By way of a Preview to the upcoming FIA World Endurance Championship 6-hours of Nurburgring we thought it would be useful to reflect on the performances we saw at Le Mans and what they might mean for the balance of the Championship.
Hares & Tortoises – In the top category of LMP1-Hybrid the manufacturers are demonstrating their application of the latest technologies and delivering stunning performance. However with being at the B-leading edge reliability has played a part in all three teams performance year to date.
At Le Mans this was most evident for Audi Sport who suffered turbo troubles as early as 20 minutes into the race. Un-Audi-like teething troubles continued to blight their race, and mid-season is not the best time to resolve these. Porsche faired better, but neither car ran cleanly flag-to-flag, yet from our data analysis when running well, this is by no doubt still the fastest of the current crop of LMP1s. Toyota of course had the cleanest of races for 23hours and 54minutes, but sadly a freak failure of an intercooler coupling led to coming up dramatically short of a notable and memorable Japanese win in La Sarthe.
A question frequently posed is would you like a fast car first or a reliable car? This tortoise and hare debate is very relevant to the current 2016 LMP1-H conflict. Toyota ironically have found the best reliability of the manufacturers, but seek more speed, which may come in the latest post-LM aero package they will debut in Germany. Porsche have consistent speed but in all rounds year to-date have had a degree of unreliability creep into the package. Audi no doubt have single lap pace but it seems to be knife edge pace, i.e. this year’s iteration of the R18 does not have the consistent rate that Porsche are able to display. They also are suffering new car woes having taken their design to what is possibly the next highest level in what we can consider to be a ‘cloaked’ Formula 1 car.
To answer the early posed question, fast or reliable? I’m of the opinion that Porsche currently have it about right, the Le Mans result being a fine example; if you have the pace you can recover from delays along the way and still be in the hunt come the chequered flag.
Looking now to the other categories. Privateer LMP1 is done and won by Rebellion. The ByKolles never had either the pace of the R-Ones or the reliability at Le Mans and it is unlikely that situation will change fr the remainder of the season. This category needs culling or fixing; unless others can be brought into the fold for next season if I were Bart Hayden I’d be re-investing in new Oreca 07s and heading to LMP2 in 2017 with experience of running at the higher pace available in LMP1. That very threat should be sufficient to get the authorities to take a long hard look at LMP1-L, its purpose, and future – with the announced changes at Le Mans this year only time will tell. Hopefully the promised pace of US DPis will be sufficient to deliver more entries, but these need to be season long not just for Le Mans. This raises the question as to whether WEC participation in the future is the only sure fire way of gaining a Le Mans entry place? In our opinion the answer can only be ‘Yes’.
Moving on to LMP2 – Oreca and its 05 chassis struck a killer blow for this category at Le Mans. Apart from the fight put up by the ageing (& 2017 outlawed) Gibson from Strakka Racing there is no other runner in it if you want to be winning the category at Le Mans. 2017 will see the 07 emerge with the weight of going for a hat-trick at the Great Race. Add to that the sales & marketing cache of a Le Mans win for any team and its sponsors, and we would expect the meetings diary for prospective teams at Oreca is currently pretty full.
At the Nurburgring we expect to see G-Drive (Jota) with the re-invigorated Alex Brundle onboard go well, as well as the pseudo Oreca and Le Mans winning Signatech-Alpine. As we move closer to the inaugural round in Mexico we would hope to see a return to form of the super team of RGR-Sport. Another team to pay close attention to will be Manor Racing back to having more than one bullet in the chamber, as well as having the KCMG refugees of Howson and Bradley in the fold.
Turning our attention to GTE, we have to report that the regulators have a significant amount of work to do here, and much of the trouble is of their own making, having pandered to one manufacturer and creating a steaming heap of trouble with the others!
Firstly GTE-Pro; the gloves came off and the etiquette/spirit of endurance racing was given a damn good pummelling at Le Mans with Ford bringing sharp practices and a win at ALL costs mentality to a field that had always enjoyed gentlemanly scenes. We recall pleasantries being exchanged between Aston Martin and Corvette Racing at Le Mans in years gone by. And whilst similar scenes were not outwardly apparent between Porsche and Ferrari the undoubted years/decades of respect are implicit. Perhaps considering past behaviour (AJ Baime’s ‘Go Like Hell’ being a fine and sad reference piece) we should not be surprised.
So we can expect continued Ford dominance for the remainder of 2016, with Ferrari driving themselves to breaking point. It is good to see Harry Tincknell retained in a three driver line-up in #67, the car dealt a tough hand at Le Mans, but H’s pace and professionalism has shown through.
GTE-Am is likely to continue to be a 458 led affair with Perrodo, Collard and Aguas continuing to challenge the concept of -AM !
The challenge for the regulators for 2017 that needs to be addressed now, is the broken nature of 4 out of the 5 categories. As discussed at the start of this piece, LMP1-L is close to extinction, LMP2 is “LMP-Oreca” if you want to win at Le Mans. The love-in with Ford must stop before other Manufacturers head off to GT3 programmes (like Audi’s 200 R8 LMs) and GTE-Am will become ‘Formula Ferrari 488’ as no other 2016 turbo GT will be available in 2017.
The final most difficult point though is the people who created these troubles are the same ones that need to fix them, and just like an alcoholic at their first AA meeting, they need to first acknowledge they have a problem!