INSIDE A RACE WEEKEND
You might be surprised at how a driver spends his or her time on a race weekend. I took out the things that all people do like sleeping, eating and traveling, and did some math.
We call the next morning Day 1, and in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship world, this is when things get busy and serious with two one-hour practice sessions, practicing pit stops and driver changes, and debrief sessions before and after each practice session.
I take particular pride in providing my team the most detailed notes about my time in the car. A big part of a driver’s job is communicating to the engineers how the car is behaving and discussing with the engineers what changes to make before the next session to improve performance.
Race Weekend Breakdown
- Racing/Practice 35%
- Data Review/Team Planning 27%
- PR/Networking 17%
- Series Requirements 13%
- Driver Change Practice 8%
Each day gets more intense. You can feel the build up. On Day 2 there’s one one-hour practice session, and then 20-minute qualifying sessions for each of the four classes: GTD, GTLM, LMPC and P, in that order.
It is so important to use every minute on the track. Three hours of practice is not a lot of time, especially when you factor in delays for red flags, and pit stops for in-session adjustments and driver changes.
At the end of Day 2 there’s also a series required drivers’ meeting where officials point out rule considerations particular to a track, point out safe zones, remind the drivers to behave and announce how many pace laps there will be before the green flag flies the next day. Beaux Barfield is the race director that bravely leads this meeting of 70-200 mischievous drivers, including a sometimes entertaining Q&A session.
You never really know when sponsor VIPs will arrive and every weekend has an element of marketing work, including visiting with other drivers and teams, and social media. Sometimes there are away-from-the-track activities like golfing, go-karting or dinners, though most of the time it is meet-and-greets in the paddock. It’s always fun to explain aspects of our machinery, point out all the buttons and gadgets in the cockpit and give our supporters a true insider’s look.
Go time finally comes on Day 3. I think all the drivers wish the races started earlier in the day, though most often we go off in the afternoon. There always seems to be a bit too much time for resting on race day, though I try taking advantage of it. Morning warm up is 20-minutes. It’s the last chance before the race to double check systems and balance. It’s no time for taking risks.
In the middle of race day, there’s also an autograph session with the fans, and then an hour before the race there is the fan grid walk. Both are great opportunities to see all the people who come out year-after-year and to give them all a chance to get close to the action.
Green, green, green! My favorite words. It’s time to get-it-on and do what we came to do. The first few corners and laps can be quite intense, as it is unquestionably the best time to make passes (along with restarts). Things tend to settle in thereafter, but you’re still operating at 110% no matter what lap, making sure you stay hydrated and communicating with the team over the radio on balance changes and race strategy.
Hopefully after a podium celebration, it’s back to the team compound for one more debrief, followed by handshakes and thank yous to the crew, who out-work every one, every weekend. A few weeks later we start the process all over again! Everything in between, as Steve McQueen said, is just waiting.