BoP has traditionally been associated with SRO and GT3 racing, but it’s a concept that has recently been embraced by other organisers. IMSA use BoP classes for Prototype, GTLM and GTD classes. Anyone who uses the SROs GT3 class as a base uses a BoP system. Some use the SROs own BoPs, others use their own in house system. Most recently, the ACO begun using a BoP system for their GTE class.
The move was controversial to say the least, but perhaps had good reason. The use of a balancing system has allowed Aston Martin to continue competing with the previous generation Vantage, whilst allowing others to introduce brand new state of the art GT cars. There’s also an argument to be made that BoP allows cars of completely different concepts to compete on a level playing field – but that’s a discussion for another time.
Something that BoP is consistently good at is creating arguments. From inside and outside the paddock, someone always has a bone to pick with the BoP. Teams and drivers often complained they were unfairly penalised for good performances, others claimed they weren’t helped enough when they were struggling. Some drivers were not shy in voicing displeasure on social media.
Fans are split between the potential benefits of a BoP system, and the traditional route of the best teams should win. The fans who were unhappy with the system often poked holes in the changes made. The most cynical suggested politics were playing a bigger part than on track performances. Rarely a weekend went by without a complaint being voiced about BoP.
Things started getting out of hand
The issues reached critical level in 2016. BMW were competing in VLN with the brand new M6 GT3 for the first time. BMW, like many, were obviously using the early season VLN races to build up the Nurburgring 24 Hours. Not keen on showing their hand early, BMW held back and had the drivers run to a delta lap time so as not to receive an unfavourable BoP adjustment before the 24 Hours.
Unfortunately a mistake was made and a lap time was posted that was much faster than BMW intended to show. The cat was out of the bag and BMW had shown their full potential. They had no choice but to win the race, and as a result they were given an unfavourable BoP for the 24 Hour event.
Mercedes succeeded where BMW failed and managed to hide their true performance before the 24. Mercedes dominated the entire weekend, finishing 1-2-3-4-6. The 5th placed BMW was the best of the rest, but still a full lap down. Behind the 6th place Mercedes was the also rans – Bentley 3 laps off the lead. Whilst it was an impressive display from Mercedes, many accused them of winning through gaming the BoP.
The Spa 24 Hours looked like it was going to be a repeat performance. Mercedes locked out the top 6 positions in qualifying. The spanner in the works came in the form of heavy penalties for technical irregularities that seen all 6 Mercedes sent to the back of the grid and have to serve a 5 minute penalty in the race. The total cost to the penalised Mercedes cars was 3 laps. Despite this, the HTP Mercedes AMG-GT3s managed to reclaim 2 laps during the race, finishing a single lap down to the race winning BMW. Balance? Hmm.
Meanwhile, at Le Mans…
Whilst the SRO was busy trying to deal with the AMGs, the ACO was facing problems with the blue ovals. Ford was making its return to Le Mans with the brand new Ford GT and Ford versus Ferrari was the big headline.
During the Le Mans Test Day, the GTE class was interesting. Corvette topped the times with a 3:55.1, Porsche 3:55.3 and Ferrari 3:55.9. The best Ford time was in the 3:56s. This was Ford’s brand new new purpose built racing car – it was here to beat Ferrari. Why was it struggling?
Minutes into the first practice session, suspicions were confirmed. The #66 Ford GT immediately sat a 3:55.0, beating the entire test days times. Onboard videos at the time suggested there was more to come too – the Ford was lifting and coasting even on the laps that were fast.
Come qualifying, Ford dumped enough sand out of the cars to recreate the Normandy landings and set a 3:51.1. The Ford was 5 seconds quicker than the test day.
The ACO had a problem. It was clear that the ACO were unable to police the Balance of Performance correctly. Sand bagging was rife and the monitoring software that the ACO was running was completely ineffective. They set about a brand new system – one that would be fairer and take opinion out of the equation. The Auto-BoP was born.
Algorithms to the rescue
The Auto-BoP was the ACOs answer to the mess it had created. Lap time information and data gathered by the FIAs data loggers is run through multiple algorithms to generate the next events BoP. This removed the responsibility from the ACOs engineers, making a more transparent, fair and…balanced…balance of performance.
That’s the theory anyway. It goes without saying that this assumes that the algorithms are fair and well developed, and it assumes the base performance data they are modifying is fair and balanced. But this information isn’t public, so we’ll have to go with those assumptions for now.
With that in mind, it is a good idea to have a look at how the Auto-BoP performed throughout the 2017 WEC season and if it stopped the constant arguments and bickering.
Later this week we’ll take a look at individual race results and the adjustments that the Auto-BoP made in response. We’ll keep track of the adjustments made throughout the Super Season and see how the system handles its second full WEC season.
Why we’re doing this
It’ll be easy to read these articles and assume that I am pro-BoP, but that isn’t necessarily the case. We’re going to discuss the new system, and maybe a little bit of the IMSA system too – but that doesn’t mean we’re for or against these systems. It’s simply a discussion on how the system is performing.
One of the things we’re going to do throughout the 18/19 seasons is keep track of the BoP changes, and for this to have context we needed to look how the system performed throughout the 2017 season. We’ll get to see how the system copes with updated cars, and how it slots the new BMW M8 and Aston Martin Vantage into the existing grid.
Before we get to our next articles, those wanting to know more about the effects of the BoP systems on a car can have a look at this Daily Sports Car article – Understanding Balance of Performance.