The Automobile Club de l’Ouest has revised its approach to safety cars ahead of this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in response to Porsche’s dominant GTE-Pro victory in 2018.
Full Course Yellows will now be implemented where possible to control the field through incident areas, in a bid not to disrupt cars battling for position and maximize green-flag running.
Safety cars and Slow Zones will continue to be used, but ACO sporting director Vincent Beaumesnil confirmed that FCYs, which restrict the entire field to 80 km/h (50 mph), will become the preferred method of intervention.
Beaumesnil explained that the change of tactic was made to ensure no cars gain an unassailable advantage through a safety car, following consultation with teams about last year’s race.
At Le Mans, three separate safety cars are used because of the length of the 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe, compared with other FIA World Endurance Championship tracks.
Last year, the Porsche 911 RSR of Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Laurens Vanthoor benefited from this measure to gain a huge early lead when it pitted shortly before a safety car period that its class rivals all pitted under.
The gap between the cars was exacerbated by the fact that the Porsche had been picked up by the first safety car whereas its competitors had emerged behind the second because they were held by a red light at pit exit.
After the race, multiple GTE-Pro team managers and drivers questioned the procedure that split up the class and ultimately paved the way for Porsche to win by over a lap.
“Among the topics raised, one concerned the GTE-Pro class and the consequences of the safety car intervening early in the race,” said Beaumesnil.
“We gave it a great deal of consideration and came up with some new features for the 2019 24 Hours of Le Mans, like a Full Course Yellow.
“We will employ a Full Course Yellow with a different aim and mindset than for other WEC races where it is used in a greater number of instances.
“Le Mans has Slow Zone procedures that will still be frequently used. We studied the cases we have faced in recent years and concluded that a Full Course Yellow would have avoided the deployment of certain Safety Cars.”
Beaumesnil said that a FCY would be the most appropriate course of action for incidents that can be cleaned up “over a short period of time”.
Unlike shorter WEC races, cars that pit under FCY conditions at Le Mans can only accept five seconds of emergency fuel and must return for a second full service once racing resumes.
“Complex situations call for a safety car – a long and impactful process with three such cars – we will now be able to neutralize the track with a Full Course Yellow,” he said.
“This will potentially allow for a speedy resolution to the situation and the restarting of the race as quickly as possible without the complexities of the safety car.”
The ACO has also changed its Le Mans pit-exit procedure during safety car periods to ensure cars remain in the same group for when the race returns to green.
“What happened last year in GTE had a definite impact on the outcome of the race,” said Beaumesnil.
“They had no choice but to wait [in the pits]. The analysis conducted with the teams caused us to modify the beginning of the procedure: unlike in 2018, cars already in pit lane when the safety car is brought out will not be blocked at the exit of pit lane when trying to return to the track until after the passage of the second safety car.
“Once those cars are back out, the safety car rules return to normal and cars may only exit the pit lane behind a safety car and the cars trailing it.”