While TUDOR United SportsCar Championship competitors were met with a number of improvements at last weekend’s season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, drivers and teams have continued to voice safety concerns over the current pit stop regulations, enough to start a petition on the matter.
Former ALMS race winner and 2014 FIA WEC GTE-Am champion David Heinemeier Hansson posted a petition to IMSA on Tuesday, calling for separate refueling and tire changes, while also enforcing that each car must shut off its engine during pit stops, on the grounds of safety.
Tire changes and refueling are currently allowed to be performed the same time, a regulation that was carried over from GRAND-AM last year, but has been met with some reserve from former ALMS and current FIA WEC drivers who had utilized the ACO’s system.
According to competitors, the current format causes a safety hazard during driver changes, particularly in prototypes, where drivers have felt rushed to complete the change during the 25 to 30-second refueling time. Previously, ALMS style pit stop lasted upwards of 50 seconds for fuel and tires.
“As a driver, you don’t think about safety, you think about going out there and racing,” 2013 FIA WEC LMP2 champion and TUDOR Championship Prototype Challenge driver Martin Plowman told Sportscar365. “Our job is to go do things as quickly as possible.
“But I think it’s important to take a step back and look what’s going to be safer for the whole paddock and create rules that will protect drivers from their own egos and our own willingness to take risks to win races.
“Sometimes, if a mechanic doesn’t get the belts on in time and the car’s ready to go, as a driver, you’re not going to sit there and wait for the belts to get done.
“If there’s a second to be gained, that could be the difference between being [finishing] first or second.”
Plowman, who’s driven under both the current IMSA and ACO pit stop regulations, said he experienced once stop at Daytona where their driver change wasn’t completed in the refueling time and he was forced to give his belts a final pull while driving down pit lane.
In fact, a pit lane pileup at last year’s Petit Le Mans was triggered by Patrick Pilet tightening his belts while exiting the pits and not seeing the stopped Risi Competizione Ferrari of Pierre Kaffer at pit-out.
However, not all drivers are convinced that having separate refueling and tire changes would be the ultimate solution.
“I can tell you that almost any top team and engineer absolutely demands driver changes in under 25 seconds, which is done pretty easily and quite regularly in a GT car in my experience,” three-time GRAND-AM Champion Jeff Segal said.
“I can’t speak for a prototype… but that said, I’m all for anything that advances safety without any downside as a matter of principal. In this case I’m a bit indifferent, though, I don’t really feel strongly that it would be a real tangible safety boost.”
The other change the petition calls for is to have cars shut off its engines during the stops, another rule currently enforced in the FIA WEC and European Le Mans Series.
The Rolex 24 saw at least two instances where a car accidentally went into gear during a driver change, causing the rear wheels to spin during the simultaneous tire change.
Luckily, no crew was reported injured in either incident.
In less than 24 hours, Heinemeier Hansson’s petition has been signed by more than 400 people, including drivers Scott Sharp, Johannes van Overbeek and Memo Rojas.
There’s also a potential upside to separate refueling and tire changes, as it would allow teams to double stint tires, as the current tire changes can be completed during a typical refueling stop.
“It’s going to be the same for everybody,” Plowman said. “It’s not going to change the show in any way because everybody’s going to do the same thing.
“If anything, it’s going to increase the drama and excitement of the strategy because it’s going to award teams that don’t take any tires, as that would give you a 15-second advantage [in the pits].”
IMSA, meanwhile, said that after receiving competitor feedback, the pit stop regulations are under review.
“We are always open to input from our stakeholders and are specifically aware of the recent inquiry regarding pit stop regulations,” an IMSA statement provided to Sportscar365 read.
“This matter is currently under review within IMSA Competition and it would not be appropriate to further comment at this time in the process.”