Juha Kivekas' Post Card from Le Mans 2000

Text and images copyright Juha Kivekas
The race was pretty boring but the happening was not. The Audis could control their speed anyway they wanted. They drove most of the race turning 3:45s and were able to spin 3:38s whenever they wanted to.  Not even the fastest  of the rest, the Panoz of the Brabham crew,  were a match for the Audis.

The Audis could use the kerbs on the first chicane a lot lot more than the others.  I was wondering whether they had a lot of pre-load in the springs (beyond zero droop) and relatively soft springs and yes Tom Kristensen revealed to me that they had zero droop at front and almost zero at rear. Everywhere the Audi looked almost dull - going on rails - fantastic stability - and so continuous engine sound. They never banged nor spitted flames during engine braking like the other turbo cars did.

Unfortunately the Audi was the only team to hinder photographing. I have got no really good photos of the Audi front end and only blurred rear ends.

The Caddies - unfortunately I have to say this - did not impress. They were only able to do 10 lap stints, God knows why (something to do with fuel pick-up issues--Ed.).  Besides that, they were slow. Though out of the Indianapolis Corner the Caddy was visually (subjectively) fastest  in acceleration - looks like it has a fantastic traction

I had a chat with Alan McNish.  He told me that he starts to feel the downforce at about 130 km/h. Martin Brundle answered last year 80 km/h to which Alan said that no way was he able to feel it that low with the Toyota.  I suspect that the driver feels the effect when downforce is of the order of 5% of the weight of the car.  Calculate the numbers yourself.

Jorg Muller told (spectating at the event) that the problem with the Beamer in ALMS is the rear downforce or more specifically the lack of it (lack of rear bias aero - quite a rare situation with sportscars, am I right?). I suggested/asked whether the Beamer was slightly too rear-biased with its weight (as it has very short bellhousing between the engine and the gearbox) to which he said - no. 

I spoke with Dr. Ullrich for a while (and I bloody forgot to ask about which diff. they have!). Between the lines he told they are most likely going for 12 laps a stint and yes that a 14 lap stint is possible, but not ideal. They've got roughly 100 people in the project of which roughly 40 are engineers of different levels. 

Of the other cars the one that impressed me was the ROC-VW Reynard (LMP675).  Subjectively I think it was the fastest car through the first chicane.

The Gache Courage C60 was beautiful as Courages typically are.  They blew a tire at high speed tearing the rear cover badly.  Replacing it there was the old curse of the small teams: there is never enough time to do the preliminary job well enough.  They only had one extra engine cover which had not been finalized - I suspect one of the many not so important things on the list that had to be done in advance but there never was the time.  It took more than an hour to make it fit.

The Panozs looked like last year - a lot of testosterone in those.  I had the gyro-stabilized Canon EOS 75-300mm objective. Every time the Panoz passed the gyro went wild of resonance.  I think my camera must be female.

The Lolas were disappointment.  I was expecting Rafanelli to fight for the pole.  I saw the front underbody of that car (and was asked not to photo it) and I could not see anything very peculiar about it.  It was just like one would expect.  However the same part on the Reynards (Oreca) was interesting. Those were not shaped as continuous curves but linear-small radius-diffusers.  I think I have some kind of digiphotos of the Konrad and Oreca-Reynard front underbody.  I remember that Reynard people saying earlier about the car that it could be driven at very high ride heights and that it was not very height sensitive....hmmmm ????

The Corvettes were really American.  Largely oversized tubing everywhere and really massive parts. But they sure looked good and the guys were the nicest.  That Ron Fellows is some cowboy.  In the Indy Corner I thought I saw quite a bit more lock on the Vettes than on the Vipers.  Again a subjective observation.  But, if I was asked, I think they were understeering quite a bit.

The Oreca Vipers were as impressive as ever.  This year they had the long exhaust pipes like the other snakes.  Yet, they were fastest again.

The Porsches were like always - good but among this bunch of racers - slow.  The Debora was very low profile.  Can not really state anything.  The WRs were sympathetic and looked really amateur stuff - in true positive sense.

What more...
The EMCO box is - HUGE!   X-Trac looks a lot more attractive.  The Reynard cassette box really seems to work - at least service-wise.  The Audi of McNish had its box (complete rear end) changed in less than 5 minutes !!!!!

Juha Kivekas (Dipl.Ing) is the managing director of Apextrem Ltd. which is a small Finnish R&D company specializing in vehicle dynamics and aerodynamics.  He has  also worked as a professional race engineer in lower categories and is the aerodynamacist for the Finnish Ski Jumping team.  He has participated in some 160 aerodynamics R&D projects varying from bridges and race cars to subwaterlevel craft and space devices.

ęCopyright 2000, Michael J. Fuller