COTA weekend thoughts and observations: FIA WEC

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Earlier today we looked at the weekend for the IMSA series in action in Austin, now here’s thoughts and observations on the FIA World Endurance Championship race at Circuit of the Americas:

  • A marathon six-hour race. Perhaps it was the day-into-night format, perhaps it was the mid-race deluge that caused a near one-hour red flag, or perhaps it was the fact it was the second full-length race of the day, but attempting to stay focused for the Six Hours of the Circuit of The Americas FIA WEC race proved a monumental challenge. In a standard endurance race, your 24 Hours of Le Mans, Rolex 24 at Daytona, or Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring among others, you only have a single focus in terms of following the race. They’re marathon events but you can begin to follow the class battles as the race develops. On Saturday, yes, you had to do this like normal … but you had to do so hours after you’ve already done so once at your peak level of focus. It was a bit like the Toronto two-in-one doubleheader for IndyCar earlier this year, except with seven more classes and six more hours of racing. The red flag and running order changes once everything got sorted out made for a highly disjointed and challenging race to follow, that felt much longer in length than its advertised distance.
  • About the rain, and the red… To put it mildly, I was a tad surprised neither the safety car nor red flag was deployed sooner once it became apparent Circuit of the Americas had gone from the Mojave Desert to the Amazon rainforest in a matter of about 90 seconds. It seemed surreal and preventable to see so many cars all sliding off course at the same corner on a ridiculously slick track. Fortunately there were no retirements or major accidents as a result, and it’s fair to say a bullet was dodged.
  • Night visibility woes. Multiple P1 drivers I spoke to over the weekend – Andre Lotterer, Tom Kristensen, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley primarily – mentioned their concerns about the lighting at COTA for this first ever night race. Webber made an intriguing point when he said he prefers night at Le Mans, because “it’s set up that way,” and the pit lane here is much more difficult to see. Some areas saw too much reflection due to the floodlights; other areas were nearly pitch black save for the headlights, and Kristensen said you almost had to “feel the car” through certain corners of the track. Assuming the FIA WEC day-night six-hour race continues into 2015, enhanced lighting should be something the track should investigate.
  • The P1 battle is still pretty tight. With all of Audi, Toyota and Porsche back on normal setups away from the low downforce Le Mans packages, the battle between the trio remained very close throughout Saturday evening’s race. Where Toyota still has the pace gap, and Porsche the best fuel mileage, Audi splits the difference the best and thus confirmed a 1-2 for the second straight race. Porsche could well win its first race soon once it gets its new high downforce package dialed in.
  • Mixed day for the American guest stars. Extreme Speed was unlucky to finish third in its FIA WEC debut, after falling to fifth early in the race but then rebounding courtesy of a simply stunning stint from Ryan Dalziel mid-race. But the podium was a fair result for Dalziel, team principal Scott Sharp and Patron Spirits CEO Ed Brown. Meanwhile for Corvette Racing, it all went south when the weather did, as through no fault of their own they lost two laps by coming into the pits and changing tires. The regulations were debated on social media in the immediate crosshairs; seventh in the GTE-Pro race for “Team America” of Jordan and Ricky Taylor and Tommy Milner capped a monumentally frustrating weekend for the team.
  • Aston’s GTE edge. A double win for Aston Martin Racing, while Porsche was unable in the FIA WEC to match its level of pace on the TUDOR Championship side, may have the competitors shaking in their boots for the rest of the season. AMR was due to get on the board in GTE-Pro while it continued its season-long GTE-Am success, with its third win in four races.
  • Fan conundrum. On Saturday morning, the autograph sessions for both the FIA WEC and TUDOR Championship were held concurrently, from 9:30 to 10:15 a.m. This essentially meant you had to choose one or the other if you wanted driver autographs, and with this being the FIA WEC’s lone North American stop of 2014, it only made sense that these had bigger crowds. The TUDOR Championship session, save for a couple of teams, had shorter lines on this occasion.