Endurance racing, that’s just cars driving round a circuit for a long time, right?
Well, that’s what I thought and how wrong I was.
The first thing that struck me when I watched endurance racing for the first time was the number of different cars on the track. There were some that looked like an enclosed F1 car and some that looked like a souped-up ordinary road car.
Then it was the number of drivers – yes I’d already worked out one driver couldn’t drive the entire race on their own, I mean even I need a break when I do the 5 hour drive down to Cornwall, especially if the traffic is horrendous. But what I couldn’t work out is how long they each drive, who decides how long each driver drives and would the more able driver drive longer than a not so able driver to make up places?
I could go on, such were the questions that filtered into my brain.
In comparison, Formula 1 with its one car, one driver and set number of laps is really rather straightforward.
So, the question is where does a ‘newbie’ begin?
Aside from turning to Twitter to ask questions, I visited the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) website to find out a little bit about the rules and regulations, because there’s only going to be one world endurance championship, isn’t there?
Looks like I was wrong on that front too, however I’m going to stick with the WEC for this article otherwise with all the different combinations and classes, etc., I’d end up writing a book.
Right, here goes.
First question: what is the deal with the different cars?
The cars that look like an enclosed F1 car are called ‘Le Mans Prototypes’ (LMP) and according to the FIA WEC website “these cars are developed exclusively for on-track competitions, fulfilling the requirements of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest’s technical regulations. Because of their superior performances and level of technological development, they have a star status within endurance racing.”
Effectively the top of the tree when it comes to endurance racing.
However, these LMP cars are sub-divided into two categories: LMP1 and LMP2.
LMP1 cars are generally for manufacturers such as Porsche, Toyota, etc., but there is also a ‘private teams’ category for teams independent of manufacturer support other than the supply of engines. The LMP1 cars also have two sub-categories: hybrid LMP1 with energy recovery systems (ERS) and LMP1 with no ERS, this category however is reserved purely for the ‘private teams’.
LMP2 cars are the same design as LMP1 cars, as in single seater, closed cockpit, however this category is for team independent of manufacturers and/or engine suppliers. The other difference is that there is a maximum budget cap that the selling price of the complete car without engine or electronic equipment must not exceed €483,000.
The ‘souped-up’ road cars are classed as ‘Le Mans Grand Touring Endurance’ (LMGTE) cars and these, according to the FIA WEC website are “cars having an aptitude for sport with 2 doors, 2 or 2+2 seats, opened or closed, which can be used perfectly legally on the open road and available for sale thanks to the dealer network of a manufacturer recognised by the Endurance Committee.”
Once again, this car class is also divided into two sub-divisions: LMGTE PRO and LMGTE AM.
Do you want to hazard a guess as to what ‘PRO’ and ‘AM’ might stand for?
You got it: professional and amateur.
Hmm, if amateur drivers can ‘have a go’ I wonder what kind of driving licence they’d need. Would my standard full licence suffice, or would I need a special racing category one instead?
Right, we now know what cars are what, but the second question is how on earth do you recognise them as they whizz along the track?
This is where the colouring of their number panels comes into play.
- LMP1 cars have a red panel with white numbers (they may also have a red HY if they are a hybrid car)
- LMP2 cars have a blue panel with white numbers
- LMGTE PRO cars have a green panel with white numbers
- LMGTE AM cars have an orange panel with white numbers
That seems fairly straightforward – although it can get a bit difficult to spot when combined with the car’s paintwork.
Now on the races I watched, the cars had little red or green light indicators on the side, my third question is what on earth are they for?
The lovely people of Twitter inform me that the lights indicate position the car is in the race and the colour indicates the class type.
Red for professional class and green for pro-am.
Well, thank you lovely Twitter people, that was simple – but I’m not sure if these lights are on WEC cars, I’m pretty sure I was watching an American race that wasn’t in the WEC calendar. Oh well, at least I know now.
On to my fourth question: how many drivers can each team have and what licence do they need?
The answer to the first part of the question is easy, each team can have a maximum of three drivers. So I’m assuming this means that teams could have a team of just two, if they so wished?
But could I enter the LMGTE AM with my standard driving licence?
No. Drivers are categorised and issued licences based on meeting certain criteria. The lowest licence is bronze and the highest is a platinum licence.
The minimum licence required is a bronze licence which is an amateur racing licence for those over 30 who have little or no single seater experience, those who have been downgraded from a silver licence due to poor performance or those under 30 driving for the first time. (Oo, looks like I could get a bronze licence easy enough though. Where do I sign up?)
The only category that Bronze drivers are not eligible to drive in is LMP1.
- LMP2 – crew must include at least one silver or bronze driver
- LMGTE PRO – free choice of drivers
- LMGTE AM – crew must include at least one bronze and a silver or bronze driver
If you’re interested in reading up on what you need for each licence click here and open up ‘FIA Driver Categorisations regulations – 090317’
Fifth and final question for part one: How long can each driver in the team drive for?
Again, this varies with car type.
- LMP1 and LMGTE PRO drivers must drive a minimum of 40 minutes but no more than 4½ hours in total.
- LMP2 drivers must drive for a minimum of 1¼ hours but no more than 3½ hours in total
- LMGTE AM bronze and silver licence drivers must drive for a minimum of 1¾ hours, other drivers a minimum of ¾ hours with no driver exceeding 3½ hours in total
With the minimum time between drives being 30 minutes.
Well, that seems simple.
But here’s where my geeky maths brain went into overdrive.
If you think about it each team only has three drivers, and each driver has maximum time they can drive for.
The FIA WEC races are six hours long, for which the maths works out.
Three drivers each racing for 3½ hours equals a maximum driving time of 10½ hours.
BUT, the Le Mans 24 hour and 1500 miles of Sebring (12 hours) happen to feature in the FIA WEC calendar.
So, how do three drivers, who can, in total, only drive for 10½ to 13½ hours in total complete these races?
Well, I believe the technical term would be that the rules are slightly tweaked for these races.
During Le Mans, the driving times follow a completely different set of rules as set out by ASA ACO and they can drive for a minimum of 6 hours, but no more than 14 hours in total.
For the Sebring race no driver, irrespective of category and licence, can drive a maximum of 8 hours.
Brain hurting yet? Believe me, the more I delved into it, the more questions I had.
So, to recap, here’s ‘Girl in the Pitlane’s’ handy cheat sheet to endurance racing:
By George! I think I’m beginning to understand it, a little.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Once my brain has recovered, part two will be about qualifying, the race and scoring points.
[Editor’s note: a BIG thank you to all my lovely Twitter friends who helped me when I asked some questions. You know who you are and I am truly grateful. Xx]