Changing The Rules of Engagement
One advantage of being present at Donington Park
on August 25, the day before the Le Mans Series meeting got underway,
was finding an opportunity to discover what’s really going
on in the paddock. Conversations which started on Friday tended
to run on into Saturday (and then into the following week), and
some (hopefully) interesting thoughts evolved.
And then something reminded me of something else:
the fact that the ACO made it clear that cars finishing at Petit
Le Mans, in positions that would qualify for a place in the Le Mans
24 Hours, would only be granted that guaranteed place if they were
running in full ACO specification.
Suddenly it all became clear: the current system
of awarding guaranteed places for Le Mans, of granting some entries
in January, some in February and the rest in March could be improved
upon – very simply. By doing so, a great deal of uncertainty
could be removed from this branch of racing ‘at a stroke’,
and simultaneously, ACO rules racing could be given a huge boost
So this is more
or less how an alternative system could work.
There were 41 entries at Donington Park. The vast majority of the
teams present have supported the Le Mans Series throughout the season.
Some of these teams have been pushing for two entries for the Le
Mans 24 Hours in recent years, but because of the current qualification
system, they haven’t had the incentive to push ahead with
plans for a second car, until they were sure of a second entry:
that always seems to come too late.
With a little ‘filtering’ where necessary,
at least 35 cars (including nine two-car teams – some of which
were single entries at Donington) could be selected for Le Mans
Besides removing uncertainty for the teams, this
would inevitably increase the number of new prototypes available
to race at Le Mans in 2007. With the ‘hybrid era’ about
to end, prototype numbers, especially in LMP1, are looking a little
shaky next year, as things stand.
“If we had two entries confirmed now, we would
have two new cars ready to go for next year, and nine months to
raise the support to do it,” seemed to be the prevailing view
at Donington Park.
There were 11 American entries at Le Mans last year, but two of
the teams are no longer racing. Sticking to 11 for now, even though
others are likely to want to race at Le Mans in 2007, offer ALMS
entrants 11 places at Le Mans in 2007.
Instantly, 11 US teams can be assured of a place
at Le Mans next year. If more than 11 apply, some ‘natural
selection’ would simply reduce it to 11. Those teams which
have been consistently competitive in the ALMS, and with Le Mans
experience, would logically take priority.
Suggest to the European teams (with the 35 cars) that have been
invited to Le Mans that they might like to consider racing at Sebring
next year. It would be expecting an awful lot for all of them to
want to go to Florida next March, and those building new cars may
not be ready (and Sebring couldn’t cope with this number),
but a less than subtle hint that if 20 European entries made it
to Sebring, then they would be looked upon very favourably in future
years. Basically, they’ve just earned lots of brownie points.
Suddenly, the ALMS season gets off to a terrific
start, with a huge grid at the opening race of the season.
Sportscar racing – the four-class system,
on both sides of the Atlantic – starts 2007 awash with momentum,
rather than uncertainty.
Lets build on that, and make the Le Mans 24 Hours part of the Le
Mans Series. Why not? If a scoring system was devised that didn’t
give the 24 hour race too much sway, and because the top European
teams will be there anyway, why shouldn’t Le Mans be both
an individual event and part of the Le Mans Series?
The Le Mans Series has now received a huge shot
in the arm. Teams can now approach sponsors with a ‘double
whammy’ of Le Mans and the Le Mans Series.
So we’ve ‘arrived’ at about 46 potential entries
for Le Mans next June. Remember that the grid size will be 55 next
year. The ACO now has nine places to allocate to whoever is left.
We mustn’t forget Peugeot of course, any teams such as Racing
for Holland, which didn’t complete the 2006 season –
perhaps a Japanese entry or two? Have we missed anyone significant
out? An FIA team or two? The reserve system will logically always
need to be there, ‘just in case’.
Wouldn’t it be possible to put such a system,
outlined above, into place almost immediately – perhaps with
teams obliged to confirm their entries by, say, October 31? By December
31, teams planning on crossing the Atlantic, for Sebring, would
need to confirm their presence there.
The bottom line is that companies working on their
budgets for next year need to do so now – not in January,
February or March. With a system like this in place, we would neatly
avoid any of those last minute dramas over entries that pull out.
Any team that did pull out at the last minute would need to understand
that, with so much advance notice this time, they really would be
ruling themselves out of Le Mans for many years to come.