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Michael & Andrew Cotton
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 The Ruling Classes
Waiting for the ACO is a bit like waiting for the drones in SCP Towers to put up lovingly crafted prose. You wait in eager anticipation to see how it will be illustrated, wait a bit more, then pause for a week or two, and then hey presto! In 2008, things will be a little different. We plan weekly updates, regular galleries covering our usually diverse racing and road car activities, and generally pay a bit more attention to our little project. Unlike the ACO. I had been waiting for them to publish their 2010 prototype regulations before writing this column, but having got so close to Christmas I grew bored and wrote it anyway.
A Nose Job
The issue is that the ACO has committed to a new breed of prototype, which actually is not very new and this is causing more problems than one would expect. Closed LMP1 coupes are due to grace the grid in 2010, with new styling at the front end to encourage motor manufacturers to give their race cars design cues of their road cars. A prime example would be BMW, with its distinctive Chris Bangle designed headlights featured on a new Le Mans challenger.

The announcement in 2006 was greeted with dismay in many quarters, and encouragement from others. Henri Pescarolo predictably led the charge in favour of open-top prototypes, explaining that the crowd could see who was driving and what they were doing. Open cars reduce the amount of technical development with no windscreen, no doors that fly off at speed, and better down force on low-speed circuits. There is, said Henri, scope for manufacturers to build closed cars in the existing rules, so why change them?

Corvette and Aston Martin both leaped aboard the new wagon, saying that the new rules would encourage them to come into the top class prototype. Aston Martin’s rumour started in January 2007 and is still kept alive in various parts of the world, but in other quarters it is treated with caution; Aston didn’t go racing when it didn’t have anyone else to pay for it, and nothing has changed in ‘08. Corvette is a strong market force, as is Porsche, but the Germans have a problem; the ACO won’t be changing the LMP1 engine regulations and that is Not Good.

IMSA is also quietly muttering that they don’t want exclusively closed cars either. They follow Henri’s argument that the fans like to see the drivers at work in the cars. It is much easier to identify the silver and red helmet of Capello, replaced by the white helmet of McNish in the Audi.

You Go Boss……….
At the Porsche Motorsport awards at the beginning of December, Dr Wendelin Wiedeking, Big Boss of Porsche, warned the ACO General Manager Daniel Poissenot that he would close the RS Spyder programme down if the rules were not stabilised in favour of Porsche. Aides went to great lengths to explain that his was a tongue-in-cheek impromptu speech, but drivers such as David Brabham will remember the 1998 awards when the new prototype programme, for which he was signed up for, was abruptly cancelled by Wiedeking. Was this an empty threat? Not according to Cotton Snr, who asked Wiedeking the question in English afterwards with a tape recorder running.

“I feel sorry for Poissenot,” said one Porsche driver. “He gets invited to all these parties, and at each he gets the same message! He can’t enjoy all of this.” Actually, Poissenot was busy ruining the sociable party for the Porsche hierarchy as much as we were. The rules, he said, are stable. They have been for years. There is a fundamental flaw in the rules which fail to state that manufacturers may not compete long-term in LMP2, but the rules are stable. For now. Could this be the area of Big Change? If the ACO introduced its feared production-only engines for the class, the cars would automatically become less competitive against LMP1.

The ACO wants manufacturers in LMP1, but has no other way of forcing them there. Porsche has no leverage over the ACO until they build an LMP1 car and prove that the diesel has an advantage over petrol.

Has the ACO’s position regarding the LMP1 chassis regulations changed since re-iterating the 2006 announcement at Le Mans in 2007? “Yes,” confirmed Poissenot at the awards.

Perhaps there will be only one prototype class? It is a fair cry, but not one that the ACO will contemplate. Where would a company like RML race? Or the ASM team, or anyone else looking at entry level prototype racing?

Gang of Four
Having proposed, and had accepted by the FIA, the concept of a GT1 class World Championship, the technical regulations for Stephane Ratel’s the Championship were not agreed at December’s World Council meeting. That means no introduction of new machinery in 2009 in preparation for a World Championship in 2010.

Why the delay? Aston Martin, Ferrari, Porsche and General Motors, are in cahoots with each other and met with the FIA in October, reaching ‘common ground’ with the FIA. Have they hatched a plan to build cars only to GT2 regulations? Poissenot says that he has questions from manufacturers concerning new GT1 cars, but look at who is building cars; Aston Martin Vantage; Corvette Z06; Ferrari 430 GT; Porsche 997 GT3 RSR; Dodge Viper; Audi R8...all to GT2 regulations. Poissenot says that if GT1 dies through natural selection, so be it. Are the manufacturers working together to topple Ratel’s plan to allow private tuners to develop up new GT1 cars?

At the awards, there was the unusual spectacle of Hartmut Kristen, Frank- Steffen Walliser and Roger Penske dancing in the ailes to some rock band playing with more energy than the three of them put together. But despite Wiedeking’s threats the mood was decidedly upbeat on the dancefloor.

                                                                                Andrew Cotton
                                                                  December 2007