Dailysportscar correspondents Paul Truswell and David Greenhalgh come from a similar generation – a polite way of saying they are both old – but here we bring together their respective views on the relatively new chestnut of limits on driving time in endurance races. First, David Greenhalgh, with a practical solution.
At this year’s Daytona 24 Hours, the Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP and BAR1 Oreca became just the latest in a long line of crews to fall foul of the limits on driving time in an endurance race.
It would be extremely difficult to trace when each category of endurance racing first introduced rules to limit the length of driving times. Certainly, at Le Mans it came after Pierre Levegh’s heroic – or foolish, depending on your point of view – attempt to drive the whole way in 1952 fell an agonising 70 minutes short, when he had a large lead. Discussion has continued down the years over whether his tiredness contributed to the breakage of the Talbot’s crankshaft, or whether it was simply an independent failure.
Either way, a French car had broken very late in the race after an extremely gallant drive, and to make matters worse for the locals, a German team, Mercedes-Benz, was the beneficiary of Levegh’s misfortune. Presumably, it was this combination of factors which spurred the ACO into life; they didn’t seem too worried two years earlier, when Englishman Eddie Hall (Bentley TT Coupe) became the first driver to complete Le Mans single-handed, finishing eighth.
It was an honour which Hall will hold forever, because after Levegh’s failed heroics in 1952, a rule was introduced whereby nobody could drive more than 80 consecutive laps, and 18 hours in total. That rule has itself been altered in various ways over the years, but irrespective of the fine points, the overall philosophy is both clear and understandable: race organisers don’t want any driver to put an unreasonable load onto himself. It was an occupational health and safety issue which plainly needed to be addressed, for the safety of the driver himself, the other competitors and even the spectators.
Of course, some race organisers thought it was less of a problem than others: some drivers continued to attack the Mille Miglia (a 10 to 14 hours thrash around Italy, depending on the speed of car and driver) without relief, notwithstanding that many of them had a co-driver/navigator sitting beside them. But gradually, all race organisers recognised the inexorable logic of introducing driving limits.
It all sounds pretty straightforward and highly sensible, but it actually requires more thought on the part of race organisers than is immediately apparent. For one thing, it means that the rules must be completely clear about how the driving time is defined.
If the stint is defined to start when the previous driver brings the car over the timing line on the way into the pits, then if the car sits stationary for a long period while it is being repaired, that stationary time is actually eating into the next driver’s time limit. So if your rules are drafted that way, the incoming driver is deemed to have been ‘driving’ while he was actually moping aimlessly around the pits watching his crew trying to revive the recalcitrant beast.
In that situation the organisers have basically mis-matched their definitions of driving time against the endurance limits they want to impose. Not surprisingly, organisers in such a situation may be rather reluctant to sanction the driver when the problem is largely due to the wording of the rules.
Alternatively, there have been plenty of occasions when a car has kept going for the whole race, but is disqualified from the results completely for breaching the time limit. This has the obvious disadvantage that it is fairly draconian: if a car doesn’t comply with the technical regulations, or a driver has been unduly reckless, then it’s fair enough to expect to be disqualified from the race entirely – but for breach of driving time? Really?
And of course there’s the middle ground, where IMSA (somewhat uncomfortably, after apparently shifting their ground) found themselves with the Wayne Taylor car at Daytona – demoting it to the back of the finishers. But of course that’s also a pretty stiff penalty, especially if a driver has only gone a few minutes over his limit.
But there is a much simpler way, which I strongly believe should be adopted by all organisers of multi-driver endurance races.
The rules of any such race should say that:
1. any lap which is completed by a driver who has already passed his driving limit shall not count towards the total of laps covered by that driver or his car.
2. If the car finishes the race, it will still be classified as a finisher, but any laps started after the time limit was reached by the driver are to be ignored for the purpose of its final classification.
3. The car is to be ranked in the finishing order ahead of any other cars which complete the same number of legal laps as were covered by the car in question.
4. No other penalty is to be applied.
So for example, a car covers 260 laps in a race – but one of its drivers exceeded his time limit five laps before the end of his stint. So the car is classified as though it had completed 255 laps, ahead of any other cars which also cover exactly 255 laps.
Similarly, if a driver fails to reach his minimum driving time, the difference between the time he drove, and the time he should have driven, should be deducted from the car’s eventual race time. So if the minimum time for a bronze driver is 90 minutes, but our reluctant hero only drives 75 minutes, then the number of laps equivalent to 15 minutes is to be removed from the car’s final results.
The beauty of these two rules is that they exactly make the punishment fit the crime: any laps driven past the time limit simply don’t count. The team which has miscalculated its driver changes suffers penalty enough by losing the benefit of those laps in excess of the time limit, but can keep all laps legally completed. There will be no appeals, misunderstandings or arguments: it is purely an objective calculation, not needing the application of any discretion by the stewards.
This system is simple, effective, and administers an appropriate penalty. It should be adopted universally forthwith.
And now Paul Truswell’s views:
I have to admit that David’s article had me spluttering into my coffee when I read it for the first time. He, like me, is of an age where imposing a limit – either maximum or minimum – on driving time is a fairly new phenomenon.
I couldn’t help thinking, as I read, of Stirling Moss’s remarks about the Le Mans 24 hours. “If Le Mans was a double-twleve-hour race instead of a single twenty-four, you could drive the thing single-handed,” said the Maestro, in 1959. Presumably he had in mind twelve hours on Saturday, back to the hotel for a decent dinner (“old boy”) and then to bed for a good night’s sleep ready for another twelve hours on the Sunday. Lunch, one assumes, would be taken on the hoof.
Restriction of driving time these days covers a number of purposes though, and I although I agree wholeheartedly with most of David’s proposals, I am not sure that I subscribe to the view that, if a driver goes over his maximum limit, that the laps completed after that time should merely be discounted. Part of the skill of endurance racing is to be aware of the rules and be able to conform to them. There should, in my view, be at least an additional lap penalty: for the offence, so to speak – just as fraudsters don’t get away simply with paying back the money they extorted.
Failing to achieve a minimum time – usually implemented in order to ensure that less-able drivers play their fair part in the race – is not so easy to penalise either. A case in point came during this year’s Le Mans 24 hours, when Mark Patterson failed to drive for the four-hour minimum demanded by the regulations for the silver/bronze-graded driver in an LMP2 driving squad.
In this case, however, there were extenuating circumstances, as the 63-year-old bronze-graded driver had become ill during the race and was unable to continue. Since his team (Murphy Prototypes) had made the ACO aware of their predicament some three hours before the end of the race, then the penalty (a time penalty equal to the length of time that Patterson was short of completing his four hours) seemed harsh, but fair. The team was aware of the rule, aware that they were in breach, and let the organisers know.
However, this is where David Greenhalgh’s point about sensible penalties applies, for rather than being penalised by the equivalent number of laps, the penalty was purely applied as a time penalty at the end of the race.
Thus, if you look carefully at the official race results, you will see that Murphy Prototypes elapsed time for the 347 laps that it completed, was 24h 07m 45.440s, which included the 7m 01.332s that Patterson was short of his four hours’ driving time.
Now in the end, this didn’t matter, as the next car behind the Murphy Prototypes car was 7 laps behind, but the problem for the race organisers, is that the conversion of a time penalty into a number of laps is not an obvious one. Certainly, one could create a formula to do this, but any such would be open to argument and debate, possibly then leading to further protest.
An example of such protest was nothing to do with driving time, but a penalty, nevertheless that was applied to the Jota Sport team at the Imola ELMS race earlier this year. In this case, a 1m 35s time penalty was added to the race time, but the team was allowed to keep all the laps that the car had completed. Thus it completed, after the penalty had been applied, 138 laps in 4h 04m 10.529s. The next car (Greaves Gibson) completed 137 laps in 4h 01m 15.892s. A lap at Imola is not much over 1m 35s, so although Greaves (with some justification) argued that they should be given Jota’s place, the regulations did not agree, and were correctly applied.
It is worth noting, in passing, at this point, that the driving time at Le Mans (and indeed in the whole of the World Endurance Championship) does not include the time spent in the pits: whether that is at the beginning, end or indeed in the middle of a stint. So if you get in the car at midnight, and drive until four in the morning, making three pit stops each of two minutes along the way, your total driving time will only be 3h 54m.
However, in the Dubai 24 hours (and all Creventic races), although the pit stop time at the beginning and end of a stint does not count towards the driving time, any pit stops taken in the stint itself do count. So, in the example above, the driving time would be 4 hours.
Which all goes to show that things are never simple, and these days it would seem that they just become ever more complex. What should remain constant is that our sport remains a sport; with the participants knowing the rules – and that means not just observing them, but understanding and respecting them also.