Sunday’s race in Adelaide highlighted a major problem with the category’s fuel drop regulations when it comes to time-certain finishes. Is it time for a re-think of the rules? Andrew van Leeuwen investigates.
There’s no denying it; Sunday’s race in Adelaide was way too confusing.
In case you missed it, here's a brief summary of what happened; under V8s regulations, cars had to
take on a mandatory 140 litres of fuel across the 250-kilometres. Problem was, between lower consumption in the wet conditions, and the fact that the race only ran for 48 of the 78 laps, teams didn’t need anywhere near that much fuel.
It caught plenty of crews out, much of the field needing to make a splash-and-dash in the closing laps just to satisfy the regulations.
It was confusing for the teams, confusing for the media, and confusing for people watching from home/from the stands.
And that means something has to change.
Calls to simply scrap the fuel drop regulation have since surfaced – but that’s not necessarily the right answer. Yes, it is confusing. Yes, it does add an extra layer of complication to an already complicated sporting spectacle. But at the end of the day, the rule exists for one very good reason. Parity.
V8 Supercars essentially does a great job of its parity. There’s the odd murmur of dissatisfaction from time-to-time, but realistically the Falcons, Commodores, Altimas, and S60s are beautifully balanced in terms of performance. And that’s no mean feat, particularly with three very different styles of engine in play.
A big part of that is balancing economy. Different engine configurations use energy in different ways, so V8s introduced a fuel drop regulation to keep things even.
Take it away, and you run the risk of upsetting that balance.
So, what’s are the options?
Speaking on Fox Sport’s Inside Supercars show last night, commentator Neil Crompton suggest keeping the regulation in place, but having the option to dump it when a race is declared wet.
“The rule is well intentioned. The rule exists to protect all of the different engine configurations. The whole category is shrouded under the banner of parity, that’s a hub we all believe in,” he said.
“And it’s also to stop the teams, as they have in the past, literally leaning their fuel ratios to the point where they melt engines. The basis of [the regulation] is right. And there have been many successful races that have been run with it.
“What went wrong was that we’ve clearly been exposed that when you don’t get the race to run its full distance, or you have weather to that extent intervening so that it’s literally changing by the minute, there’s detail in the regs and the communication of that that then falls down.
“Perhaps when there is a wet declaration, it’s something that needs to go off the table.”
It’s not a bad option, however there are a couple of issues. This biggest is that time-certain races aren’t just caused by rain. Delays can happen thanks to crashes, issues with the circuit, so on and so forth – and a wet declaration rule wouldn’t cover any of that.
Another option would be to have a percentage system, where crews have to have taken on an amount of fuel representative to race distance that has been completed.
It would essentially be a simpler version of cricket’s Duckworth-Lewis system. Using Sunday’s race at Clipsal as an example, the fuel drop was 140 litres over a 78-lap race distance – so, around 1.8 litres per lap. Under the new system, the fuel drop would have been 86.4 litres when the race was stopped 48 laps in.
Speaking on Inside Supercars, Mark Skaife last night threw his support behind what he described as a pro rata system.
“I think the problem with the fuel drop is number one it wasn’t communicated clearly enough at the start that 140 litres still needed to go in under whatever the duration was; that needed to be stipulated,” he said.
“The second part is that if you pro rata it, so if you published before the event in the sup regs that if at 75 per cent race distance, for instance, you still needed to have dropped 105 litres – so it’s just pro rata to the race distance – you could probably have an outcome where it still works.
“I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bath water on having a system that works for parity.”
Communication is key
Skaife makes an excellent point about communication. A percentage or pro rata system would work, but only if it was perfectly communicated to teams before the race gets underway. And it needs to be a detailed breakdown of what the required fuel drop rate is at any points, should the race be stopped.
Moving targets are hard enough to follow, and they become impossible when teams don’t have the information they need to make the right decision in a very small timeframe.
Even the percentage system isn’t a perfect one. There will still be guys that get caught out or fall on the wrong side of a stoppage. But it’s still a better solution than having teams wastefully venting fuel because the tanks are still filled to the brim…