Podium of Thoughts on 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans
1. Relax Folks, It Wasn't A Conspiracy: As soon as the developments in the final hour were playing out, it was obvious the Internet was going to light up about conspiracies and Toyota "fixing" the results.
To be fair, racing has always had team orders, so fans are typically quick to react when bizarre mechanical occurrences pop up in the waning moments of a race affecting the results.
But let's look at this logically.
For starters, the Japanese culture is about honor and loyalty. That cannot be emphasized enough.
Secondly, the #8 car with the identical driver lineup won last year.
Third, Fernando Alonso is leaving after this Super Season concluding race. And, as mentioned, he already won the race.
Finally, Kamui Kobayashi is a long time Toyota driver. Why wouldn't Toyota want him to win?
Both Toyota and Alonso got exactly what they wanted out of their relationship. There was no bad blood over him leaving. But, by the same token, Japanese culture would dictate at this point that Toyota favors their loyal Japanese driver, Kobayashi (remember, Kazuki Nakajima already won last year).
Alonso was going to win the world championship by finishing second. He didn't need to win. Toyota had the best of both worlds going -- the publicity of an Alonso world championship a year after Alonso won Le Mans and the sister car getting their "turn" at winning the race.
And about the two pit stops needing to change the proper tire? They didn't have any new tires left. They were putting on tires that were four stints old. They had no idea the sensor was indicating the wrong tire. What would have happened if they put all four old tires on the car the first pit stop if they didn't need to and one of them failed at the end? The same howling from conspiracy theorists. That's what would have happened.
If anything, the only "fix," or to put it more politely, team orders which were in place was to let the #7 car win. After all, the #7 car dominated qualifying and most of the race, while the #8 car suffered some sort of "mysterious" door problem affecting aerodynamics.
Hmm, maybe it was all a conspiracy. But, it wound up going the wrong way for Toyota...
2. Funny How That Worked Out: All week, heck going back to the Test Day, the Keating Motorsports team talked about how "slow" they were in their Ford GT, the only private entry for the car.
Their qualifying was unspectacular, seconds off the leading GTE Am cars, starting ninth amongst 16 class entries. Then, the FIA announced pre-race Balance of Performance adjustments Friday night. The Ford GT got a weight reduction of 10 kg.
Lo and behold, during the race, the Keating Motorsports Ford GT was fast. Very fast. Way faster than what a 10 kg weight reduction should produce. Heck, they turned lap times as quick as qualifying.
So fast, they were able to build healthy cushions (okay, some of that was due to fortuitously timed safety car periods) which allowed them to overcome three major issues late in the race -- a spin by Ben Keating, the need to replace their nose (which the GTE Pro Ford GT crew did for them), and a stop-and-go penalty for spinning the tires on pit exit.
All en route to [initially] victory. Funny how that worked out.
[The fact that the team ended up getting disqualified for unrelated issues is unfortunate. Rules are rules, and even Ben Keating was very classy about it. But man, that's got to sting!]
3. Still A Problem: After last year's disappointing circumstances involving the GTE Pro class where an ill-timed safety car period gave the eventual winning Porsche 911 RSR an insurmountable one-minute lead, the FIA and ACO announced they were going to do things differently, to try and avoid a repeat.
They were going to implement, where possible, a Full Course Yellow procedure which would not involve safety cars, but rather act like Formula 1's Virtual Safety Car or a Code 60 system used in other sports car organizations.
The first few times they used this, it seemed to work perfectly. It appeared it would be possible to use this method no matter the circumstances. It looked from afar the cars slowed down properly, and there were enough gaps for proper cleanup of incidents.
Granted, for serious incidents which could involve injuries or had large debris fields, completely controlling the field still made sense. But, it seemed the Race Director was still very liberal in his use of safety cars. (Though, to be fair, none of the teams complained about any of the safety car periods.)
The problem was, it once again messed with the race. Especially the GTE Pro race, which started out as an unbelievable -- and we mean unbelievable! -- battle. One for the ages. But, we were never able to see that battle go the entire 24 hours which it certainly appeared it was capable of. The safety car periods once again provided artificial gaps in the field, ruining the close racing.
If they are going to continue with some sort of safety car system and not exclusively use the FCY, which is worse? A single safety car artificially taking away a team's hard earned advantage? Or a three safety car system providing teams unearned advantages?
From a sporting perspective, they both suck. But from a fan and entertainment perspective, the answer is obvious.
Lobotomy of the Race Award: Not really a lobotomy award this time. More like an "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" award.
One of the problems with sports car racing is the pro-am format of some classes. It's a necessary evil in that the gentlemen drivers bring in money allowing many teams to run when they normally would be unable to do so.
Some amateur drivers are quite good and deserve to be on the track. Some, not so much. Those who don't provide fodder from non-racing sports fans to point at why they don't consider racing a sport. After all, you can't buy your way into the field of any other top class sports event. But in racing, you can. Even at such a prestigious event as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Satoshi Hoshino is one such driver who obviously did not belong out there. After his second incident which involved the GTE Pro #64 Corvette crashing heavily into the wall (though, that incident was a major fault of Marcel Fassler), Hoshino effectively quit, forcing the GTE Am #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR to withdraw.
Every race car driver goes through incidents which quite frankly scares them. Even the best. But, to be a race car driver, you have to be able to have a very short memory. Sometimes, so short, it means getting back into the car the same day.
Hoshino did not. He obviously was too spooked -- or smart enough -- to realize he had OSB syndrome. Other Sports Beckon.
Special Mention: When Thomas Laurent spun the No. 3 Rebellion Racing R13 in the rain and nosed it into the barriers destroying the front end, it looked like game over. When he managed to drive the stricken car back to the pits, it looked like a lengthy repair in the garage.
Instead, the crew managed to get the car back on track in just 3 minutes, 38 seconds. And since it was a FCY, they never lost a lap. Phenomenal. A huge shout out to that crew.
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