Place strategy

Petit Le Mans in the lead for IMSA, the strategy is in place



How drivers negotiate the transition from sun to dark will help determine race winners and season champions. (IMSA photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — In all kinds of weather, day and night races, sprints and enduros — the variable conditions are what separate IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship drivers from most of their racing counterparts.

Two 24-hour races at famed Daytona International Speedway to kick off the year, followed by a 12-hour endurance test at the traditionally challenging Sebring International Raceway, followed by a six-hour test at historic Watkins Glen International, then a 10 hour season finale – from noon to moonlight – at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta decides the five-class series championships.

This is endurance racing at its best.

And part of what makes the October 1 Motul Petit Le Mans so unique, and ultimately so special, is that the race conditions the teams face will play a vital role in deciding the titles for the season.

“The beauty of Petit is that it’s the last race of the year, that also means for many teams finishing on a high note will make all the difference going into winter or the off-season with a good result,” said said Alex. Riberas, driver of the Heart of Racing Team’s #23 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 in the GTD PRO category.

“Some teams are out of contention for the championship and that’s kind of the perfect recipe for taking risks. Some will take on a higher degree of risk than they would in a race in the middle of the season. is probably one of the reasons why I think Petit Le Mans is one of my favorite races in the whole world, it’s always so exciting.

A big part of the event’s gripping storyline is how the drivers handle the day and night conditions.

The race goes from potentially bright sunshine when the green flag is due to fly until dusk, causing dangerous conditions with riders’ visibility compromised as the sun sets low in the sky. Sunset in Atlanta on October 1 will be at 7:21 p.m., meaning the final two-plus hours of the culminating race will begin in darkness.

Just when so much is at stake – a victory in the 25th edition of this prestigious race and in many cases a championship trophy – the scenery changes. And very often what paces a car during the day may not be at night.

In some ways, the move to obscurity makes Petit Le Mans look like two different races.

Interestingly, many drivers say they prefer the night part of the race, the challenges and all.

“The intensity increases when it’s dark and things are good,” said driver Ricky Taylor, whose No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura ARX-05 team takes a 19-point advantage at the Daytona Prototype International Championship (DPi) on the No. 10. 60 Meyer-Shank Racing team with Curb-Agajanian Acura in the finale.

Taylor says the unique conditions that come with driving at night — like adapting to other cars’ headlights and the varying speed at which cars of different classes approach or are approached from behind — are absolutely fundamental to the competitive expectations of driving. ‘a team.

“It’s much harder to judge distances when you only see the headlights,” Taylor explained. “Even when you’re racing another prototype, you also have to consider GT cars and how you take risks with them, knowing that they might not have the same judgment as they do in daytime.”

Riberas agreed with Taylor’s assessment of the competitive transition.

“Part of what makes it so difficult is the fact that there are so many different classes racing at the same circuit at the same time,” Riberas said. Along with co-driver Ross Gunn, Riberas sits fourth in the GTD PRO standings with wins this year at Long Beach and Watkins Glen.

“During the day it is very easy to see if there is a prototype behind you or if it is another competitor that you are fighting for. At night, everything gets a bit hazy, and that makes racing very exciting, especially in Petit.

“Some tracks, for example at Daytona, are extremely well lit,” Riberas continued. “But Petit Le Mans, this race is exceptionally demanding. First, because when it’s dark, that’s exactly when you’re fighting for victory. This last hour is the most important time of the race. This is when you will fight for glory.

“And there are areas on the track where you basically have to rely 100 per cent on your memory, on your instincts, to drive the right line because you really can’t see anything. It’s really so dark.

More often than not, Motul Petit Le Mans is decided in those last hours of the night, which makes not only a driver’s ability to negotiate the dark track essential, but also his attitude to do so. And unlike Daytona, Sebring and even Watkins Glen, the elevation changes at Michelin Raceway create a whole new set of challenges.

“Last year we were able to go through the same situation where the championship was on the line and it was whoever finishes ahead wins the championship,” Taylor recalled.

“The nerves may not rise and fall dramatically from start to finish of the race, but they definitely change (overnight) in how you approach what makes you nervous. Once you get to the end of the race your nerves kind of switch to fighting and trying to get a perfect lap (after a pit stop) and wading through traffic and weighing your risks much more heavily ”, he continued. “It’s a lot of nerves at the end, but I can’t say you’re less nervous at the start.

“It’s a long day.”