In RACER's Great Teams III Issue: The Human Factor

In RACER's Great Teams III Issue: The Human Factor

Racer Blog

In RACER's Great Teams III Issue: The Human Factor

Cutting-edge tech defines the WEC’s factory LMP1 cars, but there’s still a place for smart thinking and gut calls when it comes to winning or losing.

For all the technology, the computer simulations and the pre-season testing, men and women making snap decisions, using lessons learned in the dim and distant past, or simply acting on gut instinct, can still make the difference between winning and losing. That’s as true in the ultra-high-tech world of the FIA World Endurance Championship’s LMP1 prototype class as in any form of motorsport, past or present.

Take Porsche’s championship victory in last year’s WEC. Sure, the superiority of the second-generation 919 Hybrid had a lot to do with its success in both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles, but would Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley ended up as champions without the factory Porsche team’s ability to think on its feet and effect some impromptu repairs in the field? The answer to that one is, definitely not.

The throttle problem that slowed the eventual champions in last November’s WEC finale in Bahrain required a fix that could never have been conceived by computer simulation. A linkage that activated one of the throttle barrels broke. Porsche’s solution involved quick thinking, some brute force, a hacksaw and a handful of tie-wraps.

The loose rod was removed and the throttle jammed fully open and secured with tie-wraps. It didn’t make for a very drivable racecar, even more so when the problem reoccurred and the second rod broke. But this time, the Porsche crew knew what to do and carried out the same fix in double-quick time.

Webber managed to get the stuttering car to the finish in fifth. Porsche had spent hundreds of millions of dollars since its return to the top flight of sports car racing in the summer of 2011, and its championship was secured – quite literally – by a couple of nickel ’n’ dime tie-wraps.

No super computer, no matter how powerful, can make the kind of decision that played a part in Audi’s victory at the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans. The R18 TDI driven by Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler edged the win by just 13.8sec in an intense fight with the best of the Peugeot 908 HDis after a crucial double strategy call in the final hour.

Lotterer had a lead of around 25sec over Peugeot’s Simon Pagenaud when the telemetry in the Audi Sport Team Joest pit picked up that the R18 had sustained a left-rear puncture. Had the alarm been heeded at that exact moment and Lotterer brought into the pits right away, Audi would almost certainly have lost the race.

Pitting at the end of the lap on which the puncture had been detected would have meant that the Audi would have required another stop for a splash of fuel before the end of the race. The brains in the pits took a decision that no computer could take, deciding to leave Lotterer out on the slowly-deflating Michelin tire.

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