Images & words: Nick Holland.

The stable conditions (after rain-drenched annihilation of Thursday FP1 & 2) at last weekend’s FIAWEC Spa 6-hours gave us the perfect opportunity to analyse the data from the current LMP1 runners and start to identify some trends that will be relevant at ‘Le Grand Depart’ come mid-June.

Qualifying offered an ominous spectacle as Porsche 919s dominated through efficient delivery of 8mjs of recovered power to finish 1st, 2nd and 3rd.  We all pondered on the Friday night as to whether Saturday’s race would be a pure formality such was the seeming performance advantage.

As we know endurance racing is often about more than just pure (single lap) race pace, and so the race evolved.  In a measured and deliberate way Spa provided the as yet unconverted souls of the Motorsport community with a lesson in what it takes to tame the endurance three mistresses of traffic, reliability and luck.

Traffic – Lap5 – #19 Porsche comes across its GTE-Pro compatriot #91 with new to WEC Kevin Estre at the wheel.  Estre is no stranger to endurance racing, but potentially the speed differential between P1 & GT plus press-on nature of our own Nick Tandy are new to him. At his peril blue flags were passed and an apex collision took place, the #19 delayed by over 3-minutes of returning to the pits, excuses and new nose fitment.

Reliability – Apart from #7 Audi, #18 Porsche and #2 Toyota, every P1 manufacturer runner was struck by a technical issue. They were quite disparate (as can be seen in the table below), variously brakes, suspension, electricals, ECUs and even a window blow-out (!) interrupting the progress of individual cars, but this highlights an important point.

It is notable how each team deals with each incident. In some respects we expected the well-experienced and lubricated team at Audi Sport to be able to replace a side window in a little more than a minute.  But intriguingly Porsche dealt with the above #19 nose change, and rear suspension issues on the ever-fast #17 in little more than 3minutes a piece. Impressive.

Luck – Audi was the only manufacturer to run LM-spec on #7 & #8, a complete and substantial revision that provides valuable test mileage. Given the pace of the Porsche 919 at Silverstone it was also maybe an imperative, as the #9 car was off the front running pace all weekend. To bring such a revised car and have it run cleanly for 6-hours is a testament to their preparation, but also given even the #7 had an early non-consequential spin, when being pushed by its sister #8 car also highlights the vitality of Luck in this branch of motorsport.

Where the Race was Won ?

We have the privilege of watching the best drivers in the world deliver lap after lap of consistent fast driving and very well matched equipment.  As the table amply demonstrates this race was won in the pits, and through careful tyre usage. The #7 Audi and #18 Porsche delivered two near-perfect on track runs matching each other with 7 stops. However, the #18 spent 35.2 secs longer stationary in the pits, and despite being faster on-track could not make up all of the difference finishing 13.424 seconds behind the Audi #7 LM-spec car on its debut.

Table1

For average race pace, removing stops and any notably poor laps (impacted by the above incidents) the normalised best race pace laps go to the Porsche 919s. Its noticeable that the full-season cars are quicker than the third car driver line-ups (added for Le Mans), testing does not give the sharpness that dealing with traffic on a regular basis provides.
Table2
Particular takeaways from above is that the Porsche is not just fast in Sector 1, it also won out in Sector 3. Interesting to see that it was the LM-Spec Audi #8 that took honours in Sector 2, where we would expect the #9 had a substantial downforce advantage. This could be due to the shifting Centre of Pressure issue more evident on the Kemmel straight, but also likely to have impacted the remainder of the lap.  As a side point the violent porpoising of this car will most likely have provided valuable durability data, in particular with regards to side window fitment !

Table3

For completeness the table across shows average straight line speed throughout the race. Its not news that the Porsche is fastest, the LM-spec Audi is closer, and the Toyota somewhat behind.

With Porsche & Toyota yet to show their Le Mans hands, and improved ‘regen’ opportunities at Le Mans I would strongly expect Toyota to close up on Audi, and further small gains for the Porsche 919s

The Question of Degradation ?

Table4A view has been shared that the storage technology in the Porsche 919 Hybrid degrades with repeated charge/ discharge cycles, much more so than the ‘spin’ cycle of the Audi R18. To address this we have looked at average (normalised) lap over the first and last 40 laps of the Spa 6-hours.

This highlights a marginally higher rate of decline, 0.7 v 0.5 over the course of the race, but the overall pace is still better verses the competition. We can be confident that this will have been considered and discussed at many a Porsche technical meeting and assessed to be reasoned and managed position to be in.

In conclusion it appears that off the back of two Audi wins we could be getting complacent as to the future of our FIAWEC series. Audi ‘welcome challenges’ and indeed have seen them off…  But that is the beauty of Endurance racing and its three mistresses, traffic, reliability & luck you never know until the flag drops.  With the biggest challenge just around the corner in June, and aero revisions to all but Audi, noting Toyota’s stated position not to run LM-spec aero at Spa (a change in philosophy from 2014) we are on the brink once again of seeing the Greatest Motor Show on Earth get better…  And then there is Nissan !!

Addendum –

Thinking on about the above has led to more digging into the stop strategy of #7 & #18. At Silverstone we saw the battle fought out on-track. Spa was strategy central !

So –

NickSpaStops

Audi #7 stole a march by double-stinting tyres on its 4th stop. This gave it a cumulative 39seconds to play with. Porsche #18 retaliated with attempting to double stint in response on its 5th stop, but the initiative had been stolen.
Spa_DbleStint
When we look at those second stints in comparison (see across), we find that not only was Audi #7 able to sustain a pace better than the Porsche #18 it was lap for lap >0.6sec quicker. This combined with reduced stationary time is where the race was won

Quite possibly this is an area were Less can add up to More.  Does the Porsche 919 Hybrid generate so much high-torque power with its recovered electric 8mJs that the effect on its tyres is detrimental to its overall race outcome ?

If I were reviewing strategy at Weissach I would consider throttling back from the maximum and testing the outcome somewhere similar to Le Mans at the next opportunity… and where are they now ?  Motorland Aragon according to Trussers…

Its all fascinating stuff, the game of chess continues in plain sight on 31st May in La Sarthe.

See You Trackside 🙂