How To Watch A 24 Hour Race (From Home)

It is easy to write a preview for the next big race, but actual journalists already do that.

I thought instead I would write a guide for how to watch a 24 hour endurance race, such as Le Mans or Daytona or Spa, if you are watching from home. You can adapt this strategy for 12 or 10 hour races like Sebring or Petit Le Mans.

Background

Search for the website of the championship or event to find an Entry List, see if you can spot any drivers and teams you’ve heard about. This is your ‘in’, your way in to understanding the race.

Check www.spotterguides.com to see if Andy Blackmore has drawn up the liveries for this race so you can spot the cars – and cross them off in marker pen when they retire.

Have a look at some sports car news sites such as Racer.com, DailySportscar.com and Sportscar365.com, so you can see what’s been going on.

Timing

Live timing helps a lot. TV graphics are okay, but they never show what you want when you want it.

Live timing shows last lap time for each car and the gaps to the cars – so you can see who is gaining on the cars ahead and who is losing time. It shows the number of pit stops made, so you can work out strategy.  It also shows the number of laps done by each car – in this type of racing the gaps can run to multiple laps. If a car falls behind you need to be able to see if it gets a lap back.

When you learn how to read it you almost don’t even need the TV pictures, you can understand and enjoy it from the data feed alone – or data feed and radio coverage.

Commentary

It is important to find a commentary team providing detail to the level needed, without making it dry. The gold standard is RadioLeMans.com and IMSA Radio. Check to see whether these guys & girls are covering the race you’re watching. They do Le Mans, WEC, IMSA and more.

Countless people watch whatever TV or streaming is provided, put it on mute, and listen to RLM instead.

The Eurosport commentary at Le Mans can be good too, depending what shift it is.

Set up

You could just flick on the TV if you like, dipping in and out, which is great if you just want to chill out watching some cool cars racing. And this is a great way to get a taste for this style of racing and just start absorbing who is who without pressure. But you won’t necessarily understand what’s going on with strategy.

A lot of people have at least two screens – which is fairly standard for most motorsport now anyway: many of us tweet during a race for example, and follow live timing. [I usually do both from one PC]

Many more dedicated endurance fans have three or four or more screens. These are showing dedicated onboard videos from their favourite cars. Some might have one tablet/laptop for timing, another for social media, another for omboard, another with a different onboard.

Many fans then have tablets or laptops dedicated to running streams of onboard cameras, which are frequently provided free of charge or as part of a paid streaming service. This is an absolute luxury, though you do see some great car control and some incidents the main broadcast could never catch.

I found this to be overwhelming so I streamlined to this:
Main TV coverage with Radio Le Mans talking (or IMSA Radio);
PC with timing & social media;
Maybe a smaller device with one onboard;

Social media is important, too. I don’t mean just sitting there tweeting from your own account. Look up the championship account, look up your favourite team and driver accounts. Find other fans. Information comes through very quickly, faster than the broadcasts.

Your Focus

Some say sports car racing is boring. At first it looks like cars going round and round, hour after hour. And on the face of it, it is!

Then you think about it. At Le Mans you have 60 cars, 3 per car makes 180 drivers. At Daytona some cars have 5 drivers. At Nurburgring there are 150 cars on a 14 mile track. Add in those team bosses and engineers who have become well-known. Different combinations of teams, chassis, engines and tyres. Different classes of car in each race. Each class with a different rule set,  which may differ between championships.

Every one of those people has a story to tell, every team has a history. It is totally overwhelming. It takes years to learn who they are. It is not possible to follow all of it in real time. [Unless you are Paul Truswell.] The nature of this racing means information doesn’t come to light for half an hour or an hour. Or lots of things happen at once.

To manage this, break it into chunks. Just pick your favourites in each class. And pick the likely winners in each class. Or those whose stories you like. Focus on following those on the screens and on the live timing. Everything else will flow from there. You’ll pick up everything else you need to know as you go along.

Often you get close racing, often there are long periods where are you waiting for it to play out. A strategy call might be made at 6pm, you may not see the payoff until 11pm, when all of a sudden that 6pm decision to triple-stint every driver puts a car into the lead. Be patient, but also pay attention.

Your Fuel Strategy

Eat small, eat regularly.

A great tip is to eat small, eat often. Do stick to your meal times but make it a moderate or small meal. Don’t have a great big meal, it’ll just make you sleepy. It can be fun to gorge on a Chinese takeaway or a big pizza just as you would on a film night, but if you plan to follow the race all night long – or have just a small sleep to resume in the early hours- this is the worst thing to do. Over-eating means you sleep for hours.

Get a supply of snacks. Nuts, fruit, chocolate. Mix it up. First it keeps your energy up, second it gets you up and walking around to the kitchen and back, and third it gives you a break from the screen and the concentration.

And fruit is the best. No, seriously. A banana every few hours, or some grapes by your side, or even strawberries and raspberries with ice cream. You can try all the energy drinks and coffee and chocolate in the world – and I recommend having some – but nothing works better for me than the natural properties of fruit for a pick-me-up. Again don’t rely on it, it’s racing, have a bag of M&Ms too!

Okay this is a tough one. Especially if you are like me and drink several cups of tea or coffee every day in the 9-to-5 at the office. Don’t have too much caffeine. Whether it is tea or energy drinks, just have one every few hours. All of these things work best when you don’t build a resistance to them by having them all the time. If your body is used to a lower level, when you do have one, you get a bigger kick.

Instead, have plenty of bottled water nearby. It really does help. Use the caffeine drinks to give you a kick when you start to flag. But not with less than an hour to go, after all, you want to be able to sleep after the race.

Conclusion

  • Eat small.
  • Get your tools – live timing, video streams, commentary, social media.
  • Pick your faves and follow them, disregard others.

I hope these tips help your experience with endurance racing and that you become a long-time fan!

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All You Need to Know For The Silverstone Six Hours

Will you be attending the Silverstone Six Hours this Sunday? If you’re still considering it here are some things to look out for, a brief field run-down and some pointers for what to bring with you. If you’ve been to any race track before some of these will be obvious, if you are used to F1 or BTCC some things are different.

What is this race?

Everyone knows the Le Mans 24 Hours, right? Many of those cars and drivers compete in a year-long series. This race is the Silverstone 6 Hours and is a points-paying round of the series.

Why you should go

Silverstone throw open most of the grandstands for no extra fee. You get to wander between them whenever you like and nobody will stop you! Only a couple of stands are reserved for sponsors or are closed. Most are open to all!

You get four races on the track at once, for six hours!

If you get there early enough Sunday, or are there Saturday, you get to see Formula Renault 3.5 as well.

Up front you have the height of technology with almost-F1-pace rapid prototypes silently gliding by. In the middle is a closer race for less-advanced prototypes.

At the other end of the scale you have big noisy Corvettes and Astons and Ferraris and Porsches fighting tooth and nail for their class wins just as much as the others.

There are so many drivers and nuances among teams that I can’t hope to cover them all here. For more detail I recommend reading DailySportscar.com – some of their WEC coverage is supported by Nissan so you don’t need a subscription.

LMP1

The 3-car overall fight isn’t just Audi vs Toyota, since Audi have entered two types of technology:

1 x R18 e-tron quattro (hybrid diesel) for Le Mans winners Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler.
1 x R18 ultra (non-hybrid diesel) for the ‘legends’ of Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen racing as a duo following Dindo Capello’s retirement. (Lucas di Grassi will join McNish and Kristensen at the Interlagos round).

Toyota entered one (hybrid petrol) car for Alex Wurz, Kazuki Nakajima and Nicolas Lapierre. They were quick at Le Mans but both their cars retired there. No questions of their speed but can they finish the race?

Privateers – Behind these there are 4 privateer LMP1 cars battling for a podium should the top 3 falter. We’ll see two Lotus-livered Rebellion Lolas versus two Hondas (HPDs) from two different teams, Strakka and JRM. Karun Chandhok, David Brabham, Danny Watts, Jonny Kane, Nicolas Prost, Neel Jani… the line-ups in these cars is pretty good. Sadly OAK and Pescarolo withdrew their LMP1 cars for competitive and sponsorship reasons respectively.

LMP2

In the second tier you have 15 cars in the most unpredicable class in the field. Although Starworks with Stephane Sarrazin among their line-up start as favourites you cannot pick a winner and you certainly can’t pick a top 3! Nissan power most of the field but you’ll find competition from Judd, Honda and Lotus. Likewise most cars are split between Lola and Zytek. This all means the field is very tight.

Bertrand Baguette is with OAK, Nic Minassian has a guest drive at JOTA, F1-tester Brendon Hartley is back with Murphy Prototypes along with Warren Hughes, Tonio Liuzzi puts in a surprise appearance at Lotus (yes two more Lotus liveries here in this team run by Colin Kolles), and the Brundle father/son partnership from the ELMS has entered to back up Greaves’ WEC points-scoring car.

GT

The GTE Pro class (GT cars for Professional drivers) is sparse this season with just five cars but the quality is there – there isn’t a bad car, team or driver in the bunch. Fisichella, Bruni, Bertolini and Beretta make up the two-car AF Corse Ferrari charge, and JMW are bringing their yellow example too for Cocker and Walker. They’re up against the fast Aston of Mucke, Turner and Fernandez and the potent Porsche pairing of Lietz and Lieb in the blue Felbermayr car.

At the back you’ll find GTE Am (GT cars for Amateurs/Gentleman drivers plus one Pro if you like). In fairness some of these cars are quick and mix it up with the GTE Pros. Things seem to work in pairs in GTE Am: we’ll see two Ferraris, two Corvettes, two Porsches and two Aston Martins. The Pro drivers are all good so this’ll likely come down to who has the best gentleman drivers. So far that seems to be the Larbre Corvettes.

2011 Silverstone 6 Hours (photo: P.Wotton)

You will need..

– An advance ticket (deadline Thursday). This isn’t strictly necessary but if you book in advance they are £30 for Sunday versus £35 on the day.

– An FM radio. I’ve made the mistake at this event before. Make sure you bring either a radio or a phone which can access the Tune In Radio app at a former aerodrome miles from anywhere. You will need to be able to hear John Hindhaugh and the Radio Le Mans crew tell you what is going on because you sure as hell can’t hear the circuit tannoy in the stands unless you position yourself right next to a speaker, and being a long multi-class race you’ll easily lose track of positions if you try following by sight alone (unless you lap-chart..). On Tune In Radio you will need Radio Le Mans and/or Radio Silverstone. I don’t know the exact FM frequency but it should be somewhere near 97 MHz.

– Suncream and an anorak. It’s August so if the sun’s out it’ll be warm, but long-range forecasts shows rain.. I won’t be using an umbrella as they’re too cumbersome and annoying for everyone else. If it is raining I’ll wear a hat. Hopefully we’ll be in t-shirts and shorts!

– Money. The food concessions at Silverstone are expensive. I’ve moaned about this in this space before! At least there are better and healthier options than there were 10 years ago I suppose.

– Walking shoes. You can stay in the same place if you like, I prefer to walk around. Many of the grandstands are thrown open for you to wander between at your heart’s content.

– Patience in traffic. Getting in is relatively painless with waits of no more than half an hour. Getting out can be testing which is why I usually sit around to watch the podium ceremonies. Let everyone else get stressed. I don’t try to leave early, I didn’t spend all this time and money getting here to miss who wins.

Details

Race date: Sunday 26th August

Formula Renault 3.5 race: 9:40am – 10:30am (timed race)

WEC Pit walkabout: 10:30am – 11:00am

WEC Grid walk: 11.25am – 11:40am

WEC Race start time: Midday – 6pm (timed race)

Spotters Guide: Here

Not at the track? You can watch on MotorsTV in the UK/France/other places, and on various websites including fiawec.com. In previous races the website (eventually, a little while after the race started) gave you various different audio options including Radio Le Mans.
I have no idea how you watch this race in North America, I think it might be on the website Speed2 or ESPN3 or something? Pretty sure they geoblock fiawec.com to channel people to one of those sites but try it. If that fails you could try audi.tv.

My Plan

I have a 3.5-hour drive from home and am notoriously bad at getting up. I plan to leave home between 7 and 7.30am which ought to get me there for say 11am. I’ll miss the pit walkabout but I don’t know if a general ticket gets me into that anyway.

I plan to watch the start from the front straight so I can hear engines fire up and see cars leave the grid, and may stay there until the first round of LMP stops at about 40-45 minutes. After that I will head around anti-clockwise (always track walk against the flow of traffic), stopping at Club, Stowe and the Hangar Straight before probably heading to the bit of viewing area between Maggots and the Village Loop so I can see cars both sides of me!

The outside of Becketts doesn’t really do it for me, too far away. I may not bother with the old start/finish area, it looks pitiful nowadays with all the grandstands gone, and I don’t want to be wandering the FR3.5 garages while the main race is in progress. (No offence, FR3.5 guys). Perhaps I’ll go to Luffield via the infield route. I’d like to watch the last hour or so from Club or start/finish. Will I stay for the podium? Unsure. I’ve done so for the last two years but this time I’d like to get on the road to try to see the IndyCar race at Sonoma. But that depends on the traffic getting out.

Let me know if you’re going!