Monday, May 9, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Danger vs. Difficulty

There was a old-school race of attrition at Spa-Francorchamps. Jorge Lorenzo won at Le Mans while Marc Márquez fell and Lorenzo leaves France with the championship lead. NASCAR had a Saturday night race and I actually enjoyed it. The Friday night race could have been better or at least officiated better. Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters kicked off its season. The Supercross season capped off in the mud. The WTCC went back to Africa and to a familiar city but a different course and Citroën was shut out for the first time in a year and a half. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Danger vs. Difficulty
I listened to the Motor Sport Magazine podcast on Saturday morning and Frank Dernie, who worked at Williams F1 and was a consultant with Toyota F1, was the guest. At the end of the podcast, Dernie brought up how all the focus in recent years has been on aerodynamics and downforce being the reason for less than stellar racing. He proposed an alternative to the decline the competition being that the cars have become to easy to drive with semi-automatic gearboxes and the high degradation of tires are the problem.

Today, tires degrade like a husky shedding its winter coat. Klag builds offline and makes it impossible for a driver to make a pass because if they go offline there is no grip compared to the racing line and instead of completing a pass, a driver is likely just going lose time and even worse could let the trailing car by.

Dernie harked on gear changes involving no skill today. Back in the day, a driver had to work the car and drivers use to make mistakes. Nobody makes misses gearshifts today. A driver can afford to watch their mirrors because they aren't doing anything. The hands are always on the wheel. There is much less skill in just playing with the pedals and flicking the paddles behind the steering wheel.

Everyone wants to see the cars be more difficult to drive but it's not a simple science of just taking off downforce or making the tires degrade like meat falling off the bone in a crockpot or going back to a standard gearbox. The domed skid was added to the DW12 chassis and drivers (Honda drivers) have noted how unstable the car is with the domed skid and the increased strain on suspension pieces. Some said it was a good thing the car was unstable as the domed skid made the car more difficult to drive but the car can be made more difficult to drive without increasing the risk of a structural failure. James Hinchcliffe was shish-kebabed last season. While that was a freak accident, there is no reason to increase the risk of having another driver nearly bleed to death in the car.

In Formula One, the change was made to return to single-clutch devices, which has mixed up the starts of the races this season. We have seen drivers drop like rocks at starts of races and unlikely faces jump up three or four positions in the first two corners. Imagine if an entire race could be as interesting as the starts of the races have been. A simple change such as the single-clutch has done wonders but it is only used once and within five laps it is back to usual.

When making cars more difficult to drive, it is a mix of taking off downforce (especially on ovals to make a driver lift in the corners), a balanced tire and making a driver work in the cockpit. Making a car more difficult to drive does not have to make it more dangerous. Like any good recipe, you need to get each ingredient right, not one, for a satisfying dish.

Date Equity in Motion
The FIA World Endurance Championship is in its fifth season and looking over the five calendars, the series has been consistent. Other than Circuit of the Americas replacing the 12 Hours of Sebring (which was and still is a good move) and Nürburgring replacing Interlagos, the series has consistently gone to the same places on the same dates and it is paying off.

Spa-Francorchamps has been held all five years at the beginning of May and this year's race had an announced attendance of 56,000, the largest crowd. The Shanghai round has consistently been late-October, early-November and the growth in that event is noticeable. There have been a few shifts. Silverstone moved from August to April but has been in April for the past four seasons. Bahrain originally was held in September but has been in November the past four seasons. Things are going really well for FIA WEC and the calendar grew by one round with the addition of Mexico City.

Compared to IndyCar, the series with the man at the helm who has spouted about date equity like a evangelist on the street corner, FIA WEC is showing that date equity has its dividends, it just needs to be practiced. Fontana returned to the IndyCar calendar the same year FIA WEC ran its first season. While Spa-Francorchamps, Shanghai, Fuji and Le Mans have all been held in the same time period each year of the FIA WEC and Silverstone, Austin and Bahrain have been the same time for the last three season, Fontana went from September 15th to October 19th to August 30th to June 27th. Milwaukee returned to the IndyCar calendar in 2011 and after being on Father's Day weekend for three years it moved to the middle of August and then the middle of July.

IndyCar and its tracks need to give these events time to grow. Instead of playing small ball, they are swinging for the fences but ending up on one knee in the dirt. Growth takes time and having a IndyCar race become part of a local community's psyche is worth the wait. IndyCar should become synonymous with a time of the year. When July rolls around in Iowa, the locals should think, "hey, IndyCar is coming to town" same with Barber in April and Pocono in August and any other race on the calendar. The successful IndyCar races have been held on the same dates for decades, the most notable of course being the Indianapolis 500 but also Long Beach, which has been held in the middle of April for over 40 years and Mid-Ohio has been held in late-July, early-August dating back to the middle of the 1990s.

Date equity works when it is practiced and IndyCar has failed to produce date equity with recent additions to the calendar. FIA WEC knows what it wants its calendar to be and it makes it work. IndyCar has yet to take ownership over its calendar. IndyCar's failure to tend its races like plants in a garden has led to stunted growth or, frankly, no growth at all. You can't plant seeds and expect something to sprout in five minutes. Patience leads to larger rewards. If Mark Miles was a gardener, he would know that.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Jorge Lorenzo but did you know...

The #8 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loïc Duval won the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. Nicolas Lapierre, American Gustavo Menezes and Stéphane Richelmi won LMP2 in the #36 Signatech Alpine Alpine-Nissan. Davide Rigon and Sam Bird won their second consecutive race in GTE-Pro in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari. The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda won in GTE-Am.

Super GT ran at Fuji on Wednesday and the #1 NISMO Nissan GT-R of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli won the race. In GT300, the #3 NDDP Racing Nissan GT-R GT3 of Jann Mardenborough and Kazuki Hoshino were victorious.

Álex Rins won the Moto2 race from Le Mans. Brad Binder won his second consecutive race in Moto3.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Cup race from Kansas. William Byron won the Truck race.

Edoardo Mortara and Paul di Resta split the DTM opening weekend at Hockenheimring.

Craig Lowndes and Mark Winterbottom split the V8 Supercars weekend at Barbagallo Raceway.

The #33 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS of Christopher Mies and Enzo Ide won the Blancpain Sprint Series race from Brands Hatch. The #86 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Bernd Schneider and Jules Szymkowiak won the qualifying race.

Tom Coronel and Robert Huff split the WTCC weekend from Marrakech.

Ryan Dungey capped off his AMA Supercross championship by winning the season finale from Las Vegas.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar runs the Grand Prix of Indianapolis with all three Road to Indy series in tow.
Formula One heads to Spain for the fifth round of 2016.
NASCAR will be at Dover a little earlier this year.
European Le Mans Series runs its second round of 2016 at Imola.
Blancpain Endurance Series runs its second round of 2016 at Silverstone.
World Superbike gets away from Europe and takes a trip to Sepang.