I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays!
For those of us in the racing community we get a nice short break over the Holidays before getting back at it for the 2018 season which started at the ROAR test in Daytona in early January!
Actually, I lied a little bit, quite a few teams (and we were one of them) got the chance to test at Daytona in early December. This was a test for IMSA to be able to evaluate some of the new cars and packages for the 2018 season as well as provide an opportunity for new teams or teams that are changing classes (like us!) a chance to get up to speed.
We had a great test with CORE Autosport in our new ORECA LMP2 car. Wow, what a fun car to drive! I certainly enjoyed using up all of the downforce that the Prototype cars make in the bus stop. The cornering speeds are amazing!
IMSA made a few pretty big changes for the ROAR test in January. Most of which hinged around adding some excitement to the 3 day test as well as being able to see some of the “true” performance of the cars as they try to set the “BOP” going forward.
Balance of Performance
Many of you have probably heard about the word BOP, which stands for Balance of Performance. This is a word that is often used in sports car racing. The simple fact of sports car racing is that we all need to have good close racing, but with so many different factors involved in the performance of all the cars, it can be tough to ensure close racing within a reasonable budget.
So the series steps in and will micro adjust things like overall car weight, turbo boost settings (if the cars have a turbo), fuel tank sizes (so we can all have a similar burn time on fuel in a run), and of course engine restrictor size. IMSA has very experienced people as well as a very sophisticated data system in all of the cars that race in the WeatherTech Championship to monitor and understand the performance potential among the cars!
In the Prototype class, in which I’ll be competing in 2018, it is a bit easier to get the BOP balanced properly since all of the cars are purpose built race cars and are generally similar in weight and shape. Now in the GT classes it is much harder. Try to balance the performance of all the different kinds of GT cars that race – some front engine, some mid-engine, some rear-engine – all sorts of different sizes and shapes, it’s NOT EASY!
What IMSA needs is good “trying to go fast” data as well as performance data from the teams to keep it fair. But for the racers, we are always looking for that competitive edge, so in the past there have been rumors of people trying to not go as fast as they could so that IMSA sets the BOP a bit lower for them. That then allows them the extra little bit of hidden performance when they need it. Everyone refers to that as “sandbagging” – and of course with the ROAR test being the first time for IMSA to see some of the new or modified cars for the year, teams tend to “sandbag” a lot at the test – which makes sense I guess since we are in Daytona Beach! haha
There are quite a few ways to “sandbag” from car setup to simply telling the drivers not to look for that extra little bit of lap time. So for this year, IMSA decided to set up a qualifying session on the final day of the Roar test which set the pit lane assignments for the actual race weekend. The fastest cars were awarded the best pit stalls and the slowest cars given the “worst” pit stalls.
Prime Pit Selection
It is a bit different than NASCAR because the best pit stalls (not that I agree but what many people would want) are the first few pit stalls as you enter pit road. The big reason many people like those first pit boxes is that they are closer to the garage area. It certainly makes it easier to get your crew guys and your equipment to and from the garage area to pit road. This is particularly helpful if you have to return to the garage area during the race to fix an issue. The sooner your guys are able to get to the garage area, the less time is lost off track.
Now, I tend to believe you probably don’t have a chance to win the race in today’s age if you make a trip to the garage area (it is so competitive and the equipment is so durable nowadays) so I tend to like a pit box in the middle of pit lane. This gives the driver time to get the cockpit set up in order to get out of the car quickly on the way into the pit box for a pit stop and then the driver that jumps in has ample time to get situated and belted up when leaving the pit box.
Will It Work?
I think the jury is still out on if this “incentive” was enough to push teams to really go flat out and show the maximum performance of their cars at the ROAR test. Sure the pit box is important for the race weekend but also at the potential determent of a BOP change that may negatively impact your direct on-track performance.
At the end of the day, as racers we all want to put on a great show for the fans and have a nice, level playing field, but it is our jobs to look for ways to find a performance advantage in every aspect of our craft – it’s just a way of life. And it is IMSA’s job to keep it level and even, which I think they do a fantastic job of – and I know it isn’t easy! Make sure to come out and watch the Rolex 24 action in person if you can – January 27-28, 2018!