Friday, May 22, 2009

Race Strategy, Part 1

Racecar Engineering magazine has had several well-written articles over the last few years covering race strategy. They are intriguing, but they focus on the Formula 1 challenge of how to run a specified race distance in the minimum amount of time. There's validity in this, but the US series for Indy cars, NASCAR, and sports car racing under Grand Am and ALMS offer full-course yellow flags with pace cars, rules on when the pits are closed and open, rules on when drivers must be changed, rules and practical decisions on tire life and fuel load, even "waveby" rules on being allowed to pass the pace car. And, in the sports car series, there is more than one class in the race. Clearly, there is more to a successful strategy than the quickest time to distance.

I'll be upfront here - I'm not telling what my strategies are, or even the processes that led to them. But, I will offer a few comments to kick off the brain cells.

  • "Seat of the pants" calls made on pit lane, no matter what your experience level, are rarely as good as the calls made by someone who has thought through the possible scenarios and how to react to each possibility.
  • The best race strategies may seem counterintuitive at first review. Not that I'm advocating contrarian thinking just for the sake of being different. That rarely works. You have to know WHY you want to be different, and not get so caught up in the uniqueness of your new strategy that you can't predict its potential weaknesses.
  • The race will be unpredictable and your strategy will likely have to evolve. When a revised situation presents itself, do you already know how you will adapt to it? If not, you're back to seat of the pants.
  • It helps to develop tools and methodology. 'Nuff said about that.

Here is a pop quiz question:
If the race is 250 miles or 2 Hr 45 Min (whichever comes first), how does your race strategy change for a time-limited race?

1 comment:

  1. Good list of upcoming topics. Can't wait. Strategy is crazy in Grand Am with the 30 min driver time rule and the 45 min pit stop rule and each determined by a different end time. Not to mention the wave by rules vary from class to class. Makes it fun, but not for the fans..makes it confusing I think.
    To answer the pop quiz - It changes a ton. Race length is reduced and now a yellow has a 2x impact on race length as the laps are reducing as time goes by and laps are reduced as you are going slow, so your windows are changing all the time. The key is a program that can very well predict the race "distance" so you know what the windows are doing and know that right now, not in 30 seconds, that is too late. Just my opinion. Please send a copy of your strategy program to me....LOL