Formula One icon Bob McMurray joins us with his first weekly Motorsport column. McMurray spent three decades with the McLaren Formula 1 team, and knows the inside stories and personalities of the sport. Since retiring from the team, he has been a TV commentator and presenter, and is a former CEO of the successful A1 Team New Zealand racing team. He co-presents the weekly Giltrap Driven Motorsport show on Radio Sport.
Two of the “big three” for 2015 — the Indy 500 and the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix — have already happened, and the Le Mans 24-hour race is coming soon. The Indy 500 is the world’s biggest one-day sporting event in terms of crowd numbers and is held in the world’s largest sports stadium.
Scott Dixon before this year's Indianapolis 500. Picture/AP.
The Monaco F1GP is without question the most glamorous sporting event of the year, held in probably the most glamorous location in the world. Le Mans, a small town in the middle of France, plays host to some 300,000 people for the annual 24 hours endurance event. That is fewer than the Indy 500 but eclipses the Monaco F1GP. All three events are “motor races”, but that is where the similarity ends. Indycars are effectively a one-make series with little in the way of pure technical innovation. Only two engine manufacturers are involved, and strict rules govern any development by teams to gain a competitive advantage. In 2016, the Indy 500 celebrates its 100th running.
The 2011 Le Man 24 Hour endurance race begins. Picture/AP
Formula 1, while even more strictly governed in terms of what can and cannot be done, is populated by individual car constructors, and they continually push the engineering envelope, cars rarely remaining the same from one race to the next. The Monaco F1GP is almost a standalone event for F1 and is a race that would never be countenanced by the teams, the governing body, the drivers, in fact anybody in the industry, were it not for the fact that it has been held for almost 100 years.
It is a quite ridiculous place to have a Formula 1 event, were it not for the glamour and the sheer opulence and allure of the place.
All three events are hugely significant in New Zealand motorsport terms. Monaco F1GP 1962 was won by Bruce McLaren, in 1966 the first McLaren F1 car made its debut there and in 1970 it was the scene of Bruce’s last F1GP.
McLaren as a car constructor changed the face of the Indy 500 and was a major force at the event for the next decade. In 2008, Scott Dixon won the event, the only New Zealander to have done so. The Le Mans 24 hours of 1966 was won by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon from the sister car driven by Denny Hulme and Englishman Ken Miles. The 24 Heures du Mans is the world’s oldest sportscar endurance event, even older than the Monaco F1GP, having first been run in 1923, and is the extreme test of both man and machinery. The 2015 race promises to be one of the best ever, with Porsche looking to win for the 17th time and rival Audi going for win number 14. Up against them are the Japanese contenders, current world champions Toyota and new boys Nissan. All these cars are in the “LMP1” category, the top category and perhaps the most innovative and creative form of top-line racing on the tracks today. While all the vehicles are hybrids, their makers have different ideas on how to exploit that. Porsche has a 2-litre V4, Audi has a turbodiesel V6, Toyota a “normal” V8 and Nissan has really gone out on a limb with a front engine front wheel drive twin turbo V6. They are all using different methods of “harvesting” the kinetic energy as well with batteries, flywheels and more new developments and inspirations than a silicon valley think-tank coffee morning.
The simple power these cars produce is eye-watering with up to 745kW, or more, available and Nissan claiming a possible 932kW.
At the recent Indy 500 Dixon came close to reprising his 2008 win, and at the F1GP event we had Mitch Evans and Richie Stanaway in the GP2 category, Stanaway taking an impressive win. At Le Mans we have four Kiwis in the event and all have a great chance of winning either the outright or class victories. Brendon Hartley shares the number 17 Porsche LMP1 car with ex-Formula 1 GP winner Mark Webber and German sportscar driver Timo Bernhard. Earl Bamber shares the number 19 Porsche LMP1 car with Formula 1 driver Niko Hulkenberg and Briton Nick Tandy. In the LMP2 category, Evans again joins with the Le Mans 2014 champions Jota Sport and in the LMGTE Pro category Monaco GP2 race winner Richie Stanaway once again drives for Aston Martin.