LONG BEACH, Ca. (April 17, 2015) - The late Johnny Carson enjoyed interrupting the question, “What is the key to comedy?” with a shout of “TIMING!” And if timing is indeed the key to comedy, it may also be the key to success for Michelin technical partner teams in the 100 minutes of the Patrón Sports Car Showcase at Long Beach, April 18.
The shortest race of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship will see Michelin GT Le Mans (GTLM) class technical partners from Corvette Racing, Porsche North American, BMW Team RLL and Risi Competizione Ferrari look to make what may likely be their only pit stop of the race at precisely the right time.
“Tire wear isn’t really an issue for us at Long Beach,” said Ken Payne, technical director for Michelin North America. “We have had our Michelin technical partner teams win the races here by skipping a tire change or even doing the entire race on a single set of tires. The key is when they pit and when caution periods, if any, arise.”
The fuel cells aboard the GTLM class entries range from Ferraris’ 98 liters (25.88 gallons) to 107 liters (28.26 gallons) for BMW. Teams are able to race for approximately 60 to 65 minutes on a single tank of fuel. That means the “window” for pit stops opens about 35-40 minutes into the 100 minute race.
“Knowing that our MICHELIN tires are capable of going the full race distance opens up the full range of tactical options for our technical partner teams,” said Payne. “The two-car teams like Corvette Racing, BMW Team RLL and Porsche North America have the ability to split their strategies.”
Unlike the 24 Hours of Le Mans where fueling and tire changes are separated, the pit rules here permit simultaneous refueling and tire changes. On a full fuel stop there is no time saved by double stinting the tires, but on a shorter refueling, the opportunity still exists to skip the tire change.
If a car is stuck in traffic or losing ground on the track, the team may pit early to limit the time lost on the track. Cars that pit less than 30 minutes into the race may need another splash of fuel later.
Teams staying out until the car is low on fuel will pit and simply add enough fuel to make it to the finish.
But there is a catch. Cars waiting to pit until later in the race run the risk of a caution flag developing after others have pitted but before they have stopped. After their stop they will likely be behind the cars that stopped early and stayed on the track during the caution period.
Last year’s race ran its full duration without a caution period. “If the race stays green all the way, you need a quick car, consistent tires and a quick pit stop,” said Payne.
Four-time Long Beach winner Lucas Luhr, now with BMW Team RLL, smiles and laughs like a veteran comedian enjoying his own joke when he says the key to winning Long Beach is “get in front, stay in front.” Luhr then quickly adds, “Of course, the key to that is timing.” And on that note, he, like the competition is suddenly very serious.