Fix it in the pits
Do you ever wonder what it would be like to have your own race team? Not a race team that is sponsored by a big name or anything. Just something where you can have a crew around to help with pit stops so you can focus on lap times. Ive day dreamt about this more than once and If it were me id have a team of good friends and we would swap roles throughout a track day so everyone would get time behind the wheel. We would have a couple Porsche GT3 RS track cars and our own bay and workshop at a local track. Or Maybe we have our own rally team. A couple of Subarus prepped for rally stages and we travel the world in a quest for the best stage times. Hopefully we have someone in our crew with big enough balls to drive and codrive the rally car because those guys are nuts. Hauling ass through the woods on loose dirt and snow past trees that probably won’t move if you hit them takes a special kind of mentality. Come to think of it we might want a sponsor to replace the wrecked cars because it would be inevitable. Maybe Twin Peaks would sponsor us and throw in a cheerleading team, that’s a thing in motorsport right?
In all seriousness the driver of a race team seems to get all the glory when they win or place well but it takes a whole team for that to happen. The pits are a place many overlook. The car is not going to run at its best without a knowledgeable and capable crew behind it. In past volumes we have talked about cars notoriously hard to work on and cars that most people regard as very reliable. What about race cars though. What goes on in the pits that keep these high performance machines in the winning circle? From what i have seen in the past the pit area in a NASCAR or Formula 1 race looks much different than the pit area of a professional rally team. In the same respect the pit area of a LeMans team looks much different than that of a NASCAR. Im comparing these areas to NASCAR because i feel like the word “pitstop” is unanimously thought of as a NASCAR thing. We have all seen it more than once in our lives, atleast on tv. The car comes screeching to a halt and a group of guys come flying over the barricade to service the car before it goes back out in a crazy short amount of time.
It’s easy to miss it while watching the race on TV. You take for granted how much is actually going on in the pit during a routine NASCAR pitstop. All four tires are changed, the car is gassed up and adjustments are made in a very short amount of time. Nowadays to be competitive you have to do all this in under 12 seconds. Up until 2018 there have been 6 guys allowed over the wall to help with the speedy service, now only 5 will be allowed. A rear tire carrier, rear tire changer, front tire carrier, front tire changer, jackman, and gas man has been the norm. These crews practice this stuff all the time and have perfected the service into an art form. Teams time these guys down to tenths of seconds to get there specific jobs done. The tire changers can run five lug nuts off, carrier swaps the new tire on, and run five lug nuts on in under 4 seconds typically. The jack man has to jack one side of the car up, the outside is done first, with a 20 lb hydraulic jack and run around to the other side and jack it up in time for the changers and carriers to do their job. Typically the changers have the lugs off before the car is in the air. The gas man empties two 12 gallon, 81 lb tanks into the car within the 12 second timeframe as well. Most crew chiefs refer to the pit stop as controlled chaos. Many teams take it as far as hiring collegiate athletes who are not quiet draft material or from sports that do not offer professional options to have the edge in athleticism for their crew. These teams have their own large training facilities with tracks, field turf, outdoor training facilities, and even special forces type training sand pits. That’s pretty crazy!
If you think NASCAR pit stops are fast, have you seen Formula One pit stops? Granted F1 teams can have three times the guys over the barrier and they are already out and ready to go but still, some of the fastest pit stops in motorsport are in Formula One. Refueling as been illegal since 2010 but it was off and on in years prior so really the main goal of the F1 pit stop is to change out tires. Seconds count in these races and one missed step by any mechanic on the team could mean the difference between first and second place. Some of the fastest pit stops in F1 are sub 2 seconds. That’s right, the car whips in and guys are ready with air guns and tires. The Front jack is already in place as the car pulls up to it, and up it goes, old tires off, new tires on, and it’s down. They almost sound like they are running a type of launch control system when the car is still up on jacks, as soon as it hits the ground and the jack is out of the way the car slingshots out of the pit area. There are guys who take the old tire off and another guy puts the new one on and the gunner runs the lug down. It helps having twice the guys to manipulate the wheel and running only one single wheel nut. This is why its so fast, as well there is no fuel to go in. Besides the jackmen and the tire guys there are a couple guys out there to make adjustments or fix the front wing incase of collisions during the race. No matter how many guys are out there, 1.92 second for a tire change and wing adjustment is still crazy fast!
Pit stops in rally racing, or services as many call them, are very different. They usually last between 10 and 90 minutes to get things fixed and ready for the next stage. In many cases these fixes are done overnight so there is plenty of time. Not all service stops take that long though as i’ve seen some teams change out a gearbox in like 20 minutes or something silly fast. Baja racing is another motorsport in which lightning fast fixes and replacements are not required but they do try and get done quickly changing out drivers and navigators as well as refueling. I think the “fix something” is more appropriate for these types of racing. Bombing down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere is going to have a greater chance of beating the crap out of body parts or damaging running gear. You hear countless stories of rally cars being fixed with duct tape to prep for the next stage. Have someone clean the windshield, pull out any brush stuck in places it shouldn’t be and tape the bumper back on it and your ready to go! I imagine working on a rally car is considerably more dirty than say NASCAR or F1 cars as well. This is on a professional scale too, I can only imagine what some of the fixes look like on the ametuer series of rally racing.
I think you see more of these types of fixes in a rally as it is a true grassroots motorsport. Whatever it takes to get the car back on the road is done. As cool as it would be to have a small team to hit the track with a new GT3-RS I think rally racing would be the most fun as far as participating with friends. We would probably all take turns driving and navigation although i think i’d be more scared navigating than driving. Enough dreaming about being a race car driver. If you are the kind of person who doesn’t think they are handy or can fix their own car and maybe take it to the local mechanic i would encourage you to try and treat your garage or driveway like a pit stop. You don’t have to fix it as fast as possible, I would say do the exact opposite. I’m not saying you need to tear down your engine or transmission yourself either but i think many people would be surprised at how easy some of the basic maintenance items on vehicles are to do. Change your oil, do a brake job, replace some old worn out suspension parts. All of these things can be done with minimal amount of hand tools and if it requires a specialty tool and you don’t have the money to purchase it most auto stores will rent the tool to you. Nowadays there are Youtube videos for doing just about anything you want to learn how to do as well. For me, even just doing these basic maintenance items on my vehicles myself makes me feel good, although i’m really good at breaking things while trying to fix something else. Get out there and get dirty, have fun, be safe, and keep the shiny side up!