The 2017 FIA WEC rulebook has seen major changes for the GTE Pro class, with ‘World Championship’ status now granted, a new ‘automatic’ algorithm based BoP system being implemented and new restrictions on the amount of tyres allowed during each weekend.
While all three will have an effect on the way in which teams tackle each race, it’s the changes to the tyre rules which Aston Martin Racing feels will make the most difference this season in determining the quality of the racing and shaping the title race in the top GTE class.
In the past, teams were allowed four sets of tyres for Free Practice, and six for Qualifying and the Race, now the number has shrunk to three and four respectively. It means tyre management, tyre durability and a smoother driving style will be key to scoring good results.
Whether it’s a good change or not though, is up for debate, so DSC spoke to AMR drivers Jonny Adam and Darren Turner, and its team principal John Gaw about their thoughts and feelings as the season opener approaches.
“The regulations are a big change, in GT it’s the biggest change we’ve had since the championship started,” Turner told DSC. “It’s going to mean strategy is going to be even more critical. The drivers’ patience is also going to be pushed harder, because you’ll need to make fewer mistakes.
“Before, with only an hour on a set, you could lock up, make errors and get away with it. Now, the pure pace element may well be lost, any issues, or spins could compromise your race strategy and your finish position.”
Adam agrees with this, as he believes that it will be a big mentality change for the drivers, and put a lot more onus on tyre development in the offseason too. In addition to the number being reduced, the development is also frozen at the start of the season too; both in an effort to cut costs further.
“This year it’s very different, it’s how you drive on a single set of tyres for a double stint now,” Adam said. “Do you push for the first half an hour, or do you conserve it, thinking of the second stint? There’s a lot to consider from our side, and from the team and Dunlop on tyre wear and preservation.
“Tyre testing is now so important, because now the tyre is frozen at the start of the season to cut costs, which means you need to evaluate what you have and be confident come Silverstone. I think that the great thing with Dunlop is that they’ve competed in LMP2, which is a four-set category, and they’re the chosen brand in that.
“Michelin will bring a good tyre though, and it will be thick and fast.”
The way in which the racing will be effected is arguably the most important subject, as GTE with BoP should produce close, hard racing without the drivers needing to worry too much about taking unnecessary risks or making any bold moves.
“Certainly in the first part of the season when we’re trying to understand the tyre, it’s going to take drivers more cautious because you don’t have tyres you can take risks with anymore,” Turner explained. “When we are out testing tyres, doing longer runs is now all about the performance on the last 15 laps, rather than the first five now.
“It will certainly effect Qualifying, people will be doing strong laps but I don’t think anyone will push too hard because they know that they can’t afford to waste a set.”
Adam feels that it will mix up strategies from the teams though.
“Strategies will be split on fuel load, what tyres you use and when, and that will effect the racing,” Adam said. “It will be different to what we’re used to, you may be racing a guy on a fresh set of tyres while you’re trying to make one last for a double, so it’ll be interesting.”
Gaw however, doesn’t see it as being as big of a deal as many may think, and that the difference in performance and raw lap times won’t be that noticeable.
“I don’t think the preservation levels will be anywhere near F1 level,” he expressed to DSC. “If I had to put a scale on it compared to that, we’re talking you won’t need to take the extra half tenth here or a few seconds in the first three laps.
“Also, I think some people’s fears about an Am winning races won’t ring true either. They may be racing Pros at times because they can, but it will even out over six hours” he said, when asked about the fears that manufacturer teams will get beaten by Am lineups who will still have six sets.
“I can’t see an Am lineup ever actually winning a race against three pros.There may be a unique circumstance at the end of a race with a pro in an Am car against a pro after a late safety car, and that would be great, there would be 15 cars racing instead of eight.”
It’s certainly a big change in direction for the WEC rule makers, as GTE Pro continues to blossom, with more manufacturer interest than ever, and more on the horizon.
Perhaps unsurprisingly though, some drivers are more sceptical than the rulemakers, and indeed at times take a different view from their bosses!
“Whether it’s a good move for the sport or not remains to be seen. It surprises me that the sport has gone in this direction,” said Darren Turner. “I would have preferred to stay with six sets for the race, I want to push all of the time if I can.”
“There’s always going to be racing, because everyone is in the same boat, but it will be more of a waiting game. Let’s hope we can get to the stage quickly where the tyres are strong enough over a full stint to allow us to push like we would have before.”
“I think it’s a good move, personally,” Gaw pointed out. “First of all it controls costs, and we need to do that in a championship like this. I also tend to think that doing something different is a positive as well; maybe the fans find it harder to understand than us but it’s very interesting from an engineering and driving perspective.
“We’ve seen in recent years that tyre development has played a big part in winning the championship, be it Dunlop with us last year or Michelin with Porsche the year before; but we don’t want it to get out of control.”