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Le Mans 2009

All news content copyright Michael J. Fuller, unless otherwise noted

>>Last year, for whatever reason, we skipped a detailed race analysis even though the work was done and spread-sheeted.  The benefit was it simply made putting together this year's analysis that much easier, at least as far as generating the numbers (and hopefully there are no errors!).  Making sense of it all, well that's another story.  

In years past I've been a big proponent of comparing qualifying speed to an entrant's fastest race lap and generating a percentage as an indicator of how fast relative to their ultimate speed (qualifying) they were able to lap in the race.  Naturally this makes some assumptions (assumes conditions during qualifying were ideal for example), but ultimately this is a pretty meaningless statistic.

The ACO generates reams of data and posts that information within hours of the end of the race, it really is rather amazing.  One statistic they generate is time in pits.  For this year I've taken that time in pits figure and subtracted that total amount of time from an entrant's total race time.  I then take that number to develop a true average lap time.  In the past I've simply taken the race time and divided it amongst the number of laps turned to generate an average lap time for 24 hours.  But that belies the effects that issues in the pits has on that number.  Often times that average lap time will obviously be artificially slow given hours spent in the pits.  And there for you can't "read" a race particularly well, much less a car and driving crew's performance.  Often, the amount of time spent in the pits will compel a team to go like hell when back on track, so a true average lap time generated using only the time they were actually on the track starts to develop a truer perception of the car's potential performance and where an effort may have gone wrong (design, pit stop strategy, etc.).
Le Mans 2009
CarQualifying timeFastest race lap% race lap to qual.Avg lap time for 24 hours% avg race lap of qual.Avg on-track lap time% avg on-track lap time of qual.
#9 Peugeot 9083:25.2523:26.04899.61%3:46.45490.6%3:40.16493.23%
#8 Peugeot 9083:22.8883:24.84499.05%3:47.05089.4%3:39.43092.46%
#7 Peugeot 9083:24.8603:24.352100.25%3:54.43787.4%3:39.28593.42%
#1 Audi R153:23.6503:26.63298.56%3:50.63888.3%3:40.76992.25%
#3 Audi R153:27.1063:27.048100.03%4:20.4279.5%3:44.88292.10%

Looking at the data we can make some simple conclusions.  The perception was that, surprisingly, the Peugeot 908 had a clear on track performance advantage.  I say surprisingly given the qualifying difference between the 908 (#8) and R15 (#1) was only .762 seconds.    But when looking at the Peugeot's (#7) fastest race lap as compared to the R15's (#1), that difference became 2.28 seconds.  Suddenly that's significant.  But again, that belies the fact that the driving squad, during a 24 hour race, is mostly only ever racing at a percentage of their maximum race pace.  So the fastest race lap only tells some of the story.  When we break down the average lap time over 24 hours that Peugeot vs Audi gap actually increases to 4.184 seconds.  But the average lap time over 24 hours takes into account pit stops and troubles encountered during the race which don't reflect the ability of the car and driving squad's performance.  

So how far off the 908's pace was the R15?  For that we have to take out the time spent in the pits and only look at actual on-track race performance.  That tells a rather difference story.  When we do that, suddenly we see that the gap is back to being less significant at 1.484 seconds, at least between the #1 Audi R15 and the #9 Peugeot.  There's still a difference and the Peugeot has the edge.  That we can't deny, the Peugeot did surprise evenyone with it's race pace.  Or to put it opposite, the R15's lack of pace was the more significant observation.  But watching the evolution of the #1 R15's lap time throughout the race, it was clear that Audi were chasing and improving the cars as the race progressed and in the end found a better, more competitive setup compared to what they started the race with.  And we can't discount intangibles.  Perhaps the Audi guys were better in traffice?  Naturally we can't quantify that.  But then these statistics simply tell us that on any given lap over the 24 hours, the fastest Peugeot (#7) was on average 1.484 seconds quicker than the #1 Audi R15.  When focused back on the eventual race winning #9 Peugeot, that gap decreases to .605 seconds.  In the end 1.484 seconds and .605 seconds sounds better than 2.28 and 4.184, but that's weak consolation when it still means you lost.  But Audi has already commited to coming back next year with the R15, best to be getting out of the way.

>>For a number of years now the Zytek (Ginetta-Zytek these days) has run these vertical  vanes outboard on the front fenders.  Best guess is that they are a drag reduction device.
>>Grid shots show the Pescarolo LMP with RS Spyder type front wheel covers.
>>Sam Collins sends us Race Car Engineering's trap speed data.  These are clearly more accurate and Sam indicates that the official ACO speed trap is set up, in of all places, a braking zone (WTF?).   Sam set up the RCE/Speed TV trap in the run up to the first chicane.  This data shows that Peugeot 908 with a nearly 3 mph top speed advantage over the R15, 211.8 vs 209.  Next up is one of the Lola Aston Martins at 205, followed by the Judd powered Courage, (Judd) AIM powered Oreca, and Judd powered Pescarolo all at or around 202 mph.   The first Audi R10 is next at 196.7 with a 196.6 mph Ginetta-Zytek shadowing.  The first LMP2 car, a Porsche RS Spyder goes through the trap at 191.9 mph.

Peugeot still seems to be missing the little details that Audi have honed and actually have even shown to be potential race make or brake details (and regardless of specific details, at very least it is a indicator to the attention to detail depth of the effort).  In the Thursday night session, the new nose on one of the Peugeots came loose while the car was on track.  Says Sam, "...that car just does not seem that well bo
lted together.  And they still take ages to fit body panels and just don't have it together."  It seems amazing that 3 years into the program and Peugeot still hasn't twigged that items like that are actually important.  

This morning's warm-up session showed the 3 Peugeot's leading the way at 3:26.457, 3:26.793, and 3:27.193 for the #s 8, 9, and 7 respectively.  Audi R15s posted 3:28.604, 3:28.865, and 3:30.830 for cars #3, 2, and 1.  There's nothing at all to be read into those.  I think there's plenty of performance in hand with the Audis at very least, perhaps even so in the Peugeots.  The fastest gasoline powered entrant was the #008 Lola Aston Martin with a 3:33.689.    

Considering how last year's race panned out, at very least there's a lot of gamesmanship going on regarding potential race pace and absolute maximum pace between the two main protagonist.  Recall that Audi clearly had the slower car last year and won on superior wet weather performance and race strategy.  It is highly doubtful that the R15 is slower than the 908 this year and we all know Audi's race craft hasn't flown out the door in the last 12 months.  Peugeot will have a tough race today.

Oh, one more important detail to note, Sam says there are no Hawaiian Tropics girls in attendance this year?

>>We're on our own today with nothing to report from RCE and Sam Collins.  We'll make do with some odds and ends, plus it gives us some time to catch up with a few things.  Qualifying showed the Bourdais, Montagny, and Sarrazin Peugeot on top with a 3:22.88.  This compares to last year's pole time, also set by Peugeot, of 3:18.513.  That works out to a  4.367 second difference.  All of that can be attributed to the changes made to the '09 regulations aimed at slowing the entire field down (reduced span and chord rear wings) as well as the changes made to further slow the diesels down (10% smaller restrictor, 6.5% turbo boost cut, 30 kgs additional weight).  So all of that equates to a 2% difference?  Mighty impressive that the margin was that small considering the length of the track and all the stuff thrown at them.  

What's even more interesting is if you then look at the second place qualifier, the #1, Capello, Kristensen, McNish, Audi R15.  Last year the top Audi R10 qualified at a time of 3:23.847.  But this year Allan McNish was able to ride the Audi R15 around the circuit at 
3:23.650, or .197 seconds quicker than the R10 managed last year.  If you add 2% to last year's R10's qualifying time, it works out to a 3:27.9.  Team Kolles managed their R10s into consistent 3:31s in qualifying this year.  Given differences in driving squads, this seems pretty reasonable.  So what's most impressive is that by designing a new car, Audi was able to eliminate the effects of the regulations and overcome the performance reductions the sanctioning body levied.  

Looking at the ACO provided speed trap data, the Peugeots are consistently quicker than the Audis down the straights.  In yesterday's free practice, the #8 908 was clocked at 301 km/h compared to 295 km/h for the top Audi.  In the first qualifying session the fastest speed was recorded by a Peugeot at 297 km/h with the Audi's giving up 5 km/h in speed.  In qualifying session 2 that difference was again 6 km/h (300 vs. 294).  We're unsure where the ACO speed trap is, clearly they aren't posted at the fastest point on the track, and expect that these speeds are down by 10-15 mph compared to the fastest point on the track.

Audi now go into the race with a car that is, as far as we can tell, the equal to the Peugeot in terms of absolute performance, though we suspect as the race unfolds the R15 will show superior race speed.  Couple that with superior race craft, Peugeot has their work cut out for them.
Speaking of speed traps, looking at the other cars we see the Lola Aston Martin (#008 entry) is consistently the quickest gasoline powered entry and indeed is mixing it up with the Audi R15 in the top speed contest posting 292 km/h in all three of the recorded sessions.  In qualifying, again the fastest gasoline powered car was the #007 Lola Aston Martin which put in a time of 3:27.180, or 4.242 seconds behind the pole winning Peugeot.  Last year's "gasoline pole" was a 3:25.158 (Charouz Racing Lola B08/60 Aston Martin) making this year's time difference 2.02 seconds or about 1% slower.  So here we can see that indeed the diesels were (as intended) slowed down a bit more relative to the gasoline powered cars.  Last year Audi was able to win the race even when posed with a 3.5+ second race pace absolute speed difference to the Peugeot on the track.  If the gasoline to diesel powered difference in pace continues (and doesn't get any larger) into the race, things could get interesting in that the top gas car could have a chance if they run a perfect race.  

The only thing that is somewhat discouraging for the gasoline crowd are the sheer number of diesel entries, no fewer than 9 (though realistically only 7 as the Kolles R10s are back behind the fastest gasoline cars).  On paper at least, this year's event looks to be a lot closer.

>>And the band played on....and the band played on...So here it is 8:30 pm EST and we're still getting press releases from Peugeot regarding the friggin' Audi R15.  So to recap today's events, this morning Le Mans time (10:35 am precisely), Peugeot formally lodged a protest regarding the Audi R15 and two specific details on the car, namely:

1.  The front wing secondary flap (or in Peugeot parlance, "The flap which links the two front wings."  Think of wings as in fenders).
2.  The horizontal winglet that mounts to the inner fender ("The appendages fixed to the inner surface of the front wings").

Peugeot has specifically stated that they feel the above items are in breach of Art 3.6.2 which states, in brevity, that outside of the rear wing, and a engine cover tail gurney, you can only have two additional aerodynamic elements on the car.  Aerodynamic elements are further defined to include angle brackets, multi-positional bodywork elements, and, stating the obvious, any element whose sole purpose is to generate downforce (dive planes for example).  

Here's where it gets a little confusing regarding what Peugeot's beef is.  Peugeot states, "These bodywork parts (the ones in question on the R15) are considered to be aerodynamic elements.  Since they do not appear on the list of aerodynamic elements authorised by Article 3.6.2, they are consequently not permitted."  This statement is confusing because indeed elements such as on the Audi are authorized falling under the catch all of aerodynamic elements with singular function to produce downforce.  Dive planes fall under that same catch all and they are deemed legal but yet aren't specifically defined by the regulations.  Elements that generate downforce outside of those already defined (wing, rear gurney) aren't disallowed, they simply  are limited in number.

Then there's the whole issue of primary function.  We're told from reliable sources that the Audi's horn winglets' primary function is to mask the front suspension as seen from the frontal elevation, thus they act as rules compliance valance panels.  So with that as their primary purpose, do they then dissapear out of the list of additional aerodynamic elements?

But wait, there's more.  Peugeot felt it necessary to point out they've been itching to do this since Sebring, "Our protest dossier was already ready at the time, but the Automobile Club de l’Ouest made assurances that it would take the necessary steps ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours."  Gee, thanks for holding back Peugeot.  What's the word count on this going to be in the end?

So this brings us to the latest (final?) press release out of Peugeot which states that the ACO has essentially rejected their argument.  Peugeot counters with indicating they will appeal this ruling.  That release is time stamped at 11:33 pm (Le Mans time), precisely.

I'm tired of talking about this.
Detail shots of the Aston Martin Lola's Le Mans config.  The dive plane recesses have been filled in with cheek panels.
The Lola Aston Martin has been racing in the Le Mans Series with swan neck rear wing pillars as well as the notched rear wing endplate.

>>Good morning!  Our usual schedule will be daily updates in the mid-evening US Eastern Standard Time, but I wanted to pass along this morning an additional detail to the Audi R15 ongoing controversy.  Sam Collins tells us that apparently there was honest hope amongst the R15's competitors that the car would be thrown out and fail tech yesterday.  People are apparently really furious behind the scenes.  When was their complaint when the RS Spyder was deemed eligible or are imaginations not that sharp and memories not that clear? It certainly wasn't any stretch to see that what was deemed legal on the RS Spyder would have applications on other areas of the car.  But yet not a peep then, well, at least not publicly.

The ACO took a full 2 and a half hours to tech the car and we think this was simply to appease Audi's competitors, but it doesn't sound like there was ever any serious threats to the car's eligibility.  In the mean time Peugeot is set to go through tech today, and by the sounds of it, don't be surprised if they unveil a "Audi-esque" front end solution (or at least one that utilizes the symmetrical wing profile principle [as deemed legal in Art 3.6.1 back in late '06, see '07 RS Spyder--yes, still banging on about that] in one form or another--though ultimately don't be looking for a literal Audi solution).  Clearly Peugeot and Aston Martin are concerned about race performance, hence all the bitching about the ante that Audi has upped.  But in the end it appears Peugeot is the only one prepared to respond in some manner.  This might have been the other reason the car was absent yesterday.  We'll know more later.

Next updates will occur later this evening after the kids are in bed!
>>Here's our evening update.  Yes, the R15 legality saga continues inasmuch as it has been rumored that Peugeot will file a formal protest tomorrow.  We're rather unsure how that process works and Bruno Famin's only public comment on the topic was this, "You have two ways to consider legality, because the ACO have stamped the homologation form it is legal, now we can discuss about the way of interpreting the technical rules and we would like to get some more explanation to make sure we have the same understanding."  That comment certainly doesn't hint at further action but does at consultation with the ACO.  It's a little late, isn't it?  

The Peugeot 908 went through scrutineering today, allowing them to show off their Le Mans update.  It amounts to an infill panel that redirects the air over the top of the suspension rather than through it.  This is coupled with a modified front diffuser.  Interestingly enough, a similar solution was tested at Sebring on the Audi R10 back in 2006.  Note the two blanking panels that are covered up just below the small white Bosch decal.  We suspect these would be opened up should the ambient temperatures rise (* correction, the hatches are access holes in order to get the nose on and off).
The execution is somewhat inelegant with awkward surface transitions.  Notice how the rising bodywork intersects with the nose forming a pocket.  According to Peugeot's Bruno Famin, "Because the tech rules have changed we have less downforce and less power, the compromise difference is different between 2008 and 2009.  So we have had to deal with less downforce and less drag meaning we have had to adjust almost everything on the car, even if you can't clearly see it.  (So the new front end design) is to allow us to balance the car aerodynamically whilst at the same time reducing drag. The drag reduction is necessary due to the equivalency changes and the consequent loss of power."
Having a look underneath and we can see a few detailed changes such as the elongated strakes and now the split line around the nose box/monocoque interface now extends further rearward (compare).  The diffuser's central tunnels appear slightly taller as well.  The bodywork locaters (1) locate into the recess pointed out in the image below.
From here we can see the front diffuser continues to rise snaking above the lower wishbone but below the pushrod and upper wishbone.  The height of the diffuser's trailing edge is particularly high; it is effectively to the height of the valance covers that connect the monocoque to the fenders.


>>Sam Collins reports from Le Mans, in the start of our 2009 joint coverage,  that the day was a bit of a write off with nasty weather throughout taking the edge off the snooping.  Cars are going through pre-race scrutineering and from the sounds of things, the rain, along with various delays accruing during the day, meant that process went rather long.   For now the Peugeots are no where to be seen though we do have some images of the Audi R15.  Given the rain, it could be expected that most teams opted to stay within their warm garages with the doors shut.

Apparently there were hushed discussions regarding whether or not the R15 would clear scrutineering which seems to belie the way the whole process works.  Following Sebring Peugeot and Aston Martin came forward declaring that, in their opinion, certain elements on the Audi R15 were illegal.  We can surmise that there were many discussions between the ACO and Audi and in the end, as we can see, a few small details were changed though fundamentally the car stands as designed.  And that's the normal process; constant consultation with the ACO  before, during, and after the design process.  So when Audi showed up at Sebring, you could bet your bottom dollar that everyone involved was rather confident the car was legal as far as the ACO was concerned.  Anyhow, there still seems to be sour grapes over certain elements on the R15 as Race Car Engineering quoted one rival technical director off the record, "it's (the R15) simply illegal, there's no way it should ever have been allowed to run, they need to ban its front aero now because otherwise every other car in the field will have to be redesigned to keep up. It's a front wing and that's just not on."  

Rarely do I ever side with the ACO, but in this case the regulations are on the books and you can't shouldn't be cross at Audi for exploiting them.  That the ACO unknowingly opened up the regulations with their late 2006 revision to Art 3.6.1 should be the main focus but that's water under the bridge.  Ultimately Le Mans scrutineering isn't the place to continue this gripe, especially as the car has been signed off.  Once the flag drops the bullshit stops, so the saying goes, and we are pretty close to that flag drop after all...
As we pointed out last month, the R15 has been revised in deference Le Mans' unique setup requirements.   That means a more careful look at overall drag.  Whereas at Sebring the typical LMP is carrying in the region of 6500 lbs of downforce at 200 mph, at Le Mans this gets pared down to around 4000 lbs.  Drag naturally follows as well.  We're hard pressed to extract ball park L/D figures from anyone, but had we to guess, we'd say L/D was approaching in the region of 4+:1 in Sprint configuration, 3.5:1 in Le Mans setup.  That works out to about a 500 lbs difference in drag high to low downforce.  And while the absolute numbers may be off, clearly Le Mans still exacts a significantly different setup to justify major chassis revisions.

With that said, the R15's nose vent was modified looking most likely at drag reductions in addition to a balance shift given the lower overall downforce and assumed reductions in rear wing flap and position (shorter rear overhang in LM config).
The turbo inlet's revision is driven by Audi's engine department though the aero requirement was that they shouldn't effect drag or downforce any more than the previous iteration.
It is our understanding the ACO was behind the revisions in this area on the R15.  As compared to Sebring, the engine bay airflow is now directed out and through the ACO 10 mm mesh.  The engine exhausts now have their own compartments and are segragated from the engine bay/intercooler flow.

We also understand a NACA duct could be fitted to the engine cover during the weekend if concerns over the alternator crop back up.
More Le Mans specific changes can be seen at the front.  The controversial front splitter/flap arrangement is in low downforce speficication.  There's a very interesting horizontal horn flow conditioners though we also understand that they perform a regulations compliance function, covering the front wishbone as seen in frontal elevation.  Audi had been utilizing the ACO 10 mm mesh to "cover" this part of the car's mechanicals but had too many problems with the mesh getting damaged and collecting debris throughout a race (and altering aero balance) and went with this more interesting solution.

Data base

>>Audi R15
>>Audi R10
>>Oreca 01 AIM
>>Creation CA09 Judd
>>Ginetta-Zytek GZ09S
>>Lola Aston Martin LMP1
>>Lola B08/60 LMP1, the privateer chassis
>>Pescarolo Judd
>>Peugeot 908 HDi-FAP
>>Porsche RS Spyder
>>Radical SR9-AER
Go to Race Car Engineering for more analysis of the 2009 24 Hours of Le Mans entry


ęCopyright 2009, Michael J. Fuller