Thursday, May 12, 2016

This Week in Motorsport: By Endurance We Conquer

World Endurance Championship
The World Endurance Championship (W.E.C.) is awesome, in both the literal & figurative senses of the word. The L.M.P.1 machines, especially the factory hybrids boasting the equivalent of a thousand brake horsepower, seem for all the world like starships flying low to the ground, even more so than Formula One cars. The P2s are only a small step down, the principal difference being that they rely purely on internal-combustion power, as P1s did not so many years ago. The production-derived G.T.E.-specification cars in G.T.E. Pro & G.T.E. Am are the baddest, fastest G.T.s in the world, superior in both power & grip to the ubiquitous G.T.3-spec cars that run in lesser series. The W.E.C. runs on great, world-class circuits, seven of the nine also belonging to this year's F1 calendar, with the other two a former F1 circuit at the base of Mount Fuji & the Circuit de la Sarthe, the home of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The W.E.C. is everything I want in a motor racing series.

After winning the World Endurance Championship in 2014, Toyota struggled mightily in 2015; for 2016, they have not only a brand-new car, the TS050, but a new power philosophy, having traded the old naturally-aspired V8 engine for a turbocharged one & a capacitor-based hybrid system for batteries. Porsche, riding high from their double championship in 2015—both the marquee 24 Hours of Le Mans & the broader W.E.C.—have made only incremental changes to their 919. Audi still calls their car the R18, but this is at least the third or fourth completely different R18; they used to change names when they introduced a new car—the all-conquering R8 gave way to the Diesel-powered R10 to the R15 to the first-generation R18—but no longer. In the pre-season "Prologue" at Circuit Paul Ricard, all three factory squads ran very similar times, promising an almighty battle for the W.E.C. crown. Hoorah!

Round 1
6 Hours of Silverstone
Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Audi of triple Le Mans champions André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler, & Benoît Tréluyer finished first, but was excluded (disqualified) in post-race technical inspection. The other Audi, of Loïc Duval, Lucas di Grassi, & Oliver Jarvis suffered a technical failure & did not finish the race. The Porsche 919 of Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas, & Neel Jani thus inherited the victory, softening the blow of the sister car, driven by Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley, & Timo Bernhard, crashing out in a shunt with a G.T.E. Am-class Porsche 911. The Toyota of Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, & Kamui Kobayashi finished third & inherited second; their teammates Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi, & Kazuki Nakajima suffered mechanical woes, but did finish the race albeit far down the order; this gave Toyota a better day than either Audi or Porsche. The attrition in the factory P1s allowed the privateer P1s of Rebellion Racing to finish third & fourth with the non-hybrid Rebellion R-One, Dominik Kraihamer, Alexandre Imperatori, & Mathéo Tuscher standing on the podium.

L.M.P.1 (& overall)
1st Place: Lieb/Dumas/Jani, Porsche
2nd Place: Sarrazin/Conway/Kobayashi, Toyota
3rd Place: Kraihamer/Imperatori/Tuscher, Rebellion

Round 2
6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps
Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Audi of Duval, di Grassi, & Jarvis finished first & passed post-race inspection with flying colors; the sister car of Lotterer, Fässler, & Tréluyer lost time in the pits for repairs, but rallied to finish a valuable fifth. The Porsche of Lieb, Dumas, & Jani once again finished second, but this time stayed there; the 2015 World Championship trio of Webber, Hartley, & Bernhard suffered mechanical woes & finished behind most of the G.T.E. field. Toyota had it worst of all, with both cars finishing behind the trailing Porsche. The plucky privateers from Rebellion were once again in good form, finishing third & fourth for the second consecutive race.

L.M.P.1 (& overall)
1st Place: Duval/di Grassi/Jarvis, Audi
2nd Place: Lieb/Dumas/Jani, Porsche
3rd Place: Kraihamer/Imperatori/Tuscher, Rebellion

Next: The 84th 24 Heures du Mans, 18-19 June. Le Mans! Le Mans! Le Mans!

Unfortunately, here in America the television broadcast rights to the W.E.C. belong to Fox Sports. Fox broadcasts the races on their twenty-four-hours cable sports networks, Fox Sports 1 & Fox Sports 2. Approximately seventeen households in the United States receive F.S.2, & yet this is the channel on which most of Fox's coverage resides. Two of the six hours of the 6 Hours of Silverstone were aired on the widely-available F.S.1, but only a paltry half an hour of the six hours of the Spa round. This is all the more frustrating because Spa-Francorchamps is the greatest racing circuit in the whole world! I fear for my ability to watch this year's Le Mans.

I.M.S.A. SportsCar Championship
When N.A.S.C.A.R. bought the American Le Mans Series (A.L.M.S.) & merged it with their own, inferior Grand-Am Sports Car Series, they gave the unholy amalgamation the name United SportsCar Championship. I mocked this from the first, saying that "United" was only a reminder of the separate, glorious past & would be redundant withing two or three season. In this third season of the championship, the word "United" has been dropped. The initial title sponsor, a European luxury watch manufacturer, signed on to a five-year deal; for this third season, a new title sponsor is in place, an American automotive accessories manufacturer. I can only surmise that the initial title sponsor did not think they were getting their money's worth from the arrangement. I.M.S.A. is not that title sponsor, but the sanctioning body, a wholly-owned subsidiary of N.A.S.C.A.R. (The W.E.C. is a joint enterprise of the A.C.O., the organizers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, & the F.I.A., the world's governing body for automobile racing.)

The SportsCar Championship is still haunted by its original sin, the handicapping of the A.L.M.S.'s fleet Le Mans Prototypes (P2s) so that they would not overshadow & easily outpace Grand-Am's plodding Daytona Prototypes (D.P.) in the combined Prototype class. Starting in 2017, the old-school D.P.s will be gone & the top category will be composed exclusively of P2s, modified from the A.C.O./F.I.A.'s revised P2 specification as D.P.I.s, for "Daytona Prototype International" (N.A.S.C.A.R.'s petulant way of conceding that they were wrong to favor D.P.s over P2s while admitting nothing of the sort.) I await the all-P2 future with trepidation, fearful that I.M.S.A. will find some way to bollocks up the whole shooting match. (They've merrily roasted & devoured the goose that lays the golden eggs before.)

With Prototype a shambles, the only real attraction is the G.T.L.M. class, imported whole & without modification from the A.L.M.S.'s old G.T. class. G.T.E. cars are a joy to watch, with works teams from Corvette, Porsche, B.M.W., & Ford, & a works-supported though technically privateer effort from Ferrari. The "victory yellow" C7.Rs from Corvette Racing won both the 24 Hours of Daytona & the 12 Hours of Sebring, but at Long Beach the lead 'Vette was spun in the dying laps by a works Porsche, clearing the way for the other works Porsche to claim the victory. I.M.S.A. being N.A.S.C.A.R. by another name, no penalty was imposed for the seemingly deliberate contact. At Laguna Seca, Henry Ford's Nazi-loving ghost won with an incredible fuel-saving display that saw the winning Ford make only one pit stop compared to all of its competitors' two.

Round 3
Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach
Saturday, 16 April 2016

P. (& overall)
1st Place: R. Taylor/J. Taylor, Taylor (Chevrolet)
2nd Place: Barbosa/Fittipaldi, Action Express (Chevrolet)
3rd Place: Cameron/Curran, Action Express (Chevrolet)

1st Place: Pilet/Tandy, Porsche
2nd Place: Gavin/Milner, Corvette
3rd Place: Fischella/Vilander, Ferrari

Round 4
Monterey Grand Prix (Laguna Seca)
Sunday, 1 May 2016

P. (& overall)
1st Place: Pew/Negri, Shank (Honda)
2nd Place: Goosens/Dalziel, Visit Florida (Chevrolet)
3rd Place: Cameron/Curran, Action Express (Chevrolet)

1st Place: Briscoe/Westbrook, Ford
2nd Place: Pier Guidi/Serra, Ferrari
3rd Place: Bamber/Makowiecki, Porsche

Next: Sports Car Classic on Belle Isle in Detroit on 4 June, in support of the post-Indy 500 IndyCar race. The G.T.L.M. cars will not be present (So what's the point of watching?), as several of them have more pressing commitments across the pond in France. Le Mans! Le Mans! Le Mans!

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