Preston Calvert, driver of the No. 51 Panoz Avezzano GT in Pirelli World Challenge, was on hand during the recent SRO Balance of Performance test at Paul Ricard and chronicles the Panoz’s journey to GT4 homologation and the overall BoP test for Sportscar365.
The Panoz Racing team visited Paul Ricard this week to homologate the Panoz Avezzano as a GT4 car under the supervision of SRO and its partners.
We joined 13 other GT4 teams to undertake this detailed technical inspection and documentation of compliance with the GT4 class rules, combined with track testing by independent SRO drivers to establish a performance window for each car within GT4 competition worldwide.
In addition, there were ten GT3 manufacturers at the test, which began on a cold Monday morning, in freezing temperatures, with sleet and snow falling intermittently.
Each February, the SRO hosts GT3 and GT4 manufacturers for a test by independent professional drivers to evaluate the performance of the cars relative to one another, as well as to subject them to detailed technical inspection for compliance with the relevant technical rules.
The use of independent drivers removes a major confounding variable that hinders assessment of the performance of a car from its results in the hands of customer teams.
After this SRO testing process is completed, a homologation document is issued for each car, certifying a specific configuration of the car for competition in either GT3 or GT4. Any deviation from this homologated configuration must be authorized in advance by the SRO.
Further changes in the parameters of car performance may be made by the SRO and its partner series to maintain balanced performance among cars in a particular class over the year, further specified for particular types of tracks.
The recent history of management of BoP in the Pirelli World Challenge GTS class is a good example of the advantages offered by this independent assessment.
Prior to the adoption of the GT4 standard for the GTS class in 2018, announced changes in the performance configuration of the cars could sometimes have an arbitrary appearance to competitors, which eroded the confidence of the team owners in the necessary level playing field in this high profile and competitive racing series.
Numbers of GTS entries were declining, in part related to this perception. Beginning in 2016, the series began to welcome GT4 cars to the GTS class, and beginning in 2018, all GTS cars will be required to have GT4 homologation.
The just-announced entry list for the season-opener at St. Petersburg shows a very healthy field of 28 GTS cars, all with GT4 homologation. This resurgence of GTS has a number of causes, but one factor is certainly renewed confidence of team owners in the impartiality and fairness of the BoP system under SRO GT4 guidance.
The Panoz Avezzano entered competition in the PWC GTS class last year as a legacy GTS car, not yet in GT4 specification, and after some initial technical issues, was successful in the hands of professional driver Ian James, with six wins, and finishing as runner-up in the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships.
Coming into the 2018 season, the series made it clear that only GT4 homologated cars would be permitted in GTS competition, so the Panoz Racing team initiated the necessary technical modifications to the car, and brought it to France for this test.
Because there are only two Avezzano GT4 cars in existence at this time, although additional cars may be built for customers in the future, it was logistically challenging to transport the No. 50 car to France for the test, as the same car was needed back at St. Petersburg only one week after the test for the first race event of the PWC season.
On arrival in Europe, the No. 50 car, its necessary spares, and the team’s tools and pit equipment were picked up by a freight forwarder and brought to Paul Ricard.
The team personnel flew to Marseille from their base near Atlanta and drove to the track to meet the truck with the car and equipment on Sat., Feb. 24. The car was moved to our assigned pit garage, which we shared with the Nissan GT3 and GT4 cars.
Saturday afternoon and Sunday were devoted to checking the car over, and making it ready for the technical inspection by the SRO under the direction of its technical director, Claude Surmont.
We obtained fuel for the test from the Total truck, which was delivered in small, 50-liter barrels. Pirelli tires identical to those used in PWC were used for the test, and these were sourced directly from the Pirelli truck at the track.
After the technical inspection was done, several small issues were identified by the SRO that needed to be rectified before on-track testing by the SRO driver. These issues mostly stemmed from the application of new regulations for 2018, which amazingly were not yet available to the Panoz team as they had prepared the car for the trip to France.
The new regulations were not scheduled for publication until sometime in March.
The issues raised were mainly with the overall area of openings in the hood of the car, as well as covering of the former side exhaust openings and covering of the openings for driver cooling vents in the side windows.
In addition, some changes in the rear wing and spoiler configuration were required. These changes were made with racing tape or by repositioning wing and spoiler panels, and the car was then ready for track testing with its specified restrictor and weight.
Ian had to wait for a brief window in the very difficult weather conditions to run the car on track to make sure the car was ready for SRO testing. The main delay on Monday was black ice on the track surface, which didn’t melt until late in the morning, with the help of light salt treatment by the track personnel.
This brief test of the car’s readiness finally occurred midday, with snow flurries, while Ian was on track, driving the “short course” configuration.
After he and the mechanics made some final adjustments, finally the car was ready for SRO testing.
The test driver designated for our car was Nico Verdonck, an experienced GT driver competing primarily in Europe. He came by the garage, introduced himself, and made himself familiar with the car’s controls.
Some minor adjustments in the seating harness belts were made for him, and then the car was ready for testing on Tuesday and Wednesday as weather permitted.
The plan for GT4 homologation track testing called for testing on the “long course” in the morning, and the “short course” in the afternoon.
The two configurations were available in these time blocks on both Tuesday and Wednesday, to try to allow for weather considerations.
On Tuesday morning, the weather would have permitted safe testing for a few hours, but the SRO schedule called for testing only on the “long course” configuration that morning, and that configuration of the track was too icy to use.
Rather than switch to the “short course” configuration and test on that in the morning, the original test plan to wait till the afternoon to use the “short course” was adhered to, and of course, by the afternoon, the track was hit with steady snow and sleet, ending all testing for the day.
On Wednesday, the Panoz team was very concerned because they had to begin packing up in the early afternoon in order to make sure the car would be able to meet its air freight flight back to the U.S., which was scheduled for later in the day.
Fortunately, in spite of horrible weather continuing, the “short course” was finally able to be used briefly in the early afternoon, and the car completed three timed laps in the hands of Nico.
The car, spares, and tools were quickly packed up, and the car made its flight back to the Panoz shop.
There it is being prepared, as is the sister No. 51 car, to meet the required additional changes of the GT4 homologation, where both cars will be ready for their first outing as GT4 cars next weekend.
The SRO testing process for GT4 homologation seems thorough and well-conceived, and when it can be completed without hindrance by severe weather, it is likely to achieve a reasonably accurate initial BoP for the track configurations on which testing is performed.
In a year like this one, where the on-track testing was severely limited in time, and the testing was also limited in scope to a cold, icy track in a single configuration, the accuracy of the initial BoP determination is less certain.
It’s likely that the BoP parameters will have to be tuned “on the fly” over the season by the SRO and PWC, with data generated only by the team drivers.
Hopefully the initial car BoP configurations will be accurate enough to allow close and fair racing, and the adjustment process over the year will be judiciously applied to improve the initial balance.