Update: 2019 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona

Well that was eventful!

The first four hours were so intense I needed to take a break for a bit. Completely unlike last year’s relatively quiet race, this year incidents happened thick and fast. Whether it was close, tight racing or incidents of minor contact delaying cars or sending them into spins. Thankfully nothing major in the early stages and the race was able to stay green flag for much of the time. It settled into a rhythm after that.

The evening and overnight racing was fantastic. The top DPi cars were passing and repassing. Alonso (Cadillac) passing Castroneves (Acura) about 8 hours in was a particular highlight. The GT classes were having their usual fights. Even the sparse LMP2 was eventful.

At one stage quite deep into the race was a train of 7 DPi cars running 4 seconds apart, all for position, with Alonso taking over 7th. After a yellow he restarted 5th and in the next half hour raced his way to the class lead against the likes of Helio Castroneves (Acura), Rene Rast (Mazda) and Alexander Rossi (Acura).

Nick Tandy (Porsche) was similarly impressive in GTLM. He overtook Oliver Gavin (Corvette) and James Calado (Ferrari) in quick succession.

GTD is always hard to follow because there are so many cars and so many position changes, either by on track passes or by pit strategy. The purple 33 Mercedes was up front quite a lot, so was the green Grasser Lamborghini.

Sadly the quick Mazda DPis expired, as I said in my preview I feared they might. I had hoped to be wrong. The pole-sitting 77 car of Oliver Jarvis had an engine problem originally reported has a turbo failure, not sure if that’s the final diagnosis. This was about 2 laps after the sister 55 car went to the pits with electrical gremlins which cost 15 minutes or more. Then while I was sleeping the 55 had some other problem which caused it to retire.

I had a sleep break from around 4am UK time, about 16 hours to go. I’d been trying to go earlier but so much was happening and I’d eaten a lot of Haribo, that sugar rush kept me up! I wound up sleeping an hour longer than planned, but on rejoining at 9:30am UK the rain had started falling at the track. Still dark over in Florida of course where it was 4:30am.

And rain would be the story from here. When the rain started it mixed things up but didn’t cause many problems that I saw, everyone got across to the wet tyres and they were all cautious in the conditions, We continued to see great racing in every class.

In the wet, Fernando Alonso was 2 or 3 seconds per lap faster than anybody else in class! Absolutely remarkable performance.

Jordan Taylor got into the no.10 and picked up where Alonso left off earlier. He again was several seconds per lap faster than the competition. This proved to me firstly that Jordan continues to be an under-rated driver and secondly that it wasn’t an accident. It looked like drivers and team had deliberately dialled it in well for the wet. Kobayashi overnight put up a real stout defence against Juan Pablo Montoya of all people! Even had Juan on the apron in avoidance. Somehow I missed most of Renger van der Zande’s driving but he’s perfectly at home in this company. There’s no doubt the driving crew of the no.10 had the edge in this race.

Not to say the other teams weren’t on it, because they were, but the no.10 met everything head on. The Mazdas were quicker when they ran, the Penske Acuras were up there all race, but the Taylor car seemed able to drive away in damp conditions, even from the other Cadillacs.

Once the rain started it never really let up. That lead to more Safety Car periods and red flags.

Tommy Milner suffered a terrifying aquaplaning spin into the tyre wall at turn 1. He was cleared OK but the response crews weren’t with him for at least 5 minutes while the race director let the pit sequence play itself out. I get the sporting imperative and usually agree with it, but Milner’s hit was pretty hard and I’d have liked to have seen someone there considerably more quickly.

The rain intensified so we stayed yellow for an hour, which turned into a red flag which in turn lasted 1 hour 45 minutes.

We got a restart which lasted half a lap, at the back of the field cars went spinning into the tri-oval and turn 1. At this point Twitter erupted. Half the people wanted it stopped, half the people considered it a test.

For as long as it was wet-but-driveable, I was in the latter camp. Racing in the rain is an under-rated skill in modern racing where the emphasis is to mash the gas at all times. Endurance racing is just that, a test of endurance, backing off when necessary to get the car home. But the line is thin when rain intensifies. It quickly flips into dangerous territory.

The moment it became clear drivers were aquaplaning into spins at low speed, after allowing plenty of room for braking and a gap to the car ahead, it was unsafe to continue and the race should be stopped. Arguably they left it a little too long but they made the right call in the end.

Still, for a time it looked raceable and it looked like some guys did a ‘Spa ’98’, kept their right foot in as they entered a wall of spray. I think in an endurance race perhaps it is prudent, if you are at the back at the restart, to lift off the right foot? Maybe that’s just me.

The ensuing Safety Car period lasted 1 hour 45 minutes or so because during the yellow the rain had intensified again, the track was getting deep puddles on the racing line and the grass was saturated. It was obviously not in a condition to race. And I thought that would be it.

Yet at nearly 4pm UK time we were green again, but again only for a lap or so. Cars were aquaplaning across turn 1 if they got even slightly off line. Personally again they could’ve backed off, but the rain was harder now and the track was waterlogged, so the margin was much more difficult to judge than it was earlier.

40 minutes later at another restart Toni Vilander piles into the back of a Porsche he couldn’t see. Again, would you drive into a wall of spray? Did he have a choice? Maybe he didn’t, maybe someone would’ve driven into the back of him if he had slowed earlier. After all, the Porsche had backed off because another car was slowing ahead.

And it was sketchy. Drivers in all classes were spinning out when they hit puddles that were deeper than the lap before, because they couldn’t see them through the spray. And that was going too far, trying to restart in those conditions, the track was getting worse all the time.

I do appreciate the series and the track crews kept trying, they never gave up, but it was too heavy.

So with barely 3 green flag laps in some 5 hours, I did feel like I was robbed of a great run to the flag. Not the fault of the series or the drivers just a consequence of the weather. It happens.

And what of my picks to win?

DPi:
Winner:  No.10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Cadillac – Fernando Alonso, Kamui Kobayashi, Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande.
My Pick:  No.7 Acura Team Penske – Helio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, Alexander Rossi.
Finished 3rd.

Incredible race from the start and right through the night. After some 8 hours the top 7 cars were still just 5 seconds apart, okay after a yellow, but still impressive after long green flag running not to have gaps of laps. Shame to see the quick Mazdas go. The Nissan caught up a bit and was fast with Duval and Dumas aboard, but I still think Bennett should stand down from driving.
Rubens Barrichello was a star for JDC-Miller. The team still new to the Cadillac and generally a little off the pace, Rubens in the wet was a master just as he always was.

LMP2:
Winner:  No.18 DragonSpeed ORECA 07 Gibson – Pastor Maldonado, Sebastian Saavedra, Ryan Cullen, Roberto Gonzalez.
My Pick:  Won!

Class was close in the first half of the race but imploded in the rain. No.18 closed down an 4 lap deficit when the sister DragonSpeed car crashed, to then hold a 4 lap lead over Performance Tech. Then 18 was crashed with a lap to go in seriously heavy rain and limped to the pits at the last red flag.

GTLM:
Winner:  No.25 Rahal LL BMW M8 GTE – Colton Herta, Ausgusto Farfus, Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng.
My Pick:  No.67 Ganassi Ford GT – Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon.
Finished 4th after falling to the back early on, recovered all the lost laps to lead until they pitted under yellow, 2 laps before the final red flag. Eventful.

A fortuitous win for BMW, but a heartening one after the death of Schnitzer’s Charly Lamm on Thursday. Excellent overnight performances from Nick Tandy (Porsche) and James Calado (Risi Ferrari) left me assuming one of those would win.

And the fantastic Alex Zanardi. What a legend. Their car was delayed by some 20 laps but they never gave up.

GTD:
Winner:  No.11 GRT Grasser Lamborghini Huracan – Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart, Rik Breukers, Rolf Ineichen.
My Pick:  No.48 Paul Miller Lamborghini Huracan – Bryan Sellers, Corey Lewis, Ryan Hardwick, Andrea Calderelli.
Finished 17th, 70 laps down to the class leader, after being involved in a startline accident in heavy spray along with at least three other cars. Also sent to the back at the start of the race for not getting enough night laps for one driver.

Another slightly fortunate win. The 33 Riley Mercedes of Bleekemolen etc. was in control much of the race and was leading until a pitstop late on. They were caught out when IMSA announced the race was going green, so they pitted for strategy, then half a lap later the series threw the first red flag. 7th wasn’t representative.

That’s not to say GRT Grasser are undeserving – they were Riley’s main rival all race long. They battled back from early delays. It was a very good job from them and they earned it. It’s very possible GRT could’ve beaten Riley on pace if the race had stayed dry.

Good performances in the field included the AIM Vasser Lexus (3rd), the Audis slow on the straights in the dry but with extra downforce quickly regained ground in the wet, the Shank Acura cars including the all-female drivers who were one of many cars to fall back due to accident damage suffered in heavy rain but before that were solidly inside the top 10 in a class of 23 cars.

EDIT:  4 days after the race the 2nd-placed Land Motorsport Audi was demoted to the back with a drive time infringement of just 15 minutes, which seems draconian to me. This promotes one of the Lexusususus to 2nd.

Next

Like last year the rest of the IMSA season will be well worth watching. It is surprising to me how many general motorsports fans don’t watch it, especially outside the US when it has free streaming. Do give it a chance.

Coming up next is another iconic event, the 12 Hours of Sebring on Saturday March 16th.

Interestingly, for the first time the FIA WEC will run a 1000 mile or 8 hour race on the Friday night. It’ll be fascinating to find out how logistically this will work – and who will “do the double”!

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2019 Calendars: IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship

2019 IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship

IMSA Weathertech.png

The highest level of endurance sports car racing in North America is the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship.

Google/iCal Calendar links:   ICAL  -or-  HTML

For more championships including IMSA support series click here.

Continue reading “2019 Calendars: IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship”

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.

2018 Calendars: IMSA Supports

2018 IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge
And
2018 IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented By Mazda

IMSA Continental Tire

IMSA Prototype Challenge

I have already covered the dates for the main IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship, the headline series among IMSA’s roster. This blog posts covers two of the main support series.

IMSA Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge:

A series of two-hour races for GT4, TCR and ST cars, with a couple of key venues hosting double-length four-hour enduros. GT4 cars within the Grand Sport (GS) class are the headliners, the ST class long providing fantastic racing and TCR promising more.

IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda:

A series of 1 hour 45 minute races for LMP3 and MPC cars. This series last year ran several 45 minute sprint races and introduced LMP3 as its top class. This year the cars can stretch their endurance legs.

Other Supports:

IMSA also sanctions many high profile one-make series including the Ferrari Challenge North America, Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America, Porsche Challenge USA and Porsche Challenge Canada. I do not offer calendars for these series but the dates are available to view at www.imsa.com.

Google/iCal Calendar links:

Conti Tire:   ICAL  -or-  HTML

Prototype:   ICAL  -or-  HTML

For more championships click here.

Continue reading “2018 Calendars: IMSA Supports”

2018 Calendars: IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship

2018 IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship

IMSA Weathertech.png

The highest level of endurance sports car racing in North America is the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship.

The Championship has three classes of car competing within the same race:

  • Prototype:  For DPi and LMP2 cars, all Pro drivers;
  • GTLM:  GT cars identical to those in WEC’s GTE Pro class, all Pro drivers;
  • GTD:  GT3-class machinery, Pro-Am class, entries must have at least one non-Pro driver;

Races include the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring, the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen, Petit Le Mans and a host of shorter races at such iconic tracks as Long Beach, Road America and Laguna Seca.

It also includes the North American Endurance Cup (NAEC), which is scored as a separate competition made up of the four longest races: Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans.

Google/iCal Calendar links:   ICAL  -or-  HTML

For more championships click here.

Continue reading “2018 Calendars: IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship”

A Guide To.. 2014 TUDOR United Sportscar

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

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

What Is It?

Name:  IMSA TUDOR United Sportscar Championship

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

Where Did It Come From?

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

What Classes?

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

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

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

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

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

Where Do They Race?

The four endurance races from both series:

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

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

Who Is In It?

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

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

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

Exciting?

Absolutely!