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After working with the Team Lotus-turned-Caterham Formula One team, Mike Gascoyne recoiled from his F1 duties and tackled the road car division of Caterham. It was a bit of an odd departure to be honest and it still has me scratching my head.

Gascoyne ahs been at the helm of some major Formula 1 efforts including Toyota and has always seemed to disappear relatively quietly in the past from these roles. Such was the case at Caterham and his Tweets on Twitter didn’t help me connect the dots any further what with all the survival at sea pictures and classes he was taking.

Suffice to say, the man that is Caterham’s employee is now eyeing the 24 Hours of Le Mans effort this year as Caterham are dipping their toe in the warm waters of endurance racing with the Greaves Motorsport LMP2 squad.

This is an interesting offering as American Alexander Rossi, current Caterham F1 reserve driver, will be teamed with Greaves to run the Caterham LMP2 car this year. The story doesn’t stop there as Gascoyne says they have a bigger design for Le Mans. AUTOSPORT has the story:

“We have the tools, the talent and the heritage to do the job. It makes sense for us to go and see first-hand how we might take advantage of a business opportunity that fits with our capabilities.”

Let’s be honest, Le Mans may very well suit Caterham much better than Formula One and to be honest, if I were CEO Tony Fernandes, I might look to the WEC series as a realistic long-term racing effort in lieu of F1.

The cost of F1 is astronomical and the team has struggled since entering the series back in 2010. They set a goal of achieving mid-field and one has to wonder what panache that carries for Caterham to tell customers and sponsors that we finally made it to mid-field?

On the other hand, Caterham lovers are weekend warriors of discernment who love track days and tossing the British-born beauties around their favorite circuit after removing their trickle chargers from the puny batteries. They wear Caterham branded clothes and know they are part of a niche group that love motoring. They are not under any illusion that their Caterham love is born from the pinnacle of motor sport rather the grassroots birth on secluded tracks with friends and enthusiasts and they maintain their cars with modest budgets. That sounds like a market that Le Mans would speak to more than F1.

Caterham are using this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans to vet the prospects of developing a customer car program for LMP1 and LMP2 and I say good on them. Formula One needs to be careful as the WEC is gaining momentum and the series is tracking with the cultural changes in global car morays. It’s trying to re-kindle the love of the motorcar to a generation who replaced the freedom a car brings with Facebook and Twitter.

If Ferrari starts building an LMP1 car… look out! Formula One is losing relevancy and the WEC is gaining it. While F1 plays around with silliness like high degradation tires and DRS to artificially prop up the notion of excitement, Le Mans is delivering great racing and that is truth and truth will always prevail over cheap parlor tricks such as the ones F1 is relying on currently.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • MIE

    Aren’t Caterham in partnership with Alpine for some of their road car work? I would have thought the Alpine name would be the one to appear at Le Mans, as they have a history at the event.

    Either way, more LMP1’s is always good news.

    • tomfirth

      Alpine and Caterham are in a partnership between the two to develop road cars related to Alpine owners Renault-Nissan. The Alpine car at Le Mans this year is a Oreca 03 LMP2 in Alpine branding run by Signatech (Signature) and the Caterham is a Zytek Z11SN LMP2 in Caterham branding , Run by Greaves Motorsport.

      I would like to see a Caterham individual LMP1 develop in the next few years myself although a Alpine-Caterham would also be an interesting concept with Renault having some backing behind it which would give it a cash injection to be more competitive with VW and Toyota and also give Renault a toe in at le mans.

  • Royce Amatique

    Its quite an interesting point you’re raising.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the budgets in LMP1 are as much or more than what Caterham spend now. Don’t forget Porsche are coming in next year so there will be at least three big spending teams in front of them.

    In F1 they get cheap competitive engines, gearboxes and KERS system, which they would have to develop themselves in LMP1 to be a front runner. That is unless Renault/Alpine start to get properly involved, as mentioned already, but I doubt that.

    As much as I love WEC I don’t see it being as big as F1 ever, and as many of your guests have pointed out before even to be at the back of F1 is cool. All up I think they would get more bang for their buck in F1, especially if they do start to bag some points and move into the midfield.

    The sportscar effort seems a bit more like the Radical thing from a few years ago (also run by Greaves?), which was customer cars. They made great little cars but got shafted by regulation changes I think. I personally wouldn’t want to see them start competing in LMP2 as their main focus because its just too competitive and even if they clean up the world won’t care.

    The really pertinent point you made though was that Caterham’s customers are definitely likely to be sportscar racing fans. All in all I think I like the idea of a joint Caterham/Alpine effort in LMP2.

    • I agree with you on the Alpine issue. The issue is that the engine supply won’t be cheap in 2014. Some estimates are close to double the current rate which puts it in the $20-30 million range. Renault will recapture the R&D over time with the price they charge.

      If I were in charge of WEC marketing, I would be making hay with the current F1 troubles and seeking fans from the series who are tired of constructs and controversies. WEC is a great series and they aren’t doing enough to market their efforts.

      • tomfirth

        In theory a 2014/2015 engine could however see itself into the rear of a sportscar if Renault put some money into this or allow Caterham to take its F1 engine to WEC also.

        • Royce Amatique

          Hey, good point tomfirth.

          NC, I don’t think a good factory Hybrid LMP1 engine would be significantly cheaper. The fact is in F1 they can get a customer engine with all the ERS gubbins, even if it is $30k, but none of the big three in LMP1 will provide customer units.

          Without factory hybrid they aint gonna be competitive since I’m sure they have no desire to do it themselves.

          On the marketing of WEC I wholeheartedly agree. In Oz there is no free-to-air TV and Dailymotion is literally a piece of dailymotion, ie shite (excuse my celtic). They really need to look at youtube I think. Plus what sort of world championship doesn’t come to Australia? Its a northern/western hemisphere championship!

          • tomfirth

            It depends if it’s a factory effort. Next year LMP1 does look quite alot stronger for privateer cars with a few projects looking like could materialise in LMP1 under the new regulations.

            Now if Caterham want representation in LMP1. Nothing is saying that it couldn’t be just badged as a Caterham but run by a privateer in the way that Lotus did with Rebellion last year. That then allows Caterham to remove the need for Hybrids because even under the 2014 regulations for LMP1, Privateers are not required to use Hybrid drives.

            It’s also an incredibly cheap way for Caterham to have representation in the top flight of sportscars.

          • MIE

            Surely they could buy the ‘spinning flywheel of death’ from Williams Hybrid Power? That seems to be a well developed system that wouldn’t require a massive development cost from Caterham.

            I just like the idea of customer teams running in LMP1. A bigger entry in the class should result in better racing.

          • Royce Amatique

            I didn’t think hybrids were mandatory even for factory teams, are you sure about that? They can get a spinning wheel of death or other third party hybrid system … but they won’t be as good.

            I just don’t get the point of being also-rans in a second tier series. I can probably see Caterham running against a semi-works HPD or something like that, because Honda don’t really seem to want to go full-on and they would be better competition. I think that would actually mean something.

            Don’t get me wrong, I love sportscars and I want to see it more popular and successful. I’m just looking at the bang-for-buck question from Caterham’s point of view.

            By the way I meant $30M in my previous post, not $30k, doh!

          • tomfirth

            Yeah 100% sure under the new 2014 regulations Royce as well as all LMP1 cars regardless of Privateer or Manufacturer having closed cockpits mandatory.

            The 2014 cars will also be lighter and narrower.

            Manufacturers have to have an ERS system built in for LMP1, whether that is using super capacitors or flywheels etc is open even to the extent of Hydrogen power however the Hybrid system must be implemented if it is a manufacturer entry.

            That’s fine because Porsche would have to bring hybrid anyway to compete with the already existing hybrid technology onboard Audi and Toyota currently.

            LMP-1 L which is reserved for Privateers doesn’t require the ERS systems onboard.

            What has to be also mentioned is that LMP1 as of 2014 is only in WEC at the moment, With the merger in america removing it at least currently and ELMS not running LMP1 for the past few years.

            As a result Privateers are always more likely to go for the LMP2 model as it’s available for use in the ELMS, USCR (ALMS Merger series) WEC and in theory if it ever happens Asian Le mans.

  • tomfirth

    Caterham could have the Spinning flywheel of death as long as they are a LMP-H entrant yeah. LMP1 is still alot cheaper than F1 regardless and Tony Fernandes clearly has enough money to build a car should he want.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing Audi, Toyota and Porsche bringing cars to customers as Audi have done previously , as did Peugeot however:

    Wirth are designing a 2014 LMP1 car presumably again in association with HPD as has been the case with the previous ARX cars. Additionally Perrinn are potentially entering , Dome are building a new car , Onroak are said to be building an LMP1 challenger for 2014 and then Rumors continuously circulate of how Rebellion are going to advance next year, whether that is with another Lola branded car or as it’s own constructor/alternative.

    With those options for Privateers in LMP1 in mind and whatever more happens with regards to other entries and on how the customer uptake is. Do we really need Audi, Toyota and Porsche to open the floodgates for their cars to be available for Privateers when we have several options readily available. LMP1-L is designed for privateers as is LMP2.