Paul Ricard Race Analysis

A couple of weeks ago the European Le Mans Series had its fourth race of this season in Paul Ricard, in France and the race offered some food for though.

First of all, the track layout used this year is not the same as in 2016, because the long Mistral straight had been cut in two using one of the chicane options available.

As far as I understood, this decision has been taken to make the track safer, probably thinking about the top speed that the LMP2 cars could achieve at the end of the Mistral straight, to then run into a very, very quick corner. Anyway, in my very humble opinion, this has made the track much less interesting and, “de facto” eliminated probably the only very high speed corner that Le Castellet circuit had to offer (making probably also the decision about how much downforce / drag to run easier, because of the absence of the very long straight).

ELMS Paul Ricard
Photo: ACO

The track is known to have a very flat and leveled surface, with less bumps compared to other circuits and features now mainly low-to-medium speed corners (first, second and third gear).

The most interesting thing was the first victory of SMP team and Dallara since the new LMP2 rules and cars were presented. The team competes with two very young Russian drivers coming from single seaters and who seem to have found very quickly a good feeling with the LMP2 Dallara. This was their second race in LMP2 and already in Austria, with nearly no practice before the race, they obtained very encouraging results.

With this article I will try to analyze how they came to a win and where they did better than the others. To do this, we will mainly use the data made available by the organizer after each race.

Before we look at numbers and plots, anyway, one thing to consider is that SMP was the only team having only two drivers that, although being classified as Silver, are actually more or less Professionals and are both reasonably quick. As we will see, this plays a very important role in defining a team’s strategy and results.

Photo: ACO

Beside this, the first thing that we can notice is that the SMP team has been the only one to go through the race with only four pit stops, while all the other teams (who didn’t encounter car issues) did five. The time they spent in the pit during the race was 4:51.592, while the team that ended in second place (G-Drive, Oreca n. 22) spent 6:24.037 minutes in the pit, with a difference between the two teams of about 1 minute and 22 seconds. The gap between the two cars on the finish line was about 1 minute 28 seconds, so it seems that a big part of it was actually up to the one less pit stop that SMP did.

SMP doing only four pit stops came for sure as the result of a specific strategy but also of a gamble, supported very well by a Full Course Yellow that came close to the end of the race, which surely helped to save some fuel. On the other hand, it looked like the Dallara was a tiny bit more gentle on the tires than the Oreca and car 22 (second classified) was forced to change the rear tires at the end of the race (during their latest pit stop) to avoid problematic balance issues, thus losing precious time.

Interestingly enough, anyway, SMP car was surely not the one with the best pace on the track. If we simply look at the best lap time that each car achieved during the race, the SMP team has a 1.55.756 on his list, while car n. 22 (G-Drive by Dragonspeed, Oreca07) did a 1:55.252 and car n. 21 (Dragonspeed, Oreca07) did a 1:55.463.

Also looking to the average of the twenty best lap times that each car did, we have the following situation:

27 SMP:                      1:56.937
22 G-Drive:                 1:56.717
21 Dragonspeed:         1:56.655

The Oreca still seems to have a small edge on the Dallara on this track, although Paul Ricard is probably one the tracks that suites SMP car and setups better.
The situation anyway bends a bit toward SMP if we look at the average of the best 50 lap times:

27 SMP:                      1:57.672
22 G-Drive:                 1:57.647
21 Dragonspeed:         1:57.439

This shows a substantial parity between SMP and G-Drive and a smaller advantage of Dragonspeed compared to the 20 best laps average.

Finally, if we look at the average of all lap times (considering only clean laps, so no FCY and no pit-in / pit-out laps), the situation bends even further to SMP side:

27 SMP:                      1:58.66
22 G-Drive:                 1:58.958
21 Dragonspeed:         1:59.871

As far as I can see, this shows exactly the advantage of having a crew composed “only” of two quick silver drivers in the car. As we will see shortly, the main disadvantage for at least one of the two Dragonspeed-managed cars was in the time lost when their non-pro driver was at the wheel.

If we look at the following plots, the small advantage of the two Dragonspeed Orecas seems to be well confirmed. The first picture depicts the quickest twenty laps of each car, the second the best fifty.

ELMS Paul Ricard - 20 Best Laps
ELMS Paul Ricard – 20 Best Laps
ELMS Paul Ricard - 50 Best Laps
ELMS Paul Ricard – 50 Best Laps

Looking to the first plot first (quickest twenty laps for each car), it is pretty clear how, on the pure pace, the Oreca is consistently faster than the Dallara. This is especially true with car 21, during the two stints driven by Ben Hanley, but seems to also be the case for car 22, although the difference to the Dallara looks smaller, above all if we consider the right part of plot.

DragonSpeed Paul Ricard
Photo: ACO

The second plot seems to tell, again, that the car 21 was the quickest, while car 22 and car 27 (SMP Dallara) were much closer, especially on the right side of the 20 mark. This suggests a more constant performance of the Dallara and, maybe, a better tyre management.

It is also interesting to notice how, on the very right side of the plot, the lap times of car 21 jumps up, going above the green line representing SMP car. As we will see, this is what happens when the crew has a non-professional driver unable to drive at a comparable pace than the two other team mates.

It is also interesting to look into the sector times that each car produced. First of all, the image below shows how the track was divided:

ELMS Paul Ricard Track Map
ELMS Paul Ricard Track Map

Considering sector 1 (which is a mix of straights and second and first gear corners), we can identify a similar situation to what we have seen for the overall lap times. Considering each car overall best sector 1 time, the two Oreca (car 21 and 22) still have an edge on SMP Dallara, with car n.22 being slightly quicker than car n.21 and the Dallara being slightly more than one tenth slower:

27 SMP:                      32.527
22 G-Drive:                 32.406
21 Dragonspeed:         32.416

Anyway, if we consider again the average of the best 20 and 50 lap times of each car, the gap reduces significantly, with the Dallara achieving equivalent results to car 22 on the best 20 laps average and jumping to second place if we look at the best 50 laps.

Best 20 laps average:
27 SMP:                      32.845
22 G-Drive:                 32.846
21 Dragonspeed:         32.67

Best 50 laps average:
27 SMP:                      33.027
22 G-Drive:                 33.103
21 Dragonspeed:         32.929

If we consider all the clean laps done during the race, SMP has the best average overall also in the first sector, which underlines once again the positive effects of their crew mix (with regard to this point, the Dragonspeed Oreca n.21 is clearly the car in the weakest position, becoming the slowest of the three even if it still was the quickest considering both the best 20 and 50 laps averages):

27 SMP:                      33.348
22 G-Drive:                 33.521
21 Dragonspeed:         33.685

Looking at the plots relative to the best 20 and 50 first sector times, we can see, once again, how the n.21 Oreca was the quickest car, while there is pretty much equivalence between car 22 and 27 on the 20 laps plot and a clear advantage of car 27 over car 22 on the 50 laps one, with car 22 times increasing sensibly after the 15-20 mark, compared to car 27 ones.

ELMS Paul Ricard 20 best sector 1 times
ELMS Paul Ricard 20 best sector 1 times
ELMS Paul Ricard 50 best sector 1 times
ELMS Paul Ricard 50 best sector 1 times

Sector 2, being practically composed only by a straight and a chicane, is a good indicator about car overall top speed (and, hence, drag) and inline accelerations performance (both braking and accelerating) and shows pretty much equity between the Dallara and the two Orecas.

Car 21 is still the quickest, if we only look at the best sector 2 time overall, but with less than 0.1 seconds difference to car 27:

27 SMP:                      34.279
22 G-Drive:                 34.347
21 Dragonspeed:         34.2

Anyway, if we consider the average of 20 best first sector times for each car, all cars have pretty much the same performance:

27 SMP:                      34.52
22 G-Drive:                 34.56
21 Dragonspeed:         34.51

Also looking at the average of the best 50 laps, the situation doesn’t change significantly, although we can start to identify the same tendency already seen before, with the Dallara coming to the front:

27 SMP:                      34.648
22 G-Drive:                 34.709
21 Dragonspeed:         34.665

Once again, SMP has indeed the best average if we consider all the clean laps done during the race:

27 SMP:                      34.866
22 G-Drive:                 35.023
21 Dragonspeed:         35.176

As for the whole lap and for sector one, it is interesting to notice as, also for sector two, the Dallara seem to be more constant in its performance compared to cars 22 and 21, with less difference between the best lap overall, the best 20, 50 laps averages and the “all clean laps” average. This surely suggests how good and well balanced the crew was, as we said already, but also maybe a better tyre management.

All of this is well reflected looking at the plots of the best 20 and 50 sector 2 times.

ELMS Paul Ricard 20 best sector 2 times
ELMS Paul Ricard 20 best sector 2 times
ELMS Paul Ricard 50 best sector 2 times
ELMS Paul Ricard 50 best sector 2 times

Both plots clearly show how, on the single lap performance, Car 21 is still clearly the fastest.

Anyway it is also clear to see how, on the long distance, car 21 and car 27 are very close to each other, with car 22 being a bit slower, with the gap increasing as the lap counter goes forward. It is also interesting to see how, after the 43 mark in the second plot, car 21 sector times jump upward leaving car 27 to be clearly the quickest on track.

G-Drive Paul Ricard
Photo: ACO

This suggests two reflections: as we will see also looking at sector 3 times, maybe car 22 and car 21 were using slightly different aerodynamics settings, although belonging to the same team. In particular, it looks like car 21 went for a setup favoring top speed and, maybe sacrificing a bit of downforce, while car 22 probably went for more downforce and, hence, more drag.

The second point regards, again, the winning crew: on one side, we can see that sector two was probably the one fitting SMP car the best, also if we compare Dallara’s and Oreca’s performance; on the other side, it is interesting to see, once again, how close to each other are the best sector times that car 27 was able to produce, compared to that of car 21 and 22, with car 27 probably suffering of less degradation and using the good drivers performance at the best level possible (including traffic management).

The Dallara showing less difference between the best sector time and the three averages we consider, seems to be also well reflected by Sector 3 analysis.

Anyway, being sector 3 the most twisty one, with the only medium-speed corner of the track (turn 12), it seems to be the best one to evaluate each car handling and downforce. It is probably not a case that, in this sector, performance gap between Oreca and Dallara is bigger, also considering the 50 laps and “all clean laps” average. This is even more interesting, if we keep in mind how car 22 in particular seemed to suffer of a bad tyre degradation during the last stints.

Let’s look again at the best sector 3 time overall for each car:

27 SMP:                      48.711
22 G-Drive:                 48.391
21 Dragonspeed:         48.328

Car 21 is again the quickest, with nearly 0.4 seconds gap to the Dallara and only a small difference to car 22.

Looking at the 20 best sector 3 times average, Car 21 is not the quickest though, with car 22 now jumping on top and the Dallara still being about 0.4 seconds away:

27 SMP:                      49.439
22 G-Drive:                 49.085
21 Dragonspeed:         49.183

The best 50 laps average shows a similar situation, with a the gap between the two marques closing a bit:

27 SMP:                      49.751
22 G-Drive:                 49.538
21 Dragonspeed:         49.631

The interesting part about this sector comes anyway when looking at the “all clean laps” average. For the first time SMP is not on top and the n.22 Orecas still has an edge (again, even with the car suffering of bad tyre degradation at the end of the race):

27 SMP:                      50.246
22 G-Drive:                 50.187
21 Dragonspeed:         50.599

Once again Car 21 is affected by the Bronze driver, while car 22 remains on top.
We immediately notice that, what we identified looking at sector 2 times could be true, with car 22 being, on the longer distance, a bit quicker than car 21 in this third sector, probably because of different setup choices. Even more interesting is how, also on the “all clean laps” average, the Dallara remains slower than the Orecas (inverting a tendency that could be saw in both overall lap times and the first two sectors times), in a track section where handling and downforce probably pay a very important role.

This is confirmed also looking 20 and 50 best sector 3 times plots.

ELMS Paul Ricard 20 best Sector 3 times
ELMS Paul Ricard 20 best Sector 3 times
ELMS Paul Ricard 50 best Sector 3 times
ELMS Paul Ricard 50 best Sector 3 times

We again see how SMP crew is constantly slower than G-Force and Dragonspeed ones, if we only exclude car 21 last 10-15 quickest laps in the 50 best sector 3 times plot.
Equally interesting, if we just exclude the best sector time overall, car 22 pace looks always stronger than car 21 in this sector, with better times even when looking at the 50 best times plot and at the very right side of the graph and this underlines again how car 21 and 22 could have probably gone on two different setup strategies.

Finally, let’s look shortly at the lap times history during the whole race for each car. The following plots show the lap time vs lap number for the whole race. Vertical peaks indicate either a pit stop or a safety car situation.

ELMS Paul Ricard All Laps
ELMS Paul Ricard All Laps

This plot only looks at cars 21, 22 and 27. The first thing to notice is that, as we already mentioned several times, car 21 significantly suffer a pretty slow driver in the crew, compared to Ben Hanley and Nico Lapierre. Every time the third driver is in the car, lap times increase by about three seconds: this happens namely between lap 22 and 47 and again between lap 68 and 87.

The most constant car, in term of lap times, is clearly the SMP Dallara and that seems to pay off well above all at the end of the race, when the car in second place (the G-Drive Oreca, n.22) suffers of a sensible performance reduction.

This plot also underlines once again how, if we look at pure performance, car 21 is clearly on top, with car 22 following closely. Still, Car 27 looks extremely consistent during the whole race and, also because of a better strategy (including one less pit stop), it managed to win with a pretty good margin.