Tuesday, 9 April 2013

GUEST - Is domination destroying motorport?

It's becoming an increasingly common conversation amongst motorsport fans. Whichever discipline you consider, from WRC to Formula 1, there is a constant talk of motorsport becoming boring. With driving skill seemingly being replaced by tactics and strategies, it could appear to some that the thrill and excitement of motor racing is vanishing. Couple this to domination by single teams or drivers, and you have spectators losing the excitement of the unpredictability involved in a race or a championship. Taking a closer look at a similar problem in Endurance racing, is Brad Credit
"Winning never gets old - or does it?" - Brad Credit

Remember those days when Group C cars screamed down the Mulsanne Straight? Sauber C9s, Jaguar XJR-9s, Porsche 962s all setting fire to the pavement as they pierced spectator’s ears while battling for track position. Well unfortunately with my youthful age I have no memory watching these types of races, unless they were 10-minute YouTube videos of twenty-plus year-old enduros. Other than that, I’ve had to grow up in the Audi era, an era of dominance, strategy, and frankly, boredom.

Now by no means am I bashing the successes of Audi. Nor am I disregarding the work, effort, and late nights the Audi Sport team has to endure. It’s by no means ‘easy’ to do what Audi’s done, winning Le Mans 11 times in 13 years is not a feat to be neglected. The Audi Sport team, led by Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, has clearly learned how to run an extremely successful endurance campaign. However, with that being said, watching Audi claim yet another podium sweep - which often tends to be the case - is getting rather tedious.

A few fortnights have passed since the 12 Hours of Sebring came to a close. However, while the race may have been over for the majority of the race teams competing, Audi still had an 18-hour testing session of this year’s R18 on the agenda. The reason for this testing? None other than a final tuneup before the World Endurance Championship begins in Silverstone in a matter of weeks following that testing, and to dial in the car they’re taking to Le Mans in June.

And with the 2013 endurance racing season lurching out of the gate, the now age-old question of who can beat Audi arises once more. While many strap their hopes to the back of Toyota Motorsports GMbH (TMG) to challenge Audi in the WEC LMP1 category, Audi Sport has proved that the team is not limited to merely prototype success alone.

If you don’t pay a strand of attention to GT racing, then you probably don’t know that Audi’s success in the R8 GT racing car includes a win at the 24 Hours of Spa and the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring in 2012. And while one can argue that LMP is the more notable region of Audi dominance, you can’t deny the fact that Audi has completely taken over the realm of endurance sports car racing. So what do those wins, among others, mean about Audi when it comes to endurance racing? The team knows what it’s doing.

But if a team is as dialed in and dominant as Audi, the question of more competition needs to be asked. Toyota’s all fine and well (if you recall the epic battle between Toyota and Audi in the fifth hour of Le Mans, you can grasp that fine and well), but race fans can’t help but wish for more competitors to be involved in the racing action. Besides, if something happens to the sole competitor - such as Toyota not seeing the light of day at Le Mans, literally - then you just have the remaining team prancing ‘round the track to an easy win and podium dominance, such was the case last year in France.

And that’s the painfully monotonous part of the dominance. Watching great racing during an endurance event is thrilling no matter what hour the race is in, but I’d much rather have the breath-holding suspense towards the end of the race if I had to choose. And while you could argue that the latter battles between the Audi sister cars were exciting (which it was), teams would have put more on the line if it was with a rival competitor not wearing four silver, overlapping rings on the front. That aspect of putting it all on the line is what makes racing intriguing and unquestionably exciting, missing bits when the most intriguing question of today’s enduros is which Audi is going to win.

However, it’s one thing for me to sit around whining and complaining about that Audi always wins, it’s another for me to demand that something be done about it. As a fan, thrills and excitement are some of the words I use to describe racing when asked why I adore it so much. Unfortunately, Audi’s dominance is taking away some of those words I use to describe my love for motorsport.

So then, how does an answer to this dominance come about? Well frankly, there are only two options. The first being that the FIA steps in and says or does something about it. I know, rule changes can be agonizingly difficult to comprehend when they come about - which they often do - each year something new’s brought to the table - but it’s the only way to hold Audi back. However, even with rule changes, Audi will still find an ingenious solution to secure their podium finishes.

The other option is more cars. Unfortunately, more cars is easier to be said than done. I’ve read countless forums with people bashing Peugeot for pulling out of the WEC, when the reason why the Frenchmen withdrew was due to a lack of funding. They simply weren’t selling enough cars. But with Porsche returning to the hallowed straights of Le Mans in 2014 - and probably being truly competitive in 2015 - the future certainly doesn’t look bleak.

However, it seems apparent that these complaints of Audi dominance and pondering of ways to mix up the competition are complaints and questions that have been existence for years. Fortunately, competition is arriving in the coming years as in addition to Porsche’s return, Nissan and Renault will be competing in LMP1 within a few solar orbits. And it also can’t be forgotten that Toyota is still giving Audi a good fight, the team is expecting much better results at Le Mans this year. Alas, we still wait for more competition in GT endurance racing, but for the rest of the racing world it seems we may be headed towards another golden age of racing.

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