Interview: Hartmut Kristen

Interview: Hartmut Kristen 1
Interview: Hartmut Kristen 2

HK: That’s finished. We are trying to convince IMSA that, like at Le Mans, which has significantly higher top speeds compared to other race tracks, at Daytona we have to be very careful, because we haven’t raced in the top category for years there. And as today’s Grand Am GT car might be able to pull a top speed close to 300 km/h, the GTE cars might be able to do something in the range 265-270, so that could give some strange scenarios.

KM: The way the rules have been written seems to restrict the manufacturers and teams from correcting mistakes to increase performance. There doesn’t appear to be a corrective policy unless you petition the FIA, the ACO, or IMSA.

HK: In an ideal world, yes, there would be that kind of opportunity. The problem is you do not have the same scenario or situation comparing car A to car B. Again, look at Le Mans. You don’t need as much downforce as you need at other racetracks. So that has a huge impact, and then you have racetracks where the temperatures are lower than others. All of these elements are relevant to the overall performance of a given car. For instance, a car that is good on racetracks where you require high downforce is not necessarily as competitive when a low downforce version is what you want. So that’s the point—you always have a third party involved in this type of discussion, and you are not free to make the necessary adjustments that you believe will work. That is why the balance of performance was created. It’s definitely the case here in the U.S., where the situation has always been depending on what side of the table you sit. The organizers always wanted to have the opportunity to make sure nobody becomes dominant. That’s the old history we face here. When the Big Three stepped out of U.S. racing in the 1950s, manufacturer involvement became lower than it was in Europe, and it was more about privateers, so it was also a strategy to keep everybody in the game and happy.

KM: You’ve done your homework.

HK: Yes, but that’s the other point: This holds true when you have regulations that everybody has to work with from the start. Ferrari, for instance, has very exotic high-performance components even on its road cars, and in the past when regulations were made on the philosophy of using a road car you were entitled to a certain range of freedom. And that holds true to what you just said about homework. Number one, you have a good road car; number two, you have used most efficiently and effectively the freedom of the regulations; number three, you end up with a perfect race car. But there lies the problem, when you start using exemptions to tweak the road-car platform, then you have to apply the balance of performance, and that’s when you open Pandora’s box. This is the game we are in at the moment.

KM: Does it make sense to have a unit-body car, such as a 911, compete against something that essentially is composite or a tube frame. You could in theory take a 911 body shell and build a racecar from it and still be within the rules. That’s not something you can do with the majority of cars that are on the grid from other manufacturers.

HK: The competitors or manufacturers involved in GT racing at the moment don’t do it because they like driving in circles, but to some degree it’s marketing, its communication, and that’s why it is so important. What is the message we can send to our customers? In the past, it was always, “Look how close a race car is to our road cars,” so you knew what you got when you bought a road car; you’ve seen the performance. Today it’s more like, “I honestly believe in the fairy tale that the car I buy is a good car,” and I’m not sure how long the customers will actually believe in that kind of story. When it’s not a true story anymore, people that might be interested in GT racing today, tomorrow will go to a football game. I mean, success is sexy. That’s how simple it is.

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