In the paddock you often hear, “races are won and lost in the pits”. Clearly, the less time you spend in the pits the better. However, it’s often a case of more haste, less speed and the teams also have to comply with certain rules or risk a penalty.
For example, for safety reasons, speed is limited to 60 kph in the pit lane and drivers are forbidden from unfastening their harnesses before the car comes to a complete stop (the engine must be turned off). In addition, the necessary tools must remain in the garage between refuelling operations and the number of people permitted to work on the car in the pit lane is strictly limited. Likewise the number of air guns (two) used in wheel changes.
However, as of last year, mechanics are allowed to change wheels during refuelling, which forced the teams to rethink their strategy. In fact, pit stops are so important that this rule change saw Toyota introduce a special team tasked with listing all the potential scenarios and putting them to the test during private testing.
The new rule (see the regulations) will not, however, increase the number of tyre changes as the Sporting Regulations limit the number of tyres that the competitors can use during the race: 48 in LMP1, 56 in LMP2, and 60 in LMGTE Pro and LMGTE Am. Nonetheless, teams may be tempted to try a different strategy.
Every year, team strategists therefore have their work cut out to make the right choice at the right time, and things can get more complicated if the safety car comes out during the race (see 24 Hours of Le Mans- the Rules of the Game). Ultimately, however, strategy is not the be-all and end-all: the mechanics also have to train over and over again to perfect their moves. When it comes to victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, nothing is left to chance.
Photo: Ford Chip Ganassi Racing refuelling at the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans Test Day.