Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Race Strategy, Part 2

Today, let's focus on a simple approach to race strategy. Or, how not to totally embarass yourself if you are new at it.

You need to do these things before the start of the race, whether you're a seasoned pro or calling your first race:

1-Establish your expected fuel economy under green and yellow flag conditions.
2-Calculate how many laps/minutes you can go on a tank of fuel.
3-For a car with a dash or telemetry fuel readout, confirm that readout vs. physical pump outs.
4-For sports car racing, work out a plan for when to change drivers. Account for the rules.
5-For IMSA/ACO races with tire changes after fueling, work out a plan for when to change tires.
6-Assess expected tire life. Develop a tire change strategy - which set to use when.
7-Take a solid educated guess at the number, timing, and frequency of expected caution flags.
8-Throw all the above into a pot, stir it, and work out a pit stop plan.
9-Pre-race meeting with driver(s), team manager, crew chief, etc. to discuss and firm the plan.
10-Pre-race meeting with the pit crew to brief them on the plan and contingencies.

OK, now you've got a plan and the green flag has dropped. Here are some good rules of thumb for dealing with what comes up in the race. Before I even list them, I'll say this - it's way more complicated than this simple list, and rules are indeed made to be broken. But, you've got to start somewhere. This simple approach got me through my first season without any major embarassments.

1-When in doubt, pit when the leaders pit. They have likely worked it out from both analytics and experience. Note that this is not a subsitute for working out your own strategy, but it will serve in a pinch when you are presented with a situation where you don't have a contingency.
2-Generally, you'd prefer to stop as few times as possible. Less time or positions lost in the pits, less opportunities for pit stop problems.
3-Keep close track of your actual fuel economy and adjust expected pit windows to fit.
4-Green flag pit stops are more risky. Any problem costs you more track position.
5-If your series allows pace car waveby, learn how to recognize if you are eligible and don't forfeit the opportunity by pitting, unless there's a compelling reason.
6-Use the radio to communicate your intentions (what's going to happen with fuel, tires, and driver changes) with the crew. It's loud out there, and yelling and hand-waving just raises the tension level.
7-Keep everyone, drivers and crew, aware of when the next expected pit stop will be.
8-Have the exiting driver report to you immediately after he/she leaves the car. Get a quick debrief and radio the new driver with any information he/she needs. Timeliness is critical.
9-After each pit stop, exhale and then take a minute to rethink your strategy for the remainder of the race. If nothing changes, great. If there's a difference, communicate with the crew.
10-Keep your radio persona calm. Everyone is counting on you to be cool under pressure.

That's it for this week. More to come on strategy.


  1. Know when to talk:
    One of the things I do in prep for the race (try to have this for qualifying) is take a track map and look at the data and write down the time to the braking zones and times to the full throttle areas of the track; areas where the driver isn't too busy. I do this based on the location I use for timing the car, so my watch correlates to the map. In GT2 we don’t have telemetry, if you do, be careful as it lags the real time a bit and you (I have) can get into trouble. I use this map to know when to communicate with the drivers. Most drivers are really bad about incoming radio in the braking zones and corners and others (few) don’t care, determine what you have. I pad the times on my map by a second or two depending on the relative lap times; race to reference lap. I use a 1” binder for my race notes and keep the map on the back cover. All I have to do is flip the binder over and the map is there, I don’t have to look for it. I’ve been chewed out more then once by a driver for talking in the wrong spots, but not for a long time.

  2. Never use the word "pit" unless you want the driver to come to the pits. Say "stay out" never "don't pit". The radios can cut out sometimes and if he only hears part of your transmission he may come to the pits. Don't ask me how I learned this one!

  3. I once had a driver, not a daily speaker of English, who thought every word he heard on the radio was "pit". So he just came in. We eventually quit talking to him. Rick and Jeff, thanks for your comments. There will be a post devoted to radio communication eventually.