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ChumpCar: Anatomy of a driver change

lede

Most endurance racing fans will tell you that long-distance races are won and lost in the pits during driver changes. My trip to ChumpCar World Series’ race weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park afforded my photographer Steve Davis and I the opportunity to watch several very experienced crapcan teams ply their trade hobby on the track, but it was some of the driver changes that really grabbed our attentions. ChumpCar rules mandate a minimum time of five minutes for any stop where fuel is added, which sounds like a lot of time. The best teams, however, cram a lot of work and choreography those five minutes. Steve photographed a driver change by the veteran Kentucky Spirits squad during Sunday’s race that really impressed us both.

stop_in_box

ChumpCar institutes a maximum time limit for driving stints at two hours. In this race, Kentucky Spirits drivers 90-minute stints to get four drivers into their Nissan 300ZX during the six-hour race. The pitstop begins one lap ahead of the  actualstop, when a team member signals the driver on the front straight using a crapcan-caliber pitboard. The driver pulls onto pitlane at the end of that lap, checks in with the ChumpCar official to begin their five-minute timer, and then makes sure to hit his or her marks in the team’s hot pit.

unhook

Fueling regulations vary at different events, but ChumpCar typically follows the fueling rules used at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and in most sportscar series: The driver change can go on during fueling, but no work can be done on the car until fueling ceases. As the Kentucky Spirits driver halts the Z, the next driver (in black) assists the outgoing driver out of the car while the fueler (in red) sets down the fuel catchpans and removes the fuel cap.

 driver_in

The fueler grabs the first fuel jug while a fourth crew member in full SFI gear (hidden in this photo) stands a car’s length away with a fire extinguisher trained on the fueling operation in case anything goes awry. Each jug takes about 30 seconds or so to empty; the fueler put in two or three jugs per stop. As the fuel goes in, so also does the driver. Rollcage design makes entering a racecar a bit of a contortion act.

strap_in

Here’s a good view of the whole operation. The outgoing driver belts in the new driver to make sure the harness is snug. A fifth team member holds the next fuel jug on the pit wall for the fueler to retrieve after he’s emptied the current one.

check_engine

With fueling complete and the next driver belted securely, non-suited team members are free to work on the car. While the fueler and extinguisher man put away the catchpan and fueling equipment, one team member checks the fluids under the hood and another puts fresh ice and water into the cooler that feeds the driver’s coolsuit, which is mounted under the hatch .

tire

Unhappy with some aspect of the right-rear tire, it’s all-hands-on-deck to put fresh rubber on the car. Accomplishing all this work in five minutes seems like it could create a frantic and terse atmosphere, but Kentucky Spirits go about their business efficiently and calmly. They seldom look rushed, but the work gets done quickly nonetheless.out_of_box

With the 300ZX fully serviced, the driver starts the engine, dips the clutch, and eases out of the pit stall. They stop at the end of pit road to sit until their five minutes has elapsed. When the timer goes off, the driver returns to the fray en route to a fifth-place finish, their third Top 10 finish of the weekend after their matching yellow 300ZX won Saturday’s race.

plan

Kentucky Spirits have the advantage of numbers with at least six pairs of hands available at any given driver change, but the fluidity of the process starts with good planning. Their driver schedule is clearly laid out at the day’s beginning and one team member told me that when they started with ChumpCar, they practiced driver changes until they found a process that worked, which they’ve stuck with since. It doesn’t hurt that their drivers know how to pedal a car; several of their hotshoes are longtime autocrossers who’ve made that short jump to crapcan racing.

[Photos: Steve Davis]

 

  • Nuclearspork

    Its amazing what a little practice and experience can do to cut out pit times. We are in now way quick in our pits but I would say we easily dropped 10-15 minutes from our first race pit stops when we were totally clueless. I think we could drop a few more if I could get all the guys to dedicate some time one weekend just practicing getting in and out of the car with strapping people in.

    • Craig

      The big keys in my experience:
      * Make sure everybody has a job and knows what their job is.
      * Make sure the next driver is completely ready to go into the car, with HNR or donut in hand.
      * There needs to be minimal fiddling necessary. The radio and cool suit need to be sorted beforehand to be sure they will work. The assistant to the ingoing driver needs to know how to set the seat and how to buckle the belts.

      In our second year of racing, we had one race in a double-seven where we reeled off all three pitstops in under five minutes. We never practiced stops outside of races.

  • Sporqster

    ^^^ yeah one minute saved in the pit is the same as being a second a lap faster every lap for a whole driving stint. Literally.

  • Obligatory comparison with LeMons:

    [youtube 5Y3PFc0Svmc http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Y3PFc0Svmc youtube]

    They won Organizer's Choice at this event. So awesome.

    • Van_Sarockin

      Yeah, but F1 teams don't have theme songs for their pit stops. Advantage: leMons!

    • Sjalabais

      This was great! Had to burst into laughter when I saw the yellow guy was holding a fire extinguisher…

      • ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

        You have to and both must be in fire suits too.

        • Sjalabais

          Copy that. It's just that it fits the image of lacking efficiency perfectly.

  • MAJ

    I believe that in LeMons the driver change can't take place while refueling, and as in Chump, no work can be done to the car while refueling.

    • Correct. In LeMons, nobody is allowed to be in, or working on, the car while it is being fueled. Nobody is allowed over the wall into the hot pits unless wearing full gear, either (at least at the races I've attended where hot pits were in use).

  • MAJ

    Oops!! I now see you wrote "LeMans". Funny how my eyes read it differently!