and yes, for PR. If anything the hybrid rules aren’t open enough – despite being more advanced than most championships, F1 is currently 2nd to the WEC on both hybrid technology and raceability.

Drivers

Not because of the drivers. The drivers are as good as any set of drivers in history. Not better, not worse. Would I change some? Yes. But ultimately this isn’t like the days of absolute no-hopers, running massively off the pace and/or crashing all the time. Given the opportunity, these drivers would be just as racy and just as exciting as those in any other era. They don’t have that opportunity and probably won’t this year either. Let’s hope they do in 2017. It would be nice if they could say what they think a bit more, but fans have been asking for that for a long time – and actually in the last few months the likes of Alonso, Button and Vettel have been more outspoken.

Teams

I’m a little bored of the teams but they are only playing to the rules of the game.

I’m not even bored by domination. It happens. And dammit I sat through the Ferrari years 2000-2004 so I’ll bloody well sit through this! What I learned in the Ferrari years was to watch the midfield because the midfield is fascinating. Plus any fan who watches sportscar racing should be adept at watching the entire field, the entire story, not just at who is going to win overall. Mercedes or Red Bull or Ferrari running away with it isn’t fun, we’d all like more competition, but ultimately they’ve done the better job and any frustrations should be directed at the other teams for not being as good.

Tyres

I’ve been bored by the tyres. F1 shouldn’t be about conserving tyres. Even 24-hour endurance racing isn’t about conserving tyres these days, they go hell-for-leather the whole way, so why is F1? It would be okay if they were designed to the limit and the drivers were pushing to the edge. But they aren’t. The current F1 tyres are designed to be artificially bad in the hope of improving ‘The Show’. But it doesn’t work. Teams always push the limit, so instead of burning through the tyres and pitting several times, the drivers now cruise to the next stop, well below their own performance and that of the car, to make the tyres last as long as possible and reduce the number of pit stops – this is faster over a race distance. The Bridgestones and Michelins of 10 years ago would run rings around them.

Leadership

I’ve also been bored by the appalling way F1 is being run. Grands Prix in authoritarian dictatorship states. A fundamental lack of marketing from Bernie & FOM, quite the opposite actually when the promoter actively talks the sport down. A terrible financial model which, despite making tens of millions, leaves some teams struggling and circuits making considerable losses even though they have to charge fans hundreds of pounds, euros or dollars just for basic seats.

Oh and DRS, just.. no.

If this carries on, I don’t know how much longer I can keep watching. It would be a tremendously hard wrench to stop watching entirely, but I’m already at the stage where F1 Grands Prix are no longer ‘must-see TV’. Right now I don’t mind whether I miss a race live and watch it later. There are races on the calendar I don’t care if I miss entirely. I never, ever thought I’d get to that stage, let alone contemplate giving up.

Upsides!

Think positively. What has kept me going has been the pure sport. It is still there, if you dig hard enough. The stories. The improvements team to team. The way drivers tackle the races. The new drivers coming through (and sadly the unfortunate talented drivers getting shafted by teams desperate for cash). The differences between teams and cars even if those are ever-shrinking. Despite all the problems, somewhere underneath it all a version of the sport still exists.

2016 is interesting. There’s the very real possibility Mercedes will be challenged by Ferrari. There’s disruption in the midfield among Red Bull, McLaren, Renault (ex-Lotus) which will really mix things up, if not in 1st and 2nd in the race result then certainly from 3rd to 18th.
There are new tyres rules, complicated ones, which should add a variable without affecting things too greatly.
There’s also this weird new qualifying system, I won’t dwell on it but let’s say firstly I’m not (yet) a fan, on paper not at all, but also let’s say we should see it before judging. I’m keeping an open mind.

There are signs things are changing. The sport is finally listening to the fans – for better or for worse. Changes to the cars are coming in 2017 or 2018, they may not be the right changes, it certainly doesn’t look like it, but we’ll find out in due course. At least by then F1 cars ought to be jaw-dropping fast again!

Even Pirelli seems to be getting the message – make better tyres.

TV Deal

The UK has an exciting new TV deal with Channel 4 taking over. I’ll miss the BBC coverage but most of that team has landed at C4 and the number of hours seems about the same as the recent BBC deal, and I’m used to that now. Let’s face it, even hardcore fans don’t need live coverage of 21 races worth of practice sessions. And the highlights give me a chance to do other things in the day before settling in to watch – just as long as I avoid social media (spoilers!). I’m really intrigued to see what C4 can bring to the experience.

Team By Team

My team-by-team preview follows in the next post.

Conclusion

Whilst I agree with the need to go for the hybrid formula, I think it has been done the wrong way, and with the wrong tyres. But the competitiveness side of things should even itself out if the rules remain fairly stable and others catch up, and I hope that’ll show signs of happening this year.

Will 2016 be ‘The Best Year Ever’? No, of course not. But it could be the best year of the 1.6 litre hybrid era, and that’ll be good enough for me.

The Blog’s New Facebook Page

I have a new Facebook page! It can be accessed HERE.

www.facebook.com/iwatchtoomuchracing/

Why did I make one?

I find myself reading features and watching videos I think are really interesting and I want to share them. They are sometimes interesting pieces about things not front and centre in the motorsport eye so they’re easily missed. Discussing things about racing outside F1 and NASCAR (as well as interesting things within them that aren’t just the latest “he said, she said”) was the reason this blog was started in the first place. The Twitter account, and now the Facebook account, are just extensions of this.

The blog no longer seems the sensible place to collate external links. I do like the idea of short-form posts sharing things, like the post before this one about McLaren’s old team bases, but in reality few people read them and even fewer click through to read the thing I’m sharing. And I can relate. Clicking a link to a site only to find it’s a link to another site, just isn’t how things are done!

I think the blog is better served as a place to keep my thoughts, as and when I feel like writing them. (I might be tempted to post here a summary of things shared on FB..!).

Twitter timelines can fly by quickly, and people don’t – I think? – go back through the day or through individual accounts to see what they missed. Maybe they do.. It seems that the Pages function on Facebook is much better suited to this. In any case, FB reaches a slightly different audience, so I’ll continue to use Twitter for sharing things.

The final reason is this: Somehow, somewhere, someone seems to have decided that sharing on Twitter or Facebook is fine, it’s just considered sharing and is encouraged.
“Please Like and Share!!”
Put a video on your FB page and you’re helping.
But if you post the same video, treated in exactly the same way, embedded in a blog post..
“Oh no, that’s theft, how dare you, you need permission for that!”

I really can’t see the difference! Both are published on pages controlled by the same person, both are shares. If this were a profit-making website I’d understand. But it isn’t. It’s a blog.

And it is a blog. Not a content aggregator.

I don’t really feel I have enough to say to write many long-form blog posts nowadays, but I’d like to get into the rhythm of writing once a week. (I’ve said that before and not done it). I ramble on Twitter. Twitter is for short-form. I should be rambling here!

So my logic for the 3 places is this:
Twitter = Instant reaction, conversation, soundbites, retweets & links to things I found.
Facebook = Links to things I found.
Blog = Comments and ramblings, plus a place to put the calendar links because I don’t know what else to do with them.

All this stuff is my hobby, this is my effort at streamlining and making the most of my time.

Quote of the Day: A Classic Piece of Ronspeak

“You’ll notice that we have optimised the lateral optical interface of this building.”
I turned to McLaren’s then PR lady Ellen Kolby, and asked nervously:
“Er, does that mean it has a lot of windows?”

“You’ll notice that we have optimised the lateral optical interface of this building.”
I turned to McLaren’s then PR lady Ellen Kolby, and asked nervously:
“Er, does that mean it has a lot of windows?”

Alan Henry being given a tour of ‘Paragon’, later to be renamed the McLaren Technology Centre, by Ron Dennis in the later phases of construction.

For the last couple of years the respected and long-standing motor sport journalist Alan Henry has been writing blogs for McLaren and they are well worth going back through and reading.

This quote is from “In search of McLaren’s true roots” from August 2014, which runs through the team’s moves from factory to factory before settling in the MTC. It becomes even more interesting if you open up Google Maps and Streetview!

2016 Motorsport Calendars

2016’s calendars are now available!

Each year I produce motorsport calendars for use within Google Calendar, iCal, Outlook and many other apps.

I have now added as many 2016 motorsport dates as I can find and they are available to use!

Just go to:   www.toomuchracing.com/calendar

There are a few notes on my methodology followed by a table showing each racing series:  F1, MotoGP, IndyCar, WEC, IMSA, NASCAR, WTCC, BTCC, DTM and many more. Just click the links on the right hand side of the table.

There are a couple of options, try each to find the one that works the way you want it.

If you subscribed to these feeds in 2015, or before, and have not removed them, you do not need to add them again. Just scroll forwards and the dates will be there. This obviously doesn’t apply if you took it as a download!

Thanks everybody for your continued support of this project. Do keep pointing out errors and omissions. And share with anybody who may be interested!

This Blog

A quick note on the blog:  I apologise for not posting more frequently. The last couple of years have been quite tiring. I keep meaning to return with lots of small posts and observations rather than the occasional long-read. I do miss the long posts as well.

I’m also considering a Facebook page. On Twitter I share or retweet lots of stories I think are interesting or funny and it might be useful to have a place on FB to do the same. Let me know your thoughts.

For F1’s Sake Podcast

I used to listen to ‘Another F1 Podcast’ until they stopped making them. A podcast of frank opinions from a couple of guys on the state of F1, on teams and on how much of a **** Alonso may or may not be.

Now one of the two has moved on to a new monthly podcast along with two new co-hosts. Loose F1 chat in a ‘mates in the pub’ style. I don’t always agree though I do quite a bit and its all good fun – and nice to hear real opinions rather than a by-the-numbers field rundown or the details of what one of the Toro Rosso guys had for breakfast.

A little bit sweary in places, though not as much as in AF1P, so maybe not for the little ones!

It actually started 3 weeks ago, which I knew but then forgot because I’m stupid and can’t remember things.

For F1’s Sake (Soundcloud)

July’s podcast (36 minutes), recorded after the Hungarian GP:

No behind-the-scenes PR going on here, this is just an old-school ‘I found this and wanted to share it’ post. They haven’t paid me for this. Bastards.

[Edit – Updated links]

2015 Le Mans 24 Hours – LMP1 Preview

Hello. This is the last of my Class Previews and I saved the top one until last – the battle for the overall win. Last year’s race was unbelievable, this year’s promises to be just as good! The form book suggests a head-to-head between two German heavyweights.. but Le Mans has no respect for form.

Other class previews:  LMP2, GTE Pro, GTE Am;

Once again the usual disclaimer, this is a fan blog and these are just my impressions having seen the first few races but without having yet read or listened to any previews.

LM P1 Summary:  14 Entries (11 from WEC, 3 one-offs)

Le Mans Prototype cars with professional drivers. This top class is the Big Dog, this will decide the overall winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A car from another class could win outright, but LMP1 cars are so much faster it’ll take something major to rule them out.

With lap times not far off F1 cars and top speeds on the Mulsanne probably higher than them, these are serious machines. LMP1 today is the opposite of the endurance perception:  now they are full attack, with little to no fuel saving, on full grip tyres. Basically a sprint race that lasts a long time! They do this with more advanced hybrid systems, of a completely different design from each manufacturer – true competition! – with more power than last year and more than F1. I am a life-long F1 fan but this is remarkable technology which makes F1’s new kit look out-dated.

Two privateer entrants carry the flag for the independents and long may they continue to do so. LMP1 must always have independents. Though neither team runs those crucial hybrid systems which make such a difference.

All cars in the class run on Michelins.

WEC note: Le Mans counts for WEC double-points but only among entrants registered for the WEC. Non-registered cars are ignored for points purposes. WEC-registered cars are marked with ( W ) after their name.

The Favourite

#7 Audi Sport Team Joest (W) – Audi R18 e-tron quattro – Marcel Faessler, Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer

An immensely tricky choice. This year all three Audis and all three Porsches can be considered almost equally likely to win. Should they falter, the two Toyotas will be right there.

#7 Audi e-tron quattro
#7 Audi e-tron quattro (c) P.Wotton

I’ve chosen this car for two reasons:  Firstly, Joest Audi just knows how to win this race. Secondly, Porsche are faster over a lap but the #7 Audi has beaten them in the opening two rounds of this year’s WEC already.
A few years ago, the likes of Kristensen, McNish and Capello were considered greats even when they were still racing. I consider Fassler/Lotterer/Treluyer to be their equals. I don’t know why they aren’t seen that way by others, yet for some reason they haven’t yet reached the same level in the public conciousness. They’ve won Le Mans in 2011, 2012 and 2014 and finished 2nd in 2010! You cannot argue that success rate. They have already etched their name into Le Mans history.

The Contenders

#17 Porsche Team (W) – Porsche 919 Hybrid – Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
#18 Porsche Team (W) – Porsche 919 Hybrid – Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb
#19 Porsche Team – Porsche 919 Hybrid – Nico Huelkenberg, Earl Bamber, Nick Tandy

#18 Porsche
#18 Porsche at speed (c) P.Wotton

I said Audi would have the advantage over the race.. but I think they’ll only get one car ahead of the Porsches. My podium prediction is Audi-Porsche-Porsche and I think Porsche will hold the lead for much of the race. They’ll claim pole and I think it’ll be a clear 1-2-3 in qualifying! Those 919s are fast. How reliable are they? How many stints on tyres can they do? Will any of the guys make unforced errors?

#18 is the stronger car. The trio seem to have found the sweet spot with the car and they took 2nd in the first two WEC races. #17 isn’t far off but it feels trouble attracts it, or vice versa! Yet when your weakest driver is of the calibre of Mark Webber you know you have a strong team.

#19 isn’t registered for WEC points so there’s a choice: run it as a safe backup behind the other two, or run it at the level of the opposition as a spoiler to get in the way, or run it fast as a hare and chase off into the distance to fool the other teams into chasing after it (and hope they break down in the process)?

After so many years together in so many cars in so many races, I still find it odd that Dumas and Bernhard aren’t sharing a car.

#8 Audi Sport Team Joest (W) – Audi R18 e-tron quattro – Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval, Oliver Jarvis
#9 Audi Sport Team Joest – Audi R18 e-tron quattro – Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi, Rene Rast

#7 and #8 Audi e-tron quattro
#7 and #8 Audi e-tron quattro (c) P.Wotton

We already know the talents of Duval and di Grassi, we’re quickly learning Jarvis deserves his place among them.

The non-points #9 car is in the same position as Porsche’s #19. We already know Audi typically let their three cars fight for the win. Points be damned, Le Mans is Le Mans. The trio in the #9 are as good as those in #8. Rene Rast is very fast.

Can they go as far on fuel as the Porsches? Indeed, if they can outperform them on tyres does the fuel matter? Questions, questions! The six cars of Audi and Porsche should be fighting all race long!

#1 Toyota Racing (W) – Toyota TS040 Hybrid – Anthony Davidson, Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima
#2 Toyota Racing (W) – Toyota TS040 Hybrid – Alex Wurz, Stephane Sarrazin, Mike Conway

#2 Toyota
#2 Toyota (c) P.Wotton

The 2014 Champions aren’t having such a good 2015, unfortunately the pace just doesn’t seem to be in the car. More accurately, the pace is definitely still there and the car is faster than last year, what’s happened is Audi and Porsche jumped ahead.

Toyota know what they are doing and so do all the drivers, every one of them top drawer, no weak link here. But they’ll have to run reliability – no mistakes, no failures – and take advantage of any problems others may have. If they do this they can score a podium – or win if the others break down, which they really might.

An slightly outside bet then, but a serious one. If the Porsches and Audis have even the tiniest problem the Toyotas will be through.

The Unknown Quantity

#21 Nissan Motorsports – Nissan GT-R LM Nismo – Tsugio Matsuda, Mark Shulzhitsky, Lucas Ordonez
#22 Nissan Motorsports (W) – Nissan GT-R LM Nismo – Harry Tinknell, Michael Krumm, Alex Buncombe
#23 Nissan Motorsports (W) – Nissan GT-R LM Nismo – Olivier Pla, Jann Mardenborough, Max Chilton

NISMO Show Car
#23 Nissan NISMO show cars (c) P.Wotton

Tricky. They are confident and the fans are with them. And yet… And yet. This confidence is based on what the car WILL do once it is fully developed. In 2016. Right now though, it is only halfway there. It is in no position to win this race on pace alone. As for reliability and fuel numbers, well they haven’t raced it yet, so nobody knows!

Full credit for exploiting the rules to create such a unique car. It takes the lessons of the Delta Wing and mates them to the LMP1 regulations. At the Test Day it was clearly the fastest in a straight line, even though the lap times weren’t there at all. It was only a test though.

The team didn’t enter the opening two races, is reportedly running on only one of the two hybrid systems, and they haven’t actually raced as a unit yet. They have less of a budget than the other manufacturers. Add in the difficulty in making a novel design actually work, it wouldn’t surprise me if the thing was totally unreliable at this first attempt. No surprise to read Tincknell is focussing on getting the car to the finish, above all else.

What’s a realistic objective? Get one car to the finish in the top 12. Porsche finished 11th on their return just twelve months ago, behind 6 LMP2 cars, now look where they are. If Nissan can finish top 12 overall, or complete a similar number of laps to the top 6 in LMP2, I’d call that a successful return in Year 1. Year 2 is when the fun will happen.

No surprise that #23 (‘Ni San’ in Japanese) has the higher profile drivers. Pla is stellar, Mardenborough ridiculously quick, Chilton the steady hand on the tiller. #22 isn’t too shabby either – Tincknell is my local driver and was a hot shoe in LMP2 – and #21 is right up there in quality, especially Ordonez. The only one I don’t know is Matsuda. An aggressive line up across all three cars, despite their youth many already have Le Mans experience.

They know exactly where they are. That is why they are being so open with the fans, with social media and PR events, open about the car, all the open access. That’ll change next year if and when they become competitive. The walls will close in, expect it. Still, none of the other teams let us in on their development cycle!

The Independents

#12 Rebellion Racing (W) – Rebellion R-One – AER – Nicolas Prost, Nick Heidfeld, Mattias Beche
#13 Rebellion Racing (W) – Rebellion R-One – AER – Alexandre Imperatori, Dominik Kraihamer, Daniel Abt

Rebellion were forced to skip Silverstone and Spa while they sorted out installations issues with the new AER engines after a late choice to swap from Toyota (not the works Toyota engines, something else).
I like the way they go racing so I hope the delay won’t impact their reliability. They need a good solid run to take advantage of the reliability troubles that’ll surely hit the hybrid runners, just as they did last year which netted them 4th place! So: same again please, just slightly faster! That’s why they put in the AER which is so fast in the CLM.
The solid #12 drivers return and will surely be their lead charge. In the #13 Leimer and Belicchi are out, and Imperatori and Abt are in. Imperatori was good for KCMG in the LMP2 class.

#4 Team ByKolles (W) – CLM P1/01 – AER – Simon Trummer, Pierre Kaffer, Tiago Monteiro

#4 ByKolles CLM
#4 ByKolles CLM in parc ferme (c) P.Wotton

This team is doing all of their development in public. In a difference to last year they do appear to be getting faster. The car is changing appearance. Quick in a straight line just not so good in the corners (good engine, bad chassis). Over a lap the car does just about out-run the LMP2 cars but it still can’t run for very long. It was in and out of the pits at Silverstone and at Spa it only did 46 laps (the winner did 176 laps). This was the only privateer entrant at Silverstone and Spa so it was expected they’d build a big points gap over Rebellion – but failing to finish either round means they’ve failed to score. So excluding crashes from others I have every expectation this will be the first official retirement in any class. Klien and Liuzzi look to have been binned, which for their own careers is probably for the best.

2015 Le Mans 24 Hours – LMP2 Preview

Hi. This is the 3rd of 4 posts previewing each class of the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours. I’ve already written about GTE Pro and GTE Am. Now it is time for the biggest class: LMP2 has a whopping 19 entries. I will try to be brief..

Again, disclaimer, this is a fan blog and these are just my impressions having seen the first few races but without having yet read or listened to any previews.

LM P2 Summary: 19 Entries (9 from WEC, 9 from ELMS, 1 one-off)

Le Mans Prototype cars with a Pro/Am driver line-up, similar to GTE Am but with a slightly different configuration between Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze. The specifics aren’t important, what’s important is the way you choose to deploy your lower-ranked driver/s. Do you get the slower guys out of the way early? Do you have the Pro’s deal with the difficult night? And remember, without the Am’s a lot of these teams wouldn’t even be racing – some may want to take the flag themselves.

Slower than LMP1 but faster around a lap than GTE. They have about the same top speed as GTE, the P2s make up their time through the corners. This isn’t ideal when the P2s come to lap the GTEs as it can make for some dicey, late braking moves.

European Le Mans Series P2 teams are strong. Don’t be fooled by the fact they don’t enter the world championship – the rules for their class of the ELMS are the same as for the WEC. Last year the ELMS guys roundly trounced the WEC teams. This year some of them joined the WEC so the split is now 50:50.

WEC note: Le Mans counts for WEC double-points but only among entrants registered for the WEC. Non-registered cars are ignored for points purposes. WEC-registered cars are marked with (W) after their name.

 

The Favourite

#38 Jota Sport – Gibson 015S – Nissan – Dunlop – Simon Dolan, Mitch Evans, Oliver Turvey

Jota Sport Gibson-Nissan
#38 Jota Sport Gibson-Nissan (c) P.Wotton

This is another class in which you could easily argue there are 2 or 3 equal favourites! I’m forcing myself to make a pick for each class and I can’t look away from Jota. They are likely the favourites for the ELMS title though a win in that series has eluded them this year, with 2nd and 3rd so far. In between those results they won the WEC round at Spa. Turvey is quick, Evans is hungry, Dolan has become one of the top ‘Am’ drivers in the class. They have some very stiff competition though.

 

The Contenders

Thiriet by TDS
#46 Thiriet by TDS Oreca-Nissan (c) P.Wotton

#46 Thiriet by TDS Racing – Oreca 05 – Nissan – Dunlop – Pierre Thiriet, Ludovic Badey, Tristan Gommendy

This car is equal favourite to Jota and is only in this section because I made myself pick only one favourite per class. This is a very good ELMS team with a solid line-up, despite this strong field I’d be amazed if it doesn’t make the podium. A win at Imola and 3rd at Silverstone prove they mean business with the coupe Oreca after a year struggling with the Ligier.

#26 G-Drive Racing (W) – Ligier JS P2 – Nissan – Dunlop – Roman Rusinov, Julien Canal, Sam Bird
#28 G-Drive Racing (W) – Ligier JS P2 – Nissan – Dunlop – Gustavo Yacaman, Pipo Derani, Ricardo Gonzalez

G-Drive Ligier-Nissan
#28 G-Drive Ligier-Nissan (c) P.Wotton

A win apiece for this team in the WEC. #26 won at Silverstone. #28 won at Spa and took 2nd at Silverstone meaning they hold a handy points lead – no other WEC P2 car scored two podiums out of the opening rounds. Double points though at Le Mans, all to play for.
Theoretically you’d say the #26 should have the edge in driver line-ups in this team, particularly Bird, but perhaps that #28 should be watched too. Yacaman has been wild in the past in IMSA but seems to be taking to WEC P2 racing rather well.

#41 Greaves Motorsport – Gibson 015S – Nissan – Dunlop – Gary Hirsch, Bjorn Wirdheim, Jon Lancaster

Winners at Silverstone ELMS thanks to Lancaster’s, err, ‘forceful’ GP2-style moves to overtake. That sort of driving won’t last long at Le Mans and what’s more, the team and driver are both fast enough not to need it. Could get a win or podium and will likely finish ahead of many fancied WEC runners.

#36 Signatech Alpine (W) – Alpine A450b – Nissan – Dunlop – Nelson Panciatici, Paul-Loup Chatin, Vincent Capillaire

#36 Signatech
#36 Signatech Alpine-Nissan (c) P.Wotton

PLC is one to watch. Some may say ‘miscategorised’! I like the fight they showed in the ELMS last year, now they’re in the WEC and a DNF and a 4th probably aren’t representative of what this team can do. The Alpine A450b is basically an Oreca 03R under another name: older, but proven. (I say that – it was out after 20 laps at Silverstone after a wheel came off!)

#43 Team SARD-Morand (W) – Morgan LMP2 Evo – SARD – Dunlop – Pierre Ragues, Oliver Webb, Zoel Amberg

A troubled start to the year with sponsors walking away, the team skipping Silverstone and a planned second car not appearing. A strong rebound at Spa saw the lone car finish 2nd! Are they a contender? I’m a little unsure, but to pull off a result like that on merit following such troubles, that’s a good sign.

 

The Upper Midfield

 

#48 Murphy Prototypes – Oreca 03R – Nissan – Dunlop – Karun Chandhok, Mark Patterson, Nathanael Berthon

This is an odd one. The team has all the hallmarks of one that should be quick but they never seem to have the luck – mechanicals, crashes, you name it. Scored 2nd in the ELMS at Imola but a retirement at Silverstone. I want to say they’re a Contender and I really hope they have a good solid run but you just know something will happen..

#47 KCMG (W) – Oreca 05 – Nissan – Dunlop – Matt Howson, Richard Bradley, Nicolas Lapierre

#47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan
#47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan (c) P.Wotton

Steadily building up over the last few years. You sense this team is a growing force. Took 3 wins in last year’s under-subscribed WEC and now showing well against a bigger field. Two LM24 attempts and two DNFs so far, I think they’ll do much better this year but I don’t think it’ll be a win.. yet. Unlucky not to have a second car on the entry list (it is 1st Reserve), perhaps they can focus on this one without distractions. Also has the best livery in the field!

#34 OAK Racing – Ligier JS P2 – Honda – Dunlop – Chris Cumming, Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Estre
#35 OAK Racing (W) – Ligier JS P2 – Nissan – Dunlop – Jacques Nicolet, Jean-Marc Merlin, Erik Maris

#35 OAK Racing
#35 OAK Racing Ligier-Nissan (c) P.Wotton

OAK Racing is the competition arm of Onroak who make the Ligier and Morgan chassis. As such they’re running cars here with different engines as a showcase, one with a Nissan and one with a Honda/HPD. With these line-ups the Honda car has the driver advantage, Vanthoor and Estre are great talents in GT racing. Yet so far the Nissan has proven the better engine, that’s why most of the field is using it.
There isn’t any doubt about the quality of the team. #34 could be in the ‘Contender’ category – but OAK previously said they didn’t want to race their customers this year so that makes me pull back and wonder whether they’ll slow it down and run this race as a test with both cars.

#42 Strakka Racing (W) – Dome Strakka S103 – Nissan – Dunlop – Nick Leventis, Danny Watts, Jonny Kane

#42 Strakka Dome Nissan
#42 Strakka Dome Nissan (c) P.Wotton

The new car isn’t as quick as it should be. It was also a year late. Finished 3rd at Silverstone only thanks to the troubles of others, because they were 7 laps down and off the pace throughout. The team hopes a change from Michelin, used in the first two races, to the class-leading Dunlop will help their fortunes. I hope so but right now I have insufficient data to realistically call them a contender. The quality of the team itself and of the driver line-up isn’t in question.

The Lower Midfield

#30 Extreme Speed Motorsports (W) – Ligier JS P2 – Honda – Dunlop – Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel, David Heinemeier-Hansson
#31 Extreme Speed Motorsports (W) – Ligier JS P2 – Honda – Dunlop – Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek, Jon Fogarty

#30 ESM HPD
#30 ESM HPD in the wars at Silverstone (c) P.Wotton

What should be a team running further up will likely just be happy to finish the race, after the six months they’ve had! From the new HPD chassis at the IMSA Daytona 24, to the venerable old HPD at Silverstone – which first got damaged and then got excluded – then to the new Ligiers at Spa. So many car changes in such a short time has left the team spinning! This is the sole reason I place my expectations so low – in any other year they’d be higher.
A very good driver line-up and the team has plenty of experience of racing in the ALMS and IMSA. I’m glad they are in the WEC now but I wish they hadn’t had such a bumpy ride so far. Let’s hope for a smooth Le Mans. Won’t be in their usual Tequila Patron bright green as alcohol sponsorship is banned in France.

The Outsiders

#40 Krohn Racing – Ligier JS P2 – Judd – Michelin – Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson, Joao Barbosa

#40 Krohn Ligier-Judd
#40 Krohn Ligier-Judd (c) P.Wotton

Team took part in IMSA’s Daytona & Sebring before joining the ELMS, finding that series a cheaper / less hectic schedule for them around Krohn’s other interests.
Barbosa is acting as ‘guest driver’ and we all know how good he is. He’s become one of the top drivers in IMSA, but before that do you remember he went like dynamite for Rollcentre Racing at Le Mans? Could take class pole. Interesting choice to use him instead of ELMS driver Ozz Negri. Jonsson is also a quick guy. The fortunes of this team will depend on Krohn, who has experience and on some days can be quick for an ‘Am’, yet on others can spin the car every 10 laps like a rookie. After 24 hours they should be clearly ahead of the cars listed below, but perhaps behind most of those listed above.

#27 SMP Racing – BR Engineering BR01 – Nissan – Michelin – Maurizio Mediani, David Markozov, Nicolas Minassian
#37 SMP Racing – BR Engineering BR01 – Nissan – Michelin – Mikhail Aleshin, Kirill Ladygin, Anton Ladygin

Won the WEC last year (via double points at Le Mans) then stepped back to the ELMS to work on this new car. Suffered new-car-woes at Imola after missing round 1 entirely. We’ll know the true pace of the car when Minassian is aboard. Aleshin was a little guilty of over-driving it to make up time. I think one car will likely retire, the other will also DNF or will come home multiple laps down. They’ll keep trying though, until the thing physically won’t move any more.

#29 Pegasus Racing – Morgan LMP2 – Nissan – Michelin – Leo Roussel, Ho-Pin Tung, David Cheng

They haven’t had a good start to the ELMS. A DNF and a low placing at Imola. Ho-Pin Tung is a known quantity (for better or worse). David Cheng, name rings a bell.. I know he’s been in the PC class in IMSA but I don’t remember much more. I don’t know Roussel. The Morgan is an older open-top car.

#45 Ibanez Racing Oreca-Nissan
#45 Ibanez Racing Oreca-Nissan (c) P.Wotton

#45 Ibanez Racing – Oreca 03R – Nissan – Dunlop – Jose Ibanez, Pierre Perret, Ivan Bellarosa

Running the older open-top Oreca. Didn’t really have the speed in the opening ELMS races, mostly through inexperience from the team and drivers. I like it when new teams appear so I hope they keep running as it’ll encourage them to improve and come back.