In some 17 years of following the race from afar, the 2018 edition wouldn’t rank in my top ten or fifteen. On the positive side there were some prominent highlights: a worthy winning team, a true test of endurance among the new LMP1 cars, some fascinating F1 visitors with very different approaches, a much better GT race than expected. And I once again enjoyed being a tiny part of the online endurance racing family.
It’s the big one, the 24 Hours of Le Mans!
Times are approximate and in British Summer Time.
There are 60 cars with 180 drivers. 60 stories to follow. Three class races other than LMP1. Please do not belittle all of that just because the race for the win might be boring!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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!
2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship
The FIA’s global sports car championship featuring the 24 Hours of Le Mans and a series of 6 hour races in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
Although Le Mans is a WEC round, the race attracts many non-championship cars from series such as the IMSA Weathertech Championship, the European Le Mans Series and Asian Le Mans Series. These teams race for the win against the WEC teams but are ‘invisible’ when counting up WEC points.
This season marks the transition to a winter start with the finale being Le Mans itself. To get there they have created the one-off “Super Season”, more details below.
For more championships click here.