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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A Close End to the 2012 Rolex Daytona 24

What a brilliant result at the Rolex 24 at Daytona!

A popular win in Justin Wilson in his first professional race since his injury last season in IndyCar. I don’t follow Grand-Am racing but I heard on the coverage that Michael Shank Racing are popular winners in the paddock. Wilson and his teammates including NASCAR’s AJ Allmendinger and Grand-Am regulars Ozz Negri and John Pew put in solid drives all race long. Flawless.

They weren’t alone, the 2nd-placed car featuring sportscar legends Allan McNish and Lucas Luhr guesting alongside Ryan Dalziel, Alex Popow and Enzo Potolicchio racing for Starworks was equally as solid. It was a credit to everyone that they finished just five seconds behind the winners, a representative margin for such a close battle all race long. These two cars passed and repassed for hours and hours, outracing all of their competition.

The racing between McNish and Allmendinger was fantastic, save for a little bit too much wheel-banging. It was just as fraught as watching Allan vs the Peugeots at Le Mans. You can tell this mattered to him.

The fancied runners at the top Ganassi team fell by the wayside. Partly this was due to being slower on the fast banking, and partly through reliability. It was a real shame when the 01 car had a gearbox problem robbing us of a three-way fight for the lead in the final hour. Despite the problem they still made it home 6th, vital for the championship. You had to feel for the quick SunTrust team retiring after barely an hour. However I didn’t at all mind the favourites dropping back – it allowed the underdogs through!

Whilst I kept an eye on it I didn’t follow GT class as closely as I do at Le Mans or Sebring. It featured a lot of the same drivers and the racing was just as close, yet it didn’t grab me for some reason. I can’t explain why because it should’ve done. Perhaps it was the knowledge the cars were little faster than ALMS GTC or Porsche Supercup which are usually embarrassed by GT2/GTE cars. I was impressed by both Magnus and Brumos teams, especially Magnus because Brumos had led for so many hours. (TRG finished between them but I already knew their class.)

Resurgence

On the whole though I was impressed with the race and the organisation from Grand-Am. It’s a much-criticised series and I think they’ve done a lot to address those criticisms, with better-looking prototype cars and new cars coming into GT (even if the Audis made a complete mess of it).

It was great to see so many drivers and teams guesting in the race who normally race elsewhere. After a while of being demoted almost to national status, the Daytona 24 Hours is certainly regaining its rightful place on the world stage. Just witness the much-improved race coverage both within the US on SPEED and elsewhere from Radio Show Ltd (Radio Le Mans), MotorsTV, Eurosport and others. It was great to have the RLM crew live on site, it made the race so much easier to follow.

Will I follow any more Grand-Am races this season? Probably not, but I’m certainly more open to the idea than I was before so don’t be surprised if I do. It would help if they offered online streaming the way the ALMS does, because although both series have a European TV deal now, I don’t have MotorsTV.

Finally a thanks and a shout to the two places I spent the race aside from Twitter or my bed, and the race wouldn’t be the same without them:
Sidepodcast for the live commenting;
Grab Bag Sports for the 4th annual Blogathon & Mario Kart tourney;

Following the hors d’oeuvres of Dakar and Dubai, Daytona is a brilliant way to kick off the major international racing season.

The next live race is a month from now. A month!! That week you’ll have the pick of the Bathurst 12 Hours and the Daytona 500 and all its support races. In the meantime, you can enjoy Rally Sweden.

I’m off to rest my eyes.

How to Watch the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona

Time to get this season started with the first major circuit-racing event of the season. We’ve had off-road events such as Dakar and the Monte-Carlo Rally. All fine and good, but my main interest is in fast cars on racetracks. We’ve had the Dubai 24 but that’s not an easy event to try and follow and to be honest I gave up after a while.

Daytona is different. Because this race takes place in January there are a lot of famous names involved who might not usually race in the Grand-Am Rolex Series:

Allan McNish, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Paul Tracy, AJ Allmendinger, Justin Wilson, Giancarlo Fisichella, Ryan Briscoe .. the list goes on and on.

Add that to the quick teams and drivers who do race these cars regularly, like Scott Pruett, Darren Law and Max Angelelli and you’ve got a real competition on your hands.

Not to mention these guys: Brian Johnson of AC/DC is competing, as is the actor Patrick Dempsey. Neither are quick on a professional level but they can handle themselves very well at amateur/gentelman-driver level. Is that enough at this race? Probaby not, but let’s see. Johnson is actually racing in a car which only contains over-50s, but some of them are (or were) pros.

So how do you watch?

UK / Europe:

MotorsTV live on Sky/Virgin throughout, with Radio Show Ltd commentary (that’s Radio Le Mans).

Intermittant coverage on Eurosport or Eurosport 2, also on Sky/Virgin. It is programmed for E2 but if you know Eurosport you’ll know they like shuffling things around channels and not sticking to timetables – the perils of covering live sport. The great thing about them is the Eurosport Player which is absolutely flawless, and is also available as an iPad app at £2.99 for a month of viewing. I’ll watch using these services for as much as I can.

USA / Canada?:

SpeedTV for most of the race, and SpeedTV.com for the times when they don’t. It’s possible the SpeedTV.com feed will be available outside the US.

Worldwide:

Audio coverage from Radio Show Ltd (the people behind Radio Le Mans) live throughout on their website.

Useful Links

The race starts at 8.30pm GMT / 3.30pm local time Florida.

Series Website: Grand-Am.com
Entry List: HERE
Live timing: HERE
Spotter guide: HERE
My Twitter feed: HERE (I hope to pass on relevant info from tweeting teams, drivers etc)

In addition to Twitter I *insist* you join me at one or other or both of the following places:

Sidepodcast

A group of us will be hanging out chatting about the race at Sidepodcast’s awesome live-commenting service – do join us! Keep it clean and friendly and you’ll encounter knowledgeable fans, and not-so knowledgeable fans who are enthusiastic and willing to learn.

Grab Bag Sports Blogathon

For something like the 5th year now the GBS Blogathon will run alongside the Rolex 24. A group of motorsport bloggers*, largely from the IndyCar community but also elsewhere, come together at the Grab Bag Sports blog to write posts over the course of the race. They don’t have to be about the 24. They don’t even have to be about racing. Any sport is on the table if it happens between race start and end, for example several may dip out of the race to watch the Australian Open final. It’ll be fun!
* and Mike who is a co-blogger at GBS but doesn’t know anything about racing except that he likes the name of a team: Flying Lizard!

Enjoy!