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Le Mans Increased The Cool Factor Of Hybrid Tech

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 21 2012

The Audi hybrids sent the message of; win on Sunday, save fuel on Monday.

A final look back at the last weekend of racing:

The road to hilarity is paved with failed gadgetry. You know; like that guy on ice skates in the old film clips who straps a rocket to his back and ends up setting his butt on fire.

But in the wake of the lead-up, and then the race, at Le Mans this year, even the oiliest of gearheads have to admit that auto racing is about to undergo a massive technological transformation.  Because the story of the 2012 edition of the world’s most prestigious endurance race was not about engines. It was about motors.

What’s the difference? According to the AP Stylebook there is a big difference: Engines are powered by combustion and motors by electricity. And last week at Le Mans, electric motors – powered in part by energy recovery systems – were the big story.

Audi R18 E-tron Quattro hybrids placed first and second at Le Mans in the top prototype class. Toyota’s TS 030 hybrids showed early promise in the race as they challenged the top Audi entries but succumbed to external and internal driver errors.

The performance of the Quattros and Toyotas – and of the ultra-efficient DeltWing car – proved that the technology of efficiency is not just for the penguin-petters anymore.

After spending quite a bit of time driving a hybrid recently, and then checking the on-board to see mpg

The revolutionary DeltaWing proved a point at Le Mans. (Photo courtesy of Highcroft Racing)

results, I suggested to the owner of the car that the day is near when drivers will treat mileage the way traditional enthusiasts have treated speed: That is, they will compare, contrast and mod their cars to squeeze out even more mileage and then brag like crazy about it.

And soon, stage mileage competitions. It’s the American way.

I was then told that much of that is already happening. Hybrid chat rooms have opened up online and challenges are already being issued. MPG has joined zero-to-60 time as points of pride.

Hybrid technology at Le Mans was not specifically aimed at increasing mileage. It was designed to give power boosts without additional fuel outlays. But, that’s the way most automotive innovation begins. And at Le Mans last weekend, that was darn cool to watch.

Le Mans II

Big flash of the headlights to Starworks Motorsports, the American team which won the LMP2 class at the 24.

The team, which featured Ryan Dalziel and Enzo Potolicchio doing the driving, pulled off a major upset with its victory. Make that, pulled off a major feel-good upset victory.

The team, those two drivers and additional driver David Donohue will be back on track this weekend when the GRAND-AM Series takes to the track at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

Le Mans III

Normally, the job of the lead anchor in the TV booth at races is to spice the broadcasts with observations like: This should be a great race; I could not agree more; I’ll say; Ooops, my mistake; We’ll be right back after this word from our sponsors.

Then there is the rare lead voice who does homework and contributes to the flow of interesting information.

Leigh Diffey of SPEED is the best of this group. Nicely done at Le Mans, Mr. Diffey.

NASCAR

A lot was made in the media about Tony Stewart’s post-race comment about Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning

Dale Earnhardt Jr. got an important win on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

at Michigan to end a four-year skid. Too much was made about it.

Stewart, when asked about the victory and its importance during the obligatory media center gathering, commented that the victory did not represent a “national holiday”.

The gall of that man. Putting perspective on the situation.

Earlier, just after he got out of his car, Stewart gave his non-sarcastic answer to that question. Stewart, who finished second in the race, talked about being happy for Junior, who happens to be an old friend and semi-teammate.

It was extremely cool to see Earnhardt put the skids on his skid, but got to agree that it probably did not warrant letting the kids out of school on Monday. Not even when you factor in the kiss to his girlfriend in Victory Lane.

NHRA

Ron Capps is a woman beater. He beat both Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria on Sunday in Funny Car eliminations at Thunder Valley.

Aiding and abetting – again –was Rahn Tobler, his tuner.

Not sure I’ve ever seen one person make so much difference in a racing operation. Since joining Capps and his Don Schumacher Racing team, Tobler has helped the car power to six straight final-round appearances. Twice during that stretch, Capps has won.

In April, on the fourth weekend of the season, Capps failed to qualify at Las Vegas. He left The Strip early and also eighth in points. Veteran Tobler was brought on board. And the charge was on.

“Every race that we’ve gone to,” Capps, who has climbed to second in points, said, “it’s just getting stronger and stronger; the bond that I have with Rahn Tobler and this team.”

INDYCAR

The Indycars were back at the Milwaukee Mile last weekend, thanks to Michael Andretti.

The wide Milwaukee Mile was the site of last weekend's IndyCar Race. New life for an old track. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

Racing appeared doomed at the historic old track at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds after a succession of owners failed to spark the area’s interest in racing there. Andretti picked up the pieces and reassembled them into a race and festival.

The grandstands were not filled for last Sunday’s race, but attendance was way up from the year before. So encouraged was Andretti and his promotions team that they announced they would do it all again next season.

“I’d say it was successful based on the buzz and the look and feel of the place and the optimism,” Dave Kallmann, long-time auto-racing beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, said. ”I thought the crowd would have been bigger. Let’s see progress next year before we talk about further down the road.”

INDYCAR II

The series still has not announced what it will do about filling the hole in its 2012 schedule that was caused by the canceling of the of the race in China.

Series CEO Randy Bernard talked to Texas Motor Speedway about picking up the date and moving it to November as the final race of the year. (Wonder how that made the folks in Fontana feel.) But TMS president Eddie Gossage said thanks but no thanks to Bernard.

The series is said to be talking to the owner of Road America – a road course located about 60 miles north of Milwaukee – about picking up the China date and pairing it with the American Le Mans Series race there in August.

Kallmann said,  ”I’m putting it (chances of a second Wisconsin race) at 50-50. Of course I had (NASCAR Camping World) trucks going there this year at 99 percent, and we see how that worked out. It makes sense for IndyCar because there’s already an event there (ALMS) on which to piggyback. Less likely to be racing in front of nobody. Gotta figure it’s a buyer’s market, which makes it attractive to the track.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 21 2012
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