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sportscarpros Notes from the Cellar 

John Brooks
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The Power Struggle

Malfunction Junction
The 2008 edition of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona is, as I start to write this tome, still in full swing. It is 3.00am local time and 6 or 7 cars are still slugging it out for the lead; full course yellows, rain, mixed up pit stop strategies, Pirelli and impending mechanical failures adding to the uncertainty of who really is in the control of the event.

I spent 3 hours or so watching the early stages on Eurosport last night and from 5000 miles away a few thoughts came to mind.

To start with it is a pretty good race at this stage, the rules are aimed at providing close, competitive racing and on the evidence so far they succeed, even allowing the amazing number of full course cautions.

Another positive note there is a decent sized crowd, certainly way up on the numbers that were attending prior to the GrandAm era. OK, it ain’t Daytona 500 numbers but the fans should be grateful for that, they can get around the arena easily and still can get good access to the show.

The track action comes fast and furious in the form of a bunch of star drivers from all disciplines in the sport: Franchitti, Johnson, McNish, Castroneves, Montoya, Bell, the list is almost endless. For the fans the chance to see this stellar collection up close and personal is almost unique, a complete change from the fortress mentality of Formula One for example or the restrictions necessitated by the scale of the big stock car events.

Scouts’ Honour
The sight of Andrew Marriott scampering up and down the pitlane grabbing soundbites from drivers is also comfortably familiar; he has fulfilled this role for some 40 years. During one part of the programme it seemed that you had to a teenager to get a word in edgeways. The two Taylor boys, Jordan and Rick, Colin Braun, Graham Rahal all came across as articulate and enthusiastic and YOUNG. The endurance side of the sport is usually the refuge of those past the first flush of youth. A quick and I mean quick, glance in the mirror will confirm that. If endurance racing is to prosper and grow then we should appeal to a younger segment of the potential audience as well or we will risk lose them for the future to weird stuff like drifting or sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll….oh!.

Any teen contemplating a future as a driver would appear at first sight to have only either F1 or NASCAR to aim for, be the next Lewis Hamilton or Dale Earnhardt Junior. Well why not become the next Allan McNish? You end up with something resembling a normal life and you get Dindo not Fernando as a teammate. Outside of the money earned that should be considered a result by any standards.

Tarot Cards
The future, ah yes. This is where the good news starts to run out.

The conclusion that I kept coming back to the longer I stared at the box and the emptier the bottle of red got was that of the terrible sense of waste.  Not that the race was a waste of energy or time but a tragic waste of an opportunity.

Let’s take GrandAm’s offerings as an example, well it was their BIG weekend.
Watching the race you would think we were still in the days of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency when petrol was around a $1 a gallon. Certainly in a mechanical sense the DP’s are mired in the 80’s when the question that needed answering in 24 hour races was how best to achieve the balance of speed versus reliability. The winners of both classes had trouble free runs which pays testament to the skills of the drivers involved and the hard work and top line preparation abilities of the respective crews. The other entries had problems of one sort or another, so it was very much a case of last man standing. Contrast that with the bullet proof reliability shown these days in F1 or at Le Mans, which are now essentially sprint races that go on for a long time.

Then the Chequered Flag is waved, the usual victory lane celebrations ensued and all involved could go back to base, repair the damage,  feeling that it was and is business as usual.

Except it ain’t.

Les chemins de la liberté
Two events that occurred recently have altered the landscape in a way that changes all the rules for those of us here on Earth, even those in motorsport.

First the price of crude oil hit the symbolic $100 a barrel level and while this may be a temporary peak in the longer term the price trend is only going to be on an upward swing. USA oil demand is projected to be 25% higher by 2030 and I cannot see the EU’s power needs being much different despite taxes being introduced by the central government in the name of global warming and carbon footprint reduction. The demand for energy from China and India, both undergoing industrial revolutions, is also set to rocket, which brings us to the next significant happening.

While the world’s motoring press and petrolheads focused their attention on Detroit and the NAIAS, the real action was happening on the other side of the planet at the Delhi Motor Show. The unveiling of the Tata Nano will transform personal motoring on the Indian sub-continent and eventually one supposes throughout the whole third world. The car is set to retail at around $2,000, bringing affordable motoring within the reach of hundreds of millions of people around the globe and thereby increasing the demand for oil exponentially.

Where demand exceeds supply prices rise and the economies of India and China will be able to afford it, perhaps more so than the West. So the problem of energy supply needs to be addressed, we have probably left it too late but often the best solutions are found against tight deadlines and constraints. The solutions will have some chance of success if they are engineering lead and not piss and wind from politicians.

These events are happening in the context of massive increases in motor car fuel economy demanded by the year 2020 in the US by the Legislature, not to forget similar laws being proposed in Europe. It has even got to the point where speed limits may be introduced on Germany’s autobahns. Quelle Fromage?

Detroit Spinners
At the NAIAS to say there were the signs that those in the motor industry are taking this seriously would be to greatly understate the current mood. Toyota’s hybrid hype has been superseded by GM’s Chevrolet Volt, which from any angle looks like the real deal. Sensationally Audi revealed their R8 diesel supercar that had the scribblers scrambling for their pocket Roget’s in an attempt to describe the torque characteristics.

I articulated a sense of lost opportunity earlier; well motorsport should be in the vanguard of attempts to be more energy efficient, “Fast & Frugal” ® should be the slogan. Motorsport has often led or accelerated developments in engineering and technology, continuing to do so would give a justification to the sport’s existence. There are many that would stop the sport in the morning if they could; we should not give them any more ammunition.

Brave New World
Why does endurance racing in particular offer such an opportunity? Well let’s examine the rest of the sport. F1 certainly has the skills and resources to attack any engineering problem with a successful outcome more than likely. Re-generative braking systems have been in the F1 headlines; i.e. heat generated from braking is transferred to a storage medium, probably a battery, for use in addition to the conventional power plant. OK as far as it goes but right now the direction that F1 is heading does not seem to even consider the needs of the wider world, focusing on issues that its leadership, if it can be called that, thinks appropriate to solve problems within its own world.

Spiralling costs have led to an attempt to reign in spending by the teams, herding cats would be easier. A 10-year freeze on engine development is one consequence of this drive to reduce budgets. This comes right at the time when this section of the sport could use the opportunity to attack the energy efficiency problem, rather than let the resources that will be focused on this issue stand outside of their control.

Budget capping of the teams would appear to be the next step in the brave new world of Grand Prix racing, of course this would apparently cost each team €2 million per annum in administrative fees payable to the FIA, well dull guys in suits are expensive. Why anyone would expect this work in the real world when governments, tax authorities, stock markets, etc. have all failed in the past to control money swilling around in companies and corporations ……….the patsy in SocGen who burnt the bank’s cash pile on things that nobody understands was acting on his own……..Yeah right. Sarbanes Oxley is the latest magic bullet dreamt up by legislators, human behavioural patterns would be a better guide to the future.  Certain countries and cultures have a long tradition of fiscal and financial rectitude, being straight with the books, some do not, let’s hope that F1 does not include any of those guys. The FIA seems to have exempted itself from this trend towards cost control, the drivers on the grid at Melbourne will be paying an extra £900,000 per annum for their Superlicences, more tea vicar? Bolly anyone?

This piece has been lying around for a few days while the daily grind goes on, so as I was running through a final edit something caught my eye in the current issue of Motor Sport. For those who have never experienced this publication or have dropped it during the years of neglect and cluelessness at first Standard House and latterly Haymarket, it is time to start reading this fine magazine again. Now fully independent of the evil empire and with a stellar line up of contributors on hand each month, Nigel Roebuck and Gordon Kirby being the most recent additions, it is required reading.

A feature on the challenges presented to the future of motorsport by green issues was the focal point of an interview with John Barnard and Mario Illien. I quote two small parts in support of my own thoughts.

“ (In the 80’s) it was all efficiency because we were only allowed a certain amount of fuel. Now, they’ve (the FIA) gone completely away from that, which is wrong”

“There’s an awful lot of electrical and electronic hardware required to recover energy and store it in this challenging environment. Everyone in racing wants an advantage to be able to win. Therefore you must move fast and have to be creative and innovative to get that unfair advantage.”

The sport would benefit because companies would start to use their R&D budgets to go racing – and that’s because there’s nothing like racing to get you an answer quickly.”

Read the rest of the article, buy the magazine, and better still subscribe.

The other major arm of motorsport and unquestioned top dog in North America, NASCAR, is also unlikely to be at the forefront of addressing the upcoming energy crisis. They are switching to unleaded fuel for their carburettors this season, apparently the voodoo of fuel injection is still a few years away but while they continue to make billions who can argue with them. As far as they are concerned, if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Light at the end of the tunnel?
So what does this have to do with sportscar racing in general and why pick on GrandAm? I can sense the Internet forum warriors reach for their arsenal of bad grammar, poor spelling, fuzzy logic and righteous indignation, oh and anonymity. Actually I am not singling out GrandAm for censure; FIA GT has no provision either for encouraging any new developments. And before Le Mans and its two offspring ALMS and LMS get too smug, the current trend towards diesels is a marketing led one by first Audi and then Peugeot.  The initiative was encouraged by a set of rules giving a clear power advantage to the diesel-powered competitors over the normal petrol ones. No matter it is at least a start and we should be grateful for that. ALMS will proudly point to their E85 initiative for 2008 and yes this is laudable stuff, although with the increasing global demand for food, diverting cereals into this channel is questionable in the longer term.

Rumours abound that Toyota wants to ditch their expensive failure of an F1 campaign in favour of running some form of hybrid powered car at Le Mans, there is a sense of unfinished business with the great race. Naturally this news was denied by the F1 boys here in Europe but……….

The stage that endurance racing provides is the ideal one for the “Fast & Frugal” ® campaign. Diesel, Bio Fuels, Hybrid, Hydrogen, Re-generation, Solar, Wind, Battery even Nuclear at the world’s greatest motor race backed up by the other great endurance races…….whatever it takes to cut our consumption of energy and increase our efficiency.

Perhaps the framework should run along these lines. Work out a predetermined amount of energy available to each car based on time/distance targets and let the teams top that up from efficiencies or renewables. More energy, more speed, more distance and the top step of the podium, it sounds simple.

Come on Daniel, Roger, Scott, Patrick and Stephane, the future of our sport is in your hands, start the ball rolling. Get talking, create the platform………..Build it, they will come.

John Brooks, February 2008