Balance of Performance, or Imbalance of Performance? Either way the current GT racing rules would be preposterous in any other sport
Balance of Performance. Lifeblood of GT racing or perennial bone of contention? The unbiased answer is probably ‘both’.
If you’re a regular reader you’ll know my long-standing beef with BoP is largely a matter of principle. One based on the fact that rules contrived to foster an open-door policy for as many manufacturers as possible can only deliver by hobbling the fastest and giving the slowest a leg-up. This sits uneasily with me.
As a dissenting voice, the best public support I can hope for from people within the sport is a resigned shrug, even though privately the same people will often share similar frustrations. It’s as though the teams and drivers have taken a collective vow of silence, closing ranks in tacit acceptance of rules that force everyone to engineer their cars into the BoP ‘window’ knowing that their creation will then get poked and prodded towards performance parity.
I often wonder how BoP would be regarded in a wider sporting context. Apply it to sprinting and Usain Bolt would have spent most of his career running in golden flip-flops and carrying a 20kg rucksack. World Cup football? Ooh, you French lads look a bit handy, so we’ve decided to tie Mbappe’s laces together and give the Croatians 13 players. Golf? Here Mr Woods, we’ve seen you’re struggling lately so would you like to use the forward tee to give you a chance against Mr McIlroy? Preposterous, right?
In historic racing the main focus is on ensuring that cars comply with their HTP (Historic Technical Passport), but arresting the pace of development and trying to prevent cars getting too fast for their own good is a parallel priority. Generally speaking, it all works extremely well, with organisers rarely resorting to measures that limit one type of car to favour another.
Over the last five seasons or so I’ve spent most of my time racing Lotus Cortinas in U2TC, Lotus Elans and a Mk3B Lola T70 – all of them in mixed-class championships. In the pre-66 U2TC tin-top series you need a Lotus Cortina or an Alfa GTA to win. Unless it’s raining, at which point the Mini Cooper S becomes almost untouchable. Would the Mini drivers want it any other way? I doubt it, for they revel in the role of giant-slayers. In the BoP era there are no Goliaths, so there can be no Davids.
In an Elan, depending on the circuit, you can get right in among the Cobras and E-types in qualifying. You get mugged at the rolling start, but you get your chance for revenge in the braking areas and direction changes, so over the course of a two-hour race you can make a proper nuisance of yourself. Occasionally you might even snatch an overall podium.
And the T70? In my experience this is the closest historic racing gets to applying BoP. In Peter Auto’s CER series the T70s are now rev-limited to 7250rpm instead of whatever the motor can safely run to (about 8100rpm for a good 5.0-litre Chevy), and tyres are restricted to a specific type of Avon A37 covers which, in my opinion, are pretty horrid over a race distance. However, to encourage those brave enough to run something like a Ferrari 512 or Porsche 917 they have been given more freedom on tyres, while rev limits are governed only by the owner’s appetite for ruinously costly 12-cylinder race engine rebuilds.
The effect has been interesting. Group 5 Ferraris and Porsches are regularly entered in CER, which is great for everyone. The T70 is not as nice to race as it used to be, but it can still be quick enough for pole position if driven well and the chassis thrives over a race distance at circuits that suit it, such as Paul Ricard and Imola.
Since the switch to A37s the T70 has a tougher time at circuits like Spa-Francorchamps or Silverstone, but it only really struggles at a tight, twisty track such as Jarama, which naturally suits the lighter, more nimble four-cylinder Lolas and Chevrons.
Despite its objectives, BoP, like most things in modern money-driven motor sport, is a system open to manipulation and abuse. One of the most blatant episodes in recent years was Le Mans in 2016, when Ford and bitter rival Ferrari successfully masked the performance of their cars to such a degree they miraculously ‘found’ more than four seconds per lap between the official Le Mans test and qualifying for the 24 Hours. It was so blatant that Porsche’s motor sport chief, Frank Walliser, was reduced to tears. There were some last-minute adjustments, but Ford still went on to score a historic 1-2 finish, exactly 50 years after the GT40 first won at La Sarthe.
What a fairy tale that must have been for Ford. Just as it was this year for Porsche, winning the GTE Pro class in the company’s 70th anniversary year. Coincidence? Unlikely. Probably. Maybe. Maybe not. And that’s the problem. BoP relies on a hugely sophisticated suite of measures, but it can never be perfect and will sometimes be found to be significantly out of kilter. So, was that epic edge-of-the-seat win you just watched scored on merit, or was it due to some ‘Imbalance’ of Performance? The history books don’t care, but maybe we should.
It would certainly be naïve to imagine that the most politically savvy teams don’t bring every possible pressure to bear, as much through lobbying as engineering. Especially when the prize is a win in the only endurance race with global marketing resonance.
It all makes me feel horribly conflicted. I know that the cars themselves are sensational machines and that the racing is ultra-close, but still I’m left feeling disenchanted because I’m no longer sure what the results mean. I love the cars and am unfailingly impressed by the best drivers, but heartily dislike the rules that decide their destiny.
Dickie Meaden has been writing about cars for 25 years – and racing them for almost as long. He is a regular winner at historic meetings