If you’re anything like the staff of the Audi Club North America, you were likely tuned in to the IMSA season-opening Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona last weekend. If you were, then you already know the two Audi teams had started out strong and were moving up in the ranks. Things were looking good.
Audi Sport customer racing staff on hand were feeling good about the weekend. With just two cars in the GTD field, this was a smaller-than-usual run at the Rolex 24. Even still, these were two very strong teams. Magnus Racing logged Audi’s second and most recent victory at the Rolex 24 in 2016, while Land Motorsport netted Audi a 24 Hours of Nurburgring win just last season. Both were serious contenders for the win, and Audi Sport knew it.
Things were going well for Audi, particularly Land Motorsport who’d moved into a commanding lead over the GTD field. Shortly after midnight, and more than a full lap up on the competition, IMSA race officials let it be known that Land driver Jeffrey Schmidt was to pit and serve a five minute penalty.
The penalty was served, handing the race to its competitors. Just why the penalty was applied though, that’s the source of a lot of debate. Veteran race reporter Marshall Pruett has published a full analysis of what happened HERE and it’s worth a read for those interested in really understanding what transpired.
The short answer as to why is this. IMSA has a Balance of Performance (BoP) that is applied to each car in order to keep the field of multiple manufacturers highly competitive with each other. This is intended to keep racing close and exciting, and minimize the chance to have one manufacturer walk away from the field.
Elements controlled by the BoP vary, but the ones that specifically apply here are the quantity of fuel each team gets in a pit stop, and the flow rate at which it goes in. For instance, a 6-cylinder Porsche takes on less fuel than a 10-cylinder Lamborghini, but each get systems designed to keep refuelings at about 40 seconds.
As many racing purists will argue, the smarter and more clever teams benefit not from the rules themselves, but from what is not defined in the rulebooks. Land Motorsport did just that, optimizing the shape of their Audi R8’s fuel cell to receive the fuel. As a result, the team saw markedly improved fueling times even though their fuel amount and flow rate were entirely legal. As if to drive that point home, Land was also seeing markedly better fueling times than the other Audi R8 in the race fielded by Magnus Racing.
Monitoring the data, IMSA engineers saw what was happening. Magnus had moved to a commanding lead over several pit stops. Other factors were at play, but the time saved in fueling was obvious. Using a blanket rule in the series that does allow for penalization at will, IMSA parked the R8 for five minutes. It may have well have ended the race for the Land crew, because they went from being a lap up on the second place car to two laps down on the now leader.
Where the debate comes from is this. IMSA was within their rights to penalize based on a broad blanket rule, but many race fans are this week arguing that the ruling went against the spirit of racing. Land found a hole in the rulebook and it exploited it. Many argue that this is the grand tradition of racing. Sure, adjust the rules after the race, but don’t penalize the race leader from building a lead based on a solid strategy that broke no particular rule.
Obviously, given we’re the Audi Club North America, you can likely guess who’s side of this we tend to agree with. Do you agree? We’d love to hear your opinion.
Again, you can read an in-depth analysis on this over on Racer.com thanks to Marshall Pruett’s solid reporting. You can also see hundreds of new photos of the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in our exclusive photo gallery found below.