The ACO has announced technical regulations for the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans and the big news revolves around performance leveling for diesels, specifically 6% less flow on restrictors for diesels.
While at Le Mans, we spoke to Audi Sport engine czar Ullrich Baretzky about such a development and the German had an interesting take. We'll paraphrase that below, but first here are the 2012 regulations.
In 2012, the safety of all prototypes will be reinforced, and the equivalences between the different engines powering the LM P1 cars in the Le Mans 24 Hours, the FIA World Endurance Championship, the Le Mans Series and American Le Mans Series will be readjusted.
Following the undertaking given after the 2011 Le Mans 24 Hours, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest and the FIA have worked together to modify the Le Mans 24-Hours regulations which, in keeping with the agreement signed with the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), form the basis of the rules governing the future World Endurance Championship.
Three main areas were at the centre of the discussions:
1. The equivalences between diesel and petrol engines
In this context, the ACO and the FIA carried out a wide-ranging study to analyze the performances of the cars, and then to decide on the appropriate measures to be taken. A number of tools were used in the context of this survey: readings by timing systems specially installed at Spa-Francorchamps and at Le Mans, some of which the teams entered for the Spa-Francorchamps 1000 km (7th May 2011) and the Le Mans 24 Hours (10-11 June 2011) were unaware of, the information provided by the data loggers installed on the cars this year and all the times recorded on the different circuits.
In addition, the engineers were contacted and asked to provide under guaranteed secrecy all the technical information about their engine.
Finally, all these data and analyzes were restudied, interpreted and validated to calculate the new equivalences.
•*All the refuelling equipment will have the same flow.
•*No modifications will be made to the petrol engines.
•*The performance of the diesel engines will be pegged back by around 7% by decreasing the size of the air restrictors and the supercharger pressure. The diameter of the restrictors will be reduced from 47.4 mm to 45.8 mm for engines that have a single restrictor, and from 33.5 mm to 32.4 mm for those engines that have two. In addition, the supercharger pressure of the turbos will be reduced from 3 000 to 2 800 milibars.
•*The fuel tank capacity of diesel-engined LM P1 cars will be reduced by 5 litres (65 to 60 litres).
Following the accidents in this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours the ACO and the FIA have had fresh discussions, and have carried out new tests to improve the safety of the cars, the first priority of the FIA-ACO regulations. The following measures will come into force for the 2012 season.
After the work carried out by the FIA Safety Commission with the manufacturers/constructors the dorsal element on the engine cover, the shark’s fin, will become mandatory on all LM P1, LM P2 and FLM prototypes and openings will be made above the front and rear wheels.
To improve rearward visibility (with the exception of the LM P1s), the size of the rearview mirrors will be increased, and they must be equipped with a night mode as well as an electrical adjustment system that enables the driver in the cockpit to alter the rearview mirrors to meet his needs. The camera system at the rear will be mandatory on LM GTE cars and allowed on all the others.
3. Hybrid engines
The release of energy is allowed on the front wheels but only above 120 km/h. Safety measures concerning the specific brakes for hybrid engines have also been defined.
This extract is taken from a document called “Sporting guidelines 2012 FIA World Endurance Championship.” The complete sporting regulations will not be announced before the 30th November 2011 after the next meeting of the Endurance Commission scheduled for 21st November 2011.
FIA WORLD ENDURANCE CHAMPIONSHIP
As previously announced, the FIA World Endurance Championship - in partnership with the ACO - will comprise a minimum of six events, including the “Le Mans 24 Hours”. Apart from this event, the duration of the races will be six to 12 hours. The Championship is exclusively reserved for Le Mans Prototype (LMP) and Le Mans Grand Touring Endurance (GTE) cars, although vehicles using technologies considered to be innovative may be admitted without scoring points.
FIA World Endurance Championship titles will be awarded to the champion drivers and manufacturer (reserved for the LMP1 category). In addition, a World Cup will be awarded to the winning LM GTE Manufacturer (including Pro and Am), as well as FIA Endurance Trophies to the winning teams in LM P2, LME GT Am, LM GTE Pro and best private LM P1.
For all events other than the Le Mans 24 Hours, points will be awarded according to the following scale for all categories:
1st 25 points
2nd 18 points
3rd 15 points
4th 12 points
5th 10 points
6th 8 points
7th 6 points
8th 4 points
9th 2 points
10th 1 point
And 0.5 point (awarded to any car classified lower than10th in the general classification)
For the Le Mans 24 Hours only, these points will be doubled.
In each category an additional point will be awarded to the car on Pole Position and each driver of its crew.
For 2012, the number 1 will be attributed to the manufacturer having won the 2011 LM P1 manufacturers’ title in the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup.
Two weeks ago on location in Braselton, GA for the running of Petit Le Mans, we threw the idea of rumored performance balancing between diesel and petrol to Audi Sport engine czar Ulrich Baretzky. We have no recording or video of the conversation, so we'll paraphrase.
"I wish I had the time to develop a petrol program," said Baretzky. It was his contention that this isn't a diesel vs. petrol problem but rather the level of manufacturers involved. Baretzky theorized that he could make a petrol Audi LMP1 as fast as the R18 TDI if he wanted to and had the time.
He surmised that every petrol LMP1 is effectively a privateer effort without the weight of a large manufacturer behind it. Even the Aston Martin AMR One didn't have the resources behind it that the Audi and Peugeot entrants had.
And speaking of resources, Baretzky stated that, in his experience, the difference between factory and privateer efforts running the same car is 3 seconds a lap at Le Mans. The factory can simply optimize a car better given its experience and resources. He added that 3 seconds is about the difference between diesel and petrol today.
There is the argument that close racing makes for an exciting show, and this too was mentioned. Still, it's not surprising that Baretzky was against slowing down the top tier manufacturers so that privateer teams can compete.
Arguably, he may be right. When you look back on memorable Le Mans, do you think of 2005 when a restricted Audi R8 slugged it out and won against faster Pescarolos? That race marked Tom Kristensen's record-breaking win but it is probably less memorable in the grand scheme than titanic clashes between Ford and Ferrari or Audi and Peugeot. Baretzky sounded like he would rather see manufacturer competition from the likes of Toyota and Porsche, both more than rumored to be readying for returns, than be slowed.
As for that R18 TFSI petrol we began imagining when Baretzky mentioned his wish to build a petrol program in order to prove a point, we went further and asked if such a thing were feasible in order to make a more affordable package for privateers looking to run an Audi.
"Not really," he said. "To run at (Audi and Peugeot's) level, it is prohibitively expensive whether you run petrol or diesel."
With today's level of reliability, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is more 24 hour sprint than test of survival. To run at this pace and this level of competition, the sheer amount of resources needed doesn't really change depending on fuel.
There's another regulation worth mentioning because it got us to thinking about a conversation we had with Baretzky one year prior. At the time, Audi's Le Mans winning driver team of Bernhard, Dumas and Rockenfeller was about to run an experimental Porsche 911 GT2 flywheel style hybrid that effectively ran as all-wheel drive when power from the batteries was sent to the front wheels.
"Could this mean Audi racing a quattro powered LMP1 at Le Mans?" we asked Baretzky? He told us that was most unlikely. The intent behind such systems wasn't to allow all-wheel drive and it's easy to guess that any rule makers would be aware of Audi's reputation for turning all-wheel drive into an unfair advantage. Baretzky predicted then that any such system would be limited in use... "perhaps only above certain speeds." Here we are in 2011, and with the 2012 regulations now published limit power release to the front wheels for hybrids will only be at speeds above 120 km/h. Alas, there will be no quattro launches or physics-defying cornering in a rain-soaked Arnage.