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
Index Index
Back Back


Top of Page

The Bleak Mid-Winter

Christmas is officially over. The decorations have come down, the tree is chopped up and in the recycling bin, though there is some discussion chez family Cotton over whether or not it counts as a recyclable item. Given the fact that last year’s tree sat in the garden turning a shade of gold and was finally chopped up alongside this year’s offering, it is a moot point. The cars are covered in mud and salt, the school run takes place at a pace to save getting sodden. The weather has closed in, winter flooding is here. Welcome to England, winter style.

National Velvet
Small wonder that we all go to Daytona. Americans by and large believe that England is a wonderful place, full of historic buildings and that everybody has met the Queen, the sun shines and, having watched friends, Fergie welcomes tourists outside Buckingham Palace and Richard Branson sells hats in his spare time. This is a similar dewy-eyed vision shared by much of the world about Ireland. There is a reason it is called the Emerald Isle, and that reason is not the abundance of leprechauns dressed in national colours, the impaired sight caused by too much Guinness, or the little men jumping around shouting “begorra’ a lot. It rains, then rains some more, and then, if you are lucky, you get a light shower of rain.

It is the same all over the world. As I sit watching the levels of the river slowly rising outside my office window, I look forward to the beaches of Daytona, the sunshine, walking around in t-shirts and driving a ‘compact’ car, a huge thing with a suspension made of blancmange. I am deluding myself. My compact car will be the size of a pea and I’ll be lucky if it has four wheels. There is as much chance of needing the thermals mid-race as any event here in Europe.

A La Carte
Years ago, a typically unwelcome e-mail from Brooks on Sunday afternoon in the Daytona press room informed us that the Sainted Editor (or Swamp Donkey) had just finished cooking a roast leg of lamb and he was popping open his second bottle of claret. We were cold, wet, bored, waiting for the cars to start again after a race stoppage. Last year there was fog, and this year anything could happen. Likely as not, I’ll get into some sort of trouble in the pit lane, I’ll order chips and receive crisps, and will have the wrong clothing with me whatever happens.

Still, I am looking forward to the race, then heading down to Sebring for the ALMS test days, where Audi will face Peugeot for the first time since June. We still have no final word regarding Audi’s plans with the R10 TDI. That means we still are not 100 per cent sure Peugeot will do the full Le Mans Series. This is making life difficult for Patrick Peter, and anyone hoping to finalise their Le Mans Series plans.

The Kinks
Before all that, though, we had the Racing Car Show in Birmingham which threw up its own novel plans. Aston Martin confirmed that it would put a six- litre V12 engine in the back of a Lola coupe LMP1 car, bringing together two companies which first raced at Le Mans together in 1967. Tomas Enge will return to the top flight category, where he belongs and will share with Jan Charouz and Stefan Mucke. The car will be run by Prodrive, while Sam Hignett’s Team Jota will run the open car. Aston also unveiled its Gulf livery on the DBR9s, and again stated that the plan was to run them at Le Mans, and at selected races at the end of the year. That could include the Le Mans Series race at Silverstone on September 14, or the Spa 24 hours at the beginning of August.

Brazil Nuts
Patrick Peter was there in Birmingham, still putting together the final touches to his master plan of a sixth race in the Le Mans Series and praying for final confirmation from Audi and Peugeot this week. Once he has his confirmation, the likelihood is that the race will return to Interlagos, worth extra points in the title and a Le Mans qualifier. Daniel Poissenot of the ACO pointed out that the Sebring 12 hours, and the Petit Le Mans 1000 miles were similarly weighted in the ALMS, so why not Interlagos? It would be nice if there were competitors from the ALMS willing to make the trip to Brazil, and for the race to be billed as a clash of the two series. Yet the race cannot take place before the Grand Prix on November 2, which makes it again very late, badly attended as the Brazilians have no cash left, and of little value to anyone other than the LMP1 manufacturers.

GT, GT, GT, GT……………
Stephane Ratel was in back to back meetings all Thursday morning and is a man with a tough hill to climb. The FIA rubber stamped his idea for the new GT1 regulations, but as one engineer pointed out, that is a far cry from a full set of technical regulations. And, even when those regulations are confirmed, possibly in time for 2009, who will build cars to this new formula? Aston Martin has not ruled out a new GT1 programme, and would be daft to do so, but at the moment, everyone is looking to GT2, including Aston Martin, General Motors, Ferrari, Porsche, Audi with its R8, Dodge, BMW, which this week is presenting its GT2 study in Detroit. This is going to be a mighty programme if it all comes together.

What will happen to Ratel, then? Many have doubted him before, and many believe he is mad. They may have a point, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that he is stupid. It was his tenacity that kept GT racing alive after Porsche and Mercedes stopped their programmes ten years ago. It was his vision that introduced the N-GT regulations, which led to the current GT2 class. He was instrumental in bringing together the FIA and the ACO prototype and GT regulations in the interests of his competitors. His organisation introduced GT3, a suitable cash cow for manufacturers. He has introduced GT4, which for cars that cannot get up to GT3 level (I admit that I am struggling to see the point of that – my hire car in the US won’t go that fast, so should we wait until he gets to GT10, and we can all have a go?)

Peter Wright’s performance balancing system is the most comprehensive and effective in the business, and few should doubt that Ratel’s new plan will have a degree of success. Whether or not it is more or less successful than a field full of manufacturer-supported, privately run cars could be the issue, but I cannot see Ratel allowing it to reach the point of direct competition. Patrick Peter has said that of the 20 entries into the LMS who need to be culled, most of them will be from the GT class as they have the option of joining Ratel. Peter reckons the split will be 30 LMPs and 20 GTs this season.

The one interesting point that came out of the Show was a series of confused LMP2 teams finalising their LMS programmes. Patrick has said that he doesn’t want professional teams or a full complement of professional drivers in any car in the category, a direct strike against what is happening in the ALMS. He wants to keep the LMP2 as an entry level prototype formula, but immediately the questions abounded; what can he mean? Is Mike Newton a gentleman racer having won his class at Le Mans and the LMS title? Is Xavier Pompidou a professional having won the title with Marc Lieb in 2006 and narrowly missed out this year? What is a professional driver, what is an amateur and what will Patrick do to a well-funded, well run team with professional drivers? Turn it away?

By natural evolution, the competition in LMP2 will be more fierce thanks to new machinery, new teams and new drivers. The cars will run with the full ACO limitations so will not challenge the LMP1 cars and there is no team around quite like Penske so don’t worry about giant-killing races. MG has put its support behind RML, there will be three privately entered Porsches on the grid, a new closed Lola run by Hugh Hayden and Speedy Racing, the Zytek is a magnificent car and ORECA is now in charge of Courage. They won’t do a bad job, will they?

Or does the sun shine in the US, is Ireland really one big green jewel, and is that the Queen canoeing past my window?

Andrew Cotton, January 2008