14 days

News Flash


Scrutineering Bay

Not that it's any of my business

Notes from the Cellar

Across the Border

Focal Point







Mail  to a friend

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Family and friends


sportscarpros CottonBalls

Michael & Andrew Cotton


Top of Page

The Price of Progress

Dining in the Outback Steakhouse in Florida, Daniel Perdrix and Daniel Poissenot had good reason to be pleased. The ACO’s general manager and technical director were celebrating the fact that the petrol-powered Acura was on pole position, ahead of the diesel-powered Audis and Peugeots making a guest appearance at the opening race of the American Le Mans Series, the Sebring 12 hours.

Around one hour into the race, the pair wore slightly more concerned looks. The leading diesel cars had put 14 seconds between them and the leading Acura in the first four laps, and by lap 24, they were 56 seconds ahead. The Acura is a new car, and the teams were on a steep learning curve, but that was still some feat. “For sure, in two to three months they will be stronger,” said Audi’s Dindo Capello after the race, and the Acura drivers agreed. The question the ACO will have to answer, of course, is how the performance of the diesel cars pan out at Le Mans

There, the two diesel manufacturers will face Aston Martin, which watched the front-running pace at Sebring with some trepidation. With a customer Lola chassis and a production-based engine, paying drivers in one car due to a shortage of budget and a new car on order for Barcelona following a crash in pre-season testing at Le Castellet, Aston Martin will not start as a favourite to win. Is this an accurate measure for the diesel/petrol battle? Clearly not as the Peugeot and Audi are no compromise race cars. However, If you want Aston Martin to be competitive, then they have to take a slightly different view.

At Sebring, Peugeot’s Sebastian Bourdais clocked a new lap record in his pursuit of Allan McNish’s leading Audi, the Frenchman lapping the 3.7 mile course in 1m43.274s. The winning Audi set a new distance record at Sebring, at 383 laps despite three caution periods. These cars are supposed to be slower than last year! And that was around an airfield course. What happens when they go to Le Mans? On a circuit which is more than 75% full throttle, will the increased drag really make a difference to top speed and therefore overall lap time? How much of the Sebring lap time was due to mechanical grip mid-course, rather than straight line speed on the two straights?

In GT2, the picture was remarkably similar. Marc Lieb set the fastest lap of the Flying Lizard team, a 2m02.494s, just five hundredths of a second slower than Jaime Melo went in the Ferrari in 2008. Melo’s Ferrari achieved a 2m03.087s this year, slowed by the restrictions imposed by the IMSA organisation, but it backs up the Ferrari drivers’ reports at the LMS test in Paul Ricard that the Porsches did not seem to be as affected by the changes. Lieb reckons the Michelin development tyre is 1.5s faster than the customer tyres he, with Alex Davison, endured last year in the Felbermayr Proton team, but Porsche has worked hard on its 2009 challenger and once again has moved into prime position.

Of course, there was the usual discussion regarding the cars – Peugeot complained that, having been told to slow down after last year, Audi went out and built a faster car. This puts the French into a bit of a ‘situation’.

The French team will need to build a new car to compete against the Audi R15, but what will it build? A car to new regulations which have not yet been published, a car to existing regulations which will be valid only for one year, or try to get another year out of the 908? Or, will it take a year off, and come back stronger in 2011 with an all-new hybrid car? None of the above looks that attractive. A new car is out of the question in the short term. If Peugeot takes a year off, in this economic climate it is unlikely that they would return for another shot at Le Mans. Continue with the 908, campaigning against the R15? It is their only chance, hence their assertion that the new Audi has a front wing and the exhaust hole in the rear deck help air flow, and increase performance.

French engineers at Peugeot are working hard to deliver new hybrid technology in 2011, ready in case they are given the green light by the bean counters. Whether or not their efforts will hit the tracks has yet to be confirmed. One thing is certain – they won’t return to the ALMS, held in a country where they don’t sell cars. Peugeot has committed to two more races in Europe after Le Mans, but both need to make marketing sense and the LMS does not provide a good enough platform. If they can find the money up-front, they would prefer to do the Asian Le Mans Series.

In the mean time, the ACO will be poring over the figures and trying to figure out; do they want a repeat of Sebring, with great racing up front among the diesel manufacturers, or do they consider their participation so fragile that they should take a closer look at slowing them again before the great race?

Andrew Cotton, March 2009