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The Code 60 ‘purples’ are among the most recognised safety elements of the 24H SERIES powered by Hankook. But how does the system work, and has it rendered the traditional safety car obsolete?
Fun fact, did you know that, at this year’s Hankook 12H IMOLA, there were 21 Code 60 caution periods in total? That’s more than the preceding rounds at Silverstone and Navarra COMBINED, and just one less than the 2017 season-opening round in Dubai, despite the latter running a full 12 hours longer.
Bear in mind though, all you sceptics out there, that these 21 caution periods ‘paused’ racing at the Hankook 12H IMOLA [10 fascinating facts, Imola] for only 1h 54m 39s, just a hair over 15% of the overall runtime. You can only imagine how much higher this might have been had a safety car been deployed for every on-track issue, and the effect a safety car period would have had on class leaders through no fault of their own. To say nothing of the financial costs such an endeavour would require…
These are just a few among several reasons why ‘Code 60’ caution periods have been utilised at every official 24H SERIES powered by Hankook since 2006, another being the simplicity of it.
First things first though, how do ‘Code 60’ caution periods actually work?
Formula 1 fans familiar with the Virtual Safety Car – under which cars must circulate the track at a pre-determined speed– will understand the basics. Smaller, less immediately hazardous incidents on-track continue to be managed by ‘local’ yellows, meaning cars drop their pace for only a few select corners. However, should a larger incident require the field to be brought under control, marshal posts around the track will display ‘60’-adorned purple flags and lights, meaning cars MUST immediately reduce their speed to no more than 60kph. This allows marshals to attend accident sites without the race being interrupted.
It’s a system enforced by the barrage of TV screens, GPS monitors and lap time data one usually finds at race control, and bear in mind the race director still has the authority to deploy a safety car should it be required. This rigorous procedure and the respect it engenders means that, for many years, Code 60 caution periods have been considered the safest way for competitors to go racing in the 24H SERIES.
“We have been using Code 60 from the very beginning, and it’s been very successful,” explains CREVENTIC’s Ole Dörlemann. “We see it as the best way to create the safest situation on-track for work to be carried out, but one that ensures fairness by maintaining the gaps between cars. You could argue that it’s not too dissimilar to full-course yellow flags, but we believe it’s a much clearer and stronger way of communicating with drivers that, ‘hey, something has happened.’ We believe it’s a very positive, safe and fair alternative to the safety car.”
Yes, safety is at the heart of every new venture introduced to the 24H SERIES, but pay close attention to that word ‘fair’ too. When penning the Code 60 regulations, it was critical the system penalised nobody and did not negatively affect the racing.
“It’s vital for us to keep the balance of performance level for our competitors across all aspects of the weekend. I mean, like the fuel station [Panta fuel station story], luck can sometimes play its part: we saw in Imola, some cars can get bunched up behind a rival that is going too slowly during Code 60 or has even pressed the wrong button” – as was the case for Modena Motorsport’s Mattias Beche, who grew increasingly more frustrated behind IDEC SPORT RACING’s Stephane Adler [12H IMOLA, What Happened (GT)] – “and there’s only so much we can control, but you can’t ‘win big’ by pitting under Code 60. Teams can take new tyres and a new driver, but they can only half-fill their fuel tanks, so drivers are not gaining a huge advantage by pitting under purple. That’s something we’re very mindful of, and always welcome feedback from teams and drivers.”
And so far, response from fans, teams and drivers alike has been positive. In 2017, the British Motor Sports Association (MSA) implemented Code 60 caution periods as standard, and endurance-racing luminaries such as Jeroen Bleekemolen and Bernd Schneider have not been shy in offering their respective votes of confidence either. The five-time DTM champion referred to Code 60 as “a very good system and safe for everyone” in a previous interview with motorsport.com, further explaining that “when you get to [his] age, it gives a chance to recover in the car too!” They’re not alone with their positive feedback…
“We’ve had many drivers saying, ‘it’s better than what we are used to’,” Ole continues, “and it’s great to hear that a rule that was invented in the Netherlands” – by the Dutch National Racing Team (DNRT) – “can be appreciated this much on a global scale. As a system, it’s more of less bulletproof.
“Of course, what can always be improved upon is the duration of caution periods. Our goal is to keep each Code 60 period as short as possible so everyone can enjoy their racing, and we are working very hard with local circuit officials to reduce this even more. In Dubai this year for example, we brought additional staff with us to help with extrication, and we managed to shorten the total amount of time under Code 60 by several hours. That’s a huge achievement, and something we’re hoping to further improve next year too.”
Don’t be surprised then if the days of 21 Code 60 caution periods are numbered.
* Ole Dörlemann was speaking with James Gent