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Weekend Roundtable: P1 Pace, ELMS Standards, Clashes, Penalties & Brit GT Concerns

Last weekend saw DSC report live at both Silverstone and Brands Hatch for the opening rounds of the World Endurance Championship, European Le Mans Series and British GT Championship, it was a hectic weekend, with so many storylines developing.

So in light of that, DSC’s stable of writers were asked to give their thoughts on five standout topics from the weekends action in what will become a regular new feature on DSC; a roundtable discussion:

1. The pace of the LMP1 Hybrids

Graham Goodwin: “Amazing, simply amazing.  Once again the powers that be reel in the energy available to the competitors, around 7% of fuel year on year, and once again the huge brains in the factory development departments virtually sharpen their virtual pencils and make a bigger step.

“In many ways that’s exactly the point, and here’s the rub, the FIA WEC is making efficiency ‘sexy’ Who’d have thought it?

“Better still though these things can race, head to head, and through traffic (ignoring for a moment the miscalculation that cost the #1 and #86 race finishes).

“That efficiency is going to be very important indeed if we are to sustain factory interest, and more to the point factory budgets over an extended period.  The way that tech, and in particular automotive tech, is sold is changing fast, and whether by design or accident the WEC’s astounding premier class are proving to be a thoroughly modern 200mph expo.”

Stephen Kilbey: “The current era of P1 cars really do need to be seen to be believed. Last year, the factory prototypes took an enormous step in regard to raw performance, particularly in the second half of the WEC season when Porsche turned up at the Nürburgring fresh from its 17th Le Mans win with a new aero package.

“Going into 2016 the ACO tried to peg back the top cars, forcing them to use 30% less fuel per lap. But intelligent engineers at Toyota, Porsche and Audi seem to have managed to get back to the previous level of performance and gain a little bit more by improving in other areas.

“At Silverstone the P1 cars were going faster than 2016, producing lap-times comparable to that of a mid-pack Formula One car, but with a weightier chassis and more traffic to deal with.

“If the form continues, and if on the low-drag Le Mans circuit the curve is still pointing upwards, then expect the lap record to be broken once again in Qualifying if the weather holds out.”

2. Too many calendar clashes!

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Graham Goodwin: “We can sit here and write a couple of hundred words of blame calling text or we can ask, politely, for all concerned to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

“To have the opening weekend of the FIA WEC and ELMS at Silverstone clash directly with the opening round of the British GT Championship at Brands Hatch AND the second race meeting of the 2016 BTCC season an hour up the road at Donington Park was clumsy scheduling.

“In an era where the sport, and many people within it, are struggling with the thorny task of getting people in meaningful numbers to a race track that seems particularly poor.

“We could debate who announced calendars first, ACO/ SRO politics, availability of TV coverage or a range of other factors but really it’s simple – the ultimate responsibility for co-ordination lies with the MSA – and sadly in this instance they failed to assist the best interests of the sport as a whole in the UK.”

Stephen Kilbey: “As a writer at Silverstone, last weekend was a total nightmare, especially having to keep up with multiple series’ both live and from distance. But the main issue here is that the motorsport-going crowds were spread thin across multiple circuits around the UK, and forced to choose between three quality events.

“It’s honestly disappointing that the British Touring Car Championship round at Donington, British GT at Brands and WEC/ELMS double-header at Silverstone were all held at the same time.

“Something has to be done in the future to prevent this from happening again, because there are plenty of fans who would have attended two or even three of them if they were on separate dates.”

3. The three major post-race scrutineering decisions at Silverstone

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Graham Goodwin: “Rules are rules and despite the frustrations of investing, with time and emotion, into the result of both the ELMS and WEC races over the weekend only to have our post event conclusions dashed hours later in both cases, the rules are, and very much should be, inflexible.

“Following on from the point about how rapidly the development engineers and designers have moved to adapt to the 2016 rules it would not be difficult to imagine a scenario where leeway was given for a minor post-race scrutineering infringement, leading to an escalation in the stretching of the extremes of the permitted ‘envelope’.

“Too many sports today fall foul of the net result of a lack of proper respect for the rules – I personally don’t want my sport to follow suit.

“Both JMW and Audi performed well in their respective races, and it is perfectly possible that the issues that befell them subsequently were of no performance benefit whatsoever, but they started their races under the same rulebooks as their competitors and need to finish the races with the rules observed fully too.

“This is not the first time however that we have heard from a team that the part in question, in the case of the Ferrari, had been fitted to the car through the whole weekend, there should be issues arising there that the Scrutineers need to ponder. Picking this up before the cars hit the track is an inconvenience, post-race it’s a disaster, and whether or not it was unwittingly self inflicted as appears to be the case for JMW, the process could, and arguably should, have saved them from theirselves!

“One last point – some years ago there was much comment when a car that was clearly underweight was permitted to keep a Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona overall win despite its infraction.  In my eyes respect for the rules, and their referees, is far more important than a sleepless night for a journo or two, and/ or a fanbase that finds out the day following the event that the car they cheered home had a bad night at the office!

Paul Truswell: “It is never a good thing when one reads of exclusions and appeals hours after everyone has gone home. Certainly, post-race procedures have to be followed and certainly, driving infringements need to be penalised. But I hope that the number of stewards’ decisions that affected the result of both the WEC and ELMS races at the weekend does not set a precedent to which we become accustomed.

“I don’t particularly want to get into the rights and wrongs of the technical infringements that affected both Saturday’s ELMS and Sunday’s WEC race. The fact that both the JMW Ferrari and the Audi R18 were in contravention of technical regulations should not be under debate, these are matters of fact, and while there may be mitigating circumstances, for either team to deny the offence will be difficult.

“On the other hand, the time penalty that was applied (for avoidable contact) for Richie Stanaway’s antics in the Aston Martin on the final lap of the ELMS race required the application of judgement, in order to establish what was, and what was not, avoidable, and what was an appropriate penalty. In the event, I think that justice was done although whether lessons will have been learned remains to be seen.

“In a race in which pit stops play an inevitable role, to inspect the cars at the start of the race and not at the end would be negligent. Post-race scrutineering is a very necessary evil, and if you inspect a car you must be prepared to take action if something is wrong. Having said that, I believe that the checks carried out post-race should be a subset of those done at initial scrutineering. To a check a measurement after the race that hasn’t been checked before is somewhat incongruous, to my mind. But if a part of the car that passed scrutineering is found to be illegal at the end of the race, what option do the organisers have? I have, unfortunately, been to enough races to know that teams will cheat if they think they can get away with it. Protestations of innocence have been corrupted by ill-use. There have been, over the years, too many cases of rules being broken.

“The argument is often raised that the ‘result’ of the race should not be retrospectively changed. My opinion is that, in these internet-connected days, such corrections are far easier to communicate to the general public than ever before. If cyclists and track athletes can have Olympic gold medals removed when drug scandals hit the headlines, surely to announce exclusions within a few hours of the end of the race can be tolerated? Particularly if the reason is a matter of fact, not of judgement. Either the skid block was worn beyond the tolerated amount, or it wasn’t. By the time you read this, the basis for Audi’s appeal may be known; but right now, I find it difficult to see how you can argue against a tape measure.

“The problem is credibility. If some of the rules prove to be less important than others, we are on a slippery slope indeed.”

4. A less than perfect British GT opener at Brands Hatch

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James Warnette:  “Once again an oversight on a regulation, this time the delivery of the new Code 80, an 80km/h speed restriction / race neutralisation tactic and replacement for a safety car caution period, ended up dictating the result of the race in both GT3 and GT4.

“One issue at the Brands weekend was that some competitors, predominantly GT4, were not running at the full 80 km/h, which without a safety car present to orchestrate a wave by, meant those stuck behind a car not at the full 80 km/h for a whole lap, conceded time to rivals elsewhere.

“This was the issue for Rick Parfitt Jnr (Team Parker Racing Bentley) and for Fabio Babini (Barwell Lamborghini) and Joe Osborne (AMDtuning.com) to name a few.  Clearly stating what the minimum speed should be shouldn’t be necessary to a racing driver, but perhaps with so many new teams and drivers it could be helpful to issue target delta times.

“Another issue that arose was at what point a driver adheres to the Code 80. Without a signal on the dashboard of all cars or a specific flag trackside for marshals, the delivery of the Code 80 was reliant on two things. Firstly, marshals displaying a single yellow flag with a static board stating ‘Full Course Caution’ and on a Team Manager communicating the news quickly. The latter brings about a further grey area as a fellow competitor could steal seconds off you because a Team Manager was more prompt on giving the news to his driver than another – that shouldn’t be penalised. This appeared to be the issue for the Century Motorsport Ginetta of Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke.

“Without a regulation or bulletin from the championship available to clarify, one can only assume this act of neutralisation is meant to work in the same way as the Creventic series, but without the marshals having purple flags to notify drivers trackside. Using the yellows worked, but caused confusion on the restart where green flags should’ve been displayed across the circuit. However due to the barrier issues from the incident, yellow flags were on display near Pilgrims Drop. This was the reported issue for Osborne that meant he overtook Babini under yellow flags and lost second place post-race.

“Further clarification from organisers is definitely required on this, and while not possible on all entries, utilising the second ‘speed limit’ function some of the cars possess (to nominate a set speed – just like how the pit limiter works) would be advantageous for future rounds, and delta times to ensure cars don’t go too slow or too fast would be beneficial too.

“It’s quite astounding that so many cars lost out as a result of people going too slow, but none have been penalised for going too quickly. Once it became clear that this particular incident was going to be lengthy, my personal view is that a Safety Car should have been deployed. It was a significant accident that also required repairs to barriers.

“I’m not here to mount pressure or blame the organisers of British GT, they will know what needs to be improved after the Brands Hatch weekend, these are just observations of an attendee who is fortunate to have a public forum to bring forth these views.

“SRO should be praised for adopting the Code 80 practice, but the devil is in the detail. Making sure that the first or second weekends (almost a third of the championship) are not blighted by a regulatory issue is imperative to ensure customers don’t lose heart with what is a series cherished by many.”

NOTE: We have approached SRO for clarification of the Code 80 regulation, but are yet to receive an answer. This will be updated when details are received.

Martin Little: “The whole complexion of British GT is different this year. With teams like Motorbase fielding only one car, for example, GT3 looks to be lacking just a little bit of strength in depth. There is still strong support from some quarters, but the entry somehow seems less sturdy and consistent from its peak level over the past couple of seasons.

“GT4 though seems in its pomp, but is now a very different looking class. It wouldn’t be tough to get to the conclusion that GT4 is turning into a ‘junior pro’ series, a proving ground for future professionals as the GT racing scene is progressively transformed into a real potential career track.

“Whilst it’s great to be drawing in new talent the line seems a bit blurred between say GT5 Challenge and British GT4, which has traditionally been a Pro/Am series. There are more Silver/Silver pairings than ever in this class (57% of the entry this year, just 20% last year – total GT4 entries more or less the same). The drivers are getting younger too it seems, and for many this is their first experience of mixed class racing, and that’s always tough, and potentially risky, for a relatively inexperienced racer.

“In those circumstances it’s easy to miss the fact that a GT3 battle is approaching fast from behind, and that an established pro driver’s interpretation of a gap is different than many might imagine. that brings risks, and in part that truly is part of the learning curve.

“The class is correctly being used as part of a ladder system, but at times the lack of experience is all too clear with continuing talk of the growing case for a separate GT4 championship if this trend continues.”

5. ELMS driving standards

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Stephen Kilbey: “Messy is the word I would use to describe the opening round of the ELMS this year. While it was to be expected, given the level of the LMP3 drivers’ experience in particular, it was nevertheless apparent that there is now a clear gap between the bottom of the overall driving standards in the WEC, and the top of the ELMS.

“There were plenty of head-turning performances and the GTE and LMP2 classes in particular were mostly a good spectacle, but there’s a lot of LMP3 drivers who need to learn on the job, and learn quickly how to deal with the speed differentials of the LMP2s ahead and the GTE cars behind. It certainly didn’t help though that the weather conditions were tricky for the drivers the whole weekend, and that’s not ideal given the abundance of ELMS newcomers on the grid.

“The overall feeling from drivers I’ve spoken too however is positive, and that by the end of the season, race weekends will run without any controversial moments.”

Graham Goodwin: “With a record breaking grid, a relatively large number of teams and drivers new to the ELMS and to mixed class racing at this level there was an inevitability that the learning curve would be steep for some.

“And it was! First off the line and onto the first lap, then later with a few too many learning the hard way that LMP2s are faster than their usual competition, that Pro drivers in GTE’s are as likely to look up your inside if you leave a gap as those in Prototypes and that there are limits to the levels of mechanical and aerodynamic grip on LMP3, and LMP2 cars.

“That’s not to say it was chaos, though the first few corners had a stab at that description, just that there were too many silly errors.

“This field will bed in though, and some will decide they aren’t enjoying the challenge. But for the rest there are signs to suggest that the resurrection of the ELMS from its low point just a few short years ago is now here with a vengeance.”