Monday 18 April 2016

WEC Silverstone 6 hours - Jox Jottings

Was this the same Silverstone we were at yesterday?

What an extraordinary difference a day makes (With credit to Dinah Washington who sang one of the original versions). On Sunday Silverstone was totally unrecognisable, the sun was out , the sky was blue and there was no forecast of rain (or snow!). But after scraping an iceberg’s worth of ice off my windscreen I was not banking on anything!

A point left over from Saturday’s ELMS race regarded the #66 Ferrari, they got excluded from the results by the stewards due to a technical infringement. DSC tells us what it was all about “The decision relates to a non-homologated front splitter fitted to the car.” You might have thought somebody would have spotted that during pre-race scrutineering. Irritating at the very least for the team since it gave them no performance advantage at all and they had crossed the line in first place. After a quick chat with one of the technical Dunlop people it seemed that they admitted that were caught out by the weather and lack of any testing in such extreme conditions which accounted for the disappointing showing from Aston Martin in WEC but they did better in ELMS. 

By the way I lost the ‘Z’ key off my tablet keyboard but so far I have not missed it. Thankfully Sarrazin,  Dalzeil, Menezes, Gonzales, Lietz and Henzier had a quiet race !

So what kind of a race was that then? In a word ‘brilliant’! Going back to an earlier blog .. ‘To finish first .. first you have to finish’. Audi and Porsche both lost cars. Porsche lost their leading car after a clash with a slower LMGTE Porsche that was horrifying to watch but could have been a nasty accident. It eliminated the LMP1 Porsche on the spot. It also won Hartley a stern reprimand from the authorities to say nothing of the roasting he probably got from Porsche management. It was huge accident and the ‘innocent’ Michael Wainwright in the #86 Porsche might have put it better rather than saying ‘I never saw him’. Actually with the closing speeds between a LMP1 Hybrid and an LMGTE Am this could be a valid excuse. Hartley and the Porsche had been flying (literally) and looked good for a race win.

Next up were Audi who were also looking good, to most people’s surprise they were clearly quick enough to give Porsche something to consider. But their normally impeccable reliability record let them down when their #8 car simply stopped with a ‘hybrid malfunction’. When this happens to a hybrid machine a surreal sequence of events kicks into action. A circuit support car leaves the pits with an Audi engineer on-board and he sets about discharging the batteries and making the car safe. Had di Grass been in any sort of danger he would have been left sitting in the car way too long. As it was he sat there calmly while the engineer went about his work. It was a long safety car period while this was sorted out. Maybe this needs some thought for the future? Anyway the upshot was that both Audi and Porsche were down to one car and Toyota were looking at fortuitous podium spot!

This put the pressure on the remaining cars and it built up into a highly tactical fight. You could say Porsche first began to lose it when #2 car got tangled up with a slower car, spun and re-joined. Possibly the key point was that Audi and Porsche were reckoned to be running out of tyres so it all got a bit tense. Porsche came in roughly on schedule and replaced the two left tyres, the ones that suffer at Silverstone. They began to be looking good for a win, albeit a very close one. But then they were had to pit again when Jani got a front right puncture and came in  for a replacement tyre (there is some speculation quite where this tyre came from after Porsche just said ‘out the back’) and a splash of fuel. Their tacticians by now were tearing their hair out. 

Audi as they often do seemed to shrug off the continual changes in tactics and handled their sole remaining car well. Even the circuit commentary team were struggling to read events. Jani was in a position now to blitz it to end but he simply didn't have the pace or maybe the fuel to tackle the Audi.

However it was still very tight at the finish. Congratulations to Audi, commiserations to Porsche. BUT.. after we had left the circuit word filtered through that Audi had been excluded. It was all down to  article 3.5.6 a3 of the LMP1 rulebook, which concerns post-race measurement of the underfloor plank. Audi’s was out by 5mm so the car was rejected by the officials who deemed, according to a stewards' rather dry statement, that "it is the liability of the competitor to respect the technical regulations in any case in order [that] the car complies with this regulation". Even more extraordinary was that Audi were seemingly not planning on appealing the decision. This was duff information, they have appealed , but as things stand until the decision has been reviewed the podium had a strange look about it.

Porsche were on the top step.. beside them was a rather bewildered Toyota and beside them.. wait for it .. Rebellion! None of us would have predicted that! Toyota were still short on pace but high on reliability and clearly in good shape. But they did arrive on the podium which will give them plenty of hope for the rest of the season. They were unlucky when their #5 car got a puncture that went on to destroy the rear body work and floor plan. But they will be pleased overall with their day’s work which meant that up until the last few minutes they had a car on the same lap as the race winners. .. A much better start than last year.

While spotlight always tended to shine on the LMP1 dramas it was LMP2 that saw, as is often the case, some terrific racing. LMP2 may lack the star drivers and manufacturer's weight and kudos but they were ‘at it’ all the way. Their performances always get mixed and blurred with close encounters by the rapid LMP1 cars and constantly getting immersed in finding a way through the GT battles. The #43 RGR Sport by Morand entry won the LMP2 class by half-a-minute ahead of #31 Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier. Filipe Albuquerque took the Mexican entry home following a steady but rapid run alongside Bruno Senna and the much-improved Ricardo Gonzalez.

GT saw the very promising début of the new Ford GT. We imagine that despite hoping publicly for a clear win, after all they had spent a fortune testing, we think they will pleased with this outing. Raj Nair, executive vice president and chief technical officer, Global Ford Product Development and head honcho  was upbeat when reflecting on the team’s challenge at Silverstone. “Considering it was the first race with a new car and a new team we had a clean run. We’re very happy that the car ran well mechanically. We had a couple of issues; we were caught out on safety car timing and we lost radio with Olivier Pla towards the end of the race, which had an impact on strategy. This is a great start, though, and a good stepping stone to the Le Mans 24 Hours. We know how long it takes to develop a successful programme. We have the right car, the right team, the right drivers, and we just need time to develop all of that.”  OK so you can’t go out and buy one yet but it is one sexy bit of kit ! 

Nobody even got close to the AF Corse #71 Ferrari 488 GTE  (Sam Bird / Davide Rigon). They dominated the GTE-Pro category from start-to-finish, with leading almost every lap for the six hours. The only times they lost the lead was during the pit stops. In a way the other AF Corse Ferrari #51 was more impressive.  It started at the back of the grid after problems in qualifying and were also handed a three minute  stop-and-go penalty for changing an engine overnight. Third was the #95 Aston Martin V8 Vantage which spent a fraught race fending off the two Ford GT’s.  Aston Martin had been off the pace during qualifying while they tried to get to grips with the sub-arctic weather and their new relationship with Dunlop. But come the race it all paid off.

AF Corse completed a brilliant weekend by winning the GTE-Am class. The #83 car  piloted by Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Aguas, beat the #98 Aston Martin Vantage (Paul Dalla Lana/Pedri Lamy/Mathias Lauda) to the flag by one lap, with the #50 Larbre Competition C7 Corvette (Yutaka Yamagishi/Pierre Ragues/Paolo Ruberti) completing the GTE-Am podium. 

So as we said at the beginning ‘To finish first .. etc.’ maybe Porsche will be pondering what happened in the Hartley brain fade incident.. Audi will be wondering how their impeccable mechanical  record got damaged so publicly by a dead car sitting out there in the middle of the track for an embarrassingly long time.

Finally bearing in mind what the weather gods threw at us on Saturday it is very encouraging to hear that 52,000 spectators came to watch. Do you imagine that Bernie Ecclestone was a bit nervous of the ever increasing popularity of WEC when he ensured that the Grand Prix of Europe (in the brand new Formula One hot spot of Baku ?!)  clashed with Le Mans 24hrs thus making it 100% certain none of his drivers got a whiff of what ‘Endurance Racing’ has to offer. A very meagre 28,000 tickets have been made available for the European Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit. If Formula One carries along their suicidal, lemming led path to oblivion we may see more senior teams heading to LMP1. Now there is thought to keep us dribbling !

Jock Simpson

Postscript: Audi has chosen NOT to lodge an appeal following the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) in the United Kingdom. 

From Audi Press Release:

"The thickness of the skid block of the number “7” Audi R18 represented a breach of Article 3.5.6 a3 of the regulations, according to the assessment of the Technical Delegate. “We accept the exclusion from the classification and, in the interest of the sport, jointly look ahead,” said Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, justifying the decision. The skid block suffered above-average wear during the season opener. An analysis revealed that its wear was attributable to unexpectedly heavy “bouncing,” in other words an up- and downward movement of the race car. “It it is our job to avoid increased wear – we accept this responsibility,” Dr. Ullrich said. “We made our decision in the interest of the sport and hope that the eight remaining world championship rounds will be similarly thrilling as the season opener.” In just two weeks’ time, on May 7, round two of the season will be coming up at Spa (Belgium)."