Races Watched (2019 Week 15): F1 Shanghai, IndyCar Long Beach, FE Rome

Week 15:  8-14 April 2019

In what was a busy weekend both in racing and personally, I found time to watch two live races and one recorded race (OK, so this was after the weekend). I also got one done before the weekend started.

It was annoying that my live picks were the most boring races I’ve seen in ages. I hope you fared better.

Formula 1 – R4 – Chinese Grand Prix
Shanghai International Circuit, Jiading, Shanghai, China
Seen live, 14th April

Bottas pole, Hamilton, Vettel, Leclerc, Verstappen, Gasly, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg.

This race sums up the worst tropes of F1:  lots of hype, not a lot of action.

The PR machine has been in overdrive about “the 1000th race” for a year. Yet when it came to it there seemed little happening at the track, a small handful of old F1 cars and very few dignitaries. They didn’t even get Bernie. What a waste.

The 1000th? Add the “World Championship for Drivers” since 1950, including those championship-counting Indy 500s and those races run to F2 rules, to the successor “Formula 1 World Championship” from 1981 onwards, then it is the 1000th race. This is not the same as the “1000th F1 race”, which doesn’t include Indy or those F2 races but does include all the non-championship F1 races back to 1948.

The Chinese GP is actually pretty good on a regular basis, Tilkedromes have this reputation of being terrible but Shanghai has been a great track over the years with overtaking and strategy. But not this year. This year was tedious.

Very little happened after lap one. I’ve seen many F1 GPs like this and I thought its type had been banished.

Hamilton passed Bottas at the first corner and ran off to win. To his credit, Bottas stayed within 7 or 8 seconds, the Mercedes pair basically cruising in team formation for the entire race. They even pitted together at the 2nd stops, choreographed beautifully, Bottas arrived just after Hamilton left and didn’t have to wait. This was done to protect against a Safety Car, with Ferrari and Verstappen having stopped already.

Ferrari played the strategy call. Vettel and Leclerc were switched but Leclerc was no faster, so he was put on the long game strategy and Vettel mirrored Mercedes. Running Leclerc long had put him behind Verstappen, he was able to close down the gap but not overtake, so this strategy was a net loss of 1 place. Gasly had a better day, close to Leclerc, the results sheet shows he was miles behind but he pitted near the end to successfully go for the fastest lap bonus point.

Renault won ‘best of the rest’ with Ricciardo. Alexander Albon had a fantastic run from a pitlane start to finish 10th. Kvyat and the two McLarens collided on lap one, two of the three retiring 40 laps later from the damage. I’ve no idea what happened elsewhere. TV direction seemed off par.

The Mercedes pair already have a significant points advantage over the field having finished 1st & 2nd in the first 3 GPs, the first time this has happened since Williams in 1992. This is starting to look a lot less close than pre-season testing suggested.

Next up is the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in a couple of weeks.

  1. Hamilton (Mercedes)
  2. Bottas (Mercedes)
  3. Vettel (Ferrari)
  4. Verstappen (Red Bull)
  5. Leclerc (Ferrari)
Driver Team CHI TOTAL
Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 25 68
Valterri Bottas Mercedes 18 62
Max Verstappen Red Bull 12 39
Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 15 37
Charles Leclerc Ferrari 10 36
Pierre Gasly Red Bull 9 13
Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 2 12
Kevin Magnussen Haas 8
Lando Norris McLaren 8
Nico Hulkenberg Renault 6
Constructor PU CHI TOTAL
Mercedes Mercedes 43 130
Ferrari Ferrari 25 73
Red Bull Honda 21 52
Alfa Romeo Ferrari 2 12
Renault Renault 6 12
Haas Ferrari 8
McLaren Renault 8
Racing Point Mercedes 4 7
Toro Rosso Honda 1 4

NTT IndyCar – R4 – Grand Prix of Long Beach
Long Beach, California, USA
Seen live, 14th April

Rossi, Dixon, Power, Newgarden, Pagenaud, Rahal, Hunter-Reay, Sato.

This one promised a lot. I thought the hard-to-handle aero package would create a lot of sideways moments and overtakes, maybe some sliding into walls. Didn’t happen.

We don’t have any idiots at the back these days, the ones at street tracks who used to cause a bit of chaos that perhaps wasn’t always welcome, gave the series a bad name for weird accidents, but made it all fun. Those days are mostly gone.

Nobody told the back of the field. Lap 2 Pigot slowed, as everyone braked Ericsson ran into Harvey. We finally saw a car in the flowers at the fountain!

It was then a long green flag run at a race where strategy choices aren’t available. Unlike Barber you don’t get the mix of 2-stoppers versus 3-stoppers. The difference here was between those starting on red soft tyres and black hard tyres, and vice versa later, but it turned out not to make a lot of difference anyway. The reds were durable on the streets.

Rossi and Dixon raced hard into turn one on the original start and again on the restart. Each time the pair pulled a gap on the field.

At about lap 34 of 85, Power overshot turn 1 with dust pouring out of his left front brake duct. He spun it around and continued only losing a few places. Ferrucci had previously stalled in a runoff and the series recovered him under local yellow.

After pit stops, Newgarden was 2nd ahead of Dixon, but Rossi had him covered as well. Looked like he extended his lead in every stint. The battle for second was on between Newgarden, Dixon, Rahal, Hunter-Reay.

On the last lap Dixon made the move on Rahal, who defended stoutly and got a penalty for it. Dixon was awarded 3rd. This caused half of Twitter to erupt in anger at Rahal blocking Dixon and half of Twitter to erupt in anger at the stewards for penalising racing!

Watching live it looked like Rahal made a harsh move but a fair one, he left space for Dixon. I was against the penalty. But on review it became clear Rahal made a second move right and then returned to his racing line. I’m okay with picking one of two lines and sticking to it into the corner, I’m not so okay with weaving. And I also remembered if it had been Michael Schumacher I’d have been all over it, clamouring for a penalty, so I can’t argue otherwise for someone else!

Rossi wins by over 20 seconds, the highest for something like 25 years. With this he moves to 2nd in the points standings.

Newgarden extends his points lead as Dixon drops to 3rd. Hunter-Reay gains a few spots. Rahal is a big points mover into the top ten. Colton Herta the big loser, just 7 points after sliding into the wall and out with steering damage.

Next up is the GP of Indianapolis in a couple of weeks.

  1. Rossi (Andretti)
  2. Newgarden (Penske)
  3. Dixon (Ganassi)
  4. Rahal (Rahal)
  5. Hunter-Reay (Andretti)
Driver Team Eng LB TOTAL
Josef Newgarden Penske Chevy 41 166
Alexander Rossi Andretti Honda 54 138
Scott Dixon Ganassi Honda 35 133
Takuma Sato Rahal Honda 25 116
Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Honda 30 96
James Hinchcliffe Schmidt Honda 22 93
Will Power Penske Chevy 27 93
Sebastien Bourdais Coyne Honda 19 91
Graham Rahal Rahal Honda 32 90
Colton Herta Harding Honda 7 88

ABB Formula E – R7 – Rome E-Prix
Rome, Italy
13th April, watched 16th April

Lotterer, Evans, Lopez, Vandoorne, Gunther, Buemi, Mortara, Frijns.

Halfway in the season. 6 races done before this one, 6 races to go after this one.

As clean a start as you can manage here and on a damp track, a bit of bumping but okay. Guenther had a huge slide and loses parts of his front wing. At the end of the lap Bird gets hit, car damaged, apparently out for the second race in a row.

Chaos on lap two!

Red Flag. Lopez broadside across the track and Paffett under his car. Lopez hit the kerb and spun by himself and caused a complete track blockage. Luckily for those caught in the melee it was just in front of pit entry, so everyone once released was recovered and the race order restored. Replays showed Sims in the wall as well. And Sam Bird managed to get his car to the pits so it was repaired under the red and restarted last.

On the restart half the field activated Attack Mode, although it didn’t seem to achieve anything. Frijns got alongside Buemi for 4th but couldn’t make the move.

Lopez got a penalty for contact with Bird on lap one. Reliability trouble for Mortara and Massa so we had FCY in which JEV overtook Da Costa as they braked.

Evans passes Lotterer for the lead! Tense move! Very forceful into a chicane, elbowed his way through, got a warning from the race director but only a wag of the finger. Lotterer was fine with it, good hard racing.

Fairly strung out field but the pace was hot, unlike Rome 2018. Everyone pushed all the way, not a lot of energy saving except in the last lap or so, this is what we want to see. I don’t mind a lack of passing when the cars are visibly flat out.

Bird got up to 11th at the end, excellent recovery, great work by team and driver.

  1. Evans (Jaguar)
  2. Lotterer (Techeetah)
  3. Vandoorne (HWA)
  4. Frijns (Envision Virgin)
  5. Buemi (Nissan e.Dams)
Name Team Rome Points
Jerome d’Ambrosio Mahindra 4 65
Ant Felix da Costa BMW Andretti 2 64
Andre Lotterer DS Techeetah 21 62
Mitch Evans Jaguar 25 61
Lucas di Grassi Audi Sport 6 58
Robin Frijns Envision Virgin 12 55
Jean-Eric Vergne DS Techeetah 54
Sam Bird Envision Virgin 54
Eduardo Mortara Venturi 52
Daniel Abt Audi Sport 44
Team PU Rome Points
DS Techeetah DS 21 116
Envision Virgin Audi 12 109
Mahindra Mahindra 5 102
Audi Sport Abt Audi 6 102
BMW Andretti BMW 2 82
Venturi Venturi 67
Nissan e.dams Nissan 19 65
Jaguar Jaguar 25 62
HWA Racelab Venturi 15 22
NIO NIO 6

European Le Mans Series – 2017 R4 – Le Castellet
Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet, France
26th August 2017, watched 10th April 2019

18 months behind! This one felt like ticking an item off a list. A shame, I really like the ELMS as a good way to while away an afternoon or evening

This time they used the chicane on the Mistral Straight so the only interesting thing about the track, the super-fast balls-out run into Signes, was lost

ELMS catches you out because when you think things are settled with huge gaps after the first hour – it changes. After three hours the order can be completely different. This catches me out because I tend to put endurance races on in the background while I get other stuff done.

Teams put their rated drivers in at different times. Early you see a Platinum or Gold driver racing away to a healthy lead while a Silver or Bronze driver loses loads of time. At the driver change it switches, the lead teams put in their Bronze driver and the distant cars suddenly get a Platinum at the wheel chasing them down. It converges.

In LMP2 Ben Hanley gave Dragonspeed a huge lead which was lost when Bronze driver Henrik Hedman faced the likes of Nic Minassian and Felipe Albuquerque chasing him. And the same principle applies in LMP3 and GTE. Niki Thiim brought the TF Sport Aston up from last to 2nd. You have to pay attention throughout.

Unfortunately this featureless track is a hard watch, I lost the thread in the middle as my mind drifted and got hold of it again in the last hour.

At least the mountains in the distance look nice.

But will I get the 2017 and 2018 seasons done before the 2019 Le Mans 24 Hours?

LMP2:

  1. SMP Racing (Dallara P217) – Isaakyan / Orudzhev;
  2. G-Drive Racing (Oreca 07) – Rojas / Roussel / Minassian;
  3. Graff (Oreca 07) – Guibbert / Petit / Trouillet;

First ELMS win for the SMP Dallara and their young driver pairing. A 4th straight podium for G-Drive.

LMP3:

  1. United Autosports (Ligier JS P3) – Falb / Rayhall;
  2. Inter Europol (Ligier JS P3) – Hippe / Smiechowski;
  3. M.Racing YMR (Ligier JS P3) – Cougnard / Jung / Ricci;

A second win in LMP3 for United.

GTE:

  1. Spirit Of Race (Ferrari 488) – Cameron / Griffin / Scott;
  2. TF Sport (Aston Martin Vantage) – Hankey / Thiim / Yoluc;
  3. JMW Motorsport (Ferrari 488) – Fannin / Smith / Cocker;

Second straight win for SOR, 4th straight podium for TF.

Next Week

15th to 21st April, Easter Weekend so much quieter than usual.

  • British GT at Oulton Park on Holiday Monday.
  • 24H Series at Spa.
  • Super Formula at Suzuka.
  • British Superbikes at Silverstone (on the National layout).

It might be a good time to catch up on past races but I’ll be using it to start, yes, start, watching Game of Thrones! Now I’ve got Sky I can watch it On Demand so I’ve already downloaded them to the box.

And if it is wet weekend and I can’t get outside I’ll see if I can squeeze in a WEC race or something.

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Ten Years Of Too Much Racing

On August 5th, 2018, I reached a milestone:  10 years of blogging!

There have been periods of downtime along the way. On and off, I have been writing words about motor sport for a decade. And soon it’ll be 20 years since I first joined a Formula 1 newsgroup, at age 18 at the end of December 1998, which is where it all began. Now I am 38 and I feel very old.

The Changes Over A Decade

A lot has happened in the last decade. The blog was set up to look at F1, IndyCar, Le Mans and other endurance races, plus whatever else took my fancy.

For one thing the original version was on Blogspot and is still there.

First Blog

In 2008’s Formula 1 season, on the face of it it looks familiar:  the young upstart Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes-powered McLaren racing the Ferraris of defending champion Kimi Räikkönen and his team-mate Felipe Massa. It would be Hamilton’s first title – and Massa who would take it to the last race and win a legion of fans for his sportsmanship in defeat.

There the similarities end. It was the era of multiple manufacturers:  BMW were still with Sauber with Robert Kubica finishing 4th in points (including a race win). Honda and Toyota both still had their own full F1 teams. Fernando Alonso had gone back to the works Renault team after the “spygate” scandal – and this was the year the “crashgate” scandal would unfold. Tyres were grooved and V8 engines screamed and a lot of us complained it wasn’t as good as slick tyres and V10s.

In IndyCar the reset button had just been pressed. “The Split” of the CART/IRL war was over, the two factions had come together for the 2008 season. As it happened late in pre-season with very little time to prepare, the Champ Car teams had to adapt to the IRL cars in less than a month. They looked hopeless at Homestead-Miami as the IRL teams dominated, then just a week later Graham Rahal won at St Petersburg for Newman/Haas, giving hope to those of us who were on the Champ Car side of the fence.

It was a long road to recovery for IndyCar racing after that and it took a lot longer than I think anybody expected. They’re still travelling that road today. It took arguably until 2016 to really make traction. Now though, you have to say that after 10 years the series is in excellent health and has a bright future. The peak of quality was never in question all along, what’s changed is the depth of quality of both drivers and teams is the highest seen in 20 years. In some neat symmetry, Scott Dixon won the 2008 and 2018 titles. Dare I say this year he’s driving better than I’ve ever seen him. And the current cars are cool too, which wasn’t the case in 2008.

In sports car racing, the continual cycle of boom and bust is never far away from throwing in a curve ball.

In Europe we had the Le Mans Series, five races of 1000km with the Le Mans 24 Hours itself being a non-championship race. Audi and Peugeot went toe to toe in LMP1, a healthy field of privateers scoring podium finishes all year long when any of the lead quartet fell off. LMP2 was dominated by the Porsche Spyder which brought LMP1 engineering and reliability to a class previously renowned for cars breaking down.
We still had the glorious GT1s, Corvette C6 vs Aston Martin DBR9 vs Saleen S7-R. And GT2 was the Pro/Am Porsche vs Ferrari class with cars that were much closer to road-relevance than today’s GTs.

There was a defined route from ‘upgraded road car’ to ‘really mega road car on steroids’ to ‘baby prototype’ to ‘fast prototype’. Today we have ‘a prototype that looks like a GT’, then ‘fast prototype’ to ‘even faster really expensive prototype’. It feels like we’ve lost something along the way. I suppose that’s why LMP3 and GT4 now exist.

The good thing is we now have a World Championship – and we kept the European LMS underneath it so we’ve gained a load of racing. We had a great mini-era of LMP1 Hybrid in the WEC which was a joy to watch. The new era though, it all still needs work. Whatever happens to the WEC and LMP1, down at continental level, I’d argue the ELMS should adopt IMSA’s DPi as its top class.

Over in the US, the IMSA American Le Mans Series was at the height of the battle between a nearly equalised Audi LMP1 and Porsche LMP2. It had a strong GT2 field. And yet a rival series in Grand-Am with its own bespoke cars and NASCAR backing. Peaks and troughs in both series led to a merger for 2014. Lessons were learned from the bumpy and rushed IndyCar merger and the new-era IMSA has worked very hard to solve some tricky problems. That 2014 season was itself bumpy. But the recovery is happening very quickly, aided by the DPi concept of upgrading LMP2 cars and tapping into GTE and GT3 resources.

There is still a risk IMSA will take the backward step of having its own rules, Grand-Am style. They should avoid this and work to share platform with the ACO – even if it means running a “dumbed-down” version of the cars. Maybe it would work as a base platform for IMSA and ELMS, then if you want to go to WEC P1 you add a Special Nifty Widget that makes the car faster. (I specialise in these highly technical solutions.)

And then a wildcard. Formula E was launched. Like a cross between A1GP and Scalextric and the Toronto IndyCar track and a good dose of FIA weirdness. I’ve loved it since it started. Not necessarily for the same reasons as everyone else. I think the eco message has a problem when you jet the cars around the world and power them with generators. The tracks need a bit more space. But the racing is fun and frantic, the talent level is top notch and the future of cars is electric so you might as well have a championship for them now. Though I can’t help feeling it should’ve been a touring car or GT series, maybe a silhouette series with a spec chassis underneath and a manufacturers’ bodyshell to make it look like their road cars.

I don’t even have space to talk about the globalisation of LMP3, GT3, GT4 – and the remarkable TCR. All this has made previously national or regional events accessible to others around the world.

I haven’t even touched on MotoGP which year after year is the best racing around.

There’s an obsession with nostalgia in racing. I happen to think we’re in a golden era right now.

The Future

I know in my head what I want the blog to be. The same as it was in 2008 – short pieces of snippets every few days, intermingled with a lengthy weekly or fortnighly column. The problem is finding the time or the motivation in the depths of the season. You’ll have noticed I stopped the latest project back in July when the summer got too hot!

The goal is to get people to pay attention outside their own bubble, be that the F1 bubble, or the IndyCar bubble, or the sportscar bubble, or even the Formula E bubble these days.

I’ve tried various formats of race report, showing points progression and including race video, but few people read race reports, and I’m wary of video now due to copyright rules. I think the future of this site is in personal comment and reflection.

The racing e-calendars for iCal and Google Calendar will continue. They are laborious at times, yet very popular and a focal point of the blog. I even considered flipping it, so the calendars are front and centre and you had to hunt to find the blog posts.

As for the future of racing? We are in interesting times. We’re going back to the future.

IndyCar has shown the way. The nail-biting close finishes are gone. Instead we have cars visibly difficult to drive. They may not set lap records compared to last year’s very-high-downforce kits, but they do allow a difference between nailing the setup and missing it. Between top driver/team and those further back. And reducing the wake so cars can get close.

F1 needs to follow suit. It can find a way to do this while retaining the fastest cars. It also needs to go back to tyres that allow drivers to go flat out in a race. Cruising around to save super-ultra-hyper-soft tyres isn’t good enough and makes a mockery of changing the cars themselves to be faster.

Sports cars among GT racing is in rude health. They just need to be careful not to spend GT3 out of existence. In the prototypes there’s a golden opportunity lying just ahead, in blending LMP1 with DPi. If they get it right… well, special things could happen.

And Formula E will be the first of many series with what we presently call ‘alternative fuels’. Fast-charging electric cars are coming. Longer-range batteries are already here, with no need to swap cars in the 2019 season. Other electric series are coming. And elsewhere, hydrogen cars are coming.

The rest of the motor sport world needs to pay attention. If Governments are banning cars powered by fossil fuels from sale, how long will it be before they ban racing other than anything emission-free? 40 years? 30? 20?

The change over the next five years could be bigger than the whole of the last ten.

Weekend Preview: 12/13 May 2018

Some of the many things happening this weekend.

Times are approximate and in British Summer Time.

Now this is a massively busy week, including one of the most stupid date clashes of the year, between the Nurburgring 24 Hours and the European Le Mans Series.

Apologies for not writing a recap of last weekend. I actually went to the Blancpain GT Sprint at Brands Hatch to sit on the grass in the glorious sunshine watching GT racing, which I didn’t preview at all, and I haven’t yet seen any of the other events I did write about! With the upcoming weekend so full it looks like I may not catch up for some time.

Continue reading “Weekend Preview: 12/13 May 2018”

2018 Calendars: European Le Mans Series

2018 European Le Mans Series

ELMS-2018-logo

European continental series for LMP2, LMP3 and GTE cars in a short series of 4 hour races.

LMP2 and GTE teams from the ELMS regularly join WEC & IMSA competitors at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The series is supported by the Michelin Le Mans Cup, 2 hour races for LMP3 and GT3 cars.

ELMS Google/iCal Calendar links:   ICAL  -or-  HTML

For more championships click here.

Continue reading “2018 Calendars: European Le Mans Series”

What To Look Forward To In 2017

There is a lot to look for in the 2017 motorsport season.

I felt something was missing in 2016. I don’t know what it was. Some sort of spark. Maybe it was me, maybe it was other events away from racing, or maybe motorsport just didn’t grab me as much as before – with the exception of IndyCar and MotoGP which were excellent. I didn’t invest as much time in keeping up with WEC and IMSA, something I’m doing over the winter break.

I think that should change this year.

Formula 1

New cars! Better looking cars. No more silly rear wings. Faster over a lap, faster through the corners. Hopefully they’ll look as fast and dramatic as the last time we had high downforce F1 cars, about a decade ago. The drivers are going to have to work hard.

With luck this will shake up the order. Some teams will get it wrong and will spend the year catching up. We’ll see them do it, much like we’ve seen McLaren-Honda get faster through the year over the last two years.

The downside? More downforce usually reduces overtaking opportunities. I wonder whether the larger rear wing will increase the effectiveness of the DRS. I would rather have no DRS – or have it and allow a driver to use it wherever he likes, no zones, no limits.

There should be good news with the tyres. Pirelli are charged with making tyres that allow a driver to push and not conserve so we might see some flat out racing again. Let’s hope they get it right.

How will Valterri Bottas fare at Mercedes alongside Lewis Hamilton? I’m excited to find out. I don’t think he’ll be a pushover. And Hamilton will want to fight after being defeated last year – I think he’ll win another title, but may again trip over himself in doing so.

How will Max Verstappen get on at his second season at the big Red Bull team and how will Dan Ricciardo react? Will Ferrari sink or swim, will Seb Vettel get fed up and move on? Will McLaren be back?

MotoGP

MotoGP is always fun at the front of the field. Even a dominant lead can be lost with a momentary lapse of concentration sending a rider to the floor.

Jorge Lorenzo moves to that hard-to-tame Ducati. Maverick Vinales replaces him at Yamaha alongside Valentino Rossi. Iannone across to Suzuki. I reckon the title fight will be between Marquez and Vinales. I’d love to see Pedrosa up front more often.

How will KTM get on in their first season? Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro, Tech3 teammates last year, both move there.

Formula E

I’m excited to see the races at New York and Montreal. I hope to see Jaguar improving through the year. Adam Carroll is vastly underrated and ought to have had a top works drive years ago.

I would like to see a greater energy allocation, more harvesting, as the cars are too energy-restricted. They did grant more allocation this season but they also lengthened the races which offset the benefit. If they’d given more energy for the same distance, everyone could’ve pushed harder in the race. It feels like the series is wasting the opportunity for good races while everyone is cruising around saving energy.

Sebastien Buemi leads after the two rounds held so far, but my tip is to keep watching Felix Rosenqvist.

IndyCar

Some of the best racing in the world will continue to be found in IndyCar. I fully expect the Indy 500 to be a highlight again.

Aero Kit competition is now frozen. In theory this means Honda are at a disadvantage, at least on road and street courses. A spec kit will appear in 2018.

Chip Ganassi Racing are moving back to Honda. With the might of CGR’s resources, joining Andretti’s, I suspect the Honda vs Chevy competition may become more equal.

AJ Foyt’s team go the other way to Chevy. Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly join. I’m starting to think Foyt will have a very good season! Takuma Sato goes the other way, to Andretti.

Josef Newgarden will have the most attention. His was the biggest move in the driver market, joining Team Penske to replace Juan Montoya. (JPM will still contest Indy). It took someone with the talent of Simon Pagenaud a full season to ‘bed in’ at Penske so I think we should go easy on Joe-New, at least this year.

As in 2016 I expect Pagenaud versus Power over the season, too close to call, but you must watch all of the races because really anything can happen from race to race!

World Endurance Championship

It’ll be very strange without Audi competing. Only five LMP1 cars:  2 x Porsche, 2 x Toyota, 1 x ByKolles CLM. We may see another Toyota at Le Mans and surely this is their year for the 24 Hours?

We saw great battles between two manufacturers in the past, Audi vs Peugeot, then Audi vs Toyota, so there’s every reason to think Toyota vs Porsche will be just as good.

All-new cars in LMP2. Which will be quickest? I’m sad they felt the need to restrict it to four chassis makers but I understand the budgetary reasons for it. Hopefully the cost savings will attract more entrants. Rebellion Racing step down from LMP1 with a hell of a driver line-up.

GTE Pro is a balance of performance (BoP) nightmare. Ford and Ferrari ahead last year but Porsche have a new car – and it is a mid-engined 911. Heresy! This could be the best fight in the field. And in 2018 we’ll see the brand new BMW.

GTE Am. Early yet but I’m not seeing a lot of takers. Perhaps it is time to replace it with GT3?

IMSA Sportscars

The story in the US is very different, IMSA is having a resurgence. The Prototype class will use the same brand new LMP2 cars as the WEC. In addition are the new Daytona Prototype international “DPi” cars, which take those LMP2 cars and add manufacturer engines and bespoke bodywork. It is a cost-effective way to bring in manufacturers and it has attracted Cadillac, Mazda and Nissan. It should be a fantastic year in the top class and it stars next week with the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

The GTLM class in IMSA, just like the ALMS before it, is top drawer. Often it is the best race among the 4 classes and it is usually better than the WEC equivalent (which runs to the same rules).

GTD will be numerically dominant with a lot of GT3 cars, no slouches themselves, including the new Acura (Honda) and Lexus. Worth checking out the entry list.

And the much-maligned PC class will finally be put out of its misery at the end of the year! It worked well when it started, but really ought to have been killed off a couple of years ago.

European Le Mans Series

The top class will have those new LMP2 cars which seem to be attracting a lot of attention in this series. LMP3 is also proving popular so there should be a lot of Prototypes in the ELMS again this year. I’d like to see a bigger GT field.

The supporting Michelin Le Mans Cup, featuring LMP3 and GT3 cars in a series of 2-hour races (1 hour at Le Mans before the big race), is also booming. This should be one of the hidden gems of 2017 so do look out for it, especially the LM24 support race.

World Rally Championship

New cars. Faster cars. Okay, some people are heralding them as the second coming of Group B – they are decidedly not that. They aren’t that extreme, with much less power than Gp.B, but with modern suspension, tyres, electronics and all the rest they will be very fast. It is good to see the WRC return to more advanced tech.

Citroen are back, Toyota are back, Hyundai continue and the M-Sport Fords look competitive.

My TV

One more reason this year will be good? I’ve upgraded from a 30″ standard definition TV to a 50″ Ultra HD TV. Wow what an upgrade! Even the size difference is remarkable, let alone the quality.

Okay there’s not much content in UHD, for motorsport basically it is only MotoGP, but I bet it’ll look damn good! (I think F1 is in UHD this year – but I don’t have Sky Sports). Certainly I will be enjoying a lot of stuff in ‘normal’ 1080 HD – and I can’t wait!

 

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.

 

2015 Le Mans 24 Hours – GTE Pro Preview

Hello. This is the second of my previews for the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours. See my GTE-Am preview here.

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 GTE Pro Summary: 9 Entries (7 from WEC and 2 from IMSA)

GT Endurance cars with an all-Pro driver line-up. This makes for a frantic 24-hour sprint race where the tiniest margin matters.

GTE Pro is the GT class where manufacturers go to prove their roadgoing cars. The big battle is between Aston Martin, Ferrari, Corvette and Porsche.

Although this class has the smallest entry in the field, it is the class with the highest average level of quality. You won’t find a car or driver here that you’d scratch your head about, and you can’t say that about the other classes. I’m not joking or exaggerating when I say any car can win. Most drivers here are employed by the car manufacturers themselves, being paid to race, and most are good enough to race in LMP1 or F1 which shows how seriously those companies take this class.

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

#51 AF Corse (W) – Ferrari 458 Italia – Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander, Giancarlo Fisichella

AF Corse at Silverstone
AF Corse at Silverstone (c) P.Wotton

Although in GTE Am I said the Aston would hold the advantage, and that car will be strong, I just can’t shake off the feeling AF Corse will win in Pro. The Ferraris are always quick, Bruni and Vilander are nearly unbeatable, and Fisi is really on form as well.

Though I’m forcing myself to pick a favourite, in reality another 3 or 4 cars could be considered joint favourites! It may be the smallest class but it the one with highest quality entry.

 

The Contenders

#95 Aston Martin Racing (W) – Aston Martin Vantage GTE – Marco Sorensen, Nicki Thiim, Christoffer Nygaard
#97 Aston Martin Racing (W) – Aston Martin Vantage GTE – Darren Turner, Stefan Muecke, Rob Bell
#99 Aston Martin Racing (W) – Aston Martin Vantage GTE – Fernando Rees, Alex MacDowell, Richie Stanaway

Aston Martins at Silverstone
Aston Martins at Silverstone (c) P.Wotton

#97 and #95 (in that order) should be the big contenders for the race win yet they are both at the bottom of the WEC standings. I do think they’ll be fast at Le Mans, they just have to avoid errors.

#99 in theory is the weaker car but nobody told them that – they sit 2nd in WEC team points with a win at Spa! This crew of younger guns is hungry to prove something. Keep an eye on this car.

#71 AF Corse (W) – Ferrari 458 Italia – Davide Rigon, James Calado, Olivier Beretta

I put this a little behind the #51 but not far. I’m not quite sure where to place it versus the Aston Martins. They are at the same level! A podium contender for certain, and possibly also the win.

Porsche at Silverstone
Porsche at Silverstone (c) P.Wotton

#91 Porsche Team Manthey (W) – Porsche 911 RSR – Richard Lietz, Michael Christensen, Joerg Bergmeister
#92 Porsche Team Manthey (W) – Porsche 911 RSR – Patrick Pilet, Fred Makowiecki, Wolf Henzler

As with the Porsche in the Am class, the nature of the LM circuit may count against outright speed at the 24 Hours. The Ferraris and Astons seem either to have something more or they have the better BoP. This is Manthey though so they’ll be in contention, they’ll find a way. The #91 scored 2nd at Silverstone, before the team took 2nd (#92) and 3rd (#91) at Spa.

With a field of this quality it is hard to say which car has the best driver line-up in the Pro class but I think my pick is the #92.

#63 Corvette Racing-GM – Chevrolet Corvette C7.R – Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia, Ryan Briscoe
#64 Corvette Racing-GM – Chevrolet Corvette C7.R – Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Jordan Taylor

This IMSA team is one of the best GT teams on the planet, but nowadays they only really meet their LM opposition actually at Le Mans, which makes it hard to judge where they’ll place and how fast they’ll be. They prefer to run a conservative race, sticking to a race pace to preserve reliability, and let the others go chasing speed and will pick up the pieces when those fall by the wayside in trying. It hasn’t quite worked as well as it did in the GT1 era but it did get them 2nd place last year. But don’t think they aren’t fast, when they want to be.

And that’s it!

Every car in the field is a contender. There are no ‘midfielders’ or ‘tailenders’ in this class, every car has a legitimate shot to win. This is why you NEED to be watching GTE Pro.