The Power Struggle
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.
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.
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
Let’s take GrandAm’s offerings as an example, well it was their BIG
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
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
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
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
“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