Image Credit: Audi Sport

In advance of the inaugural 6-hours of Mexico we take a look at the place, the categories and likelihood of a fascinating Tequila loaded Saturday evening of entertainment in Europe. The Race starts at 19:30 uk

The Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is the shortest circuit on the World Endurance Championship (WEC) calendar at 4,304metres, and due to little use it is quite dusty (especially off-line) and few have experience of the current layout.  It is the altitude of 2,285metres that makes the 6-hours of Mexico a unique challenge with manufacturers granted an additional aero package to accommodate the 20% deficiency in air. Indeed Lucas DiGrassi mentioned in interview that AudiSport have manufactured specific parts (intercoolers, radiators and brake assemblies) for this race to afford greater cooling and more resilience in race conditions.

For the drivers whilst the reduction in air density is notable it does not appear to have a significant impact. Paul Dalla Lana stated he enjoyed a breather on the long pit straight, and Bruno Senna joked that the only impact he felt was running up the stairs getting up to the catering unit!

The changes in power caused by the thinner air at altitude have not raised concern as the loss of output is offset by less aero resistance. Some of the inter-category differentials are worth a mention. The LMP1s are able to compensate more for the altitude, hybrid generation and deployment is relatively unaffected and turbos in the top category (both -H & -L) can be boosted and remapped appropriately.  Oliver Webb has commented to us that this has increased the differential in top speed from 30 to 55kmh between LMP1s & 2s which requires everyone to be more vigilant.

The GTE-Pro category has a mixture of Turbo and Normally (ambient+ram pressure) Aspirated engines. Notionally the Ferrari 488s and Ford GTs could recalibrate to negate the effects of altitude (to some degree) but the regulations do not allow for that, and hence an equivalence/additional Balance of Performance(BoP) is applied.  This has provided the somewhat ironic and inverted opportunity for Turbo-powered drivers to moan about the BoP as it appears the factor applied is giving an advantage to the Aston Martin Vantages and the Porsche RSRs. To paraphrase Marco Sorensen, it is swings and roundabouts, they had the advantage at Spa and Le Mans, we (in the #95 Aston) have it here!

The thinner air/lower aero resistance is having more of an impact on braking. At Le Mans we quote the -1G felt at speed when just lifting off the throttle, that has 20% less impact at this altitude hence more pressure is put on mechanical braking, which again on a short, dust, busy track will not only lead to greater wear but a higher likelihood of incidents.  When we throw into that mix the distinct forecasted possibility of thunderstorms this race is brewing up very nicely to being a cracker!

We did not have the joy of sound or vision for qualifying but followed along through timing data and Twitter.  Even with those restrictions the session was spectacularly good and oh so close! On that note a shout-out to @MichelinAlley they captured and shared some great brief videos during the session of some of the key moments.

Rather than trying to re-count the session here is summary video –

 WEC 6-hour of Mexico Qualifying Highlights Video

The Qualifying positions are summarised below –

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Note – Ideal Lap is the sum of that car’s best sectors, potentially resulting in a faster overall single lap.

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In post-qualifying Scrutineering the front ride height of the Aston Martin Racing GTE-AM entrant #98 was found to be 1mm too low. After much discussion about tyre pressure imbalance (dismissed) the penalty was assessed to be removal of all times and the #98 will start from the back of the grids. Ed. note – Is this related to switching from Dunlop back to Michelin rubber??

The above all leads into what should be an exciting race with the possibility of weather interfering, and traffic throughout it should be awesome.  Here are a few things to watch out for –

  • Audi Sport claim to have corrected an undisclosed problem on the R18 which contributed to its fading pace at the previous round on the Nurburgring.  The pair of Audi will start 1st & 3rd hence on the ‘clean’ racing side of the grid, hence in the early laps expect them to lead. The #7 Audi runs with just Lotterer & Fassler as Benoit Treluyer has not recovered sufficiently from the previous tumble from his mountain bike prior to Nurburgring round.  The Porsche 919s by fact of their larger fuel capacity will likely go longer on each stint, and may use this to effect the required passes.  Look for stops at around 50minutes…
  • Toyota continue to trail the lead to competitors and will need superior strategy to get close. With just two drivers in the #5 that may help and some carefully tyre usage could see them come into play.  Sadly their luck has not changed Anthony Davidson picked up a testing injury which keeps him out, we wish him well. Stephane Sarrazin in the #6 had an off in Mexico and the car missed FP1 & 2 while a replacement tub was fitted out.
  • Rebellion with just the #13 car present (#12 withdrawn to focus on 2017 (save budget)) appear to have the better of the #4 ByKolles.  Both cars are very fast in a straight-line, but expecting them to run their best race and hopefully come home.

If things at the front of the field get dull, the LMP2 category looks set to provide some excellent entertainment. It is fabulous that on category pole we have the RGR Sport by Morand Ligier.

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Quite fitting of course as Ricardo Gonzalez (the R and G in the name) is the individual most responsible for bringing the WEC to Mexico.  Below is our by driver data analysis of the top-6 cars from FP2 which demonstrates just how close matters are. All have a good shot at the podium –

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Turning to GTE we should expect to see either Aston Martin #95 (pole-sitter) or #97 come home comfortably.  But the #51 Ferrari 488 is just behind, and given that Ferrari are unlikely to see success in Monza this weekend expect a big push from the cars in red.  Ford do not seem to have the power for the straights at this altitude nor the balance/grip for the fiddly bits, as demonstrated by Andy Priaulx rotation in qualifying in the #67.  Both their cars and the remaining GTE-Pro Porsche RSR are likely to be just hunting the minor points this weekend.

To conclude the run down the grid, expect a charge from the back by the remaining Aston Martin #98, a Vantage of course of 2015 vintage reunited with its Michelin tyres of that period and clearly enjoying the high altitude life!  Do not expect the Porsches in the category to be a walk over they went well in practice and of course the AF Corse 458 will be there or there abouts on race pace at the end of the day.

Hopefully this provides a guide to the race to come, and supports a quiet Saturday evening in with either BT Sport in glorious HD covering the full race in the UK ( and the remainder of the season!) or your favourite radio station,  Radio LeMans!  Race Starts at 1930uk – Don’t be late !

© Gabi Tomescu - AdrenalMedia.com
© Gabi Tomescu – AdrenalMedia.com