Reaction: WEC/ALMS 12 Hours of Sebring 2012

The 60th Anniversary 12 Hours of Sebring promised much but only partly satisfied our need for answers. If anything it only got me looking forward even more to the coming season!

The Race

The first half of the race felt quite flat and I’m sure that’s as a result of the lack of action at the ultimate sharp end combined with the difficulties in actually trying to watch the race. I remember saying the race needed to improve.

The second half was much better, the coverage improved, and despite some big gaps the races tightened up as reliability struck. Could the repairs be made before the slower chasers made up the deficit? Could the fast delayed cars make up lost ground? Then you had both LMP2 and GT with cars on the same lap even after 11 hours! Aside from the outright win you couldn’t pick any class winner at any stage.

The race as a whole must have been a good one because the 12 hours flew by!

Continue reading “Reaction: WEC/ALMS 12 Hours of Sebring 2012”

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2012 FIA WEC Preview

This year’s endurance racing calendar is something special, for the first time in 20 years we have a world championship for long-distance sportscar racing and it promises to develop into something big over the coming years.

It is a shame that one of the main instigators of the FIA World Endurance Championship, Peugeot, was forced to withdraw before the season. Audi vs Peugeot would’ve been even more fraught than we’ve seen in the past with a world title on the line! Toyota had already planned to join midseason. They, the FIA and the ACO should be applauded for working to have then enter more races than was originally planned and for adjusting the points system to allow dropped scores, so the LMP1 championship is mathematically still on the line even if Audi will surely win it comfortably.

Calendar

The centrepiece is of course Le Mans, with a calendar featuring some of the best events of the international endurance racing calendar of the past few years, added to new events in Brazil, Japan and controversially, Bahrain.

A curious and notable absence is Petit Le Mans which will revert to being ALMS-only this year, not a popular decision and even worse when Bahrain was originally scheduled for the same weekend. That madness has been avoided but PLM still falls between two Asian WEC events on weekends either side of it, so it’ll be very difficult indeed for any WEC teams to compete in Georgia.

March 17th – 12 Hours of Sebring (with ALMS)
May 5th – 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps
June 3rd – Le Mans Test Day
June 16th – 24 Hours of Le Mans (with other invitiationals)
August 26th – 6 Hours of Silverstone
September 16th – 6 Hours of Sao Paulo
September 30th – 6 Hours of Bahrain
October 14th – 6 Hours of Fuji
Novmeber 11th – 6 Hours of Shanghai

Prototypes

In LMP1, the fight between the HPD teams Strakka, JRM and at Sebring, Muscle Milk should be tight and they’ll be up against the Lolas of Rebellion, and OAK and Pescarolo with their eponymous chassis. Throw in a mix of engines from HPD (Honda) to Toyota to Judd and at Sebring a Mazda as well. All the runners are on Michelins except for the Dunlops on the OAK and Dyson cars. Familiar names include Brabham, Prost, Chandhok, Heidfeld, Bleekemolen, Watts, Kane, Collard and Boullion.

LMP1 isn’t the only interest, there is a strong field in the petrol half of LMP1, and in LMP2 and the two GTE categories. At Sebring we have the added excitement of the ALMS contenders joining the fun, and at Le Mans we’ll see some of the best teams from the ALMS and ELMS join the WEC for the classic 24 Hours. Also at Le Mans we will see the race debut of the Delta Wing which promises to be very exciting – I hope it is reliable!

LMP2 is worth watching for once. No longer is it a collection of underfunded teams with cars which break down easily. There are solid entries from Signatech, OAK (again), Greaves, PeCom and even the GrandAm team Starworks are entering the WEC. Cars range from Lolas to Orecas to Zyteks to HPDs to Morgans (rebadged OAK) and engines from Nissan, Judd, HPD and Lotus. All cars are on Dunlops. The drivers may be less familiar but Starworks signed a coup with Stephane Sarrazin for the longer races.

GT

GTE Pro features Fisichella and Bruni with AF Corse, in their other car Olivier Beretta switches from Corvette. They’re up against the similar car of Luxury Racing with Vernay, Melo and Makowiecki. Aston Martin rejoin the field after their LMP stints and they have Mucke, Turner and Fernandez. Felbermayr’s line-up of Lieb and Lietz is not to be doubted either. At Sebring of course they are joined by the very strong ALMS teams of Corvette, BMW and various Porsche teams.

GTE Am is for year-old cars and they must run at least one (or two?) amateur drivers. Larbre Competition have a couple of Corvettes and Pedro Lamy, AF Corse and Luxury also entered Ferraris here (including one for Michael Waltrip at least for Sebring), Felbermayr have another Porsche and don’t count out Krohn’s green Ferrari.

Others

There are 35 cars signed up for the full season. These will be joined by ‘wild card’ entries through the year, though we don’t know the details yet.

At Sebring we add in the Prototype and GT Challenge classes for spec Orecas and Porsches respectively. 64 cars at Sebring, and 56 at Le Mans including the Delta Wing.

Even if Audi does win it all, the other classes should be interesting. Perhaps more interesting is this is the first ‘building’ year of the series, taking a step up from last year’s ILMC. After showing what it can do this year, who else might enter in 2013 and 2014? There are exciting years ahead!

A Close End to the 2012 Rolex Daytona 24

What a brilliant result at the Rolex 24 at Daytona!

A popular win in Justin Wilson in his first professional race since his injury last season in IndyCar. I don’t follow Grand-Am racing but I heard on the coverage that Michael Shank Racing are popular winners in the paddock. Wilson and his teammates including NASCAR’s AJ Allmendinger and Grand-Am regulars Ozz Negri and John Pew put in solid drives all race long. Flawless.

They weren’t alone, the 2nd-placed car featuring sportscar legends Allan McNish and Lucas Luhr guesting alongside Ryan Dalziel, Alex Popow and Enzo Potolicchio racing for Starworks was equally as solid. It was a credit to everyone that they finished just five seconds behind the winners, a representative margin for such a close battle all race long. These two cars passed and repassed for hours and hours, outracing all of their competition.

The racing between McNish and Allmendinger was fantastic, save for a little bit too much wheel-banging. It was just as fraught as watching Allan vs the Peugeots at Le Mans. You can tell this mattered to him.

The fancied runners at the top Ganassi team fell by the wayside. Partly this was due to being slower on the fast banking, and partly through reliability. It was a real shame when the 01 car had a gearbox problem robbing us of a three-way fight for the lead in the final hour. Despite the problem they still made it home 6th, vital for the championship. You had to feel for the quick SunTrust team retiring after barely an hour. However I didn’t at all mind the favourites dropping back – it allowed the underdogs through!

Whilst I kept an eye on it I didn’t follow GT class as closely as I do at Le Mans or Sebring. It featured a lot of the same drivers and the racing was just as close, yet it didn’t grab me for some reason. I can’t explain why because it should’ve done. Perhaps it was the knowledge the cars were little faster than ALMS GTC or Porsche Supercup which are usually embarrassed by GT2/GTE cars. I was impressed by both Magnus and Brumos teams, especially Magnus because Brumos had led for so many hours. (TRG finished between them but I already knew their class.)

Resurgence

On the whole though I was impressed with the race and the organisation from Grand-Am. It’s a much-criticised series and I think they’ve done a lot to address those criticisms, with better-looking prototype cars and new cars coming into GT (even if the Audis made a complete mess of it).

It was great to see so many drivers and teams guesting in the race who normally race elsewhere. After a while of being demoted almost to national status, the Daytona 24 Hours is certainly regaining its rightful place on the world stage. Just witness the much-improved race coverage both within the US on SPEED and elsewhere from Radio Show Ltd (Radio Le Mans), MotorsTV, Eurosport and others. It was great to have the RLM crew live on site, it made the race so much easier to follow.

Will I follow any more Grand-Am races this season? Probably not, but I’m certainly more open to the idea than I was before so don’t be surprised if I do. It would help if they offered online streaming the way the ALMS does, because although both series have a European TV deal now, I don’t have MotorsTV.

Finally a thanks and a shout to the two places I spent the race aside from Twitter or my bed, and the race wouldn’t be the same without them:
Sidepodcast for the live commenting;
Grab Bag Sports for the 4th annual Blogathon & Mario Kart tourney;

Following the hors d’oeuvres of Dakar and Dubai, Daytona is a brilliant way to kick off the major international racing season.

The next live race is a month from now. A month!! That week you’ll have the pick of the Bathurst 12 Hours and the Daytona 500 and all its support races. In the meantime, you can enjoy Rally Sweden.

I’m off to rest my eyes.

Not Simply Going Around In Circles

On Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron visited the McLaren Group in Woking to launch the new McLaren Production Centre, where the McLaren MP4-12C sportscar will be constructed. I’m not one for PR stunts and especially not political PR stunts, but this one is really worth looking at.

The speeches from both Cameron and Ron Dennis, whilst also filled with the usual political guff we can largely ignore for the purposes of a racing blog, served as a timely reminder that motorsport solutions developed within the normally insular world of racing can be developed into real world applications.

As always the excellent Joe Saward was on the case, driving over from France  especially for the event, and provides the transcripts of both the McLaren CEO and the follow-up speech from the PM. Also see this other post.

Do read the full text at Joe’s site if you have the time. Here are some interesting excerpts about these technologies which caught my eye, some of which we knew about before but are worth revisiting. There’s also a fair amount of crowing which I’m not really a fan of, but at least with stats like these it is justifiable.

“McLaren [..] has won 20 Formula 1 world championships and 175 Formula 1 races – a total which equates to one in every four races that we’ve contested since 1966. We’ve also won the famous Indianapolis 500 race three times and the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours race at our first attempt.”
Ron Dennis

That’s astonishing. I’ll reiterate that because it is amazing to me. A quarter of all F1 races they’ve entered since 1966, they’ve won.

“[In 2012] McLaren Electronic Systems will be in a unique position. Because every single car in the world’s three premier motor racing series – in other words every single car in Formula 1, every single car in the IndyCar series and every single car in the most popular and successful racing series in the United States, NASCAR – will all be using engine control units made here in Woking.”
Ron Dennis

I’d include the World Endurance Championship as a premier world motorsport series but I’ll let him off as that’s new, and 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. This is quite the acheivement.

“The British cyclist Mark Cavendish, who’s here today, became a world champion this year on a Specialized road bike that was developed by McLaren Applied Technologies.”
Ron Dennis

I find this to be very cool. This isn’t the first F1-developed racing bike because in the 90s Chris Boardman rode one developed by the original Team Lotus. It is nice to see others following on with that work.

We’re working with the British Olympic Association on a number of sports and a number of British Olympians will therefore benefit from McLaren Applied Technologies during London 2012.
Ron Dennis

We’re gonna win medals, don’t you forget it.

It’s engineering so groundbreaking that when space scientists are looking for ideas they come to the brains of Formula 1. You remember Beagle 2? It was cased in a lightweight plastic first developed for Formula 1 exhaust systems.
David Cameron

You heard that right: space engineers come to F1 for ideas. This blows my tiny little mind.

Great Ormond Street [Children’s Hospital] saw how efficiently car wheels were changed in the pits so they worked with Formula 1 experts to streamline the transfer of patients into intensive care.
David Cameron

This isn’t so much about technology as about processes, this is about medical personnel learning from pit crews, the way in the pits the mechanics are timed to tenths of a second just to get that pitstop right. Everyone has to be positioned in the right place at exactly the right time – much like they do in intensive care. Put the right person in the right place at the right time and lives can be saved.

There are plenty of other examples both in these speeches and by looking around the web, and if you want to read about apprenticeships and schemes to help young engineers do go and read the full speeches. I have a lot to things to be critical about with the current political administration (and I do mean a lot of things), but science and engineering funding is not one of them.

In closing, I never used to be a fan of McLaren as a Formula 1 team and to this day they do make it hard sometimes, however these days I like them enough to own a couple of bright red ‘Victory Shirts’.

When they start expanding into different areas like this and using their knowledge for the better good (making a nice profit along the way – and why not?), it is difficult not to admire them for it. And they’ve re-entered sportscar racing with their shiny new MP4-12C which looks the business in GT3 race trim – almost good as the Audi R8 LMS!
The same applies to teams – or ‘businesses’, as the word ‘teams’ is a hangover from simpler times – such as WilliamsF1 who are doing similar work on non-F1 projects.

People say McLaren are grey, faceless and boring. Do you still think that now? I certainly don’t.

So there you go, motor racing isn’t just about cars following each other around in circles for a few hours every other Sunday.

Attending the 2011 6 Hours of Silverstone

ILMC/LMS at Silverstone Wing
Sportscars Race Past Silverstone's New Pitlane (photo by P.Wotton)

Sportscar racing is something of a niche branch of motorsport, you don’t really find many casual fans except at Le Mans itself. It is a difficult form of racing to follow at times. Multiple classes, long races sometimes won or lost over laps not seconds.

I firmly believe it is worth the effort.

This apparent inaccessibility has been improved in recent years by the battle between Audi and Peugeot which has captivated many, especially since they’ve mixed well-known sportscar racers with drivers who made their name in Formula 1 and elsewhere.

Plus they built some really cool cars. That always helps.

The New

I got there late (no surprises) and parked up as the cars were on the grid. The best part of the new pit straight is that it is right next to the main car parks so it is very easy to be in the midst of the action straight away.. as long as there aren’t queues at the ticket desk and attendants who don’t recognise their own discount vouchers. Grr. Still, at least the queues meant there was a fairly good crowd, bigger than previous years, so you can’t complain too loudly.

This was the first time I’d seen the new pit buildings in action. I was at the Renault event just a few weeks ago and this area of the track was deserted and unused with all the action at the old pitlane. This time it was a living, breathing pitlane and the atmopshere was transformed. It looked soulless the other week but seeing it in action it just clicked, it works.

Continue reading “Attending the 2011 6 Hours of Silverstone”

Friday Favourites: 13 May 2011

Hello everyone, here is another in the irregular series highlighting some of the best of the motorsport web.

There is a lot of good stuff out there at the moment so I’m a way behind with my reading, apologies if I’ve not mentioned yours, and do feel free to follow up in the comments with anything worthwhile that you think people should see.

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20 Years On: The Cat That Owned The Cream
 – Adam Cooper / Autosport Plus (subscription required)

Even if you don’t like sportscars you should read this for the sheer number of F1 crossovers. you’ll be amazed as I was, I like sportscar racing but my knowledge of that era is limited to say the least. Just look at it though. The Jaguar XJR-14 is one of the best-looking race cars of all time, all classes. Adam Cooper relates how succesful it was and how it lead to a certain group of people to work together with great success not just in sportscars, but beyond..

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F1 Photographers Versus The Democratisation Of Media
– Mr C / Sidepodcast

The modernisation of written media is covered regularly, as print gives way to web and that in turn opens the way for good quality bloggers and amateur writers to get themselves noticed. It seems, in a motorsport context at least, the same hasn’t been spoken about when it comes to photography. Mr C explores the issue here, and a lively conversation ensued in the comments when an F1 photographer turned up to debate the issue.

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Centennial Interview Series

– More Front Wing

Steph and Paul have been pumping out an interview every day in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500. It is a remarkable effort and there are some fantastic names involved from both past and present of Indy racing: Scott Dixon, Bobby Rahal, Mario Andretti (yes… Mario Andretti), Gil de Ferran, Danny Sullivan, the list goes on. I must admit I’ve not had the time to delve into these properly yet but I certainly will be doing so soon.

Whilst there you should go back a couple of weeks and check out the interview with Keith Wiggins explaining the teams’ perspective on aero kits, and also this superb Twitter guide which should be read by every Twitter user, IndyCar fan or not.

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Formula INDYCAR

– Eric Hall / Another IndyCar Blog

Found on a blog I have only just discovered, this post from April raises the fascinating issue of IndyCar following the model set by Formula 1, which is essentially a European series expanding outwards. Eric suggests IndyCar should be a North American series expanding outwards, to a sustainable limit. I agree with him, I’ve often thought that’s exactly what IndyCar racing should be like, most of the races in North America with several elsewhere. Not only is this is a great idea, it is also well-argued in this post. I’ll be paying more attention to Eric’s writing!

He followed it up with a couple of posts about the ‘dream schedule’, part 1 and part 2.

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World of Sportscars, 5.10

– John Dagys / SpeedTV

A round-up of news from the ILMC/LMS round at Spa-Francorchamps, including a great 3-minute video from Level 5 Motorsports, an American Le Mans Series team who have made the jump to race a car in Europe this year as well as their ALMS campaign. Note this article is spread across two pages and it can be easy to miss the page divider on the Speed site.

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There have been many blog posts this week about the DRS wing in F1, I plan to join them over the weekend so I will link to some of them then. Do also keep an eye on the blog for a quick review of the Donington Historic which I ought to have written 10 days ago.

The Various Le Mans Series

Sportscar racing has always been a confusing branch of motorsport to follow. There are many fans of racing who could be potential sportscar fans but may be a bit bewildered by the variety. When discussing the Peugeot launch on Thursday,Christine and Mr C at Sidepodcast asked exactly what the ILMC actually is, and where it fits into the sportscar world. I thought I would answer that question with this blog post, but first let’s set the scene.

Here follows a fairly rough guide to sportscar racing and the collection under the ‘Le Mans’ label in particular.

Continue reading “The Various Le Mans Series”