WELL, THAT'S STUPID
If you followed Thursday night's final qualifying session for the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans and happen to remember where each of the 56 cars happened to qualify, it's worth taking a look at the revised starting order. As you might recall, a litany of red flags and session-ending crashes made practice and qualifying that night – and again on Thursday – a frustrating affair for all those who've come to the legendary 8.5-mile circuit. The ACO organizers that run the event have since shown a remarkable lack of circumstantial awareness by penalizing 15 cars, more than a quarter of the field, for one of its drivers failing to reach the 110 percent minimum lap time requirement.
With a variety of regulations to meet, including a certain number of laps by each driver at night, the shortened qualifying sessions should have given rise to a bit of understanding from the ACO, but as the updated grid has shown, black and white are the only colors seen in the rulebook.
AUDI'S F1 DRIVERS ENJOYING THE CHANGE OF PACE, DIFFERENT MINDSETS
I had a chance to catch up with Spain's Marc Gene and Brazil's Lucas di Grassi, Audi's pair of recent F1 converts, and was particularly interested to hear from di Grassi about how he modified the "maximum attack" mindset used in open-wheel racing to suit the 24-hour endurance event he'll tackle starting today at Le Mans.
“It's not giving up on ‘maximum attack' here; it's modeling it to fit this style of racing, maybe maximum attack is for an hour at a time and not for 24 hours,” he tells RACER. “If you attack too much at a certain corner, you have some effect on the car; if you do too much then you can cause a problem with the car later on. You have to have maximum attack all the time but with the mindset that the car has to last 24 hours and the setup has to be comfortable, and all the drivers need to be comfortable with it. So it is maximum attack but in a different way.”
Gene, who was part of the winning Peugeot LMP1 Le Mans team in 2009, has had a lot more time to adapt his driving to the rigors of sports car competition, and says his approach to Grand Prix driving isn't all that different from what he does inside the No. 3 Audi R18 e-tron with teammates di Grassi and England's Oliver Jarvis.
“The maximum attack here is not so different,” he confirms. “The biggest difference really is that you have to share with your teammates. In F1, you're very selfish. At the end of the day, you don't really want your teammate to do well. Here, your teammate, the better he does, the better for you. And that takes a while to learn that – that it is a team effort. F1 is not a team effort. So you are always pushing as hard as you can now; these modern prototypes allow this style of driving, but as Lucas says, you drive at the maximum but you cannot punish the car to do this. There are limits to how much you [can] use the car before you make problems, definitely.”
The two also shared their thoughts on the reasons behind continual influx of ex-F1 drivers into the FIA WEC series.
“I think F1 drivers like sports cars because they look very nice!” says Gene with a smile. “And some drivers, they just feel attracted by the speed of the cars; that was my case, for example. And at the end of the day, drivers want to work with manufacturers. Next year there should be three manufacturers in LMP1. And maybe three or four in F1. So we drivers always look for manufacturers because they know they have the best conditions, best pay, they like it.
“So F1 drivers who are used to manufacturers, they come here because they've heard about Le Mans and they look at the car they think, 'Oh wow, that's really nice!' Then they just contact the manufacturers. The manufacturers also like F1 drivers, so it's like a two-way love affair kind of thing.”
And coming from the heights of F1, it might seem like racing P1 cars would be a step down in driving enjoyment and technological advancement, but di Grassi sees things the other way around.
“These are the most technological, fastest cars on the planet – if you take any race longer than 300 km,” he declares. “I think the technology of an Audi is the highest, much more expansive, much more complex than the technology in Formula 1. F1 cars are only faster because they are light, not because of power or technology.
“We were doing 340kph [186mph] with the wings, the floor, the entire body making downforce and weigh so much more than F1. If you take away some of these things, take away some weight, we could reach 400 [250mph], no problem. This is where the real technology is found – the big advancements come from here.”
RAIN EXPECTED, BUT NOT WANTED BY ALL
The old adage about rain being the great equalizer in motor racing has an element of truth to it, but what if the rain tires being used by the majority of the teams are rather suspect? I've heard from at least a dozen Michelin-shod teams that said their rain tires struggled to survive the official test day, with blistering and chunking occurring, as well as a reduced pace being noted.
With a good portion of Saturday expected to have drops of rain falling, the cars on Dunlops could have an unexpected advantage if Michelin's test day troubles persist.