Flat Spot On by Jonathan Ingram Who's Fastest In ALMS? There are lies, damned lies and then there are endurance racing statistics. On the eve of the Petit Le Mans, it seems appropriate to resort to this black art of statistics to consider who...
Flat Spot On
by Jonathan Ingram
Who's Fastest In ALMS?
There are lies, damned lies and then there are endurance racing statistics. On the eve of the Petit Le Mans, it seems appropriate to resort to this black art of statistics to consider who has been the fastest driver this year in the ALMS.
Given the unusual number of changes behind the wheel this year in both the LMP1 and LMP2 classes, at the very least finding the quickest driver seems to be a topic of constant consideration by team owners and directors.
The complicating factor in the ALMS is the presence of two prototype classes that on any given weekend can win over-all. But they each have their own categories for poles, victories and fastest laps. Hence the lonely outpost of the racing statistician who can only tout numbers according to classes.
If, for example, you were counting over-all victories as the sole criteria, then Audi's Marco Werner and Lucas Luhr are the fastest, because they have won five times over-all. But which of the two has been quickest? Have they scored more fastest race laps over-all than the competition? (No.)
To take a different approach, why not assume that qualifying and the fastest race laps taken over the course of a season comprise the best tell-tale of who is the quickest driver on any given weekend. That would help cut down on (but probably not eliminate) other factors such as who has the best car for a given track, or the best fuel mileage, the best race day strategy or the best race day conditions. At the worst, it would help distinguish who's the fastest.
The drivers who have good teammates hate this kind of analysis, of course, because it tends to cause dissension when one comes out better than another. There's also one untidy fact. The main object of all teams is a victory, which do not always go to the swiftest. But as we said earlier, who is quicker than whom seems to be playing an important role these days among manufacturers, team owners and directors willing to make mid-season driver changes. So this is a subject under discussion in various quarters already. Why not join that conversation?
The system used here awards a single point to a driver for scoring a class pole and a point to a driver for setting the fastest race lap in class. There's one bonus point for scoring the fastest over-all pole and one bonus point for scoring the fastest over-all race lap.
In qualifying, this means each race has three points available: one for fastest qualifying lap in LMP1, one for the fastest in LMP2 and one bonus point to the class pole winner who also has the fastest over-all qualifying lap. For each race, there is one point for the fastest LMP1 race lap, one point for the fastest LMP2 lap and one point to the driver who also scores the race's fastest over-all lap.
In this system, Audi Sport North America's Werner (who scored 11 points) is the quickest among the ALMS drivers, followed by Acura driver David Brabham of Highcroft Racing (who scored eight points).
On the face of it, this might be unfair, given that Werner's Audi is a member of the more powerful LMP1 class. But, four of the nine races have been won over-all by LMP2 entries. And, five of the eight over-all poles have been won by drivers in the LMP2 category. (Qualifying at Sebring was canceled by a red flag.)
A stronger argument about bias in this system might be that the Audis only have to beat one another, where the LMP2 Acuras have been four deep since de Ferran Motorsports joined in May. And the Acuras have faced two Porsche Spyders from Penske racing since the beginning of the season and two from Dyson Racing. That means eight potent entries in the LMP2 class every race competing for class speed honors versus two from Audi in LMP1.
As stated earlier, there are damned lies and then there are endurance racing statistics.
Luhr of Audi is third (with six points) and Dindo Capello of Audi is tied for fourth with Penske Racing's Timo Bernhard (each has four points). This tends to indicate the Audis do have a statistical advantage in this system. The always affable Capello, it might be pointed out, could claim he's the fastest driver due to his history-making pole lap at Mosport at an average speed of 138 mph.
To play devil's advocate, Werner has out-pointed Luhr and Audi driver Emanuele Pirro all season with similar, if not the same equipment. (Pirro's co-drivers have changed from race to race.) Seven different drivers have set the over-all fastest race laps, but the only one to have done it more than once is Werner, who has three over-all fastest race laps. So Werner deserves to be number one.
Highcroft's Brabham has made late charges in races a trademark in no small part because of his team's chassis and tire philosophy, which tends to make the car slower at the beginning of stints. But the Michelins stay under the Highcroft Acura for the long run, giving it relative speed to others who have worn tires when it counts at the end of races. Sometimes the fact the Highcroft entry is relatively slower on fresh tires can hurt both Brabham's speed stats and those of teammate Scott Sharp, who usually starts races before his teammate runs double stints at the finish.
As stated earlier, winning races does not always mean trying to set the fastest laps.
Other points of interest in this statistical "system" include the following:
Gil de Ferran and teammate Simon Pagenaud have each scored two "speed points" apiece in their first six races. The young Frenchman scored the fastest lap over-all at Salt Lake City in the team's debut.
Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard have combined for seven points at Penske Racing. Except for a class pole by Dumas at Mosport, all of those points have come in the first four races. Patrick Long, who had the fastest over-all lap at Long Beach in Round 3, has also scored points for Penske.
Since he began driving for Andretti Green Racing, Franck Montagny has scored three points in five races, including an LMP2 pole and fastest lap at Road America.
Marcel Fassler, one of the rotation of co-drivers for Pirro this year, set the fastest LMP1 lap in Detroit late in the race. But the car was disqualified for being 2.5 kilos under weight. So Luhr, who crashed before Werner could get into the No. 2 Audi, officially got the fastest lap.
Stephane Sarrazin of Peugeot likely would have a couple of points for an over-all pole. But when qualifying at Sebring was halted prematurely by a red flag, the grid was set according to the average of practice times from the official sessions. (Thus no "speed points" were rewarded.) Dyson Racing had the quickest LMP2 times up until the red flag. In the 12-hour race, it was Peugeot's Pedro Lamy who scored the fastest over-all lap and Marco Andretti in the AGR Acura scored the fastest in the LMP2 class.
In all, there are 13 drivers who have scored "speed points" in the first nine races and 15 if Sarrazin and Fassler are included. That's a diverse array of talent, indeed. No wonder teams are scrambling to find the fastest drivers they can get their hands on.
It makes one wonder if J.J. Lehto is going to stay retired... .
Jonathan Ingram can be reached at email@example.com.