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24H Le Mans

Safety Car Impact ‘Took Away the Spectacle’ of GTE-Pro Fight

Manufacturer teams suggest further clarity is needed on safety car, FCY usage at Le Mans…

Photo: Drew Gibson/Ford

A handful of GTE-Pro teams and drivers have suggested that the safety car’s role in the 24 Hours of Le Mans broke up what could have been an even tighter class battle.

The safety car created and contracted large gaps between the GTE-Pro contenders on several occasions, most notably in the 10th hour when the eventual class-winning No. 51 Ferrari and the No. 92 Porsche were set two minutes ahead of the main pack.

This happened because the safety car they were picked up by, out of the three used at Le Mans, was ahead of the safety car that picked up the other cars in class.

Many, including Ford Chip Ganassi Racing driver Andy Priaulx and Corvette Racing team manager Ben Johnson, suggested that further clarity is needed on when to control the race under a safety car instead of an FCY.

Full Course Yellows were introduced for this year’s race in a bid to limit the safety car’s impact after Porsche dominated off the back of an intervention period in 2018.

“I think in that sort of situation, when you’ve got such a titanic scrap, you should reset it, bring the classes together, or slow zone it, Priaulx told Sportscar365 after the race.

“Eduardo [Freitas, WEC race director] is very safety-conscious and that’s really important, so I’m not being negative about him, but there’s got to be some regulation that keeps the classes together.

“If you’ve just pitted, which we needed to pit, it just messes it up so much. It just neutralizes the race and then you end up with this huge separation.

“For the second year in a row, it’s kind of taken away the spectacle at the end.”

Corvette manager Johnson suggested that teams were struggling to see why some safety cars were chosen over FCYs, which reduce the race speed to 80 km/h (50 mph).

When the new safety car rules were introduced in February, the ACO defined an FCY-worthy incident as one that can be cleared “over a short period of time”.

“I don’t really know what the threshold is between a Full Course Yellow and a safety car,” said Johnson.

“We looked at the one that eventually split us from the Ferrari, and I don’t know if the medical light went off in that car and that triggers a safety car, or it just has to be a certain size of impact.

“It’s something that could maybe be handled under the safety of a Full Course Yellow.

“I’m guessing, like everything with the FIA, there’s a pretty definitive way they look at that and try and apply it.

“Certainly, I think it would make the event more appealing if you could go through it and be competitive based on your own merit and not the luck of the draw.”

Porsche driver Richard Lietz, who finished second with his co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni and Frederic Makowiecki, felt the eight safety car periods were generally called correctly.

“One time maybe it was not necessary, but the race director was doing a good job,” said the Austrian.

“At the end it’s most acceptable to have everything for safety. Maybe they will find a solution with a wave-by or single safety car or whatever. But for me, all moments they used it, apart from maybe one time, it was absolutely correct.

“Yes, it would  be nice if there was a solution for not destroying the race. It’s always important at Le Mans that if you push from the beginning and you have a gap, your race shouldn’t be killed completely.

“Sometimes if you are separated like this and you are 10 seconds behind, but suddenly you lose one or two minutes, this is hard.”

Both Lietz’s No. 91 Porsche 911 RSR and the No. 63 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R made up most of their 10th-hour safety car deficit through a combination of fortuitous slow zone periods and pace, to the point of being in contention for the win on Sunday morning.

However, the Corvette’s hopes were dashed by a spin for Jan Magnussen, while Lietz explained how another major safety car split ultimately ended the Porsche’s victory chances around midday on Sunday.

“One time it was acceptable for us because we gained 50 seconds back, because we were behind the same safety car, so the race was on again,” he said.

“But one or two times we were unlucky. One time we were separated by one and another time we were separated by two safety cars, so the gap was way too big and the race was over.”

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.

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