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Filtering by Tag: Indycar

Controversy at the Canadian GP, Tire Wars & the Competitiveness of Indycar

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 102

JT – The Canadian Grand Prix has been the subject of controversy since the race took place. While leading the race, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel ran wide between Circuit Gilles Villeneuve’s Turns 3 and 4, reentering the track just in front of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. After a brief evaluation of the incident, F1’s stewards gave Vettel a five-second penalty for impeding Hamilton. Hamilton crossed the finish line 2nd behind Vettel but with the five seconds applied, he was declared the winner.  

Vettel was angered by the penalty, as were fans and many current/former F1 drivers and racers from other categories who weighed in with their frustration. Ferrari has requested the FIA review the penalty. What are your thoughts?

SJ – Unfortunately, nothing is new under the sun. The one time this season so far they actually have a great race on their hands which would have been an epic battle to the end, they manage to ruin it by meddling with these random and completely inconsistent penalties. 

I know some people have come out and said the penalty was deserved because Vettel broke a rule. Strictly speaking, this may be true, but this also signifies the problem we have at the moment. Formula 1 already has far too many rules. How many more scenarios are there going to be where they will come up with a penalty instead of letting people get on with racing? If you strictly follow the rule book you could also argue that you are also allowed to change direction once on every straight, which is another stupid rule by the way, which if the argument the stewards put forward was that Vettel changed direction once he had the car under control is then negated by the next rule. Each year the rule book keeps getting thicker, with more and more rules to cover every possible scenario both on the competition side and the technical side, in parallel, as we all know only to well, the racing is getting more and more boring and sanitized. 

I’ve made my view on the random driver stewards/race control situation clear many times. I’ve been totally against it since they started it. I think they need one or two people who could be ex-drivers like Indycar has but they are the same people at every race. It’s been clear for years now that F1’s random driver steward process doesn’t work. I read someone’s argument that this system works great because they have four Stewards that alternate between the races, and five different driver stewards. To me that’s three stewards and four drivers to many! There is no way you will ever get consistency with a system like this, hence we have these random decisions in almost every race that are completely inconsistent from similar incidents that happened in an earlier race. 

It would have been so great to see Vettel and Hamilton go for a real fight to the end, as it were, Lewis was just cruising knowing that all he had to do was finish within five seconds of Vettel, a total anticlimax to what would have probably been the best race of the season.

JT – Apart from the controversy at the Canadian GP, most of the teams continue to voice the same complaint at every race. They cannot get Pirelli’s very temperature-sensitive tires to work. Only Mercedes seems to be able to make them respond consistently.

SJ –  Yes, it’s the same story over and over again up and down the pit lane. On some weekends one or other of the teams may get their car to work but they all seem to struggle apart from Mercedes which seems to have gotten a better handle on the tires than the rest. 

I think a lot of that is just resources. The more money and resources you have the more manageable it is to find a quick solution. But I find it extremely ironic – and it goes back to my “Make F1 Awesome Again” document – that here the teams are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on aerodynamic development and other elements but the bottom line is the majority of the performance comes down to the tires most of the time. 

They’re the cheapest component on the car that really matters by a hundred times. You’ll find performance from the tires a hundred times quicker than you would out of anything else you develop on a car. I just don’t understand the logic of forcing one tire manufacturer to build a terrible tire. It makes no sense. If you opened the tire supply up I can see at least four manufacturers that would jump onboard immediately. 

They would all pour a ton of money into marketing and development for the teams they’d work with and the racing would be really interesting. At some tracks the Michelin’s would be quick, at others the Bridgestone’s would be quick, at some the Pirellis would be fast and at some tracks it might be the Hankook’s or whoever else would choose to supply tires. Some tires will be really good in qualifying and not so good in race trim and vice versa. It would mix up the grid and make the races far more interesting.

Yes, the top teams would want to make sure they were on the right tire but you need to do something to introduce variability, something to make it interesting and less predictable. And I don’t remember the “tire wars” being terrible when we last had them. It was never a problem as far as I can recall. Everyone was happy to compete and get the best out of the tires, do the required tire testing. At some tracks the Bridgestone’s were quicker, and at some the Michelin’s were quicker. 

Eventually, one manufacturer might get an edge but then the others partner with different teams and continue the development – it’s part of the whole process.

JT – Meanwhile, the deadline for presentation of F1’s 2021 rules has been delayed with teams and F1 chiefs opting to wait until October to unveil them. The end of June had been the previous deadline. Disagreements among the teams on some of the fundamentals are said to be the reason for the delay.

SJ – They can keep tweaking the rules until the year 3000. The teams are never going to agree. They haven’t been able to agree on anything so far so what makes anyone think they’ll agree on the new rules?

It’s impossible to get the teams to agree to the same set of rules. Because everything is now run like a democracy and the teams have to have their say in everything we’ll end up with some half-assed compromise that won’t make anyone happy, least of all the fans. That’s the reality of it. As I’ve been saying all along, the series needs to be run like a benevolent dictatorship with people running it who have an acute understanding of the business. They make the rules that all the teams will have to follow, end of story. That’s the only way it can work. 

There is no way you can try to please everyone. Once you set a fair, coherent set of rules that make sense, that’s it. People will say some teams will then leave the sport. If they don’t want to play, let them leave. As long as the barrier of entry to F1 is not so high financially that almost no one can join, which is currently the case, other teams or manufacturers will soon replace them. 

After more than a year of deliberations,  they’re now talking about a $150 million cost-cap – not including engines, drivers and marketing. So you’re basically back at $250 million before you even start. So everyone apart from the top three teams is already screwed because none of them have a budget that size even today. 

JT – The most recent round of the 2019 Indycar season came at Texas Motor Speedway where Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden held off Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi to win, executing a clever pit stop strategy that put Newgarden in front for the final stage of the race. 

Scott Dixon was competitive all evening, leading at times. But with just 19 laps remaining, Scott and rookie Colton Herta made contact while battling for 3rd place in turn 3, sending both into the safer barrier. The DNF saw Scott fall to 4th in the championship standings, 89 points behind leader Newgarden. Felix Rosenqvist finished in 12th position. Obviously, it wasn’t a great outcome for Scott. What did you think of the contact between him and Herta?

SJ – Looking at the video replay a few times afterwards, Herta had both wheels over the inside at the bottom of the track going into the corner, so once they got in the corner there was no room to keep the foot down and his car just crept up the track until they made contact. It’s just one of those things. I think Herta was lucky to get away with several of the moves he made earlier in the race which were also right on the limit. I think his driving was a bit marginal all day long, but It’s to be expected from a guy with the amount of talent that he has. I like his driving a lot I must say, he’s brave and full of confidence, with a huge amount of natural talent. But at places like Texas and Pocono, it’s maybe a little too much considering the consequences if something goes wrong, not only for yourself but also the guys you’re fighting with.  It’s a little like Verstappen in his early years, he just puts the nose in there, and if the guy he’s about to pass doesn’t move or give enough room there will be contact, they’re low percentage moves that look amazing when you get away with them, but as soon as it turns the other way, which it always will eventually, you look like a schmuck. It’s part of the learning curve, especially when you consider how young these guys are when they get their breaks. Verstappen at some point understood this and is now a much more complete driver.

Scott lost quite a few points so that’s going to make it very tough for the championship going forward. It’s not over but it’s not easy to come back from that far back. 

Felix results doesn’t really give credit to the effort he’s put in. He qualified on the second row next to Scott at Detroit but unfortunately things didn’t go his way in the race. It’s just about putting everything together for a whole weekend and a whole race, between the driver, the team and the strategy. That’s what makes Indycar so difficult. At the Indy Grand Prix before the 500, where he started from Pole Position, there were some issues in two of the pitstops and Felix had problems keeping the tires under him during the whole race. And the accident he had in practice for the 500 – that will set you back big time. 

Having the confidence that the car is underneath you at Indy is critical. When it comes unstuck, it will let go pretty quickly as he found out the hard way. It’s a confidence thing and after that you’re never quite sure when you can rely on the back end of the car. It’s always a balancing act.  He got comfortable and did a great job in the race, moving up through the field throughout the race. Unfortunately both him and Scott both got caught up in the Bourdais and Rahal accident.

JT – It’s interesting to look at Indycar on any track and compare the level of competition with what we see in F1. There’s no denying Lewis Hamilton has had a very impressive career with five world championships to his credit. But, at most, Hamilton has to beat only one or two drivers to win those championships. Scott Dixon is a five-time champion as well but in Indycar he’s had to best a large number of competitors to earn each of his championship titles. It seems to me that the depth of the competition in Indycar makes Scott’s achievements more impressive. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I don’t think there’s anyone in the F1 paddock that can touch Hamilton at the moment, he’s on a different level and is just getting better every year, so in my opinion he deserves all the success he’s had without a doubt. But as you correctly point out, the facts in F1 will tell you that there’s never been a world champion in all the history of F1 that did not have the best car. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s a championship in the world that’s harder to win in than Indycar right now. Winning three to four races in a season of Indycar is a huge accomplishment. There are so many factors at play and you don’t have the predictability you have in F1. Look at Texas. I think we were all surprised when Newgarden emerged at the front near the end of the race. He came from nowhere!

Team Penske made a fantastic call on strategy and played their pit stop cycle perfectly. It’s impossible for something like that to happen in Formula 1. Indycar has that variability and so many good drivers and teams. I keep saying it but I think it’s the best racing of any series in the world right now. Nothing comes close. Every single weekend is flat out hard racing. Can you imagine if even one F1 race was like that? People would go crazy.

JT – It strikes me that the complete lack of competitive balance in F1 might induce talented  drivers coming up through the open wheel ranks - from F2, F3, etc – to aim for Indycar rather than F1. If you’re a hot young prospect and you want to compete against top drivers in a championship where the competitive balance between teams is close, why not skip the lopsided soap opera that is F1 and go do some real racing in Indycar?

SJ – To be honest, I think we’re going to see more and more of that. At the same time, it’s not easy for any of those guys to come over here and get a ride at the moment. But if there are drives which open up, I don’t think anyone could disagree that Indycar, tough as it is, is a series where at least you have a possibility of winning. There’s no possibility in F1 unless you’re driving for the right one or two teams. One of the issues though is that the drivers in F1 today make it there at such a young age, which works out great in F1 because the main criteria is just to be able to drive the car as fast as possible, race craft doesn’t matter anywhere as much as it does in Indycar or Sportscar racing. The reason is that everything is so perfect in F1, the engineering of the cars, the simulations, the tracks that are smooth like a dance floor with huge run off areas, the adjustability of the cars through all the devices on the steering wheel. All these things take away a lot of the elements a driver has to deal with in most other types of racing. 

JT – Scott Dixon was one of several Indycar drivers who raced at Le Mans. Predictably, the 24 Hours left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. The overall outcome was never in doubt with Toyota dominating in LMP1, winning over the nearest P1 car by six laps. The GTE battle had great potential even in the final hours. But the pit/safety car rules at Le Mans trapped Jan Magnussen’s Corvette at pit out, allowing the winning AF Corse Ferrari to go by as Magnussen idled in pit lane. 

Scuderia Corsa, where you are the Sporting Director, ended up with a podium finish after the Keating Ford got disqualified after the post race scrutineering.

Scott finished 5th in GTE Pro in the #69 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT after the sister #68 car was disqualified from its 4th place finish for having a fuel capacity .83 liters over the limit. The GTE Am winning Ford GT of Keating Motorsports was disqualified as well for a fuel infraction, a tenth of a liter over the limit. 

What did you think of the race and how did Scott view it?

SJ – I thought the race was unusually uneventful this year, with only two cars in the race with a realistic chance of winning, the only interesting battles was in the other categories. I feel sorry for Mike Conway and his co drivers as they clearly had the pace to win this time. Mike was very impressive to build the gap early on that they were able to maintain throughout the race, until the very end when it all went pear shaped for them.

It was a good result for Scuderia Corsa in the end, we just didn’t quite have the overall pace this year, but the team did a terrific job overall.

Scott was a bit frustrated I think, it seemed the Ford’s never quite had the pace throughout the event, and then they had a few unfortunately minor things go wrong on their car that basically put them out of contention. 

As usual, no one is happy with the BoP unless you’re on the top of the podium. It’s a tricky one and I wish there was a different way to compete, but for the time being I can’t see anything change in this area. 

JT- Finally, last weekend we had the French GP at Paul Ricard and the Indycar race at Road America. Two very different race tracks, do you have any comments on the nature of the tracks and the outcome of the races?

SJ- Yes, two very different race tracks for sure. Although Paul Ricard is quite an old track in F1 terms, it’s been updated and modified significantly since the first GP they held there way back. However, the layout is not that much different, they’ve only added a few standard issue F1 chicanes. After the race we got all the usual complaints of an extremely boring race with no passing and no action throughout. But to be fair this track never invited any great racing, it was always difficult to pass and hard to get a run on the driver in front due to the layout of the track. Most drivers, including myself hated the layout of this track because it has no natural flow, it’s very choppy and you can never get a good rhythm going. I never considered it to be a good track for either racing or testing. Bernie Ecclestone bought it some time ago and turned it into a mausoleum of how a modern GP track should look, the run off areas are incredible with the different surfaces which are also color coded. I remember losing the brakes once during a 24 hour test in preparation for Le Mans,  at the end of the long straight. The car stopped on it’s own before I hit anything, the last rows of asphalt was like glue and it just stopped the car on it’s own, amazing!! Everything including the Pit complex is done the absolute maximum, but the place have no character.

At the other end of the spectrum is Road America, one of the few remaining old school tracks that is incredibly challenging and unforgiving. If you put a wheel wrong it will punish you right away. Every driver I know absolutely love this place, it reminds me of Brands Hatch but it’s even faster and more flowing. The race was again very exciting, if you don’t count Alexander Rossi, who just checked out and left everyone to fight for second. In typical Indycar fashion there were great battles throughout the field. Both Scott and Felix put in some very good recovery drives and salvaged some good points on what looked to be a bad weekend for both at the start of the race.

First Impressions of 2018 Season

Stefan Johansson

#SJblog 93

JT – Off-season news surrounding Formula 1 often borders on the ridiculous. Liberty Media’s recent announcement that F1 will no longer feature grid girls is a good example. Apart from what seems to be a move aimed at bowing to political correctness, one has to wonder why Liberty made it a point to announce the shift? With all of the challenges currently facing F1, shouldn’t their priorities be focused elsewhere?

Photo by GPMX

Photo by GPMX

SJ – I don’t know if their intent was to really make it the news item that it became where everyone seems to want to chime in and offer their opinion. I guess it’s just another inevitable step in the world of political correctness that we now live in? What I would have loved to hear instead is that in “2020, we’re going to have cars with 60% less downforce, 1,300 horsepower, top speeds around 400kph and 200 kilograms lighter with big fat grippy tires.”

Photo by the talented Rainer W Schlegelmilch

Photo by the talented Rainer W Schlegelmilch

That would be something worth talking about. As it is, that will never happen so here we are talking about grid girls. I feel sorry for the girls, as I think virtually every one of them thought it was an exciting job that got them to travel to places and maybe meet people they would never normally meet in their normal daily routine and I don’t think anyone of them felt anything but happy and positive about doing it. But as always in these matters, it’s the small minority that makes the most noise that seems to be heard the most and as such no one wants to offend them, and here we are. Frankly I don’t think the large majority of race fans around the world, including myself, could care less either way. This is the equivalent to a restaurant making an announcement they’re changing the color on their menu, but the food will still be the same, hardly newsworthy.

JT – McLaren boss Zak Brown recently said that he’d like to F1 to resolve matters around its rules for 2021 by the middle of this season to avoid the series being damaged. He added that the longer negotiations about the rules and a likely $150 million cost cap go on, the more “turbulent” and more “disruptive” they could be.

Brown also said teams would need to know what 2021 rules would look soon to allow them time to prepare or the date for implementation could slip a year or more. In the short to mid-term it looks like F1 is stuck with its current unpopular formula with Mercedes retaining a long standing advantage. What are your thoughts on this?

Photo via Zak Brown's Instagram (@zbrownceo)

Photo via Zak Brown's Instagram (@zbrownceo)

SJ – Historically, the longer the same formula stays in place – as I’ve been saying for years – the grids will tighten up and the costs will eventually go down. The tradeoff between throwing money at R&D and the gain you get is getting smaller and smaller by each year. That typically allows the smaller, less funded teams to catch up a bit. The big teams will always find ways to spend money of course but at least their gains in performance will be diminished some with every year that goes by. Rule stability is always the best way to keep the costs down and the grids close,  once they find the right formula, which is the hard part.

The racing is not going to get any better with the current cars. We know that. People will get closer to Mercedes for sure, we already saw that last year, but that doesn’t mean that the racing will be any better. It’s just the nature of the high downforce cars we have now. The level of sophistication that many race cars have - not just in F1, in the WEC and other formulas too - the level of simulation, preparation and information the engineers have at their disposal, you lose almost every element of unpredictability. And that’s typically what makes the racing interesting and exciting most of the time.

I keep coming back to IndyCar, I think they have the competition formula about as good as you can make it. On the day, someone who gets the critical things right and plays the strategy game well can still win. That’s impossible for anyone outside the top tier in F1 unless there’s a sudden rain shower, a big accident at the first corner or something really unusual happens. There’s very little possibility that you’re going to get a surprising result. You almost know what the result will be before the start of a race or after the first corner.

JT – Interesting things are happening in IndyCar, including pre-season testing at Phoenix where Scott Dixon ran the series’ version of cockpit protection – the aeroscreen. Apparently Scott thinks it has potential.

SJ –Yes, it seems promising although it still may require some more work before they are comfortable to race it. It certainly looks like a much more visually appealing solution than the Halo. But as with all of these things and whatever option will be chosen, two races in we’re going to get used to whatever they choose and then that will be the norm going forward.

All the drivers moaned when the Hans Device came out, including me. It was uncomfortable and restricted your movement but after a race or two you got used to it and didn’t really think about it anymore. The fact that these are cockpit protection devices for the sake of safety, and may save someone’s life– there is no turning back, so we might as well get used to the new look of the cars, although it really does ruin the esthetics of the cars.

Photo via IndyCar.com

Photo via IndyCar.com

JT – There has been a lot of talk about the universal aerokit that IndyCars will run this year. Interestingly, the comments haven’t been uniform with some drivers saying the new lower downforce body makes the cars more much difficult to drive over a stint. Others have said there isn’t too much change from the previous cars, at least on road courses. It will be interesting to see the comparative level of comfort different drivers and teams have with the new cars.

SJ – I think it’s going to be a good thing overall. It’s a good step in the right direction both for the racing and other considerations. The cars look great too, like proper open wheel race cars instead of the previous cars that looked like a barn door coming down the road. I think it will separate the field more than before and all indications are that it requires a lot more from the drivers than the previous high down force cars did.

Photo via IndyCar.com

Photo via IndyCar.com

JT – Looking around the racing world as the off-season begins to wrap up, it still looks – with few exceptions – as if it’s not easy to find money to race. We see struggles throughout professional racing. As you’ve pointed out repeatedly, sponsorship in Formula One is a shadow of what it used to be. Racing has always relied on various forms of patronage but it seems as if that’s more the case today than ever. Do you agree?

SJ – Racing has never really existed without patronage, it has always been the same. The biggest difference today is the sheer cost of competing at almost every level. It’s so much higher mostly due to the technology being used on the cars and how much it costs to run them, and because of the advanced electronics and all the data required the number of people you need to run them competitively has increased dramatically. Even at the most basic level you still require 2-3 times the amount of people you used to. Payroll is always the biggest line item in the budget and if you want to win you have to hire the best people you can get, and they are not cheap.

malboro-mclaren.png

Sponsorship is probably at the same level it’s been for a while except in F1 where teams seems to depend more and more on the money they receive from FOM, but the cost of running the cars is much higher, which means there is nothing left over to hire the best drivers you can get, except for the factory teams. This is a big part of why more and more teams have to rely on drivers bringing a budget of some kind to the teams and a lot of really good professional drivers are unemployed. Sportscar racing today is probably worse dollar for dollar than it was in the 80’s even. Apart from the really top guys in factory teams the driver salaries are lower than I can ever remember.

In Formula 1 especially, it’s purely a matter of cubic dollars, the more you spend the faster you will go. You could argue today, that unless a team is in a position to win races or the world championship, like Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull they might actually be better off hiring a paying driver that brings a substantial budget as they will most likely get more overall performance from that than a slightly faster driver they have to pay to drive. This is the reality today.

JT – We’ve spoken about it a bit before but do you see a cost spiral problem for Formula E?

SJ – It’s a bit different there I think. My guess is they’ll be able to keep a fairly good handle on costs because there’s so little you can do to the cars in Formula E. One of the few things you can touch on the chassi is the damping. The aerodynamics are frozen, the batteries are frozen, the brakes are frozen. You can work on the gearbox and the drivetrain. That’s where money will be spent.

But in comparative terms, what can you do with an electric motor? Not an awful lot to gain performance, most of it comes from the battery. You can work on software and weight. Formula E should be able to control the costs if they’re strong from the start and every indication so far is that they’re actually doing a really good job in that area. They’ve been quite tough on some of the big teams also, so I think everybody already know there’s a big risk in trying to bend the rules and running the risk of getting thrown out if the car does not comply with the rules. We’ve already seen it happen. This has always been one of the problem with Formula 1. Because the formula is comparatively open in as much as that the teams are not restricted to a frozen package on all the key components, the rules are always open to interpretation. The teams spend massive time and energy reading the rules over and over to find a loophole that’s open for interpretation. There then do not seem to be the strength to keep a handle on the rules until it’s generally too late. So whenever someone comes up with something that’s marginal as far as the rules go, they let them get away with it instead of shutting it down right away, and then everyone eventually has to follow as and when they figure out what’s been done. At a huge cost to each team most of the time.

How many times has F1 reset aerodynamic rules? Remember when the cars had aerodynamic devices everywhere? That wasn’t too long ago. Then they banned all of that. Now they’re almost back to where they were. How did that happen? They basically found ways around the rules and no one stopped them.

NASCAR seems really good in that regard because if someone steps out of line they just say “no, not allowed, end of story.” They ban whatever the thing is before everyone gets too carried away.

JT – You were on hand for the Formula E race in Santiago, Chile. The Teecheetahs of Jean-Eric Vergne and Andre’ Lotterer battled hard for the lead with Vergne winning. Felix Rosenqvist came into the weekend leading the championship after two wins from the first four races of the 2017/18 season but lost the lead to Jean-Eric Vergne. He seems to be enjoying FE.

SJ – Felix is loving it, definitely. The race format has become very interesting. It’s not an easy category and it’s a very intense day of racing. The races are short and you’ve got to literally get everything right in one day, from qualifying to racing. So if you’re off the pace at all it’s tough. It’s become very competitive with great drivers and engineers in every team.

Photo via Feli'x Instagram ( @frosenqvist )

Photo via Feli'x Instagram (@frosenqvist)

Felix did a great job in the race to recover to 4th from 14th on the grid, and the team did a blistering fast driver change which gained him some positions also.

JT – How was the racing received in Santiago?

SJ – It was positive and negative because apparently the track was laid out over three different municipalities in the city. Two of them were very happy to have the race there and one was very negative. So there was some vocal criticism but I think the promoters did a good job overall. The track was bumpy but it was a nice layout and the race was good. Overall, it was good and there’s no doubt that FE has some very good momentum at the moment.

JT – Prior to Santiago, you were down in Daytona for the Rolex 24. The race was a star-studded affair this year and the crowd was reportedly very good. There was some hard racing and some attrition but surprisingly few caution periods. The Cadillac DPis of Action Express were the class of the prototype field while the Ganassi Ford GTs dominated GTLM. Scott Dixon came home with another Rolex 24 win. What did you think of Daytona this year?

Photo via Scott's Insagram ( @  scottdixon9 )

Photo via Scott's Insagram (@scottdixon9)

SJ – Daytona was good, no doubt. The formula that IMSA has come up with for DPi/P2 is working well. The Dpi’s seemed to have an edge but the racing was good. Overall, it was a big grid and there was definitely a lot of interest. Alonso being there didn’t hurt. There was a good feeling from the whole thing.

Scott and his co drivers did a phenomenal job all race, although they had to use some clever strategy towards the end in order to get in front of their sister car and win their class. Both the team and all six drivers did a superb job and no one put a foot wrong for the entire race.

There were the usual complaints about BoP and how you control it but you’re always going to have the same problems with it. There’s only ever one team that’s happy, whomever is on top of the podium, the rest always think they’ve been screwed.  I keep coming back to my argument that the GTLM cars are so good today that if you unrestricted them, it would be enough. You wouldn’t need the prototypes anymore.

If you took the restrictors off all of the GTs and had every manufacturer build a proper car instead of relying on BoP to make them competitive, they could be going at least 10 seconds per lap quicker. Just unleash the GTs and they’d be flying.

JT – You’re in the process of writing another treatise on the state of racing currently and what you think could be done to restore it to better health for the future. Last year, you did that in column form for Racer Magazine and it was very well received. In a nutshell, what will you be adding this year?

SJ – It’s really a philosophical way of looking at the cars and the future of racing based on my thoughts and conversations I’ve had recently with several designers/engineers and drivers. There are five tenets basically.

First, you minimize downforce so that the cars are drive-able, but no more than that. I’m guessing 60 to 70 percent less downforce than we see on a F1 car today.

Second, increase power by 200 to 300 horsepower.

Third, weight. That’s the biggest issue for me and why there’s no focus on weight I can’t understand – on track or on the road - in terms of energy usage. Weight should be the prime target for efficiency, not batteries or most of the other things being pushed now. We keep adding weight to vehicles, and how does that affect efficiency? We all know that’s a problem – both with race cars and street cars. Hypothetically, if you could cut the weight of every car on the road or track in half, can you imagine how much that would increase efficiency and reduce environmental impact?

Four, you define an energy allocation allowed for any race car. A car is allowed ‘X’ amount of energy consumption whether it’s powered by gasoline, diesel, hydrogen, electric power - whatever it is – for the duration of a race distance.  There must be a formula that can be worked out combining energy consumption and thermal efficiency. Then you can quickly determine which combination works best.

Five, free up tire technology. You could immediately gain as much as 5 seconds per lap if the tire companies were allowed to build the best tire they can. I can see at least four tire companies that would be interested right away if the rules were open for anyone to compete and use whatever size tire they prefer. That would mean we would never see these silly looking balloon tires again, that were last seen even on a roadcar sometime in the 70’s!

Photo by Pirelli

Photo by Pirelli

Put all of this together and the lap times cars run would run would very soon be quicker than they are now, it’ll just be achieved in a different way, and they’ll be spectacular to watch. They’d be faster on the straights with acceleration that would be mind-boggling. Braking distances would probably be 100 yards longer than they are now with the lower downforce. Cornering speeds lost by the lack of downforce would be partially returned by the added tire grip and less weight. That would promote overtaking and the drivers would have to work very hard to make the cars go fast.

Ideally, there should be four areas of almost equal importance to the overall performance of the car, Chassi (including Aero), Engine, Tires and Driver. As it is today, Aero have by far too much importance, followed by the engine, then the tires and finally the driver.

And of course, the other point behind this is to save money and cut the cost of racing, by restricting areas of development where damaging amounts of money are being spent now for no reason, and emphasize other areas – like tire grip. There’s a huge amount of time and efficiency to be gained there and a tremendous amount of money to be saved for the teams.

There’s more to all of this, including my thoughts on race tracks, and I will elaborate a lot more on each topic.

2017: Year In Review

Stefan Johansson

#SJblog 92

JT – As 2017 comes to a close we’re going to look back at the year’s racing a bit and look forward to 2018.

In recent action, the 2017 Macau Grand Prix F3 feature race was absolutely marvelous. Sette Camara and Ferdinand Habsburg had an amazing battle for the lead over the last two laps of the race. Habsburg overtook Camara at the final corner but both carried so much speed they the barrier at the corner exit leading to the finish line. Daniel Ticktum in 3rd position suddenly found himself crossing the line first to win. Lando Norris finished in 2nd while Habsburg made it over the finish line on three wheels to finish 4th.

SJ – Yes definitely! F3 in general is just great racing and always has been. All the kids at the sharp end of the grid are all super talented with a real fighting spirit. They haven’t been jaded by the experience that every move you make may not work out so they all just have a go. There is also a great camaraderie there that seems to get lost the further up the ladder you go, with the added pressure from both the teams, sponsors and the media.

I remember when I was doing British F3 and won the championship in 1980 (driving for Ron Dennis’ Project Four team), my two golf buddies were Kenny Acheson and Roberto Guerrero, they were also my biggest rivals to win the Championship that year. All three of us were fighting tooth-and-nail for the championship. But we were all best mates and the day before the races we’d be playing golf together. Of course, on-track we gave it all we had and never gave each other an inch, but it was always very fair and whomever of us got it right on the day ended up winning the race. It was very pure and it’s the way things still are to a large degree in F3. It’s no coincidence that the majority of all the greatest drivers in recent history all cut their teeth in Formula 3 to begin with.

F3 British GP - 1980 (Archive)

JT – As a fun aside, I happened to be watching a program on YouTube recently called “Ten Forgotten Group C Racers - LM24 Legends You've Never Heard Of”. One of the cars covered in the program was the 1991 Konrad Lamborghini KM 011, a Group C racer Franz Konrad created with the same Lamborghini V12 that powered the machines fielded by the Ligier and Modena teams in Formula 1. Apparently, Franz hired you as co-driver for the season. It didn’t go too well did it?

(Time code: 8:33-9:33)

SJ -  Oh dear! I will never forget that car! That had to be hands-down the worst car I ever drove – that and the Ligier F1 car from 1988 in their respective categories. They went hand-in-hand in terms of being unbelievably bad.

It was almost comical because we had that Lamborghini engine and there were no restrictors or anything back then. It was whatever power you could get out of the engine within a certain range and it had pretty good power. But the car had zero downforce - none.

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

I think the car must’ve been 50 km/h quicker than the Mercedes (C291 prototype), which was the fastest car at the time, down the straights but about 8 seconds slower per lap! It was ridiculous! I don’t think it had ever been within a hundred-mile radius of a wind-tunnel. It was eyeball design all the way and it had no grip whatsoever. There were so many things that were wrong with this car, apart from the poor handling. The cockpit had virtually no seal to the engine compartment which meant you were constantly breathing all the petrol fumes and the heat and noise inside the cockpit was insane. After about three laps in the car you lost your will to live!

Again, in sort of comedic terms, it would be difficult to make a race car that bad today with all of the advanced tools you have available now, like windtunnels, CFD, Simulators etc, or even just armed the basic knowledge on aero, chassis dynamics etc that exist today compared to back then.  Yet, you can still end up with something like the Nissan Le Mans prototype (2015 NISMO GT-R LM) which we all know was a complete donkey but with a full manufacturer backing. If I remember correctly, someone from Nissan proudly announced at the launch of the project that this car would win the 24 hours outright in two years. Oh well…

JT – Which professional series do you think offered the best racing in 2017? Which was most fun to watch?

Winner for "The Most Fun To Watch" in 2017

Winner for "The Most Fun To Watch" in 2017

SJ – I would say IndyCar again. It has always been enjoyable to watch. The series is very competitive and there’s always good battles throughout the field, and some of the races are real cliff hangers. You often don’t know what the outcome will be until the very end of each race.
I’ve been saying this for years now, IndyCar has by far the best racing overall but unfortunately only a fraction of the global race fans watch it. If they could only get more people to tune in so everyone can see how good it really is. I’m not a marketing expert and I certainly don’t claim I have all the answers, but it’s the best kept secret in global motorsports as far as I’m concerned. They need someone like Liberty to come in and really push the series to where it used to be and beyond. Of all the series out there, I think it’s one that need the least amount of changes in terms of the overall product, but they need all the help they can get in marketing themselves.

JT – The 2018 IndyCars with their now-standard lower downforce universal aero kits have received positive feedback from the drivers who’ve tested with them so far. Apparently they will force drivers used to the downforce-heavy Chevrolet and Honda aero kits of recent years to adapt their driving, requiring more finesse and patience. The cars should also move around more, making for more visually exciting racing. What’s your take?

3D Design by:  Chris Beatty

3D Design by: Chris Beatty

SJ – It certainly looks like this package will sort the level of driving out a bit more than what we’ve been used to seeing in 2017 and the last few years. It definitely looks like the cars are not as easy to drive as what we’ve been used to the past couple of years with the huge downforce cars.

They will demand more finesse and car control from the drivers and that’s good. That’s the problem with all of the high downforce cars of today. They can make an average driver look quite good. By definition, if you have more grip you don’t have to balance a car the way you would without it. It’s the same situation you have in F1 and it shows, DTM is the same as well as the WEC prototypes. Yes, the cars were quicker in 2017 and maybe fractionally more physical to drive but with all of the downforce and grip they have, they require less driving skill or feel for the car.
The new IndyCars will force the drivers to work a bit harder to get the last 5% out of the car and they will all have to develop that feel again. They’ll also have an impact on the tires. You will have to manage the tires more with your driving to make sure you don’t slide around too much but always keep them just below the point of losing the grip. This will inevitably lead to more small mistakes by some drivers which is often the chance you’re looking for when you’re battling another driver in a close race. I don’t know if the new car will make the racing any better, it’s already quite good. But I do think it will separate the good drivers from those who are average more than what we’ve been used to seeing the past few years.

And if the cars move around more, that’s what fans want to see. They want to see drivers fighting to control the cars.

JT – Looking ahead to the 2018 IndyCar season in another way, it’s intriguing to see how it’s shaping up with drivers switching teams, new drivers and new teams like Carlin joining the series.

SJ – I think it’s good. It’s probably time there was a bit of a shake-up in the ranks across the board. I think Carlin joining the series will be great. Trevor Carlin is one of the best Team Owners out there, period. They’ve won in everything they’ve ever competed in and they know what they’re doing. I think they’ll add a lot to the series.

JT – Formula 1’s 2017 season started off in interesting fashion with Ferrari able to challenge Mercedes for victory regularly. At the midway point however, Mercedes gained a clear advantage. The result was an early season that featured battles on track at times. After the early races, there was very little excitement. This was confirmed by data Pirelli released in December, showing that there were half the number of overtakes in F1 in 2017 compared to 2016. As you predicted, the larger, higher downforce cars the series switched to this year made passing more difficult.

SJ – Yes, this isn’t exactly earth-shattering news. It should have been obvious to anyone who write the rules that this was not the way to go to improve the racing. There’s no way to escape the effects of aero unfortunately.

Now they are talking about generating downforce from underneath the cars rather than from the top. That might help limit the turbulence a little bit but it won’t eliminate it. If you follow another car there will still be dirty air. As long as you have a lot of aero, you’re always going to have this problem, and the more complicated the aero is, which an F1 car is the epitomy of, the more affected your car will be from the dirty air. So unless they simplify the front wing considerably, I am certain they will still have the same problem.

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record. The easiest way to get more grip – and it would be so easy – is to simply improve the tires. Even on a much lower level than F1, like when we used to run LMP2 in sports car racing, you could easily spend a million dollars developing the aero of the car to gain, maybe half a second. Then you bolt on a different set of tires that cost maybe $2,000 and you pick up a second-and-a-half.

Source: Pirelli

Source: Pirelli

It’s beyond me that improving the tires is never even mentioned in F1. There are three things that make a race car go faster or slower not counting the driver of course: Chassis, Engine and Tires. The first two are open for anyone who wants to compete, yet the tires are restricted to one manufacturer, to whomever is willing to bid for the exclusivity. As it is today, I don’t think many tire companies would be interested in competing against each other in F1 with the current rules that mandate the same old 13-inch balloon tires they’ve continued to use since the 70’s or maybe even earlier, because they are completely irrelevant to any tire on the road anymore. But if they could change to tires that look at least remotely like what you see on a road car now then I’m sure the tire companies would jump right in. Michelin have already made that statement.

But it’s the Engineers that effectively write the rules today, and for them all the emphasis is on aerodynamics. So for the time being we are stuck with the current rules and the insane amount of money being spent on aero development. I guess if the focus changed from aero to tire and more mechanical grip more than half of them would be out of work immediately. That’s when you need someone with a birds-eye view who can step in and say, “This is what it is, these are the new rules. Deal with it.”

I’m sure that if you took away 60 or even 70 percent of the aerodynamic grip the cars have now and opened up the regulations to allow different tire manufacturers to compete against each other, you would easily gain back 3-4 seconds per lap, maybe more – almost immediately. Then give the cars an extra 300 horsepower and you gain another 3-4 seconds on an average length track.

There’s another thing which is curious in my mind with the current cars and regulations. Seemingly, someone in a high tower has decided that electric cars are the way to go and that’s it. Across the board, road cars, race cars, it doesn’t matter. No other alternatives are available. Anyone who has even the remotest interest in engineering knows that there are a ton of other alternative technologies out there which could be far more interesting and environmentally friendly and for sure more efficient than electric.

But we now have these so-called environmentally friendly hybrid cars with batteries that add nearly 50 percent more weight to an F1 car. The F1 cars used to weigh 500 kilograms. That alone made the cars way more exciting to watch than what we have now.  They were lively. They were moving around, twitchy and nervous all the time. You could really see the drivers working the cars.

Stefan Johansson racing Indy 500 - 1993

Stefan Johansson racing Indy 500 - 1993

I remember when I came from F1 to IndyCar. The IndyCars were quite a bit heavier. Everything happened so much slower in the IndyCar and that made it a lot easier. Now the F1 cars weigh as much as an IndyCar. In the bigger picture where F1 claims to be road relevant – which it isn’t – If you applied the concept of saving weight rather than adding it, let’s assume hypothetically, if you halved the weight of every road car and put the focus on weight loss can you imagine how much that would mean in terms of efficiency and for the environment just in terms of fuel consumption?
It would be massive. That should at least be an alternative direction F1 should be going in but they’re now doing the exact opposite.

If you allowed all the brilliant engineers in F1 to tap into the materials science that already exist out there and let the teams to focus on weight savings as an option in designing their cars. And then work out a target number for thermal efficiency and energy consumed that each car was allowed to consume over the course of a race distance. Then leave it up to the teams whether they want to run a normally aspirated engine in a car that will be lightweight and far more fuel efficient or a battery-hybrid car that’s maybe 200 kilos heavier but might also generate more power in an efficient but different way.

From an engineering point of view that’ll help sort everything out because you’d soon find out what approach was the most efficient. That would also provide interest for the fans with cars that were conceptually different from each other and that also looked and sounded a bit different. As it is, all the cars look virtually the same and truthfully F1 has been nothing more than a glorified spec series since the introduction of the latest engine formula. The rules a written so tight that each team has an extremely narrow window to work within, both on the chassis and the engine, hence all the cars looking and sounding exactly the same.

Take away a lot of the downforce, add an extra 300 horsepower, lighten the cars by 200 kilos and put some proper tires on them. You could soon be back near the same lap times they run today but with cars that were mega-exciting to watch. They would run close to 400 km/h down the straights, have much longer braking distances which would encourage more overtaking under braking, and the cars would move around a lot more so you could really see the drivers trying to tame their beasts. It would be awesome!

Another thing with all this, and maybe the most important aspect of all. Every single race track today, is either modified or built to specifically suit these high downforce cars, full of low speed corners and boring chicanes, in order to slow the cars down because of the high grip they generate from the downforce. If the cornering speeds were lower, but straigthline speeds were much higher we could gradually go back to the type of tracks that were far more exciting to watch, where you could really see a drivers laying it on the line with great car control in a series if medium and high speed corners, but with the modern safety standards applied. Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi is a perfect example of this, how is it possible to build something that awful when you have a clean sheet of paper, it’s probably the worst race track I have ever driven on in my entire career. It has 3 chicanes, and 4 first gear corners! Why would you even put one chicane when you build a new track and you have an endless choice if options.

JT – 2017 featured lots of sports car racing with GT racing remaining strong globally while top tier prototype racing gasped for air. The LMP1 class of the WEC looked less vibrant on and off track than it had for several years, demonstrating that the championship had finally drained the resources of the category’s remaining manufacturers, Porsche and Toyota, with its hugely expensive hybrid-prototypes. Porsche announced its P1 exit in late summer.

The situation was brighter in IMSA with the series’ DPi/P2 class gaining entrants even in a transitional season. IMSA’s GT classes remained strong and the outlook for 2018 looks very good with new teams and cars joining . Contrast that with the WEC where the LMP1 class will consist of Toyota and several privateer squads running non-hybrid ICE-powered machines. There’s little doubt Toyota will dominate.

The upcoming 24 Hours of Daytona should be one for the books with a historic line-up of star drivers and teams that will surpass what Le Mans can offer in the 2018/19 “Super Season”. What are your thoughts?

SJ – I agree. The formula that IMSA have come up with for prototypes is great and it’s clearly working, with more teams than ever joining the series. It’s just a shame that there can never be an agreement between Europe and America on the overall rules for prototypes.

It’s sad that egos have to get in the way all the time because I think they have the foundation here in the U.S. for something could be fantastic for everybody. Now the ACO is talking about a silhouette GT formula which is just going to be another money pit for a few manufacturers as far as I’m concerned.

Source:  Scuderia Corsa

As we’ve discussed before, my point has been for some time now, why not just unleash the current GT cars? If you take the restrictors off them they would have another 200-300HP or more in some cases, then give them maybe another 10 percent more aero and some wider tires and wheel arches that would make them look more aggressive also, and they’d be flying around Le Mans. They’d be in the mid to low 3:30s in no time, and that’s always been the target lap time the ACO wants to see for them to feel the track is safe. Make every manufacturer that wants to compete homologate a car to those specs, the road car version of the Le Mans spec car would be sold out in no time and every manufacturer competing would have their own version of the LM supercar. Each manufacturer would be spend serious money on activation if they were competing for the overall win in the 24 hours. So instead of Audi, Porsche and Toyota being the three manufacturers that had by far the biggest presence for years at Le Mans, you would now have maybe 10 or more manufacturers really using the event as a major marketing tool. The costs would of course go up from the current GT development programs for the cars, but this would be amortized over a period of time by all the private teams buying the same cars and spares as the factory teams were using. Even so, it would never get anywhere close to the money that was spent on the current LMP1 cars over the past 4-5 years. You would have the entire field racing with the same cars you can effectively buy, with the best drivers racing them.

With silhouette GTs, what happens to the existing manufacturer-based GT class? You’ll have the current GTE/GTLM cars and then these similar silhouette GTs? I think It’ll be very confusing.
For this year, unless the Toyotas break in one race or another, no one else has a chance of winning in LMP1. Of course, Audi won lots of races when they were the only manufacturer in P1 years ago but even that was a little different. The technology gap wasn’t as big as it is now and the amount of money the manufacturers have spent in P1 in recent years is on a completely different level.

JT – Still, there is a good level of excitement in sports car racing domestically and we even see the emergence here of touring car racing with TCR-spec cars slated to race more extensively in IMSA and with Pirelli World Challenge in 2018. In some ways, the possibilities for racers are opening up, even as the economic climate for racing remains challenging.

SJ – There’s definitely some exciting stuff and I think it’s great what [Fernando] Alonso is doing, trying other categories. That opens up the eyes of all the guys around him. All of a sudden they realize what’s possible. Alonso is maybe the most respected driver in the world, so when all these other guys in F1 especially see him trying these other categories it will for sure make them curious if nothing else.

Source: Fernando Alonso (Instagram)

Source: Fernando Alonso (Instagram)

I know for a fact from a couple of drivers I’ve talked with in F1 that they hate the current format. They’re just not having fun. The cars aren’t fun to drive and they’re not finding the whole experience enjoyable. Even some of the young drivers who are just getting started are seriously contemplating doing something other than F1. They just want to go drive something they can enjoy.

On the other hand, after having gotten a taste of what Super Formula and Super GT in Japan are like working with Felix [Rosenqvist], I think Japan has got it right on many levels. Both their series are full-on racing with no restrictors or BoPs, etc. You have brand new tires every time you leave pit lane and everybody’s going for it, all the time. It’s really good, hard racing. And now Jenson [Button] is there (in Super GT) and that’s going to open the eyes of a lot of European drivers and others. There are definitely some good things happening.

Source:  felixracing.se

JT – Formula E built some momentum over 2017 with the defection of Porsche from the WEC LMP1 ranks benefiting the electric championship and other marques joining as well. It’s not the most compelling racing but it has drawn the interest of manufacturers.

SJ – Yes, in a way Formula E isn’t really a series for the crowd on-hand at any race, not yet anyway. The tracks are relatively small so it’s not that easy to pack in a huge crowd even if you tried. The manufacturers are really what will drive the series in my opinion. They will no doubt start spending serious money not only on the racing but also on activation, as they always do when they get involved with a new category.

You’re going to have a war between Mercedes, Audi, Porsche and BMW – all the German makers who have mostly left DTM and will use this as their new arena to compete. You can already see it starting. And then you have Jaguar, Renault/Nissan and Citroen already there and several other car brands looking at it. It’s definitely the place to be at the moment. Typically, the manufacturers go for it while they are in and committed and then there’s a board decision by one or more of them and boom, they’re out. As quick as they arrive, at some point when it doesn’t serve their purpose anymore, they’re gone. It will be interesting to see how all this will develop.

From a driver’s point of view like Felix’s, it’s an interesting place to be, the teams are starting to get serious and as such they want the best drivers they can get their hands on. That’s why there are so many of these great drivers in the series already.

JT – Looking back at the global racing landscape in 2017, which driver do you think did the best job? Which driver from open wheel, sports cars, NASCAR – you name it – which racer performed best?

SJ – It’s always a very difficult questions because each championship and car requires you to become an expert in that particular category. Take a championship like the Australian V8 for example, it’s super competitive with some really great teams and drivers, I mention it just as an example, because they don’t get the recognition over here or in Europe because it’s a local championship. Any driver that do a guest appearance there generally speaking are nowhere. Indycar is a bit the same, it’s so hard to win consistently because the cars are so close and the race strategy plays a huge part in the overall results. We often see drivers qualifying in the back and then roll the dice on pitstops and end up winning races because they got it right. But in the end it will probably have to migrate back to F1 and Lewis Hamilton, he’s now getting to that point where he’s starting to break one record after the other, and that never happens by accident. He’s always had the ability to dig just a little deeper when it matters and this year he had to dig a lot deeper than usual when the car was not always underneath him.