By: Tony DiZinno, Sports Car Correspondent
- ACO seeks performance balance for LMP
- GT splits into GTE Pro and GTE Am
Making sense of rules, regulations and acronyms a huge part of this year’s race
ILMC. GTE Pro. GTE Am. Platinum. Gold. Silver. Bronze. P1 and P2. BoP. ACO. FIA.
Getting to know the acronyms as part of the new-for-2011 regulations at the 24 Hours of Le Mans is just as important as learning the team, driver, car and tire lineup. One can be forgiven for getting confused!
To start, Le Mans takes on an even more important role in 2011 for teams competing in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. The new seven-round global series, created by the sanctioning body at Le Mans, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), has made the 24-hour endurance classic the singular focus of the global championship.
Le Mans, the greatest test of engineering, survival and skill in endurance racing since its 1923 inception, will have points associated with it for the first time since 1992, the last year of the then FIA-sanctioned World Sportscar Championship.
It’s a double-points round for the ILMC and vital to success for team and manufacturer championships. There are 26 full-season ILMC entrants among the 56 cars entered at the 24 Hours, although several teams have missed a round or two for various technical issues.
Additionally new is how the two GT classes are split up. Instead of GT1 and GT2, in 2011, a singular GT class splits into GTE Pro and GTE Am.
In 2009, GT1 was expected to sign off with the last batch of big-engined beasts from Corvette, Aston Martin and Lamborghini making their rounds. However, the creation of the FIA’s GT1 World Championship saw eight cars run at the 24 Hours – three Ford GTs, two GT1-spec Corvette C6.Rs, and one Saleen S7R, Aston Martin DBR9 and Lamborghini Murcielago.
In 2011, GT is split between GT2-spec cars into the GTE Pro and Am classes. In layman’s terms, the main difference is that the GTE Am class features cars at least one year old and with only one professional driver.
ACO sporting regulation Article 3.4.3 says any driver can request to rectify his classification. The classifications are platinum, the highest, followed by gold, silver and bronze. Only one of the GTE Am cars has a platinum driver, the Robertson Racing Doran Ford GT-R, with David Murry. The rest have a maximum of one gold and the rest either silver or bronze.
Both the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR and Aston Martin Vantage are competing in both GTE Pro and Am, with the differences that the GTE Am cars are older chassis and utilize at least two gentlemen drivers.
There are, however, some driver lineups in the GTE Pro class which have more amateur drivers — but they are classified in the Pro class because the car is a new one! The No. 64 Lotus Jetalliance Evora and No. 71 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia come to mind on that front.
P1 and P2 are also different for 2011, with the greatest change in the reduction of engine size for both classes. P1 has effectively gained P2-spec engine regulations, going down to V6s and V8s from V10s and V12s. In contrast, P2 engines are now more production-based, almost GT2-spec levels. Cars grandfathered in under the regulations pose some exceptions; one notable P1 example is Kronos Racing’s Lola Aston Martin which boasts an incredible, shrieking V12.
The new P1 cars are also running bigger, wider front tires to compensate for the power reduction, and driving to a point of excess even more than normal around the circuit.
The ACO has also made Balance of Performance adjustments (BoP) to help narrow the gap between the diesel and petrol-powered cars in P1. Following on-track activity in the first two ILMC rounds, petrol-powered cars have had their fuel nozzle added by 10 mm, while diesel cars have had their nozzle reduced by 3 mm. Diesels still have 10 liters less in their fuel tank, 65 compared to 75.
The six new diesels may be slowed — the Oreca Peugeot 908 HDi FAP has been grandfathered — but that makes the challenge of driving well worth it.
It is a different animal, built to different regs.
“It is a different animal, built to different regs,” said Audi’s Allan McNish. “The R15 was kind of restricted at Sebring this year, while the R18 was built specifically for these regs. It’s better to attack and better to respond.”
Polesitter Benoit Treluyer in the sister No. 2 Audi has felt at ease, relatively speaking.
“We are ready to step up to first this year with this car,” he said. “The car is easy to drive and we have been very fast.”
Additionally, if a petrol-powered car’s weight could be changed, they have been given a 0.3 mm increase for the engine air restrictor and 10 kilo weight reduction to help improve air flow and lighten the car. If a car’s weight couldn’t be changed, the air restrictor can have a 0.5 mm increase.
“Changing a simple component in the hose can increase the difference in refuelling times by over 22 seconds, the equivalent of two seconds a lap over the Le Mans 24-Hours race,” explained ACO sports manager Vincent Beaumesnil. “It’s a simple and inexpensive measure for the teams.”
It sounds good in theory but it isn’t necessarily enough of a break to bring the petrol-powered cars closer, as some drivers have related.
Guy Smith and Jeroen Bleekmolen of Rebellion Racing both said the team’s Lola B10/60 Toyota Coupe wasn’t able to close enough, and the gap is still pushing if not exceeding 10 seconds per lap to the diesels on average. That said, the team still made strides to score the unofficial “petrol division” pole on Thursday evening, and actually within 7.5 seconds of the overall pole.
As far as the air restrictor use, the ACO is attempting to avoid too big an imbalance between teams.
Finally, you might wonder what FIA has to do with the ACO. The FIA (Federation International d’Automobile), the sanctioning body of the Formula One World Championship, officially announced the formation of a new FIA World Endurance Championship for 2012, in partnership with the ACO.
We could get into the WEC and these acronyms here as well, but it might be better for next year just to avoid even more potential acronym overload.