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GTE-Pro Teams “Frustrated” by Safety Car Impact

Safety car and pit lane red-light that split the GTE-Pro field have been questioned by teams…

Photo: Ford

Corvette, Ferrari and Ford have questioned a safety car period that gave the 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning Porsche 911 RSR a three-minute advantage that went uncontested for the remainder of the race.

Several cars, including those that were racing the No. 92 Porsche near the front of the class pack, were hampered by the timing of the intervention in the fourth hour.

While the Porsche completed its service and driver change from Laurens Vanthoor to Kevin Estre in Hour 4, the majority of the field opted to come in one lap later, which relegated those cars to the next safety car pack more than two minutes behind.

The No. 91 Porsche and No. 68 Ford GT were left stranded in the pits when the eventual class-winning No. 92 Porsche of Vanthoor, Estre and Michael Christensen strung out a considerable lead.

The Porsche trio claimed a one-lap victory over the sister Porsche, largely as a result of the early race safety car period.

Corvette Racing program manager Doug Fehan, who had one of his cars pit on the incorrect side of the safety car, said that the FIA and ACO need to come up with a way to avoid splitting groups of cars involved in positional battles.

“It divided one car from the pack of GT cars, with a two-and-a-half-minute gap that sat there for the entire race,” he told Sportscar365.

“Why did it sit there for the entire race? Because of safety car and Slow Zone areas.

“There’s no way to get it back. If you keep it in your group, you can race internally in your group, and you saw some of that at the back.”

Ferrari was another manufacturer to express disdain towards the way in which the GTE-Pro contest played out.

Davide Rigon, driver of the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE, told Sportscar365 that the over-regulation of the category made for a “frustrating” 24-hour event.

“That was a disaster for us, to be honest,” said the Italian, who finished 10th with co-drivers Sam Bird and Miguel Molina.

“With these new rules we were unable to get back. The speed in the night was there, it was close to the top in terms of pace, but it never tested them.

“In the end the race was less spectacular. You cannot invent anything, you cannot do any strategy. You must do a stop every 14 laps… It was very frustrating.

“On the driver’s side it was very difficult. Even on an engineer’s side, everything was squeezed 100 percent. They’re just making things more and more difficult.”

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing driver Andy Priaulx also acknowledged the safety car’s impact, after two of the manufacturer’s cars were caught up in the fourth-hour episode.

“We could’ve done it today but we were very unlucky with an early safety car, which put us two minutes behind and it’s so hard to get that time back,” he said.

“We got back up into the top two or three positions then we had more bad luck with a safety car. Despite this we had a great race.”

Fehan: Changes Needed to Safety Car Procedure

Fehan, meanwhile, has called for changes to the safety car procedures, stating that the single incident turned the battle in GTE-Pro into “not a very good race.”

Unlike typical FIA World Endurance Championship races, Le Mans utilizes three separate safety cars due to the length of the 8.5-mile circuit.

“My opinion is that we need to find a way to keep the groups clustered,” Fehan said. “We had [one safety car] in the past, but the circuit’s so long that they worry about how long it takes [to catch up].

“I’m not sure that you can’t use three safety cars and still use individual wave-byes.

“I don’t have a solution. I have just identified it as a challenge. That’s what caused this not to be a very good race.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365 and e-racing365, with a focus on the FIA World Endurance Championship and various electric racing series.

42 Comments

42 Comments

  1. BirdBrick

    June 17, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    I didn’t like the safety car in 2010 when it split the Audi’s from the Peugeots, or in 2013 when it split the GT field and I’ll never like it. It’s a terrible system that can give a lot of unfair advantages.

  2. edo

    June 17, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    Despite the High Number of entries, this safety period plus the bad bop destroyed all the excitement of this race..

  3. Daniel Sánchez

    June 17, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    VSC is definitely the way to go here, as suggested by Vergne during the Eurosport broadcast. Hope they can implement it at WEC soon.

  4. Steven

    June 17, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    I agree with them, the 3 safety cars absolutely kill the excitement of the race, especially if it happens early in the race like this. In GT racing, its nearly impossible to make up that difference without a mechanical problem.

    Either Code 60 or VSC should be used, or let the cars go back on the track to catch up to the next safety car line instead of holding them 2 minutes at pit exit for the next train to pass.

  5. Erwin Greven

    June 17, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    One simple answer: Code 60. Ask the Creventic Organisation. It works tremendously.

  6. fourloko

    June 17, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    2016: 50th ford anniversary
    2017: last year of v8 vantage
    2018: 70th porsche anniversary

    Illuminati confirmed

    fuel stint rule is stupid

    • Just another fan

      June 17, 2018 at 2:51 pm

      Ferrari only one in AM on its own aniversary in 2015, though.

    • Luna

      June 18, 2018 at 1:21 am

      Very true. The ACO has always its own agenda when planning and executing the 24 hours. This time they wanted to celebrate the 70 years of Porsche. All that is business. Have you noticed the ACO service cars parked at the entrance of the pit lane? All Porsches . Before they were Audis…. Ford, Ferrari, Corvette, Aston never played the ACO game.
      Regarding the ACO Safety Car rules everyone knows that is nonsense, FIA first but…
      The FIA WEC commission presidents are all friends of Jean Todt:
      Lindsey Owen-Jones, ex L’Oréal
      Richard Mille, maker of extremely expensive watches, including one dedicated to Jean Todt.
      Cars collectors both, big mouths few facts.
      Plus the president of the FIA manufacturers’ commission… no one else than François Fillon, brother of Pierre Fillon, president of the ACO, a failed politician, apprentice racing driver…
      What a collection of interesting personalities!
      Again lot of words… Few facts.

  7. Paul

    June 17, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    Hope this was the last year with safety car!

  8. Old Trombone

    June 17, 2018 at 2:16 pm

    Time for VRF – virtual red flag

    Call the countdown, 5-4-3-2-1-STOP! Cars must stop exactly where they happen to be.

    Every car stood still on track on the right-side. Then, before green is called, any unfairly placed cars can be literally flat-towed (no use of energy from the car) to where the Stewards say it should be, then call green.

    • Old Trombone

      June 17, 2018 at 2:17 pm

      Oops, sorry, forgot to mention that a VRF would include all pit-work to freeze as well.

    • Andy

      June 18, 2018 at 7:38 am

      And then every car heat soaks and failures abound within a lap, plus the tires cool and are useless. Almost as useless as your usual ideas.

      • Old Trombone

        June 18, 2018 at 9:45 am

        Endurance racing here, Andy, not Midget sprints.

        There are several examples of red-flag stoppages mid-race in endurance series. But hey, just insult everyone who doesn’t think endurance should be endurance.

        • 2112

          June 18, 2018 at 2:27 pm

          Andy has a point. Just stopping the cars will lead to heat damage as they have no way of shedding the heat from racing. This would cause many more failures.

          That is the reason why they use portable fans to cool cars when they come into the garage after being out on the track for some hot laps.

  9. Rhodo

    June 17, 2018 at 2:21 pm

    Great to be there, but safety cars and slow zones are the luck of the draw, questionable bop and the new rules on tyre changing and maximum lap stints, mean even the best engineers have no room for lateral thought and alternative strategies, pleased that rebellion were the real winners, hollowest victory ever, at least porsche sold 935, 956 and 962 to customers.

  10. Nate

    June 17, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    What if they removed safety cars 2 and 3 and allowed those cars to catch up to safety car 1? SC1 being whichever one has the overall leader?

    • Just another fan

      June 17, 2018 at 2:58 pm

      Extremely unfair, IMO. Do you want to give lapped cars wave-bys like in IMSA? A car who gains a lap or 3 mins on pace shouldn’t have to lose it because of external factors. Likewise, a car shouldn’t be given a time gap for the very same reason. That’s why a system where the positions are frozen would be for the best, the so called virtual safety car I believe.

      • Mike

        June 17, 2018 at 3:25 pm

        BOP’d cars should not be able to gain 3 minutes on pace….So that’s not a good point. If anything, it would help when the ACO doesn’t do the BOP properly…

        The actual problem with the allowind SC 2 and 3 groups to catch, is that if the GTE overall leader is sitting in SC 3. He can gain a lap on the cars sitting in SC 1.

        The interesting thing to do would be to send the GTE Pro cars to the back of the SC with the GTE class leader.

        • juneracer

          June 26, 2018 at 7:43 am

          just like Fehan was suggesting. have class wave byes. but that wont be easy and difficult to make fair. the race director needs to pay more attention to when the SC and SZs are started and stopped.

      • Dave

        June 18, 2018 at 7:28 am

        The waive around is a double edged sword as it can allow the competition that you caught in the first instance to catch back up to you the next time. Not “fair” to trouble-free teams, but makes for more exciting racing. I think we can all agree that 12 lap, or even one lap victories are not exciting races. Many more IMSA races than not offer a final lap with the top three in each class on the same lap and passes regularly are made in the last pit stop. That may be contrived or boring racing to some, but if you are going to BoP or EoT, then close racing is what you are after anyway. Otherwise just have everyone bring their fastest car and have races much like the one we just watched.

        • Douglas D

          June 18, 2018 at 8:44 am

          Motor racing is suppose to be the fastest car winning even if it is by about 10 laps Motor sport is not a circus to entertain the crowds. It is about showing whose the best for marketing value. It will not drive the spectators away because in F1 you got only one or two cars able to win and still millions watch the boring racing all the time

          • Bring facts not guesses Douglas

            June 18, 2018 at 8:52 am

            The viewership numbers would beg to differ with that assessment the last few years. Even accounting for distribution change, the viewership and attendance have dropped like a stone over the last 5 years. There have been slight increases in the US viewership but over the course of the full season a decline. Europe and especially the UK have seen a significant drop in viewers which has continued after leaving FTA TV.

  11. Pay Driver

    June 17, 2018 at 2:35 pm

    Can’t spell “fiasco” without FIA and ACO. Mindnumbingly stupid regulations all across the board.

    • Just another fan

      June 17, 2018 at 3:09 pm

      It was a very good race. I watched all of it and am still up and pumped up. The racing was top notch (when there was racing), we got rivalries (Ford vs Porsche) and nobody got hurt (from what I’ve seen published) which is fantastic news, considering all the high speed shunts that the Porsche Curves and Indianapolis.
      The most good natured moment of the race was the Indy 500 winner explaining that he want off at Indianapolis because he run out of talent! Montoya is quite a character!

      • DEJ

        June 18, 2018 at 10:44 am

        The race was fair. I don’t care for the time /lap regulations. The race becomes more manipulated my these rules.I also agree that the Safety Car issue needs to be resolved..

  12. jason

    June 17, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    Code 60 is the way to go. I think ACO/WEC is hesitant to adopt it because it is not THEIR original idea.

    • bjones

      June 17, 2018 at 6:59 pm

      Your statement has quite a bit of validity to it

  13. bjones

    June 17, 2018 at 7:07 pm

    One pace car: way to go,but understand why three are used,Vrf,No way: cannot fathom watching a race red flagged on every crash: Slow zones I like and do believe CODE 60 is the way to go: Basically 8 miles is tough to keep drivers from obtaining or gaining an advantage on yellow, As for the one pace car I would say what is gained or lost has been a part of racing for years, but have no argument on why it was changed to three. But did we have BOP or EOT back then:no, So All I have is the Code 60 and slow zones. Bottom line if they want to control so much then make sure no one gets an advantage and if they do correct it.

  14. Steve

    June 17, 2018 at 7:07 pm

  15. PIKANJOE

    June 17, 2018 at 7:49 pm

    STRANGULATION BY REGULATIONS

  16. Rich

    June 18, 2018 at 2:16 am

    I said to my girlfriend o who is Saturday night that the pink pig would win because of the huge advantage gifted to them under that safety car. Why do the cars have to be held at the end of the pitlane? Why can’t they just be allowed out to catch up to the back of the safety car pack at a sensible speed? It ruined what should have been an amazing race in GTE Pro, which let’s face it was where all the interest was. And this maximum stint lengths rule needs to go right now, in all classes. Part of the appeal of Endurance racing is the strategic element and mandating you must stop after 14 laps is absolutely stupid.

  17. Nigel Dobbie

    June 18, 2018 at 3:56 am

    I was at the race and left at about 22 hours as it was obvious way before this point that the BoP and the over regulation by the ACO has killed the racing. The pit crews / engineers are taken out of the game by this ridiculous 14 lap rule plus the fuel flow and tire changes at the same time mean they cannot make for a quicker pit stop. The fastest team to change the brakes was Corvette Racing at 29 seconds! That will probably be the next thing the ACO “regulate”. The ACO need to listen to drivers and teams because the event was not a race it was a boring disaster with no chance for anyone to catch up once the Porsche got ahead of the Safety Car.

  18. Lieblingsleguan

    June 18, 2018 at 5:17 am

    Any kind of physical safety car will always favor some lucky cars. The 92 and 91 were not “on the same group”, as they had been splitted by the pit stop.

    So, (full course) code 60 instead of safety car is the only way. There will still be lottery of a suspended and restarted race – could be seen on the Nürburgring 24h race. There, the Team Manthey Racing “Greeno” (two of this #912 car’s drivers were on the #91 in Le Mans) gained 3.5min due to it which enabled it to take the race win.

    That said, the Ferrari guy is right, 14 lap max stint is BS, as is tire change during refueling.

  19. Joe Myers

    June 18, 2018 at 6:11 am

    BOP = Boring Over regulated Procession

  20. N8

    June 18, 2018 at 10:15 am

    Just to play devils advocate….

    All these team should have known that if they came in a lap after the safety car that they would be held at the end of pit road. There was nothing new about the safety car procedure or pit lane rules when it was out.

    • Gene

      June 18, 2018 at 10:30 am

      This is true to a point – but if they were forced to pit because of the 14 lap maximum rule, it is almost a double penalty.

      • N8

        June 18, 2018 at 11:56 am

        True. And I can’t say if it was brilliant strategy or dumb luck for the 92 to have come in 1 lap short of the max, but it ended up being the right call.

  21. Gene

    June 18, 2018 at 10:26 am

    And yet there is a driver who was happy about the slow zones and safety car process…

    From the article:
    http://sportscar365.com/lemans/wec/keating-bittersweet-first-le-mans-podium/

    “Bleekemolen said that team took advantage of safety car and Slow Zone periods to help make up the deficit.

    “It was a long-shot, but you never know with these yellows, with these slow zones,” he told Sportscar365. “If you miss them and the other one takes it, then it’s a big difference.

    “We were more than a lap down and suddenly we were 50 seconds behind [because of the safety car]. So much can happen. You get lucky, and boom: you’re there. You should never give up.”

  22. Sol Shine

    June 18, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    The whole race, especially in GTE, was an absolute joke this year. It was clear after qual that Porschw was the annointed make. This stupidity with the safety car was just the icing on the cake. Totally made a mockery of what is supposed to be a marquee event. But that’s what racing is now, just a show.

    • jason

      June 18, 2018 at 1:13 pm

      The best GTE race at Le Mans in the past few years was 2015 and 2017. The 2015 won by Corvette was a true race of attrition. And 17 legitimately had 5 different manufacturers in the fight for the win. You did not know who would win that one until the end.

      I wonder why 2018 could not replicate 2017. I think the safety car split incident did have a much bigger effect now that we look back at it post race. Still I think the Manthay team really had their cars dialed in. Look at the CORE Porsches, they were amongst the rest of the pack. It was not like Porsche was running 1st-4th the whole way.

  23. Anthony Thomas

    June 18, 2018 at 10:48 pm

    I listen to the race as I was busy with my own car. But this is always a problem at Le Mans and the luck of the draw shined on the #92 this time.

    I will not fault the teams for not having the balance of the cars right at the start of the race as clearly as with every race some setups need to have the track rubber-in before the car comes to life in the handling dept.

    Clearly Porsche got that bit right and by the time everybody else was at the same pace, safety cars and slow zones impacted the outcome. The problem with GT racing one could say is that there isn’t enough space between the cars that if you have a problem you can make it up over the length of the race. All the cars are within tenths of each other, the only one not polled and was struggling with pace was Aston Martin.

    This is Europe’s stance on safety cars in general, they don’t want to penalize the teams that got it right at the fall of the green flag against the other teams who may have missed the mark a little and need to work on the car over a few stints to get the balance right to attack the course with confidence.

    But drivers universally like racing in America because if you aren’t out to lunch on your setup you can get a safety car, close the field back up and have a chance. At Le Mans you get held at pit out because the leaders are coming. You should be allowed to leave and hustle to get back to the end of the cars on the lead lap. Otherwise you spend the entire race ALMOST a lap down and wait for the other cars to have a problem in order to have a chance which is highly unlikely.

    The excuse that the course is too long is old and used up, there cameras everywhere. Several teams were nailed for speeding in slow zones. So they can spend another few minutes closing the field back up, this is the right thing to do.

    Code 60 is just the safety car without it actually being out there, the slow zones are the same idea, you reduce your pace to a set speed and you can’t advance your position, only if the car in front of you stops on course or goes into the pits.

    WeatherTech/ALMS whatever you wanna call it, has it right, people say the yellows take too long but you don’t see people complaining about the outcome very much.

    Teams feel that if you got it right that day you deserve to win, simple. Porsche did get it right and the balance on the #91 wasn’t as good as the #92 but the show was impacted so something should be done.

  24. The Esses

    June 22, 2018 at 2:29 am

    This seems to happen almost every year now. We have a fantastic and deep battle in GTE until we get our first safety car, when this inevitable happens… I thought this was the main reason behind developing the virtual safety car (Code60) in the first place? It always baffles me when they make the call to go to SC instead, doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. At this point I haven’t heard a good explanation for it anywhere – I’ve heard that a full SC is sometimes necessary for safety concerns – how exactly? There are still cars on the track going the same speed. And then again it doesn’t seem to be based on the characteristics of the incidents. I thought many of the SC’s called this year could have been code 60s or even slow zones, and then later in the race similar incidents WERE called as slow zones. At this point i see no real use for safety cars, at least in endurance racing they completely undermine the integrity of what is supposed to be going on out there. Track position in an endurance race is a sacred thing, it should never be given or taken artificially, it should always be earned.

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