The Dubai 24 Hour race is known for being the first 24-hour endurance race of the season, and for attracting entries from all over the globe.
The event is also known for its unique performance-balancing system, where cars set target lap times in qualifying and are penalized for going faster during the race.
Though the 2012 race was well-attended both by teams and spectators, many drivers and fans found the idea of speed limits at an auto race to be absurd, so for 2013, the organizers, Creventic, are altering the system. This year teams will have the option of selecting different performance-balancing systems.
Though it has never said so publicly, it seems likely Creventic is offering a new system because the old way alienated some of the famous pro drivers whose presence draw big crowds. The new system only affects the fastest, most visible A6 (GT3) class of cars, where most of the international stars compete.
Balance of Performance (BoP)
Every stock-based racing series needs to balance the performance of a wide range of cars. Not all cars are created equal; manufacturers build cars to suit their customers, not to meet the needs of racers. Thus every racing series needs to adjust weight, fuel capacity, wheel width, ride height, engine capacity, intake orifice … any number of parameters can be adjusted to allow different cars to compete on a level field.
Naturally, every competitor feels that his or her car gets a bad deal from the race organizers (unless those cars are dominating the race.)
Further balancing is needed to account for different levels of driver talent, because sports car racing is supported by many semi-pro teams, where wealthy enthusiasts buy and race cars using a mix of professional and amateur drivers. These “gentleman drivers” have traditionally made up the bulk of the field, with a few factory and all-pro teams leading the pack.
Of course, these wealthy enthusiasts want a chance to win in return for their sizeable investments. Some series create Pro-Am or Privateer classes or specific Pro-Am awards, with driver rankings. This can also cause controversy, as drivers dispute who is really a pro and who is an amateur with years of experience and a long history of success.
In an attempt to simplify matters Creventic devised a system whereby cars could either qualify and race as fast as they wanted, while accepting weight penalties, or would be limited during the race to a specific maximum lap time based on qualifying results.
This established parity between teams; an all-pro team would be penalized for going too fast, and a pro-am team’s pro driver would have to focus on consistent laps at the limit while the amateurs could go all-out to try to reach that limit. In theory, this system offered challenges to all drivers.
In practice, it annoyed some drivers. Racers always try to go faster; it is the nature of the game. Being penalized for doing really well was objectionable to the better drivers, and those better drivers were important to the race organizer: Creventic could attract a bigger crowd by advertising big-named stars, even if the gentleman drivers paid a bigger portion of the entry fee.
Creventic is trying a tripartite system for 2013, with two different BoP systems for amateur cars and a third for pro and semi-pro drivers.
Under the new system, teams in the A6 class can choose one of three BoP levels, each with different requirements for lap time, vehicle weight, fuel refilling limit, and ground clearance (which affects aerodynamic efficiency.)
Amateur and gentleman drivers are expected to opt for the slowest and least restrictive level of balancing. Cars which cannot turn a qualifying lap faster than 2:07 can run 50 kg., less weight than the class minimum, and can take on 120 liters of fuel at each pit stop.
These cars will make fewer pit stops, which will enable them to complete more laps in 24 hours. However, these cars will be limited to a minimum race lap time of 2:07. Too many quick laps will bring a penalty.
This option suits drivers who are not as quick as the pros; they can make up time while the faster cars stop for fuel and tires. In theory, this will give the amateur drivers a chance to catch the pros at the end of the 24 hours.
Quicker amateurs and semi-pro drivers are expected to choose the second option. Cars which can qualify as quick as (but no quicker than) 2:05 can run at the class minimum weight and take on 120 liters of fuel per pit stop. These cars cannot turn race laps faster than 2:05 without risking penalty.
Cars choosing this level of BoP will get decent fuel mileage and tire wear. Team mangers will need to calculate whether saving two seconds per lap will outweigh the fewer pit stops of the minimum BoP level—and whether the drivers can consistently make up those two seconds per lap.
All-Pro teams face the greatest restrictions. Teams choosing the highest BoP level can qualify and drive as fast as possible—no target times, no penalties. However, teams choosing this option can only add 115 liters of fuel per pit stop, must carry 30 kg. of ballast, and must raise their cars’ ride height to 55–65 mm, which will lessen the cars’ aerodynamic efficiency.
Teams choosing this BoP option have to plan on running very fast laps for 24 hours, despite being higher, heavier, and needing to refuel more often. The benefit is that a very fast set of drivers will not be penalized should they exceed the target time, something which happened last year.
Pro-Am and Amateur cars are allowed ten laps under their target times; after that, they get drive-through penalties.
Will this new system make for better racing? Ask again after the race. What is certain, is that fast cars which fall back early with accidents or mechanical issues will be able to push hard to catch back up. Pro-Am and amateur teams should have a better chance of competing for podium positions using efficiency and precision.
Varying strategies are part of the appeal of endurance racing, and Creventic’s new system should allow multiple winning strategies. Add to that the provision for all-out performance, and possibly the 2013 Dubai 24 will be an even better race than last year’s.
The Dubai 24 takes the green flag at 2 p.m. local (5 a.m. ET) on Friday, Jan 11.
Practice for the 24-hour event starts at 11:30 a.m. local time (2:30 a.m. ET) on Thursday, Jan. 10, with qualifying starting at 3 p.m. (6 a.m. ET) Follow the action with live streaming and timing and scoring at 24hhdubai.com.
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