Saturday 13 June 2015

Works teams - why does it matter?

#18 Porsche Team Porsche 919 - Hybrid driven
by Romain Dumas, Neel Jani and Marc Lieb
The classic expression “Race on Sunday, sell cars on Monday” must still be true. Looking at the investment the big hitters have made this year, you have to believe they are not here for the benefit of their health. Take Porsche for instance, they have three race cars here in their current attempt at winning this classic race. It would be their first overall victory here at Le Mans since 1998 (Aiello, McNish and Ortelli driving the Porsche GT1).  Their first win was in 1970 with the Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood driving a 917. The ACO records show that there have been a total of 770 Porsche entries at Le Mans which is a record in its own right, 382 of those have finished in the points. Their best year was 1971 when Porsches occupied 33 places on the 49 car grid.

This year, in addition to the three race cars, they have brought along a spare chassis, six engines, six gearboxes, six ‘rear’ gearboxes, nine front wings, nine rear wings, 80 wheels, 120 radios and headsets, 120 team members (engineers, mechanics, and team management. This does not include Porsche communications people, marketing staff, sponsorship support and of course driver support. Almost every building in La Sarthe seems to carry Porsche branding somewhere. Even their VIP Shuttle cars are Porsche Cayennes. They will also be thinking about the world TV coverage of millions and maybe even the 263,300 spectators that came to watch in 2014. We think they might be taking this seriously.

 #9 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 E-Tron Quattro driven
by Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and René Rast 
So what about Audi? The Audi Group delivered around 1,741,100 cars in 2014. This generated a revenue of €53.8 billion. Way back in 1980 Audi burst onto the rally scene with the incredibly technically advanced Audi Quattro and its huge success in motorsport did Audi’s image no harm at all and boosted their road cars sales massively. Audi have always used Le Mans as a technological showcase for their amazing diesel and hybrid developments. In 2006 they were the first manufacturer to win with a diesel fuelled car, then by 2012 they were the first manufacturer to win with hybrid technology. They tell us that in 2015 none of the other manufacturers will consume as little fuel as Audi.

Their e-tron technology can now be found on the Audi A3, A4 and A8. Dr Wolfgang Ulrich says “This efficiency perfectly matches the ‘More from less’ formula’ which is Audi ultra’s take-home message’" Audi plan to invest around €24 billion between 2017-2019 primarily in new products and sustainable technologies. Their long term goal is CO₂ ‘neutral’ mobility. So, like Porsche, they clearly see massive value in their ongoing Le Mans involvement and successes. Audi Sport Team Joest is being run by the legend that is Reinhold Joest who has been responsible for 15 overall victories here at Le Mans.  They are committed to come back next year, after that who knows.

#2 Toyota Racing Toyota TS 040 - Hybrid driven by
Alexander Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway 
Have Toyota lost the plot? Over the last 30 years Toyota have raced at Le Mans 17 times. Up until last year 40 separate cars have raced here.  They visited the podium in 1992, 1994, 1999 and 2013. They picked some star drivers over the years like Alan Jones, Eddie Irvine and of course three-time Le Mans winner Allan McNish. However they have never won the race outright. This year they have Buemi, Davidson and Nakajima in the #1 car and Wurz, Sarrazin and Conway in the #2 car. There is a nice connection that it was Nakajima’s father, Satoru, who drove the car back in 1985. Toyota have always been committed to motor sport to develop their technical and sales image. They were successful in International Rallying for several years. They have of course led the way with hybrids like the Prius which can claim to be the first ‘mass market’ hybrid. So this links in well with their current race ambitions. So far this season has not gone to plan and the cars still seem to be off the pace despite their best efforts to close the gap on Audi and Porsche.  But as the pundits often remind us ‘24 hours is a very long time to race’.. Imagine 12 F1 GP’s run back to back flat out. So while they don’t maybe have the sheer pace of the other big hitters they may well be back on the podium if the Audis and Porsches suffer from reliability problems . But they can’t make any mistakes at all !

#23 Nissan Motorsports Nissan GT-R Lm Nismo driven
by Olivier Pla, Jann Mardenborough and Max Chilton
Finally where are Nissan heading with their GT-R LM Nismo? This is really is a highly innovative bit of machinery but to be honest it may be here at Le Mans a year too soon. It is a remarkable bit of kit that should have arrived as a hybrid and with four wheel drive, but it has arrived here with a hybrid system that isn't working and only two wheel drive, which is not ideal. The car really is ground breaking when you think back to the last front wheel drive car to race at Le Mans, the Mini Marcos which finished 15th in 1966. Some cynics suggest that Nissan will do well to get their cars to the finish and match the result recorded by the little Marcos.  It definitely has the top speed in a straight line that can match any of the big three.. it is the corners that present them with a bit of a problem.

Manufacturers are here to sell cars, get exposure for their brand and to explore future technologies. It is a very expensive way of doing things but it is a well-trodden path over the entire history of the 24 hours since 1923.