Tuesday, March 19, 2013

American Le Mans penalties

While watching the 12hrs of Sebring it reminded us of one of our gripes about the ALMS. We have always thought their penalties have almost always been harsher than required. This is really a practice in cruel and unjust punishment.

Allan McNish driving the #2 Audi was given a stop and hold penalty for bumping one of the LMPC cars off the road. But in reality a trained eye would have noticed that he was being shoved off the road. As a racer it is assumed that he will aim to keep his vehicle on the race track, because going off track slows you down and causes you to have an accident. So whether an LMPC driver sees him coming or not McNish's primary aim is to stay on track. It's the responsiblity of the LMPC driver to be aware of his surroundings, and judge the closing rates of different vehicles. That was purely a racing incident.

The ALMS has a penchant for resorting to a "stop and hold" penalty for everything. The logic behind that is probably that it gives the victim some kind of solace from seeing their aggressor's race also hampered.

But penalties are supposed to be given depending on how dangerous and flagrant they appear. Here are the in-race penalties we know off:

-A warning which is really not a penalty
-A drive through penalty: the driver comes into the pit lane and drives through the pit lane at pit speed  and exits back on the track without stopping for service.
-A stop and go penalty: the driver comes to the pit lane stops at his pit stall (or at the official's area in the pit lane) comes to a complete stop, turns off the engine, then is let back out again without any servicing done.
-The stop and hold penalties: these can have different lengths. 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 min, 3 min, 5min depending on the severity of the offense.
-Exclusion of a particular driver: we have only seen this at Le Mans. Teams spend fortunes just to get there, the ACO doesn't want to make them regret their investment by declaring the whole squad ineligible.
-The black flag: the entire team is no longer scored and their result is null and void. It's as if they never competed in the race. We can't recall ever seeing this, and we hope to never have to. However we have seen the black flag used to warn a certain Allan McNish in the ALMS during the Audi R10 days.

Keep in mind we stand by the logic that a penalty should only be assessed if a driver had the opportunity of wat lawyers would call "last clear chance". Meaning the driver at fault had a final chance to avoid the whole deal.

Just like anything left to judgement there will be differing opinions and case by case situations, but any stop and hold over 1 minute, should only be applied when a driver commits a flagrant offense

Saturday, March 16, 2013

F1 is back in session

Welcome back Formula1 fans. Bernie Ecclestone is glad you have found his show so appealing. And we really do find the Bernie show very appealing. Here are a few of our musings so far:

Paul DiResta needs to become the team leader at Force India. In our understanding Mercedes helped him get the seat. But manufacturers only invest in talent they want to develop. In his first season we felt he was over rated, and last year against Nico Hulkenberg who had sat out the whole 2011 season, he was over matched. He has another chance to stick it to Adrian Sutil this year. We think this time it will make or break his F1 career. He needs to beat Sutil at the end of the season or at least make 1 or 2 trips to the podium to show promise.

It seems Caterham is behind Marussia in terms of pace. We would have kept Vitaly Petrov in the mix. Despite what everyone thinks he actually bested Heikki Kovalainen in 2012. That makes him the best driver they've ever had.

McLaren did not do too well during the first practice sessions. It's only practice but they were nowhere near anyone expected them. All the complains about lack of grip are becoming very redundant. Jenson needs to take a lead and assertive role fast. Come the halfway point of the season Sergio Perez would have figured out the ins and outs of the team and will begin making a case as the franchise man. Besides, Telmex his sponsor can easily replace Vodafone as the naming sponsor. If they do, they would want  Perez as the headline driver. For Button there is no more copying of Lewis Hamiton's car setup, his immense tactical knowledge and experience needs to come into play.

We're still trying to figure out the pecking order at Mercedes. Common wisdom would say Hamilton first, but Rosberg is showing just as much pace. The car seems to be as fast as where it was expected to be when Mercedes took over from Brawn in 2010. But Lewis Hamilton almost had another head on crash (as during off season testing), and Nico Rosberg had to stop on the circuit. Are those bugs creeping up in the hardware?

The man of the season to watch is....Nico Hulkenberg! Yes we think so. If he can at least match the season that Sergio Perez had last year with Sauber a top ride could be calling.

Red Bull still looks dominant. 2014 can't come fast enough. Hopefully the new regulations will shake up things a bit

2013 Sebring post qualifying notes


LMP1
At the end of qualifying for Sebring, we felt a little betrayed by the LMP1 class. Mainly by the Audis. During the the test and practice sessions the privateer squads seemed somewhat close to them and the Audis were sometimes the last ones in their fields. Well we now realize they were playing coy to make everyone believe the new technical restrictions were severely hampering them.

Perhaps they had to also, because had they shown their speed during the test sessions the ACO could have swiftly swooped in and imposed newer restrictions on their machines before the regular practice sessions.

The restrictions placed on the manufacturer teams this year only takes account of their existing technical regulations, but it seems no one took into account that their hybrid systems would improve significantly. So now the gasoline engined privateer cars would have been closer to last year's Audi R18 Ultras, but the R18 E-tron Quattros have pace similar to their V12 diesel counterparts.

The P1 pole qualifying time in 2012 was  1:45:820 by Andre Lotterer in the R18 Ultra. That year the best privateer team was Klaus Graf in the HPD at 1:47:536. This year the privateer teams have more pace than last year. Rebellion Racing's Nick Heidfeld qualified first of the privateer cars at 1:46:456. But the Audis have gained even more spread, with Marcel Fassler flying in at 1:43:886

Will there be any more changes before LeMans....

LMP2
We expected Level 5 to be the dominant LMP2 team. What we did not expect is the pace of the Zytek, and the lack of pace from Extreme Speed. It's actually quite refreshing to see the Zytek being so competitive against the HPD's. We remember when Danny Watts used to carry the flag for the brand during their heydeys. But qualifying and racing are somewhat different, we'll need to see how they hold up. As for Extreme Speed, they might just be a bit behind in their prototype expertise. They should get better during the season.

LMGTE
For Sebring Paul Miller Racing is Porsche's flag bearer (Core Autosport is expected to also be one later), as evidenced by the two factory drivers embedded in the squad alongside Bryce Miller. They now also run on Michelin tires and Marco Holzer will be there for the whole season, signifying Porsche backing. During the practice sessions and then qualifying, they did not have the pace we expected. They qualified 7th out of 12. Let's see how this race and the season shapes out.

In his many forays in the ALMS we still are not convinced that Bryce Miller has the outright pace of the best drivers in this class.This is really a manufacturer's class even more than P1, and only a few drivers have the skills to match factory drivers.

GTC
Andy Lally won the pole for Dempsey racing ahead of Jeroen Bleekemolen. These two are drivers capable of matching wits with factory drivers. The best thing about them is that they can literally drive any car on the field, all the way up to the P1 cars. So they are in effect "money drivers". As Johnny O'Connell would say "they're hired guns". When you have the resources and just want the job done no matter the cost, you bring them in. They could easily find factory drives if they looked, but they seem to prefer swinging it from team to team.

Despite the pole position, Andy Lally's contractors mainly Joe Foster and Patrick Dempsey do not have the pace that Jeroen Bleekemolen's bosses (Cooper Macneil and Dion Von Moltke) can deliver. Alex Job Racing, where Jeroen Bleekemolen races is also a specialist team in GT endurance racing. So given that the cars are equal in this class, all those attributes make the #22 Alex Job Racing car the favorite to win the class.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

12hrs of Sebring day 1 of testing

There is less than a week to go before the first race of the ALMS season. At this point we have to assume all the equivalency formulas have been worked out among all the classes. Especially in the P1 class.

During this first official testing day, the times in the top category were rather refreshing. Audi was not the first or second car in the early session. But they were using the new 2013 version of the R18 (the #2 car) which is a bit different than the 2012 version. So it might have just needed a bit of a shake up to adapt it to the Sebring track.

In the second session of the testing day, the 2012 Audi R18 (the #1 car) was ran, and it was the fastest car. But the times are decidedly closer than in previous years. It's still too early to tell whether this will be a fair fight or not, but it does give fans something to look forward to.

During the race it's supposed to take the diesel cars longer to refuel and they are supposed to run out of fuel quicker than the gasoline powered cars. Those are all advantages that Dyson, Rebellion, and Musclce Milk should use to their advantage, but Audi has been in game too long to not have foreseen all that and prepared themselves in consequence.

If the race turns out to be close among the Audis and the privateer cars, would Muscle Milk think twice about not having sought a 24hr of LeMans engagement?

In LMP2, Level 5 and Extreme Speed did not set times during any of the test sessions. Level 5's lineup leaves no doubt about its intentions. The win or nothing. Ryan Briscoe and Simon Pagenaud in one car and Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marino Franchitti in the other. Scott Tucker will drive both cars alongside his hired studs.

Even though all the other hired drivers except Ryan Hunter-Reay have done full seasons in the ALMS, he is the only one to have actually won the race in his class. Both of Level 5's cars can win LMP2.

In the Extreme Speed Motorsport (ESM) camp we maintain that the best driver here is Guy Cosmo. But he usually drives alongside Ed Brown (the real shot caller in the team), and he simply has a lot more money than driving skills. Sure he would probably outgun us, but we're not measuring ourselves against world class drivers.

For Sebring, ESM has put Guy Cosmo in the 01 car alongside Scott Sharp and also brought in David Brabham. This becomes the lead car and the only one that will be able to challenge any of Level 5's contenders. If Johannes Van Overbeek and Anthony Lazarro in the #02 car can quickly master the LMP2 Honda, there could be more to the story.

Well before the Oreca 03, Acura and Porsche LMP2 cars, the Zytek was the package of choice for a competitive P2 campaign. They used to build the entire car - literally. But they don't have an engine currently used in a road car, as mandated by the new LMP2 regulations. The brand is currently seeing a resurgence with the company having adapted the chassis to the Nissan engine. We think they will have to be at their optimum to scare ESM and Level 5.

We'll need to see some P2 testing numbers to be able to tell which team has the right setup on their cars.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Grand-Am at Circuit of the Americas

Grand-Am has had its second race of the season before any other major series can even get its first round in. Despite that the Circuit of the Americas track has pretty wide track width there just seemed to be more crashes than we would have liked. We have watched Grand-Am races in the past, but never with this meticulous attention the show. We used to keep up with Grand-Am just to stay current on what's going on there and compare notes against the ALMS.

On the Grand-Am/ALMS battle we were firm ALMS militants. So since the ALMS competitors will be joining the fray next year, this style of bump and run racing a la NASCAR isn't going to appeal too much to the ALMS fans. Yes racing does have accidents, but it seemed contact was being made as the norm of racing and not as incidental contacts. Going around tight corners and switchbacks, no one wanted to give racing room the the other car. What ever happened to giving racing room?

Grand-Am should spend this 2013 season cleaning up the unnecessary crashes. Crashing is supposed to happen unintentionally not as a mean to pass or keep a competitor from passing you. It doesn't add to the show either. A clean hard fight is preferable in any given race.


Change the guard

At Wayne Taylor Racing we understand that Max Angeleli has been the lead driver for year and is a tough competitor, but the team hasn't won anything in years. We think it's time to make Jordan Taylor the team's closer at the end of races. This is not about an exercise in nepotism, but the whole team just needs a fresh perspective on things. And with the series changing next year, every stone needs to be turned to see where an advantage can be gained.

Or they can just alternate the driving duties from race to race and see how it works. Jordan Taylor has all the speed and qualities needed to pilot any prototype machinery on this planet. His raw speed will make up for his experience.

At Chip Ganassi we always thought they have had it backwards. But over the years they have proven us wrong. Memo Rojas is the one bringing the Telmex sponsorship. We had heard one time from David Hobbs while answering a question on driving orders for drivers, that he who pays decides the order of the lineup. So now we think it's time for Memo Rojas to assume the role of race finisher in this team.

It can no longer be an excuse that he hasn't got what it takes. His record speaks for itself, and he has worked with Scott Pruett long enough to learn the trade. TELMEX as the primary sponsor has all the cards here, and as a marketing tool for them in Mexico Memo Rojas as the race finisher would give the brand more appeal.

The great Bottas!

Apparently Valtteri Bottas, Williams F1's new race driver thinks he only got his race seat because of his talent.

To say the least, we think that's just a very naive comment. All right the guy is a star. He has been champion in nearly every single feeder series he has been in. But then again Williams used to also have Nico Hulkenberg who also had been champion of every single feeder series he participated in. And to cap it off, Hulkenberg was also a GP2 Champion, the last feeder series before Formula1, and is more prestigious than anything below it.

If Bottas is as good as he and Toto Wolff actually think he is, he should have proved himself in GP2, or Formula Renault 3.5. The real reason he was awarded the race drive is because Toto Wolff as a part owner of the Williams team had a say in such matters, and he saw Bottas as a strong talent. In short Valterri is favored by a financially influential backer.

Toto Wolff is no longer involved with the Williams F1 outfit, having moved to Mercedes AMG, but he still possesses the means to make it worthwhile for Williams to retain the rookie in the seat.

While we don't dismiss the fact that Valterri could become someone to keep an eye out for, his statement is simply insulting to the many F1 hopefuls who also have triumphed in lower categories, but just never quite had the required corporate backing, to break into the top flight.

Robert Wickens was the Formula Renault 3.5 (FR 3.5)champion in 2011, he now competes in DTM. Robin Frijns was the Formula Renault 3.5 champion in 2012, and he will be Sauber F1's reserve driver. Mind you those 2 drivers are in possession of an award that carries more distinction than anything Bottas has won. To put all this into perspective, Red Bull recruit drivers for their Scuderia Torro Rosso team from Formula Renault 3.5. None of the Red Bull drivers have been FR 3.5 champions, although Sebastien Vettel was leading the championship in 2007 before he was given the STR race seat, so he never finished the season.

There are talented drivers out there, not driving in Formula1. Talent is only one part of the equation, and is by no means the only requirement for a race seat in F1.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Predicting Le Mans 2013 withdrawals

With the withdrawal of the ALMS' Extreme Speed Motorsports from the Le Mans 24hr (which could almost have been predicted) we decided to take a look at the list of invited entries to see who is likely to withdraw from the French Classic.

Before going any further, here are only a few reasons a team would withdraw: the lemans entry is not compatible with their full season program, a lack of resources, during the season they realize they're over matched in their class, they do not have a compelling reason to be there (WEC entrants have to complete 70% to get points, and winning the race is a nice sales booster for manufacturers).

LMP1

We do not foresee any retirements from these ranks. All the entrants here have the means to the desire to be here. Rebellion and Strakka were the only privateer P1 teams to be classified in every single round of the WEC in 2012.

LMP2

Lotus: They have 2 factory invitations for lemans, however none of their entries with actual Lotus badged engines in any other series have had any success. We only need to take a look at their Indycar car and their ALMS GTE adventures of last year to be reminded. Even in the WEC, despite having the services of F1 caliber drivers they were usually at best a middle of the pack runner. We think the learning curve associated with running a new cars, with untested and limited parts could curb their ambitions. We think one of the cars could be withdrawn.

KCMG: They are declared as a full season entry in Asian Le Mans series. Because of their inexperience, they might reconsider their season objective after going a couple rounds against Oak Racing in the ASLMS. So why are they accepted as an entry while a more experienced and proven team like Signatech has their 2nd entry waiting on the reserve list? Simple, the ACO has a policy of diversity, so they get the entry by default as they are the only entrant from China. Same reason JLOC used to receive invitations.

Morand Racing (reserve entry): The sight of Natacha Gachnang is already a draw in itself. But it seems they might be relying on pay-drivers of the Le Mans exercise. The 24 hr race could actually divert resources away from their ELMS season. We think they will pull their name from the reserve list.

DKR Engineering (reserve entry): We rooted for them when they campaigned the GT1 C6R corvettes, ever since then we have had a fond spot for them. So we will again be clapping them in the ELMS. So why do we think they will withdraw from the reserve list? We think their weapon of choice leaves them vulnerable. The Lola B11/40 while only a couple years old is considered outdated, because the cost of acquiring and maintaining a more modern P2 rig has dropped dramatically (relatively speaking). Lola has also stopped development of all their open top cars. Which means while they might still make spare parts for it, they have not designed new parts that would improve its performances. Their Judd engine is also a point of contention. It's not a coincidence that there are 4 Judd engined teams on the reserve list while there is only 1 actual Judd engined team as an entrant.

For a long while, Judd was the engine of choice for any prototype class. But with the arrival of Honda and Nissan on the scene, Judd Power just hasn't been able to keep pace with their level of development. We think one reason the HVM-Status entry, which has a Judd engine was accepted is because of the ACO's diversity policy. They need a diversity of engines. So the strongest team with a Judd engine got selected.

LMGTE-PRO

JMW Motorsport: In all respects JMW is a well run racing organization. We used to love watching Rob Bell driving for them during the GT2 days. But it's now called GTE Pro, and the giants of the land have decided this is the battlefield they have chosen to measure themselves against each other. None of the other competitors here have any resource limitations. Dunlop is a major sponsor of the 24hr race and JMW has usually benefited from their generosity. But the Dunlop badging on the car has been less and less obvious to us, and last year the uniforms only sported a tiny Dunlop badge on the chest.

They won the ELMS GTE-Pro championship last year, so unless their sponsors are willing to ante up for the Le Mans foray, they might decide to concentrate the troops on defending their championship.

LMGTE-AM

Larbre Competition: We don't wish to say they will withdraw entirely. After all they have 3 consecutive LeMans class victories running: 2010 with the Saleen in GT1, 2011 with the GTE-Am Corvette and 2012 again in GTE-Am with the Corvette. This year however it seems the LeMans entry is depending more on GM helping them field the second entry. Notice only one entry for GTE-Am in the WEC. The team itself has made it clear that GM will have a say on the lineup of one of the cars. So unless they're having a terrific year in the WEC, the General could pull the plug if they sense a second entry would not be a sure fire winner at LeMans. GM would only be interested in them winning so they could use the driver of their choice for marketing purposes.

Putting our thinking cap on who could GM possibly pick to man the second car....Johnny O'Conell and Andy Pilgrim alongside Pedro Lamy? Just a thought. The C6R for them might seem as if it has 2 engines compared to the CTS-V.

TRG-AMR North America (reserve entry): Kevin Buckler could dice it up with the best of them in his day, and he even won the class GT2 at Le Mans in 2002. But he no longer regularly drives competitively. This entry request is purely motivated by his business revenue model. The ACO only gave them a seat on the reserve list based on their strong reputation.