Monday, 22 September 2014

Red Flag in Austin

There was much fuss and bother when the 6 hours of Circuit of the Americas had to be stopped, after just over an hour and a half's running on Saturday evening.

Various claims and counter-claims were made, regarding whether or not the correct procedures had been followed, and what the impact of those procedures was on the outcome of the race.

There is no doubt that the outcome was affected, but in my opinion blame should not (indeed cannot) be put on the race direction, officials or even the regulations. Rather, it was merely a question of circumstance, particularly adverse weather conditions, timing and, as is so often the case in these matters, a little bit of luck.

In the event that it is necessary to ‘suspend’ the race, the regulations say that both the pit entry and pit exit will be closed. From the data to which I have access, it seems that three cars managed to side-step this rule and come in to the pit lane anyway: the no. 9 Lotus (Christophe Bouchut), the no. 81 AF Corse Ferrari (Stephen Wyatt) and the no. 90 8 Star Ferrari (Gianluca Roda). No disrespect to any of these, but I don’t believe that any great injustice was done by permitting these transgressions to go unpunished in the overall scheme of the race.

In the pits already, at the moment that the race was suspended were the following cars:

No. Car Class
7 Toyota TS 040 Hybrid LMP1-H
26 G-Drive Ligier-Nissan LMP2
30 ESM HPD Honda LMP2
47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan LMP2
65 Corvette C7.R GTE Pro
95 Aston Martin Vantage V8 GTE Am
98 Aston Martin Vantage V8 GTE Am
99 Aston Martin Vantage V8 GTE Pro

It is unfortunate, but inevitable, that with the pit exit being closed, these cars could not rejoin the race and had to remain in the pits until the time that the proposed restart was known. The regulations forbid repair work during a race suspension, but re-fuelling and tyre changes, along with changes of driver may be done.

Where Race Director Eduardo Freitas used his discretion was in his decision to allow (for safety reasons) tyres to be changed on those cars which were on the start-finish straight. No particular heights of intellect are required to justify the wisdom of that decision, but some of those teams in the pit lane must have been looking enviously over the pit wall, while those on the track were able to get a ‘free’ tyre change.

The procedure for resuming the race is perhaps slightly confusing, but is still reasonably simple, and relies merely on the cars being stopped at the ‘red flag line’ in the same order as that in which they were when the race was suspended. There’s no ambiguity in this, as there is no overtaking allowed at all when the red flag is shown.

The objective of the procedure, in word and spirit, is clear: to line up the field behind the leader and get on with the race. To this end, those cars between the red flag line’ and the leader were, three minutes before the resumption, waved around on a single lap (no overtaking allowed) to take up position at the back of the field behind the leader, who moves into position behind the Safety Car.

The cars which were thus waved around were (in the order that they were on the track):

No. Car Class
57 Krohn Ferrari GTE Am
97 Aston Martin GTE Pro
51 AF Corse Ferrari GTE Pro
88 Proton Ferrari GTE Am
14 Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1-H
91 Manthey Porsche 911 GTE Pro
92 Manthey Porsche 911 GTE Pro
12 Rebellion R-One LMP1-L
75 Prospeed Porsche GTE Am
37 SMP Oreca-Nissan LMP2
71 AF Corse Ferrari GTE Pro
27 SMP Oreca-Nissan LMP2

These then lined up behind the cars that had been left on the grid, and in so doing, crossed the Start-finish line and were credited with another lap.

The cars that were left, lined up and ready to set off behind the Safety Car, were:

No. Car Class
2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro LMP1-H
13 Rebellion R-One LMP1-L
1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro LMP1-H
8 Toyota TS 040 Hybrid LMP1-H
61 AF Corse Ferrari GTE Am
20 Porsche 919 Hybrid LMP1-H

So, to summarise, there were eight cars in the pits, twelve that were waved round for a lap, six remaining on the track, and three that came into the pits (despite the pits being closed, but unpunished), accounting for all 29 cars in the race.

Personally, and from reading the regulations, I can see no cause for complaint against those cars that were stopped on the circuit - if marshals provided assistance to anyone, it was merely to move the cars from unsafe positions. Provided that assistance is not used to start the engine, then no offence has been committed.

What the regulations do not make clear, in my opinion, is what would have happened had the leader of the race been in the pits at the time of suspension, and in a sense I think we are lucky that it did not happen, as the leader (Fässler in the no. 2 Audi) only exited the pits 16 seconds before the red flag was shown. (I hope that this was not the reason, though, that it took so long for the decision to suspend the race to be taken.)

A clarification of the procedure to be followed should the leader be in the pits when the red flag is shown is thus the only area of Sporting Regulations that I think needs to be considered. For the rest of it, I felt that it worked as well as it could, under the circumstances. Sure, some folk lost out and others gained, but only to the same extent as would have happened anyway if the race had been neutralised by a normal Safety Car Intervention. It was cars going off into the scenery and strategic choices on suitable tyres that had the biggest impact on the race order.

I'll be writing a further analysis for dailysportscar in the coming days - in particular attempting to answer the question whether Audi only won because of the deteriorating power of the no. 14 Porsche, or whether Fässler would have caught Marc Lieb anyway.


  1. Thanks for the analysis Paul, there was a lot of moaning about it, but like I expected the regulations were followed by race control.

    As an improvement though - what if the cars that were already in the pits had been let out at the 3 minute countdown? They would have followed those who were between the red flag line and the leader around - and not lost a lap to them, right?

    Code 80 would obviously keep the gaps, but using it in America and with cars going off it would be unsafe for marshals.

    Can you maybe do a simulation if the WEC ran using the IMSA rules, do see what difference it would have made?

  2. Michael, ideally, the stoppage procedure calls for the 'Red Flag Line' to be before the pit lane entry and before the end-of-lap timing beam. I am not sure why Freitas called for it to be at the start gantry.

    In terms of the restart, you're right, if you would allow the cars in the pits around behind the group being waved around, then they would not lose a lap. But then those on the track would argue that they had lost a lap. Consider the case where the leader was low on fuel, for example.

    I'll certainly take a look at the way it would have panned out under IMSA rules!

  3. Thanks for sharing your data with everyone. This is stuff would have been very hard if not impossible to follow at the time, especially with the WEC timing website playing-up.

    I'd be very interested to know your thoughts on some musings I've put down over on the RLM forum, in the thread which links the IMSA v WEC rules. It's a bit of a tome but hopefully I've written it well enough to be reable. There's a post about the fundamental issues with a red flag, and another about a possibly beneficial rule change after reading your blog.

    If you were to manage to have a look and let me know if I was misguided then I would be very grateful, but you are a busy man of course. Regardless, thanks for publishing your blog as it's always in interesting read.

  4. As a postscript to this, I have now worked out the length of time spent in the pits at the moment the red flag was shown, for those cars unfortunate enough to be in the pits at the time:

    7 Toyota 0m 06.646s
    26 Ligier 0m 00.859s
    30 HPD 1m 19.056s
    47 KCMG 0m 57.355s
    65 Corvette 0m 39.531s
    95 Aston 1m 09.570s
    98 Aston 0m 34.684s
    99 Aston 0m 32.799s

    The very fact that they all exited the pits at the same time is an indication that some gained and some lost out. I still don't believe that there's an obvious solution though.