Friday 14 June 2019

Le Mans: Jock's Jottings

Jox pre-race Jottings..

Doing “ Jottings” by remote control a mere 386 miles away back in UK is a bit of a challenge! However, working alongside the “away team” and using all the media stuff available has made life tolerable and actually rather intriguing. Even so there may be errors!

Yesterday’s qualifying didn’t really throw up many major frights unless of course you were Rebellion who while they were bang on the pace, they were using up engines at an alarming rate. Both cars munched up an engine under what looked like very similar circumstances. Luckily between them Rebellion and Gibson naturally (?!) had a few spare engines “ in the back of the van” as Bart Hayden put it. The team will now be very slick if any more engines need swapping. We are not sure if they eventually had to run one of the race engines.

While we are not huge fans of BOP etc. it does seem that the non-hybrid LMP1 cars (SMP Racing and Rebellion) might at least now get a glimpse of the Toyota’s rear lights at some point during the 24 hours.  The jury is out as to whether Toyota was doing just enough to occupy the front row of the grid or maybe having to break into a modest sweat Their PR machine is so slick it is always hard to tell. This maybe Bykolles last year at Le Mans but contrary to their usual form they didn’t catch fire or fall apart.  In LMP2 Graff had been very cool and effective and took pole until the nice people at The FIA took away their lap times from the start of the session up until the time of the “ infraction” at 23:37 hrs. This was due to a transgression, clearly of huge magnitude, when their driver failed to stop at the weighbridge. This put them back to 14th. Seemed a bit harsh but “Rules is Rules” (certainly here at Le Mans!). Elsewhere Oreca had the edge over Ligier. TDS Racing #28 took pole ahead of Dragonspeed and Signatech. The best Ligier was #22 United Autosports car that was 6th on the LMP2 grid

For us the best bits of racing have traditionally come from the LMGTE Pro and Am cars... and this year’s qualifying was no exception. Like or loathe Balance of Performance The FIA seems to have got this about right. With Aston Martin, Ford, Chevrolet, Porsche and BMW occupying the first five slots on their grid in LMGTE Pro. This won’t have pleased Ferrari who was 8th with #71 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo.  Who knows their BOP might be tweaked before the race. We have always admired the Corvette Racing lads. They seem ridiculously laid back and as usual, arrived at Le Mans short of relevant testing time.  However, as usual, they worked at their own, seemingly relaxed, pace and by the end of qualifying, they had eased #63 car into 3rd in LMGTE pro. Maybe the happiest team was Aston Martin who took pole ahead of #67 Chip Ganassi Ford GT. This was a great result for #85 Aston Martin Vantage AMR because Aston Martin is celebrating the 60th Anniversary of their famous win in the 1959 race.

When you see a BMW M8 being manhandled onto a low loader you can’t fail to notice what a huge car it is! So it was great effort threading #81 MTEK BMW M8 through the traffic to a respectable 6th
in class.

In LMGTE Am it will be another straight fight between Porsche and Ferrari . The #88 Dempsey Proton Porsche taking pole with the #84 Ferrari 488 GTE getting in amongst the impressive fleet of 911 RSR! Sadly one Le Mans regular the famous lurid green #99 Porsche 911 RSR will not be making the start. During practice Tracy Krohn had a major “off” which resulted in him winding up in hospital. He was not seriously injured but the FIA medical team decided he was not fit enough to race. It was a big hit but even so the Dempsey Proton engineers used a fresh chassis and the car was ready to race. The unlucky Tracy was not! The car has been withdrawn.

Any other business.

The whole Hypercar saga has been so fragmented that it is very hard to follow where we have got to. This year at Le Mans some meat is getting onto the bone. The ACO and FIA don’t seem to have gone into this with the major manufacturers behind them. The ACO have at last come up with a set of regulations. Any plans to develop a GTE ‘Plus’ and ‘DPi’ seem to have been shelved. Some of the basic regulations have been announced. First of which is a weight of 1100kgs with a maximum of 950bhp from a combination of internal combustion engine and hybrid. The maximum for combustion engine would be 508 kW and the hybrid bit supplying 200 kW.. Without doing any research this doesn’t look as if it will mean the Hypercars will be any quicker than the existing LMP2 machines. So they may not be the top level, outright race winners which is of course what the manufacturers need to justify the costs. Originally they were seen and being an LMP1 alternative.

Hybrids will be allowed which should meet the manufacturers need to appear “eco-friendly”. Since so-called Prototypes and Road cars will be racing together BOP will be a major feature. It seems “Aero” will be free. There will be a single tyre supplier. ( Maybe why Goodyear have entered the ring?)  Manufacturers will have to produce at least 25 road going versions of the cars by year one and then 200 by the end of the second season. This might be open to abuse.. look at the Ford GT! The race cars must use the same internal combustion engines and ERS that can be found on the road cars.

Toyota will probably join in since their TS050 Hybrid will not race beyond next year.

Aston Martin seems to be getting their Valkyrie model shape and an example was at Le Mans this year. It is allegedly powered by a V12 6.5-liter engine ... that will sound good. They are aiming at having the car ready to race at Le Mans 2021. They say they will run two factory cars in WEC. Toyota currently has an open mind since they will run the current LMP1 car for one more season and they may go “ Hypercar”. Ford are getting frustrated by the constant movement of goal posts.

Slightly more left field are Glickenhaus who have just welcomed Aston Martin to the Hypercar Club. James Glickenhaus is a film director, producer and screenwriter and by all accounts not short of a few dollars. He also a serious car collector and racer. They have been approved as a low volume manufacturer. He has entered for the full WEC 2020 season. It looks like GM might be their engine
supplier. It looks like a serious proposition. We like his dream “ These cars might be able to drive to Le Mans from Turin, race for 24hrs and then, if there is enough left, drive to Paris for dinner”. That is ‘old school’ Le Mans ambitions !!

We see this hypercar route as being ferociously expensive and also having overtones of the Porsche and Mercedes GT1 machines from the past which didn’t last long, were hugely expensive and did plenty of harm to costs and grids.

With Toyota due to move on from LMP1 hybrids, having lost Audi, Porsche and Peugeot from LMP1 the ACO seem to be looking a bit desperate to fill the financial sponsorship revenue gaps this has left.

Goodyear / Dunlop “Goodyear has announced that it will re-enter European and International sportscar racing by developing a new range of tires for the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), including the Le Mans 24-hour race." We find this rather intriguing bearing in mind that Goodyear recently merged with Dunlop to form one of the largest tyre manufacturers in the world. So Goodyear and Dunlop racing are closely related so it seems strange that Goodyear intends to take on endurance racing through WEC leaving Dunlop to look after ELMS etc. We are not quite sure what happens when Dunlop shod LMP2 cars arrive at Le Mans and find themselves racing against the new whizzy upgraded WEC Goodyear shod teams! It might mean the Goodyear WEC teams could have a huge advantage over their ELMS chums. Dunlop has always reckoned it “ owned” Le Mans! Hence the iconic Dunlop bridge, Dunlop chicane, and Dunlop curves... will they be renamed thus ending a relationship with Le Mans that has lasted since 1923?

Goodyear has been developing a new range of tyres for Le Mans Prototypes for over a year (that we don’t seem to have seen in UK and Europe) at their innovation centers in Hanau (Germany) and Colmar-Berg (Luxembourg). The tyres will debut at the start of the 2019/2020 WEC season at Silverstone in August.

There is one glimmer of hope for us fans.. maybe the Goodyear Blimp will reappear over the circuit. They flew between 1925 and 2017 ( for blimp anoraks they began to move over to semi-rigid airships from 2014). 

Nice gesture by Phillipp Enge he has redesigned his helmet to match that of the late Roland Ratzenberger who sadly died at Imola 25 years ago.

For the first time in ten years there is an all-female team racing here this year. Manuela Gostner didn’t start racing until she was thirty. Away from the circuits, she competed internationally at both indoor and beach volleyball. This is Rahel Frey’s second time at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Her car failed to finish in 2010. Since 2015 Michelle Gatting has been an instructor for Porsche, at their three-month “Porsche Winter Driving Experience". They will be driving Kessel Racing Hublot sponsored #83 Ferrari F488 GTE They are starting 60th

2019 Predictions.. as usual, total guesswork.. unless both Toyotas fall to bits we can't see them not being on the podium. If Rebellion have sorted out their engine problems they might just edge SMP Racing off the top spot.

LMP2 looks mighty close but maybe a TDS win. LMGTE Pro... interesting. The heart says it would be great for Aston Martin to win this year celebrating their 60th Anniversary win. Could a factory Ford do it in their last year as works team , maybe not? Don’t ignore the ever competitive Porsches.. they are quite used to winning. The dream would rather a mature Corvette pulling it off, you just can’t trust those Yanks!! LMGTE Am ... Porsche really ought to win this due to sheer force of numbers my money would be on Dempsey Proton who are a very slick operation now.

Jock Simpson