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Filtering by Tag: Red Bull Ring

Red Bull, Honda and Verstappen, Beginning of a New Era? Exciting Races in Both F1 and IndyCar

Eric Graciano

#SJblog 103

JT – Formula One has staged three Grand Prix since we last chatted for the blog. The most significant news off-track is reporting that the FIA and Liberty Media plan to adopt ground effects for the 2021 cars. The goal is to do away with many of the complex aerodynamic devices found atop the cars currently. Instead there will be a simplified, less sensitive front wing and a series of Venturi tunnels feeding a deep twin diffuser that will produce much of the car’s downforce. The concept is reminiscent of the ground effects F1 cars that raced between 1979 and 1983, and similar to what the Dallara’s currently fielded in Indy Car employ to produce downforce. 

The FIA says the combination of ground effects, simpler aerodynamics and front wheel deflectors will all work together to help cars to follow each other much closer. In addition, the series will feature low-degradation tires that have far less drop off than the current high-degradation tires from Pirelli. The changes are similar to what you have been arguing for, for several years now, though they don’t go as far. What do you think of the changes?

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SJ – Some of the points in their plan are similar what I’ve been suggesting for a while, which is not surprising as it’s just common sense really. What’s interesting is that they (Liberty Media] actually did the exercise that I’ve been asking about for some time now – which is to paint all of the cars white and then see if anyone can tell them apart. Apparently there were only three people in their office who could tell the difference between them. I think the comments I’ve made for a while are now becoming clear to lots of people, I’m not trying to say that I’m the only who thought of this as I’m obviously not, but if the engineers and technicians can’t even tell the cars apart it’s safe to assume that not very many of the millions of fans will be able to.

Their proposal to maintain the level of downforce with more ground effects rather than getting all of the downforce from the top of the car looks better but I still think as long as you have a car that relies primarily on aerodynamics for its performance – which the cars will even with ground effects – I don’t think you’ll ever get rid of the problem of turbulent air. Computer modeling, wind tunnels and everything else the aerodynamicists have can never simulate well enough what’s going to happen in the real world. Once cars are on track together there are so many factors which upset the ideal circumstances they have when they use CFD (computational fluid dynamics) and wind tunnels.

I still strongly believe that a huge reduction on aerodynamic downforce which is then countered by less weight, more tire grip and more power is the way to go to retain the same performance we see now but with much better racing and more interesting cars to watch both on the track and estethically.

JT – Apparently, F1 hopes to reach agreement with teams about the new rules by September 15. But how likely is that? And how much of what they’ve proposed will be negotiated away?

SJ – If they’re waiting for a set of rules that everyone will agree on, it will never happen. They can continue to have meetings until the year 3000, and nothing will change apart from some minor pointless details. They need to get the teams and the engineers out of the decision-making process. It should be up to the governing body and the commercial rights holders to come up with a set of fair rules that make sense to everyone who participates, not just the top two or three teams – something that’s more controllable and makes sense financially for all participants. If the teams don’t trust the people that is running the championship they shouldn’t take part in the first place. As soon as the teams get involved it’s inevitable that they will serve their own interests first and as such we end up with a grid-lock and eventually a set of rules that is full of compromises mostly in order to please the manufacturer teams. Teams and manufacturers always come and go, Ferrari being the only exception, which makes it even more important that they will come up with a well thought out set of rules that will stay in place for a considerable amount of time, as this is always the best way to control both the level of competition and the costs. Rules stability have always proven to be the most efficient way for a successful series.

JT - The races at Red Bull Ring, Silverstone, and Hockenheim featured more action than the season’s preceding eight races. Red Bull racing’s Max Verstappen took the win in Austria after overtaking Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc two laps before the checkered flag – the first victory for a team other than Mercedes in 2019.

In England, Lewis Hamilton won, taking his seventh victory in 10 races. Teammate Valtteri Bottas led from pole and looked to have control of the race until a safety car was called for Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo which spun off. Hamilton dived into the pits, essentially getting a free pit stop, and leap-frogged Bottas. Behind, Charles Leclerc and the two Red Bulls fought for the podium. 

In Germany, rain came, leading to a variety of errors from drivers and teams. Max Verstappen survived a spin and five trips to pit lane for wet, medium and dry tires to win the race. Mercedes’ Hamilton and Bottas both spun off track in the wet with Bottas’ off ending his race. Hamilton finished 11th on track after multiple offs and a penalty for entering pit road beyond a cone denoting its limit. Post-race penalties to the Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen and Giovinazzi promoted him to 9th. Sebastian Vettel stayed on track to finish an unexpected 2nd after starting from the back of the grid. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat rounded out the podium with Racing Point’s Lance Stroll finishing 4th.

Following the races, Liberty Media’s Ross Brawn said the excitement they provided was a great response to the “vitriolic criticism” of F1 this season. But of course, the only reason Hockeheim had any “excitement” was because of rain. What’s your impression of the last three races?

SJ – Yes, the last three have all been terrific races with plenty of action and some surprising results, especially the last one at Hockenheim. F1 typically has two or three great races every year – always when the unknown enters into them - weather conditions or something else that can’t be simulated or predicted beforehand. Taking the predictability out of the racing is exactly what we’re looking for. The race at Hockenheim was a classic example of this. It was simply that the rain came and went and the teams had to adjust accordingly. Most of them got it wrong at least one and some of them many times. I think they changed tires like five times. But nevertheless it turned out to be a very entertaining race to watch, with several surprises in the end result. It’s great to have a race like this once in a while regardless of what the category is, but wouldn’t it be great if every race could come down to drivers competing hard on the track in equal cars, and different strategies on both fuel and tires played a big part of the end result. 

Austria started out being kind of boring and then it came down to the tire situation. Verstappen was on fresher tires and he was catching everyone hand-over-fist. At every race, whoever can make the tires work is so much quicker than the rest. The Red Bull chassis are always very  good too and the Honda engineers are really starting to get the job done.

I think this result is the beginning of a new era. As I said a year ago when the switch from McLaren to Red Bull happened, eventually Red Bull, Verstappen and Honda will dominate, probably for four or five years once they get it right, which they will. When Honda is committed they always get it right in the end, and once they do they are very hard to stop. I think the combination of Verstappen, Red Bull and Honda might be the new Dream Team that will be very hard to beat in the next 5 year period, as long as all the main people stay committed. 

Ferrari continued having their problems at Hockenheim too. Both cars had issues in qualifying for Hockenheim and then in the race they were better. Vettel did a great job moving forward with some brilliant moves especially in the first few laps. Leclerc got schooled by Verstappen in Austria and realized he had to roll up his sleeves and get a bit more aggressive. I think he did a great job at Silverstone (Leclerc finished 3rd) but obviously he made a mistake at Hockenheim, like several others did in the same spot. I think they all got caught out by how incredibly slippery the track surface was once you got into the runoff area, under normal circumstances theirs is no real change in the grip level once you go into the runoff, but here it was like ice.

There was more dicing at Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring. Maybe it’s the nature of those tracks because they’re fast and flowing. There aren’t really any stop-and-start corners at either track. And with the amount of downforce the cars have now, you don’t really have to be on the racing line to carry the speed through the corners. It’s almost like oval racing, the way they drive around some of these corners – one car on the outside and the other on the inside, doing the same speed. Normally if you’re not on-line you lose your pace. We’re seeing some outside passes that we didn’t see before at a few of the tracks, which is great to watch, so maybe the high downforce is actually working better in that regard at these specific tracks and corners. It certainly provided some great racing and passing.

Bottas did a good job at Silverstone but the safety car just came at the wrong time. It certainly worked in Lewis’ favor and he obviously got a bit lucky which he admitted. But when things are going your way, almost everything you do seems to work. When they’re not, everything you try seems to go wrong. Vettel on the other hand is definitely on the flip side of that cycle. I also don’t think Vettel is comfortable with the car now. 

I don’t think he’s ever been really comfortable with the cars of this era – the hybrid cars. They clearly don’t suit his driving style. I don’t think he can get the cars to operate the way he wants them to, to have confidence and be comfortable with them. The Red Bull he had with the blown diffuser and everything, it obviously suited his driving style perfectly.

JT – You think Mercedes set up was wrong for both drivers at Hockenheim?

SJ – It looked to me like Hamilton and Bottas had very similar problems. They went off at the same corner in almost identical circumstances where the rear just snapped without even a wiggle, it just went into a full spin immediately. That would lead me to believe something wasn’t right with their cars. Whatever set-up they had was affected worse than anyone else, maybe the car bottomed out in that particular spot or something else went wrong. It seems strange though that both drivers would do identical mistakes in exactly the same place in the same corner.

JT – Whatever the case was for Mercedes and the rest at Hockenheim, the Indy Car race at Mid-Ohio was far more exciting. There was fantastic racing throughout the field. Scott Dixon won after some terrific dices with Will Power and even his own teammate Felix Rosenqvist. It was proper nail-biting racing. 

Source: @scottdixon9

Source: @scottdixon9

Congratulations go to all of the guys on the podium with Scott finishing on top, Felix in 2nd place and Ryan Hunter Reay in 3rd. But special congratulations to you. You’ve had a role in all three drivers’ careers. Of course, you manage both Scott and Felix. And though many may not remember, Ryan Hunter Reay came into Indy Car racing with your American Spirit Team Johansson in 2003. Ironically, Hunter Reay’s first-ever Indy Car podium came with your team at that season’s Mid-Ohio round where he finished 3rd! He went on to win the 2003 season-ending race at Surfer’s Paradise, Australia.

SJ – Yes, even when you have three great races in F1, you turn on Indy Car on any weekend and the race is nearly always a nail biter which is rarely over until the last few laps. Every race ends up being exciting right until the end. Mid-Ohio was another brilliant race! Felix was on a different strategy than Scott. Rossi and Newgarden and Power were on different strategies and everyone was racing hard on track, and it went right to the finish line with only 0.09 separating the first two cars. If F1 ever had one race like that people would go ballistic!

When Felix and Scott were racing each other at the end, I seriously thought I was getting a heart attack! I was freaking out but it was great! For me personally it was fantastic obviously to see them get a 1-2. And I believe that’s the first 1-2 finish Ganassi has had in Indy Car since Scott raced with Dario [Franchitti]. And with Ryan finishing third as well it was an amazing day.

JT – Even the previous round, on a completely different type of track – the short oval at Iowa Speedway – was exciting and unpredictable. Scott had a very difficult night with the car not responding to a host of set-up changes and was running in 16th place. But pit strategy and a caution flag at the right moment late in the race allowed him to charge up to 2nd place! Josef Newgarden won the rain-delayed race and was doing donuts 1:15 am central time

SJ – It was a crazy race and I still can’t believe Scott managed to pull his way back to 2nd after being a couple of laps down at one point, but again, this is what makes Indycar the best racing in the world right now, it has all the right ingredients for close and unpredictable racing. As far as the competition side of the business goes, they are doing pretty much everything right. The only thing I’m having a hard time to understand is the lapped car rule, where the backmarkers can still race the leaders even when they are about to go a lap down. I don’t think it’s fair that they should be able to effect the outcome of the race. If it’s not your day, you should just move over and let the leaders continue to fight until the end, rather than getting caught up for laps behind someone who’s over a second a lap slower. 

JT – Haas F1 continues to struggle on track. Their car, the VF-19, is obviously part of the problem. But the drivers are another liability this year. Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen can’t seem to stop running into each other. They have an open rivalry of course but what’s taken place between them at nearly every race of the season seems illogical. Gunter Steiner recently said he was more than frustrated with their behavior and shouldn’t have to be mediating between them when he should be focused on making the car and team better. Why not sack both Grosjean and Magnussen and perhaps replace them with Indy Car drivers?

SJ – Unfortunately for them, the situation at Haas is almost comical. I can see it being justified if they are fighting for the lead or the championship, like Lewis and Nico was a few years back, but I think even those two had better discipline and race craft than the Haas guys do. It’s ridiculous to be fighting as teammates over 10th position and keep bouncing into each other race after race. Something’s not right there. These guys just have no race craft. And how much patience can Haas have, it’s not like either of them are World Champion material or ever will be? Haas shouldn’t have to be thinking about them in addition to making the car better or whatever else, if you are paid driver you are there to enhance the overall performance of the team, not give them an added headache to deal with pretty much every weekend. 

If any of these guys were to race in Indycar, not just the Haas guys but in general, they would have to make some major adjustments in order to be competitive. Execution is everything in Indy Car. If you or the team get one thing wrong you lose several positions immediately and fighting your way back from that is almost impossible as close as the racing is. And at most of the tracks you don’t have run-off areas where you can rejoin the rack after bouncing off someone else or missing the apex, so if you tangle or have to go off track for any reason, your day is pretty much over. 

The irony is that F1 teams are now considering guys like Pato O’Ward who left to join Red Bull in Super Formula in Japan and Colton Herta is being considered by a number of teams. Both of them are super talented but if you look at what they have done in Indy Car – for an F1 team to consider them kind of sums up the mentality of Formula 1. Neither one of them is ready for F1. They have one good race in Indy Car and then a series of others with mistakes or poor execution. It’s the most bizzare situation at the moment, where Formula One has now become some kind of training ground for young talented drivers. Every now and then you will find a Unicorn, like Hamilton or Verstappen for example, but for everyone of those there’s a graveyard of other really talented drivers that got spat out of the system very early on for a variety of reasons but primarily because they simply weren’t ready either mentally or technically. 

But this is how they think in F1. It’s all about really young and fast drivers. If you’re over 20 years old, no one in F1 will even look at you it seems. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t be patient and take a driver who’s 23, 24 or 25 years old who’s had four or five years of hard racing behind them duking it out in other series and has shown that they’re a proven winner. 

JT – That’s a great point. Why wouldn’t F1 teams be looking at relatively young Indy Car drivers like Josef Newgarden or Alexander Rossi? Rossi’s been in F1 before but only with a back-marker team. Both guys are proven winners. Newgarden already has an Indy Car championship under his belt (2017) and Rossi is a threat at every race. Both are competitive with the series’ most decorated and experienced racers like Scott Dixon, Will Power, Ryan Hunter Reay, etc. Felix Rosenqvist is another possibility. He’s really beginning to show his talent in Indy Car. 

SJ – Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. These guys have been in Europe in the early days of their careers and now they’ve been racing hard for a few years and have a lot more experience. Now is the time that F1 teams should be looking at them not when they started their careers over there and had virtually no experience with either the tracks or the people they were racing against.

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: MAVTV 500, Austrian GP & the fantastic GT3 Series

Stefan Johansson

Jan Tegler – Scott Dixon scored well in Texas, winning on the oval. His weekend was less successful in Toronto, finishing eighth. Both IndyCar races were good however – much better than this season’s F1 events. Last weekend, Scott finished sixth in the exciting MAVTV 500 at Fontana Speedway (California).

The racing was incredible with multiple drivers racing side-by-side on many occasions and more than 70 lead changes. But it was also scary - a return to the kind of pack racing that claimed the life of Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2011.

Drivers warned IndyCar prior to the race that the increase in downforce mandated for the new Chevrolet and Honda aero-kits for the weekend would result in this but IndyCar paid them no heed. After the race most of the drivers voiced strong opposition to the pack racing. You were on hand at Fontana. What did you think of the race and what do think IndyCar will do to address the situation?

Stefan Johansson – Yes, Scott did a great job in Texas. In Toronto, strategy got [Joseph] Newgarden to the front which is what makes IndyCar great. You can roll the dice and sometimes-smaller teams can win by gambling a little on strategy.

At Fontana, it wasn’t just the guys in the cars who thought the racing was too crazy. Like many others watching, I thought the racing was exciting at the beginning of the race but as it got closer to the finish all I could think was, “This is not going to end well.”

With everyone getting race-y in the last 50 laps things started to get out of hand. I think on one lap there were six cars abreast going into Turn 1! It was completely over the top. All of the drivers were absolutely in unison that there’s no way they’re going to race like that again.

I think all the teams have had just about enough of these new aero-kits. One of the main reasons the series went away from the old Dallara chassis was because they said they had too much downforce. And now, with these new aero kits they change the level of downforce, again adding more? It defeats the purpose of the whole exercise.

As I’ve said before, they should have taken all the money they spent on the kits which are costing everyone a fortune and spent it on promoting the series instead. (Only a little over 3,000 people were in the stands at Fontana.)

IndyCar is maybe the best racing series in the world right now - pure racing with good battles throughout and uncertainty of the outcome. Why not direct whatever resources there are to make more people aware of that instead of petty rule changes that only the die-hard fans will even notice or appreciate?

The Fontana race was a perfect example of this, it was maybe a bit to gladiatorial, but for anyone watching it was one of the most unbelievable races ever in my opinion.

JT - The Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring was somewhat interesting on the first lap but then settled down into a mostly processional affair. Like most of the F1 rounds this year, there wasn’t that much wheel to wheel racing. Nico Rosberg (starting second) did a good job of beating Lewis Hamilton (on pole) to the first corner and holding him off for the next few corners. Thereafter, he was never really challenged.

Meanwhile, Kimi Räikkönen somehow came together with Fernando Alonso and the two wound up in the fence with Alonso’s McLaren atop Räikkönen’s Ferrari. It was bizarre and neither driver had a good answer as to why it happened. Kimi has said he lost control of his car for some unknown reason and Fernando couldn’t avoid him.

SJ – This seems to be the norm these days, especially with the Mercedes pair. Whoever gets in front at the beginning of a race stays in front. It’s almost like they’re not even trying to race each other. They just hold position. I wouldn’t say there’s an agreement within the team but it certainly looks like no one’s even trying to race.  

It’s tricky to say what’s going on with Kimi. He’s certainly not a million miles off the pace of his teammate but it seems to be harder for him to get things right with the car than it is for Vettel or than it was for Alonso. I think he’s also had more bad luck in terms of putting everything together in the races and more importantly in qualifying. It doesn’t take much for everything to go pear-shaped, especially if you qualify poorly.

JT – There have been intra-team battles for the F1 Championship in the past of course but I don’t think I’m alone in finding the Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry a bit tepid – not really that exciting. What’s your view?

SJ – I agree. There’s certainly nowhere near the level of interest there was between Prost and Senna when they were racing for the championship at McLaren. It seemed a little better last year between Hamilton and Rosberg but clearly something’s changed within the team. Either they’ve been told not to race each other too hard or something else.

At least there was a bit of hate between them last year which made it somewhat interesting. But we don’t even have that this season. Everything’s great – Lewis says Nico did a great job when he wins or the reverse with Nico saying Lewis was great. There are a few sad faces from either of them when they don’t win but everything else is happy and chummy.

JT – There’s always gossip in Formula One but you know things are not going well overall when you hear as much comment as we’ve heard recently from drivers and ex-drivers, team-owners, and F1 chiefs about the state of the series.

Lewis Hamilton has argued that the current cars are harder to drive than they look. Meanwhile, Felipe Massa contends that F1 is more competitive than ever, maintaining that the racing during the often fondly-remembered Senna/Prost era wasn’t as good as today.

Nikki Lauda was quoted recently, saying F1 isn’t exciting now because there’s not enough danger or risk associated with it. Bernie Ecclestone says F1 cannot improve because the teams have too much say in how the sport is managed. Ex-FIA head Max Mosley opines that F1 needs to simplify its currently complex formula and that Jean Todt should be more proactive regarding the series.

What do you make of it all?

SJ – One thing is clear and we’ve mentioned it many times. You cannot run F1, or any racing series for that matter, as a committee. Especially not if the teams are to have any say in the rules or decisions being made. You can’t get the teams to agree on anything. Every single person you speak to in the paddock - anyone with an interest or passion for the business - has their own opinion on how it should be run or what rules they need to implement.

I’ll say it again, there are only two racing series that have been consistently successful - F1 and NASCAR.  Both have been run like benevolent dictatorships by people who understand their business better than anyone else. The teams should not have any say in the way the rules are written or how F1 is run.

There is a governing body, the FIA, and there’s the commercial rights holder, FOM. Between the two of them they need to come up with a fair and sensible package that’s simple and easy to understand. F1 has gotten so complicated now - especially on the technical side - that people inside the business can’t even understand it. It’s a championship for engineers and boffins today.

In terms of the racing, the art of racing is to drive a car on the limit. No one’s doing that anymore. They’re all either driving under the limit or driving over it. When you have tires that can only stand five hard laps before they go off and you have to spend the rest of the stint just maintaining enough speed to make it to the next stop while constantly taking orders from the pits on what settings to use on the steering wheel - I can completely understand the frustration we now start noticing from a number of the drivers.

Everyone’s using the track width and then some. If they lose a little time it doesn’t matter. They just go on. The fine art of keeping a car on the limit whether you’re racing or on your own is kind of gone now. That’s because you don’t have to be on the limit most of the time and you’re not really penalized even if you go beyond it. I think the public can see that too.

Who wants to see a guy blow a braking zone by 20 yards, lock up, miss the apex by a country mile and then just carry on? A lot of guys aren’t even on the racing line anymore. You couldn’t do that in the past because you risked damaging the car or yourself or both. Few tracks had any form of run off area. If you went out past a curb, you were either in the wall, catch fencing or a sand trap. The asphalt in the huge runoff areas we have now is much safer but it allows people to be careless or just ignore the track limits completely.

Spa is a perfect example. Pouhon, the downhill double lefthander, used to be a mighty corner. It’s off-camber, super-fast and getting it right was a balancing act every time. Now, you just hammer a car in there and if you go too fast, you don’t even go over a curb. It’s just kind of a painted suggestion and you don’t even notice it. You just drive outside it.

In the middle of the night during the 24-hour race (the Spa 24 Hours) everybody is just going flat through there. They don’t even lift. You’ve got the track and another track width on top of that and you just keep your foot down. Eau Rouge is the same now. It’s all asphalt to the outside so if you go too fast there’s no real penalty. It used to be one of the most awesome corners at any race track in the world. You don’t even think about it anymore. On the third lap you’re flat – easy.

I don’t necessarily agree that F1 should be more dangerous because racing is still dangerous when the circumstances line up against you. But there has to be some form of punishment or consequence for going over the limit. It should also be more difficult to find the limit.

All the modern tracks are too sanitized in a way. If you took away the concrete wall that follows the Porsche curves at Le Mans for example and made huge run off areas instead, that whole sequence of corners would be a no brainer. Configured as the Porsche curves are currently, it’s a matter of digging as deep as you can to keep your foot in it the whole way. If you get it right and are able to stay flat throughout, the time you gain is massive. You can lose a couple of seconds through that section alone if you don’t get it right from the start.

JT – The recent FIA Formula 3 European Championship round at Spa-Francorchamps is another example of drivers having little regard for track limits. It was nearly as fraught as the races which preceded it at Monza. There were multiple accidents and incidents of contact with many of the drivers behaving poorly or inexplicably. You were there in-person. What’s your take?

SJ – It was pretty bad, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a worse standard of driving - certainly not at the level of where Formula 3 is. Some of the drivers are just clueless when it comes to race craft. It’s one thing to be racing hard and have incidents but what’s happening right now in F3 is just stupid and completely unnecessary. The guys are making moves that don’t gain them anything and they’re certainly costing the teams a lot. It’s weird. It’s like some of the drivers have zero race craft.

Some of them may be coming directly from karting but I think most have had a few years in the junior formulas that follow karting. It’s bizarre. Aside from the big crashes we saw at Spa, there was one guy who must have gone across the chicanes ten times – just straight through them. He never got penalized because he didn’t gain anything I guess. But he also didn’t lose any positions. He just kept his foot in it and rejoined after the chicanes, and just flew out into the middle of the pack about where he was before. It was like watching someone playing a video game.

Again, there’s no penalty anymore for going over the limit so everybody’s on the limit or a little above it. It’s odd that you can now exceed track limits and it’s become the norm. In the past, if you blew a chicane at least you’d have to stop until the rest of the field passed through it. Then the marshals would wave you out onto to the track to rejoin, meaning you effectively had blown your race. There has to be some kind of punishment for going over the limit.

Worse, the same kind of thing was going on in Austria during the F1 race. Cars were leaving the track completely but just kept going. They lost maybe half a second but just carried on.

JT – The 2015 edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours was a good race with interesting battles in just about every class. Scuderia Corsa did very well on debut with Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal finishing on the podium in GTE AM with the Ferrari. You were there with the team throughout the week. It must have been enjoyable. The battle between Townsend and Patrick Long in Patrick Dempsey’s Porsche late in the race was very good.

SJ – That was a great battle – very professional from both drivers, very fair. Patrick was a little defensive but didn’t block, used his mirrors well and drove with full awareness. Townsend had some fantastic stints as did Jeff and Bill and it was terrific to watch. It was a great result for the team, being on the podium on the first trip to Le Mans. Everybody was over the moon.

And every category was pretty tight. The P1 duel between Audi and Porsche was great, and although it didn’t go down to the wire it was still pretty tight all the way.

It was somewhat disappointing to see Toyota being completely off the pace this year. It’s hard to understand the reason after they had the fastest car last year pretty much everywhere. It seems they’ve done almost no development on their cars at all. I can’t imagine they just sat still and expected the others to do nothing, so maybe there were other reasons why they didn’t make more progress.

P2 went right down to the wire. The JOTA Sport car (Gibson 015S-Nissan) was catching the KCMG car (ORECA 05 Coupe), having gained three laps back on them on pure speed. The GTE Pro fight between the Corvette and the Ferrari was great too until the Ferrari lost its gearbox.

JT – Nissan’s debut in P1 was not good. Only one of their three GTR LMs was running at the finish but didn’t complete enough laps to be classified. None of the cars ran with their 2-megajoule hybrid system functioning. They had numerous problems including braking issues and massive understeer. They claimed they would easily out-qualify the P2 cars but only one of their cars managed to post a time faster than the fastest P2 car. Even then it was only a few tenths quicker and more than 20 seconds slower than the lead P1 cars.

SJ – The bottom line is that their performance shows a complete lack of understanding of the business. Any engineers you talk to whether they’re in Formula One or sports cars unanimously agree that this car will never work. It will never be a competitive proposition.

To claim that they would easily out qualify the P2 cars is a very odd statement considering they’re not running in that category, so who cares? The fact that they not only did not do that but they were over 20 seconds slower than the cars they were competing against?  I can’t imagine Audi, Porsche - or any other manufacturer for that matter - showing up to the biggest motor race in the world that far off the pace - and unreliable on top of it.

Having something different may get Nissan noticed and maybe they can market that. But aside from it being cute just because it’s so different or the political correctness around their effort, racing is still about winning. That’s why we go racing – to win races.

To think that you’re going to win - and claim that you’re going to win - with this design against Audi and Porsche and Toyota is not realistic. I can only imagine that someone sold the executives a bill of goods and none of them understand enough about racing to say, “Hang on a minute!”

The way racing is today, everybody operates in a pretty narrow box to be competitive. With the big role that aerodynamics in particular plays now, everyone eventually migrates to the best solution and the best solution usually leads to cars that look a specific way.

Look at the cars in F1. They all look the same because that’s what works. The same holds true for prototype sports cars. They all have very aggressive, stubby front ends and similar aero shapes as you go to the rear of the car because that’s what works.

JT – GT3 racing continues to impress globally. The Blancpain Endurance Series round at Paul Ricard boasted 60 entries. That follows earlier rounds which had similar size grids. It remains a good formula.

SJ – It’s fantastic. When you look at Blancpain and the GT3 regulations, you have to say that [Stefan] Ratel (SRO Group principal) has done a terrific job. The racing works brilliantly, very even. It’s just a shame that Le Mans couldn’t apply the GT3 concept.

P1 has what, eight cars maximum racing right now? And they’re going to slow them down again  because somehow they’ve determined that their lap times are too quick. I don’t understand how that’s determined. Historically, a certain lap time is too quick? Who says so, whether it’s sports cars or F1?

There was a time when F1 cars had aerodynamic side skirts that basically sealed them to the track. Their ultimate speed was determined by how much the drivers could withstand before they started to blackout. That should give you an indication of how far you could possibly go speed-wise. You wouldn’t have to go that far but why not go as fast as reasonable?

My point is, if you took the GT cars, whether they’re GTE or GT3, and let them run without  restrictors they would have all another couple hundred horsepower at least because that’s how much they’re strangled now. Their lap times would be right down in the mid 3-minute, 40s. In 1997 when we won the race (Stefan won with Joest Racing in a Porsche TWR-Porsche WSC-95) our pole time was a 3:47 in the Porsche prototype.

You’d be right there in terms of good, fast laps and then you’d have effectively 56 cars with almost identical performance racing each other. I think that would be pretty cool. And I think they should just make GT one category. The whole division of GTE and GT3, it’s just nonsense. Everybody has to make a special car for Le Mans. It’s ridiculous.