When you’re making the tough calls in race control, it helps to have two pairs of experienced eyes — and the brains behind them — to rely on for support. In the case of today’s Motul Petit Le Mans, IMSA Race Director Beaux Barfield will be able to call upon eyes with three Rolex 24 At Daytona victories, wins in the 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Spa, Grand-Am, ALMS, Trans-Am championships and three podium finishes in the 24 Hours of Le Mans to rely on. Those eyes belong to Didier Theys and Elliott Forbes-Robinson.
“We monitor the race and try to review any incidents from the drivers’ perspective,” says Theys, 2002 Grand-Am sports prototype champion. “What were they thinking? We offer our observations — was an incident the responsibility of Driver A or Driver B? Was it 50/50 or ‘just racing?’ But I’m happy to say we do not decide if there should be penalties or what the penalties should be.”
In that sense, the buck stops with Barfield. The former Indy Lights competitor is on his second stint as IMSA race director, having served in the role from 2006-2011 before a stint as IndyCar President of Competition from 2012-14.
“Beaux has been in the (driver’s) seat himself but he’s got a lot on his plate during the course of a race,” says Robinson, who along with Butch Leitzinger won the inaugural ALMS championship with Dyson Racing in 1999. “On the other hand, we are able to focus on any incidents that occur,”
Although Theys, Robinson and Johnny Unser observe most of the IMSA “sprint” races, solo, they pair-up and switch off and on during the long distance races at Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Petit Le Mans. “After a couple of hours of staring at the monitors your eyes grow bleary and you cannot see anything,” says Theys.
And seeing is everything.
“Unless we have a good view of an incident, and can review it with replays, we do not get involved,” Theys adds. “I remember one race at Mid-Ohio, when a very experienced driver led the field into the corner at the end of the back straightaway on a restart,” says Robinson. “He spun on the entry to the corner and I thought, ‘There’s no way he would have made that mistake. He’s too good. The car behind must have hit him.’
“But we didn’t have a completely clear view of the incident. Although I knew the second-place car had hit the leader, since I didn’t actually see it, we didn’t take any action. After the race I tracked down the guy who’d spun to explain why no penalty had been assessed to the car behind him. ‘Good,’ he said. “‘Cause he didn’t hit me. I just screwed up.’”