As the race always is, the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans was a rich tapestry of stories. Even though this year’s race wasn’t the epic battle that last year’s was you 1) can’t expect to have that kind of race every year and 2) there is always more going on than just the battle for overall victory. While the fight for LMP1 and overall victory wasn’t a race long affair, neither was it a cut and dried affair. An American team won in LMP2. One of The two “junior classes,” GTE-Am, saw much of the best racing of the event. Concepts were proven and new technologies succeeded. As ABC’s Wide World of Sports put it, there was “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
I guess the best place to start is with Toyota. Six months ago, we realized that we wouldn’t be treated to another epic LMP1 battle when Peugeot suddenly pulled out of sports car racing. At the time, Toyota was still developing the TS030 Hybrid. Fortunately for the WEC and the fans, they agreed to not only race the one car they were developing but two cars at Le Mans to make up for the loss of Peugeot. In testing, Toyota wrote off one car which put them even further behind. As a result, they missed the 6 Hours of Spa but still were able to come to Le Mans with two cars. They qualified very close to Audi and were even able to threaten for the lead before the wheels began coming off of their effort.
This is as good a place as any to mention Anthony Davidson’s crash in the #8 Toyota TS030. For the second year in a row, Le Mans saw a massive, scary crash involving an LMP1 and a GT Ferrari.
This year, there is no doubt where the blame lies for the crash. Plain and simple, Perazzini, the driver of the Ferrari turned in on Davidson when the TS030 clearly had the corner; he was alongside and pulling ahead! Both drivers were able to climb out of the cars, but it quickly became apparent that Davidson was hurting. He was transported to the hospital and diagnosed with fractured T11 and T12 vertebrae. Thankfully, it appears that they’ll heal on their own and he won’t require surgery. Perazinni, on the other hand, apparently considers it a racing incident . What a shame.
The accident above is where the #7 Toyota TS030’s race really started to unravel. After the crash with the Delta Wing, their race went downhill and they eventually withdrew citing alternator issues. The reason I show this crash is because I want you to see the next video and mention how honorable and sporting Kazuki Nakajima and the Toyota team were afterwards.
This video just embodies what the 24 Hours of Le Mans is all about – the emotion of the race and the devotion it requires as well as the connection between crew, driver, car, and fans. This video shows just minutes of Satoshi Motoyama’s 90 minute effort to repair the car. For those unfamiliar with Le Mans, if the car stops out on the course the mechanics are not allowed to help the driver and if the driver moves farther than 10 meters away from the car it’s considered abandoned and it’s race is over. You can’t help but feel heartbroken for Motoyama as he labors in vain to get the car going well enough to make the pits but your heart is also stirred to hear the onlookers supporting him. Furthermore, later in the race Kazuki Nakajima, the driver of the Toyota and other members of the team sought out the Delta Wing crew and apologized for the crash. It was a sporting and honorable gesture that other athletes should emulate.
That brings me to Delta Wing, a car that ran unclassified as the ACO’s “Garage 56” new technology entry. I’ve been interested in the project since it was rejected as a contender for the current crop of IndyCars. I’m fascinated by the concept, which is going as fast as the current generation of race cars with a more efficient package consisting of a lighter car and smaller engine. This is relevant racing technology, it’s relevant to what manufacturers are trying to do with street cars – build more efficient cars! Sure, the car had early problems and spent some time in the garage but before it was knocked out early in the crash above, none of the problems were related to the concept. They were simply “teething” problems that any other race car in its first car might encounter. Delta Wing and the ACO can definitely count this year’s “Garage 56” entry as a success, here’s hoping that some of its concept transfers to future race cars.
The #1 Audi R18 E-tron took a repeat win at Le Mans but it wasn’t a trouble free win. Audi has to be thankful that Peugeot wasn’t at Le Mans this year because they left a lot on the table and there is no doubt Peugeot would have capitalized on Audi’s mistakes. The #4 Audi Ultra, which finished third, was the only of the four Audis to have a trouble free race; the other 3 cars saw trouble throughout, frequently of their own causing. Allan McNish will likely rue his late race spin from the lead behind a Ferrari GT car for a long time to come; it may very well have lost the race for the #2 car and kept them from giving longtime Audi driver Dindo Capello another Le Mans win as he likely goes into retirement from full time racing with Audi. The #1 Audi saw trouble of its own when Fassler made wall contact forcing repairs and Treluyer spun entering the pits. The #3 Audi spun twice in the practically the same place. Typically, Audi made no miscues in the pits and made the right calls in the pit boxes but the same just can’t be said for their performance on the track.
From a technology aspect, I found the LMP1 class fascinating this year. I think many of my technically and electronic engineering minded amateur radio friends may have as well. The elephant in the room with Hybrid technology is the battery. Proponents of hybrid cars as green technology tend to overlook the pollution problems of spent batteries. How do you dispose of all of these hybrid storage batteries in an ecologically safe fashion? From a racing perspective, batteries are heavy and weight is the enemy of speed. Audi and Toyota approached their hybrid systems without using storage batteries. From there, they diverged on how they applied hybrid technology to their cars:
Audi R18 E-tron Quattro
Energy recovered from braking
Energy stored in a flywheel system
Energy released via electric motors to the front wheels
Toyota TS030 Hybrid
Energy recovered from braking
Energy stored in a super-capacitor
Energy released via electric motors to the rear wheels
The race proved that the hybrid systems in both cars would work. Audi didn’t have any problems with their hybrid system and the two R18 E-trons finished first and second. The two Toyota TS030s failed to finish the race but neither retirement was due to problems with the hybrid system. In the future, the rules are supposed to open up on hybrid technology. Continued racing experience with hybrid systems can only lead to more efficient and higher performance systems for road cars.
While I’m on the subject of LMP1, I have to give Rebellion Racing a mention. The Swiss team finished fourth place and if Audi had made any more errors, they might have finished on the podium. The #12 Rebellion Lola/Toyota had a trouble free race and was the top finishing private team as well as the top finishing gasoline powered car.
Starworks Motorsports were the LMP2 class winners. If you’re familiar with the name, it might be because they also race in the GrandAm Daytona Prototype class and finished second at the 2012 24 Hours of Daytona. A class win at Le Mans and a second overall at Daytona are definitely what you call a good season! Starworks’ HPD ARX-03b was fast and they ran a clean race that gave them a 1 lap lead at the end. I’m hoping that they can keep up this level of performance and represent the US well in the World Endurance Championship!
The story of the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans was the #51 AF Corse Team. When the race started, it was hard to think that they would have been the ones to take the GTE-Pro win. The early stages of the race saw a terrific battle between the #74 Corvette and the #97 Aston Martin. It was reminiscent of some of the epic Corvette/Aston Martin fights of the GT1 era but it wasn’t to last. The #74 Corvette was the victim of an uncharacteristic Corvette pit error when a left rear wheel nut wasnt tightened during a tire change; when the wheel came off it caused damage that led to mechanical problems that plagued the car the rest of the race. The #97 Aston Martin eventually suffered mechanical problems as well as did the #73 Corvette. It was simply a dreadful race for the Corvette team. Meanwhile, the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 was steadily making it’s way through the field after starting last; the team had to all but completely rebuild the car after it was heavily damaged in practice on Wednesday. They ran an error free race after a disastrous practice and really weren’t threatened after they took the GTE-Pro lead.
The best race within the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans was in GTE-Am. For much of the race, it was a battle between the #50 Larbre Competition Corvette and the #67 IMSA Matmut Porsche. They swapped the lead throughout the race but the Corvette was given the advantage when the Porsche had to make a late stop due to a flat tire. The Corvette nearly gave it back when they had to make a last lap driver change to stay within driver time regulations, though! At one point close to the end, there was only a 10 second gap between the two cars, not bad after almost 24 hours of racing! At the checkered flag, it was the #50 Larbre Competition Corvette in front with the IMSA Matmut Porsche in second and the (American) Krohn Ferrari in third. It seems that this is the #50 car’s second class victory in a row at Le Mans; it was reported that the #50 chassis is the same one that won GTE-Pro with the Corvette Racing team last year.
Speed‘s crew did their usual excellent job of covering the 24 Hours of LeMans. Once again, the network has to be thanked for bringing us the race in it’s entirety through TV coverage and online streaming when coverage was preempted by other programming. I do have one complaint though: the TV coverage of the race should not have been preempted to cover a NASCAR practice session. I understand that NASCAR pays the bills at Speed and that without the NASCAR programming Speed would be unable to bring us racing like the 24 Hours of Le Mans but a major series practice session should not take precedence over a major series race.
It just isn’t the 24 Hours of Le Mans without RadioLeMans. As it always is, their online streaming radio coverage of the race was outstanding and unparalleled. Hindy and company are the best in the business when it comes to covering a sports car race; they’re the perfect combination of knowledge and enthusiasm. Long time RLM contributor Jeremy Shaw and rookie Shea Adam were welcome additions to the pit reporting team. The addition of Sam Collins from Racecar Engineering magazine overnight was terrific; Sam makes the engineering and technological side of the sport fun. I watched the race with the commentary from Speed TV and RadioLeMans and I can’t think of a better way of enjoying the race.
I watched three races over the weekend: Le Mans, IndyCar at Milwaukee, and NASCAR at Michigan; I want to compare ABC’s coverage of IndyCar to Speed and RadioLeMans’ coverage of Le Mans and illustrate what the major problem with ABC’s coverage is. Unless you’re deaf, you can’t miss it – it’s enthusiasm. The booth crews at Speed and RLM are enthusiastic, they are enjoying the race and it comes across in the way the call the races. It’s infectious. It makes you want to watch the race. It makes the race exciting! On the other hand, ABC’s booth crew is bland. If you’re trying to bring fans to your type of racing that’s not the way to do it. One of the best things ABC and IndyCar could do to improve ABC’s IndyCar broadcasts is replace the booth crew. Watching the IndyCar race while listening to Le Mans on RLM just drove the point home.
When it comes to enjoying the race, using Twitter just makes the experience even better! Watching the race while sharing observations and conversing on Twitter is like watching the race with a roomful of fans from all over the globe. You get updates and interaction from the ACO, opinions from the announcers that they might not share on the TV, and info from print journalists as they watch the race. You get updates and interaction from some of the teams and drivers in the race. After the last few years of watching the race with Twitter up on the laptop, I can’t think of any other way to watch, it adds that much to the experience.
Finally, a recurring theme in this post was also recurring them in the race. Its also a recurring theme in sports car racing. That theme is relevance. The efficiency of the Delta Wing project is relevant to road cars. The hybrid systems of the Audis and Toyotas are relevant to road cars. When Corvette boss Doug Fehan is interviewed, you frequently hear him mention that what makes the Corvette race cars better finds its way to the Corvette you buy in a showroom. When Dr. Ulrich, the head of the Audi team is interviewed he mentions the technology transfer between the Audi race cars and Audi road cars. Sure, racing is a marketing exercise but it can only go so far in selling race cars. In this day and time of reduced budgets, a racing program can be kept alive when team heads like Fehan and Ulrich can go to their bosses and show them how what they are doing at the track is relevant to the development of the marque’s road cars. At this point, motor sports like NASCAR and IndyCar are exercises in marketing. The WEC and Le Mans are about cars, technology, and relevance and that’s why I love sports car racing so much.