The Chevrolet Corvette C7R has proven itself to be the dominant vehicle in the current GTE Pro/GTLM endurance racing class, but after Balance of Performance adjustments were required by the sanctioning officials, the winners of the 2015 24 Hours of LeMans race went from being the quickest car in the class at the pre-LeMans practice session to being the slowest cars in the class during the first session of official LeMans qualifying.
Needless to say, this puts a damper on Corvette Racing’s hopes of winning their second straight LeMans title while also showing how flawed the “Balance of Performance” system can be.
Balance of Performance
Before getting into the results of the first round of 2016 LeMans qualifying, a quick explanation of the “Balance of Performance” rules for those who are unfamiliar with the phrase.
Since the cars competing in the 24 Hours of LeMans race and the endurance races in the American IMSA Tudor series are very different in the street forms on which the race cars are based, the officials of the sanctioning body do their best to level the playing field by pulling power or adding weight. For example, say that the Corvette Racing team is substantially faster than the second place Ferrari during specific race in the American endurance racing series. Before the next event, the Corvette teams could be required to add weight to their cars or to restrict the amount of air entering the engine – thus reducing the power output capabilities of the car. The idea is that by slowing down the fastest cars, the slower cars will be able to compete.
The problem is that this system is based on the assumption that every car and every driver in the field are going all-out, so they are performing in a best case scenario and making adjustments based on those results. Say that the Ferrari driver in my example above was having a particularly bad day or – worse yet – they were not going all-out in a qualifying session. When the Balance of Performance (BoF) adjustments are made, the Corvette will get slower and the idea is that the Ferrari will stay the same, but if the driver or car are suddenly having a much better day when they hit the track next time, the Corvettes could be significantly slower.
Unfortunately, something along those lines is taking place at the 2016 24 Hours of LeMans, as the BoF adjustments made to the Corvette Racing teams haven’t closed the gap between the Chevrolet teams and the rest of the field – they have pushed the Corvettes to the very back of the class.
LeMans Qualifying Session #1
During the mandatory LeMans Test Day back on June 5th, the Corvette Racing teams were 1st and 4th quickest in the GTE Pro class, with a pair of Porsche 911s in between. The fastest new Ford GT race car was in 6th place, almost a second behind the quickest Corvette and more importantly, the fastest Porsche 911 was just over 2 tenths of a second slower than the top Corvette.
Even though the times were all relatively close, with the entire GTE Pro field turning in best lap times in the 3:55-3:57 range, the LeMans officials decided to harness the Corvette Racing program with a Balance of Performance adjustment – requiring a smaller air intake system and cutting down the power of the C7R V8. In theory, the idea of this adjustment is to tighten up the GTE Pro field, but in reality, it has thrown the class completely out of whack.
During the first LeMans qualifying session yesterday, the new Ford GT race cars were 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th quickest in the class, while a lone Ferrari 488 GTE grabbed the 3rd spot in the class. On the other hand, after being the 1st and 4th quickest on test day, the Corvette Racing teams dropped to last and second to last in the field. The #63 Corvette, which was the quickest in the field on test day with a lap time of 3:55.122, dropped to the very back of the field with a best lap of 3:57.967. Four different GTE Am cars – the class below GTE Pro – beat the same car that was the fastest in the class just a few weeks ago…before the Balance of Performance changes were made.
More importantly, the times of the teams have changed a great deal, with the Ford GT teams improving their best lap time by about 5 seconds while the Corvette Racing team cars have slowed down by as much as 2 seconds. In the end, the Ford GT cars that were at least a second slower a few weeks back ended up being almost 5 seconds faster in the first round of LeMans qualifying.
It seems very strange that the Ford GT teams struggled so much on test day, which was one of the factors in the racing officials pulling power from the Corvette Racing teams, only to have the Ford entries come out and turn far quicker laps in qualifying. While some of that gain can be attributed to learning curve, you have to wonder if Ford isn’t playing a curve of their own after turning in such lackluster times a few weeks back.
In any case, Corvette Racing appears to be behind the 8-ball as they had into this weekend’s 24 Hours of LeMans race. There is another qualifying round taking place today, so it will be interesting to see what kind of lap times are turned in by all of the GTE Pro teams, but for the time being, it appears as though the odds have been slanted a bit in Ford’s favor courtesy of the Balance of Performance system.