Sunday, March 16, 2008

Think the 12 Hours of Sebring is tough?

While this might not win any friends over that love Sebring and LeMans type racing the true reality is not a single one of those cars that ran this years 12 Hours of Sebring would have even finished the first day of La Carrera Panamericana. The first set of topes (speed bumps) would have taken out their suspension, exhaust, body work and possibly a few pairs of boxer shorts to boot. Granted, these are two types of racing but when you hear them talk about how tough their teams and equipment are there really needs to be an understanding as to what tough really is.

Team Peugeot learned a lesson that many before them have had the displeasure of experiencing. It was the realization that just because you might have a fast car ( in fact they set the fastest lap for the entire race) but fast isn't all that's required to win a lengthy endurance race. In fact, fast can be an "Achilles Heel" during an endurance race. A simple hydraulic problem put them in the pits for a deadly 45 minutes. Building a car that can not only take the abuse both the drivers and the road conditions dish out is an art unto it's self but having the knowledge to do so is one unto itself.

At this level, all the drivers are pretty much on a level playing field so there is really no advantage. On the other hand it's important to use their known abilities as best can be done. Some drivers make better starters than others while some do a better job finishing. Some perform better at night driving with the blinding lights in their rearview mirrors and then again some have the ability to make a car dance on a rain soaked track like a ballerina on her tiptoes. Once again, these are simply tools that better enable the team stratigist to bring it home.

Speaking of strategy, what I love about this years 12 Hours of Sebring is the amount of strategy that was paramount to those teams who won. The entire race is more like an advanced game of chess than a race. Team strategist have to tell a driver when to back off, or speed up. Then they have to keep in mind that all the other teams are watching them as much as they are their own cars. In this years final hour teams were left wondering if their car could possibly finish the race with the amount of fuel they had. If they back off just a tad they might make it and would not have to stop. On the other hand, if they back off knowing they can't, they might make the other teams believe it is them that is in trouble and cause them to make a mistake. On the flip side of that game is telling your driver to speed up which might make other teams think you can make it and they can't. You only need to make them make a single mistake in judgment and everyone one of them knows the other team are playing these games. It's not the fastest car that wins, it's the best chess master wins.

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