Sports car driver changes consume less than 20 seconds

Driver changes in NASCAR occur only when a competitor can’t complete the race due to injury or illness, but in sports car racing they are required and must be executed with the same smoothness as a well-orchestrated pit stop.

“It’s kind of like a synchronized organization to get everything buckled and fastened as soon as possible,” said Mooresville resident Mike Wallis, a Riley Technologies employee who assists the SRT Motorsports drivers on pit stops. “I have to open the door, pull the driver out and put the next driver in.

“He (the driver) doesn’t just jump in and sit there. When he jumps in he grabs the center buckle. I’ll grab one shoulder belt, buckle it. He’ll grab another shoulder belt, buckle it. Then I’ll grab the side belts. I have to pull the belts really tight.”

When the two-way radio is on the driver’s right side he plugs his helmet’s connector into it. Velcro and radio tethers allow the plug to be attached to a driver’s helmet so once in the car he can remove it and insert it into the radio.

Once Wallis checks the driver’s buckles and makes sure the competitor has his water bottle, Wallis replaces the window net and closes the race car’s door. A driver exchange normally takes 15 to 20 seconds.

“It’s usually done in concurrence with refueling the car,” said two-time Trans Am champion and Mooresville resident Tony Ave. “The rules limit the time it takes to refuel. Typically, that can be 30 plus seconds. Twenty seconds is a pretty long time to change drivers. It always takes longer than that to refuel. Usually, you have a lot more time than you need.”

In addition to regulating the refueling time, the International Motor Sports Association dictates when driver changes occur. In sprint sports car races, such as the 2-hour, 45-minute Aug. 24 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship GTD/GTLM event at Virginia International Raceway, only one driver change is required.

In the endurance events, those six hours or longer, a driver can’t be in the car for more than three consecutive hours. There also is a designated time a driver must remain out of the car. A driver rotation schedule also is created when three or more drivers are involved. Ave said when those driver changes are practiced they should be done in the proper rotation order. Often, however, the driver changes can’t be practiced until the teams are at the track due to the competitors’ international residences.

“We do it (practice) in the paddock and on pit road during the practices,” said Wallis, who’s responsible for the race car’s electronics at Riley Technologies. “The drivers are real particular on how they do things. Not too many people can hop in there like they can.”

Bill Riley, president of Mooresville-based Riley Technologies and director of the company’s race team that fields Dodge Vipers in the GT Daytona and GT Le Mans divisions, noted preparation for a driver change began when the seat was constructed. When the composite seats were poured, he said, the person constructing the seat began with the largest driver and then moved to the smallest.

“The biggest guy does the back and the smallest guy does underneath his legs, the ramp, and then you have to have an insert each way,” Riley explained. “A tall guy needs a big ramp. They compromise.”

Riley said a driver’s skill was considered ahead of physique similarities when hiring, but admitted when the drivers were similar in stature the exchange was quicker.

“(Jonathan) Bomarito and Kuno Wittmer do not take a seat insert,” Riley explained. “Marc Goossens takes a shoulder insert because he has much broader shoulders than Dominik Farnbacher, so their driver change is a little slower because of that. It takes 2 seconds to put in the shoulder insert.”

Due to seat development during the last decade, Ave said it’s now easier to deal with driver changes in the GT cars.

“These seats are more like those found in NASCAR,” Ave said. “It’s carbon shell and the padding is relatively thick and can get crushed back. I get in a lot of cars for a lot of different people and test for a lot of different teams and in the last 10 years I’ve never had to make my own seat. I was able to use somebody else’s and a little padding and it’s perfect. The foams and the materials are so much better, you can get in there and it will mold itself to you. There’s a bigger window of driver size that fits in the same seat.”

Other technology can be incorporated to facilitate a driver change. Ave noted the seats in the Riley SRT Motorsports cars were on tracks and could be moved backwards and forwards. When Tommy Kendall drove for the Riley team, the car was equipped with a movable pedal rack system. The car’s electronics allow for driver ID plugs, similar to those found in passenger cars that allow for seats to be programmed for different drivers.

“A little preparation in the shop and it works out pretty good on the race track,” said Ave, who piloted a GTD car for Riley at VIR.

Entering the VIR event the SRT Viper GTS-R teams had recorded one victory, eight podium finishes and two GTLM poles.

Bobby Issac Memorial on tap

Hickory Motor Speedway officials have scheduled the annual Bobby Issac Memorial for Aug. 30. The late model race honors Issac, a Catawba County native, who won NASCAR’s Grand National (now Sprint Cup) championship in 1970 and set 28 world speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats in September 1971. The last stock car race in which Issac competed was at the historic Hickory track in 1977.

The Aug. 30 150-lap late model race is a Paramount Kia Challenge event. Also on the racing schedule for that night are the limited late models, street stocks and sportsmen racing classics. Tickets for the special event are $16.

King of the Carolinas qualifier set

A qualifier for the King of the Carolinas at Carolina Speedway has been slated for Aug. 29. Racing that night will be the SECA Crate Late Models, four cylinder, street stock, renegade, thunder sportsman and hornets.

The three-day King of the Carolinas dirt track event is scheduled for Oct. 16-18 at Carolina Speedway in Gaston County. Last year’s event drew more than 180 race cars from 11 states. The Carolina Clash Bash and the SECA-sanctioned Bill Hendren Memorial is part of the King of the Carolinas this year.

East Lincoln extends schedule

East Lincoln Speedway officials have extended the track’s season by two events scheduled for Sept. 27 and Oct. 4. Both nights points will be awarded towards the track championship.

Featured on Sept. 27 will be the stock four, super stock four, renegades, limited sportsmen and front wheel drive divisions. In addition to those divisions on Oct. 4, there will be a special dual Front Wheel Drive Free For All race. Each race will pay $400 to win and $50 to start.

Peltier victorious at South Boston

Concord’s Preston Peltier earned his first ever Pro All Star Series victory at South Boston Speedway on Aug. 16 in the PASS Super Late Model 150.

Peltier took the lead from Mooresville’s Cole Timm on lap 91and led the rest of the way for his 12th career PASS victory. Newton’s Brandon Setzer took third and Huntersville’s Harrison Burton finished fifth.

Hickory’s Tyler Church leads Timm in the standings by 28 points. Midland’s Jared Irvan is third in the standings, 62 points behind Church.

The next PASS Super Late Model race is Sept. 20 at Hickory Motor Speedway.

Morgan grabs 3rd Pro Cup win

Mooresville’s J.P. Morgan held off Brian Keselowski during a green-white-checker finish at Motor Mile Speedway on Aug. 16 to snare his third X-1R Pro Cup Series victory this season by 0.16 seconds.

The Pro Cup Series regular season ended with Morgan second in the standings, 27 points behind leader Caleb Holman of Abingdon, Va. Huntersville’s Reid Wilson finished third in the regular season standings, 34 behind Holman.

The Pro Cup Series starts its four-race playoff to determine its 2014 champion Sept. 6 at Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, N.C. The season finale is Oct. 18 at Hickory Motor Speedway.

Richards finds success at Millbridge

Denver, N.C., resident Hunter Richards has taken two divisions at Salisbury’s Millbridge Speedway by storm. Richards leads Saturday’s Box Stock standings and is second in the Intermediate division. In Wednesday’s competition, he is sixth in the 125cc standings.

A driver for Bo Beeker Motorsports, Richards already has secured three Saturday night victories. He began the season in a Box Stock and quickly obtained a feature victory before moving to the Intermediate division. In addition to racing, Richards competes in Brazilian Jujitsu and wrestling.

Swindell takes Venturini Motorsports to victory

Kevin Swindell, substituting for John Wes Townley in the Venturini Motorsports Toyota, took the Concord-based team to victory in the Aug. 18 ARCA Central Illinois 100 at the Springfield dirt 1-mile track. Swindell led 21 laps, taking the lead for good on lap 89. The victory marked Swindell’s second ARCA victory with Venturini Motorsports. His first came at Chicagoland Speedway in 2012.