Disappointing is the only way that you can describe the result for Porsche at Daytona this last weekend. Porsche and Ferrari are the only two manufacturers who can claim an unbroken racing presence in all the major endurance races around the world since the 1950s. This is important for these two manufacturers, because both have produced sports cars as their core business since the companies were founded. Motor racing was thus the foundation, the raison d’être, for their very existence.
Daytona 24 Hour race result
GTLM class (9 cars)
|1||67||Ford GT||Westbrook/Briscoe/Dixon||Ford Chip Ganassi Racing|
|2||66||Ford GT||Hand/Müller/Bourdais||Ford Chip Ganassi Racing|
|3||3||Corvette C7.R||Magnussen/Garcia/Rockenfeller||Corvette Racing|
|4||4||Corvette C7.R||Gavin/Milner/Fässler||Corvette Racing|
|5||62||Ferrari 488||Vilander/Pier Guidi/Calado/Rigon||Risi Competizione|
|6||912||911 RSR||Bamber/Vanthoor/Bruni||Porsche GT Team|
|7||24||BMW M8||Krohn/Edwards/Catsburg/Farfus||BMW Team RLL|
|8||911||911 RSR||Pilet/Tandy/Makowiecki||Porsche GT Team|
|9||25||BMW M8||Sims/de Phillippi/Auberlen/Eng||BMW Team RLL|
GTD class (21 cars)
|18||73||911 GT3 R||Bergmeister/Lindsey/Siedler/Pappas||Park Place Motorsports|
|19||58||911 GT3 R||Long/Nielsen/Jaminet/Renauer||Wright Motorsports|
|20||59||911 GT3 R||Cairoli/Müller/Smith/Walls/Prozcyk||Manthey-Racing|
So, when Porsche enthusiasts look at the performance of the company’s GT cars in the major endurance races around the world and see that the 911 is regularly filling the lower positions in class, they must wonder what has happened to the all-conquering model. The reasons for this disappointing performance could be a poorly designed car, inexperienced or reckless drivers, or opposition that is much stronger and which has left Porsche behind in terms of research and development. But, all of these reasons can safely be kicked into the long grass, because Porsche has some of the best works drivers in the world, and the 911 RSR is cutting edge in terms of development. Porsche also has one of the most advanced R&D departments on the planet, having continuously developed and improved their facility at Weissach since its inception in the early 1960s, when they would carry out engineering consulting work for other manufacturers.
There are two other variables which could be tabled as contributing to the 911’s less than sparkling performance over the last few years. One would be racing accidents caused either by other cars on track, or driver error which has a very rare occurrence. The only outstanding factor is the Balance of Performance (BoP) which is a tool used by the various racing organisers around the world to equalise the performance of all cars in a particular class. The justification for doing this is to bunch all the cars in that class together so that in theory they can all cross the finishing line abreast of each other. This is obviously not only impractical, but also impossible given the presence of so many other cars on the track, not to mention unexpected mechanical problems during the race.
The very existence of BoP goes against the very reason for racing in the first place because engineers work hard to get their car to be the fastest on the track. When a race car stands head and shoulders above the others, the authorities then slap a penalty on that car or team in an effort to slow it down or hinder that team’s performance potential. That renders the work done by those development engineers pointless, and rather a waste of money. Teams may as well take the previous year’s car, which would be slower than a newly developed version of that car, and then apply to the race organisers for a waiver to enable their previous year’s car to compete on an even playing field with the others in class.
This argument is very much tongue in cheek, but if one looks at the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours, the two oldest cars in the GTE Pro class were the only cars competing for overall class honours. One reader posted a comment on our website asking how it was that the two “oldest barges” in class were the only two cars in with a chance of winning. The answer lies in the BoP applied by the race organisers. For the 2017 WEC season, it had been agreed by the organisers and manufacturers that for the first two races of the year, the old subjective method of calculating the BoP in the WEC would remain the same as it had been previously, but as from the fourth round at the Nürburgring, it would be left to a computer to objectively calculate this factor. The third round, the Le Mans 24 Hours, the BoP would be at the discretion of the race organisers. The results were rather predictable, because the top 911 RSR finished third at Silverstone, and a rather distant fifth and sixth at Spa where the two 911s ran faultlessly. At Le Mans, as expected, the newly developed top Porsche finished in fourth place, behind the two oldest cars in the class.
Interesting though, was how well the Porsches did at the Nürburgring, where they qualified on pole and in third place, and finished second and third in the race. This remember, was the new computer-generated BoP system, with minimum human intervention. Needless to say, the 911 RSRs continued to do much better over the remainder of the year.
Another reader commented to me that BoP is essential in today’s racing because the sport is all about entertainment and the manufacturers spend millions of Dollars or Euros to get their cars to do well and finish in a tight bunch because it is more entertaining. I agree with the part about the manufacturers spending millions in whatever currency, but why be satisfied with regularly finishing fifth and sixth when your cars used to be regular winners before BoP ever existed. I don’t know which management book the organisers have been reading, but I go to the races to see the best car win because it is the best car. If the others get beaten regularly, then they will soon get the message and up their game, but I cannot see the logic of penalising the winner of a race. That would eventually encourage manufacturers to plan to finish second and third in every race, and through such consistency, win the championship at the end of the year.
Disappointing too was Porsche’s response after the Daytona race, where they cited the lack of speed as one of the reasons why the #912 car could not keep the leaders in their sights. That is purely a BoP issue. The other issue highlighted was the fact that there were too few caution phases in the race, just four compared with the 21 of the previous year. With just four cautionary phases, this made it impossible to close the gap to the leaders when behind the safety car. Apparently, the race director uses this method after incidents on the track to herd the field together and thus keep suspense high. That’s entertainment and not racing.
Speaking to many GT drivers over the years, I have been told by several of them (who were prepared to make their feelings felt) that it has been very frustrating when other class contenders simply out-pace them on the straights. Again, that’s purely a BoP issue where the organisers have got it wrong. Other drivers, towed the corporate line by smiling through the interview that this was all okay, but you could see their underlying frustration.
The Porsche 911 RSR has the smallest naturally aspirated engine in class, and yet it still, despite constant unfavourable BoPs over the years, remains a threat. I suppose, if you want to put a positive slant on that situation, you have to smile and agree that the authorities, and the other class competitor’s, have reason to be worried that the 911 will show its teeth all too easily, given just half a chance – because the 911 really is that good!
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale & John Mountney