Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Formula E Hang Ups, IndyCar in 2015 and GT3's World Stage

We are getting closer every day to 2015 and it's time to talk about topics that need to be aired out as the summer winds into autumn and before we all have to bunker down into the motorsports emptiness that is winter.

Formula E Hang Ups
Driving back from Monterey this weekend, my uncle and I were talking about all sorts of motorsports. He started following as teenager in the 1970s, catching the bug back in days of Mario Andretti, Gilles Villeneuve, James Hunt and Niki Lauda in Formula One, he was one of millions burned by the CART-IRL split and has yet to get over it and may never and the Chase is the one thing that deters him from following NASCAR full-time. 

We started talking about Formula E and I was explaining how the series was going to work. One-day street shows around the world with a mixture of young drivers who have yet to break through to Formula One and veterans with glittering résumés, switching cars during races and having two races in one day.

While intrigued by what the series intends to be, he mentioned a few problems he sees in the series. First and foremost, he stressed that motorsports has historically been the proving ground for future technology in road cars. With drivers changing cars during the race he felt that told the everyday drivers, currently the best way to live with an electric car is to have two electric cars because one is not going to be enough. 

He has a point. The average range for the Nissan Leaf is 84 miles, with it taking approximately 7 hours to fully charge. The car is obviously for city use and not for long daily commutes but when it comes time to charge you car, you may need to still go get groceries or drop the kids off at practice, etc. If you currently want rely solely on electric cars, get two so when one needs to charge, the other is ready to go. Obviously that isn't feasible for everybody. Of course Formula E is meant to develop longer lasting batteries so switching cars doesn't have to occur and development takes time. 

My uncle was keen to point out all the things that could go wrong with drivers undoing the seat belts, getting out a car and into another. First, someone getting hurt. Imagine Jerome d'Ambrosio leading, coming into the pits to change cars and as he is hopping out he twists his ankle and it ends his race. Or d'Ambrosio is having difficulty getting his seat belts off or on. Not to mention the safety risks of a driver not getting their seat belts done properly after jumping into the fully charged car and the possible consequences they entail.

My uncle proposed, instead of drivers actually getting out of the cars, the cockpit be developed into a removable pod that can be jacked out of one car and into another to prevent any potential driver injuries or seat belt issues and speeding up the process. I think it is an interesting idea but not being sure how much innovation will be allow for the teams to do to these cars, it will probably never happen. 

2015 IndyCar Schedule
Numerous times I have said I hate talking about future schedules for any series, let alone IndyCar, but seeing as the IndyCar season ends a month from today, I think we need to talk about the 2015 IndyCar schedule. 

First, when is it going to be announced? Last year, they announced the 2014 scheduling leading into the final race of 2013 at Fontana. Does the series do the same? Or, realizing they are giving themselves loads of time to be out of the public eye, does IndyCar hold off on releasing the 2015 schedule until the middle of autumn? I think IndyCar has to get it out before the 2014 season ends because there are going to be plenty of people who, when 2014 ends, will have no idea when 2015 begins and you will lose them. If you don't give them a date to circle on their calendars, they will be gone and won't watch another race until it smacks them in the face one day next spring and that day will probably be the 99th Indianapolis 500. 

Second, when and where is the 2015 season going to begin? We have no clear idea when or where the 2015 season will begin. We've been hearing about an international series for a year now but is that really going to happen? Is IndyCar going to start in the Middle East come February 2015 or Brazil in early March? Or is the IndyCar season opener going to remain in late March at St. Petersburg and the series is going to be dormant for seven months!?

Third, is there going to be anything new to look forward to domestically? I think IndyCar needs to show equity and keep every event from 2014 on the 2015 schedule. IndyCar hasn't had a 100% retention rate from one year to the next since 2007 when they kept all 14 events from 2006 and added Iowa, Mid-Ohio and Belle Isle. Perfect retention is a must for 2015. The hopes of Road America, Michigan, Phoenix, Austin, Laguna Seca or any other North American track getting an IndyCar date appears to be slim to none. While disheartening as it is, it is IndyCar's reality.

GT3 World Cup
In what might be the most genius idea in motorsports today, Blancpain Endurance and Sprint Series promoter Stéphane Ratel is proposing the idea of a GT3 World Cup. The event would be at the end of the season and would bring together GT3 cars from series across the globe. 

Along with the Blancpain Endurance and Sprint Series, other series that allow GT3-spec cars are ADAC GT Masters, Australian GT, Belgian GT, British GT, ELMS, FFSA GT, International GT Open, Italian GT, Pirelli World Challenge, Super GT and IMSA's United SportsCar Championship allows GT3 cars but must use IMSA's single element rear wing

There are more than enough GT3 cars out there to make this a reality but the question is how many series will you get to jump on board and how many entries will you allow from each series? I don't want this to become an off shoot of a BES or BSS round with 80% of the cars competing being from either series and than a few series champions joining them. I would be fine with allocation of spots. For example, bigger series such as BES, BSS and ELMS getting four automatic bids to the GT3 World Cup; British GT, PWC and ADAC GT Masters getting three, Australian GT, Belgian GT and International GT Open getting two and the remaining series only getting one spot. That would be about 30 or 31 (depending on if they allow IMSA teams to qualify) spots for the GT3 World Cup, more than enough in my opinion. 

There is still a lot to be figured out. For example, would the Pro-Am and Gentleman Trophy champions from BES get a spot? What about drivers and teams who compete in multiple series? René Rast runs both BSS and ADAC GT Masters, same as Maximilian Buhk and Maximilian Götz and Tomáš Enge and Peter Kox seem to compete in every series imaginable. 

Then comes scheduling. Ratel said any GT3 World Cup would occur between December and February but there are a few big GT3 events during that time period. The Gulf 12 Hours from Yas Marina Circuit is held the second Friday in December. The Dubai 24 Hours is scheduled for January 9-10, 2015 with the 24 Hours of Daytona traditionally the last weekend in January (January 25-26, 2015) and the Bathurst 12 Hour is scheduled for February 8, 2015. The event likely won't happen until 2015-16 but this schedule is likely going to remain unchanged. How can you make another big GT3 event fit into an already crowded schedule?

The format would reportedly be two one-hour sprint races. I was kind of hoping for one day of the GT3 World Cup being a sprint day with the second day featuring an endurance race to get both elements of GT3 racing wrapped into one weekend and combing the results to produce a GT3 World Champion.

Concerns over which tires are run was brought up by Vincent Vosse, team principal of this past weekend's Spa 24 Hours winning WRT Audi. I think each team should be allowed to run the tires they run in their respective championship, meaning a grid with a variety of cars on Pirellis, Michelins, Yokohamas, Avons, etc. If they want an equal tire though, something no team would have an advantage using, I would suggest using Goodyear's NASCAR tire because no matter what, it will frustrate the hell out of everyone. 

Finally, where would a GT3 World Cup take place? By racing in the winter, most venues in Europe and the United States are ruled out. The Middle East would make sense but as stated before, the major venues in the Middle East are swamped with GT3 events already that time of year. South America could be a possibility. Porsche's South African division bought Kyalami. There are plenty of venues in the Asia-Pacific that could be used. Also, would you have it rotate from place to place year after year or have one permanent home?

There are many things that need to be worked out but should the GT3 World Cup ever come to fruition, it may be the event to vault GT3 racing into worldwide motorsports popularity.