Could the Catalan heat prove a decisive factor at the Hankook 24H BARCELONA? Given the effects this can have on tyre wear and driver fatigue, Joe certainly thinks so.
Words – Joe Bradley
Images – Petr Frýba
It feels like an age since the 24H SERIES last raced, and that's probably because it’s been two long months since we were at Portimão, where, at last, we saw an overall victory go the way of CP Racing. Charles Putman and his team from America have been stalwarts of the 24H SERIES for quite a long time now, so it seemed quite fitting to see them on the top step of the overall podium.
As ever, one of the features of the Portuguese track over the course of the race was to combat the heat. There is a reason why the Algarve region is an international holiday destination, and that's the beautiful hot and sunny weather. The same could be said for where we are this weekend, as the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is invariably bathed in very sunny weather conditions. And extreme heat!
The challenges for the teams are the usual ones with regards to managing the engine and gearbox cooling across the course of a long-distance race, and it goes without saying that tyre management will be crucial. The long constant radius corners of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya put a massive load on tyres, and we will see drivers having to manage their driving during the course of their stint, staying disciplined and not over-driving in the heat of a race battle.
Turn three will be a particularly gruelling challenge: the corner goes on and on and on, and the tyres, especially the left front, just continues to take the load. If drivers aren't conservative on this part of the track, blisters will develop and very soon, the tyre is shot. Suddenly you can't turn into right handers, as the car just understeers toward the edge of the track.
Perhaps the thing we tend to take for granted on a hot race weekend are the drivers themselves. It has become a common sight in the 24H SERIES to see inflatable paddling pools at the back of the pit garages, and rest assured, they aren't there for some downtime with the kids though. You could even argue they have become a very important and necessary piece of kit when racing in hot climates.
One of the first things a driver will do after finishing a stint, for example, is to go and lie down in the team paddling pool, sometimes without even taking off their race overalls. Chatting to Portimão winners Shane Lewis and Joe Foster, both extoled the virtues of being able to bring their body temperatures down in this way, thus enabling them to speed up their recovery so that they were ready to go again sooner. And it works! In Portimão, CP Racing was able to recharge Shane in no time and deploy him back into the car to finish the race.
Overheating can cause dehydration, which can cause all sorts of issues for drivers. Even more serious than a drop off in lap time (can there be anything more important than lap time?).
Considering that drivers must wear fireproof overalls, which trap the heat, which in turn causes sweating and the possibility of dehydration whilst driving, perhaps the most serious symptom resulting from this would be a driver blacking out during a race. All of the drivers I have come across treat their race week preparation with 'keep hydrated' at the top of the list. This is why you very rarely see drivers without a drinks bottle in their hand out of the car.
Barcelona then will invariably be its usual tough race, and as ever, it’s very hard to pick who will come out on top. Could CP Racing come out on top again? Perhaps. Having said that, 2021 saw Herberth Motorsport take 1st and 2nd overall in Barcelona, but, amazingly, the former series champion has yet to claim any step of the overall podium so far this season. Surely their luck must change at some point in 2022, so discount the #91 Porsche at your peril.
You can also check out Joe’s column in our magazine for the 2022 Hankook 24H BARCELONA, available for download below.