Forest Barber on getting started

Getting Started is Harder Than it Looks ALTON, Va., Oct. 1 - Bolstered by a few too many beers, sometimes a fan in the stands will brag that he could drive a Daytona Prototype better than some of the Rolex series drivers out on the track. That...

Getting Started is Harder Than it Looks

ALTON, Va., Oct. 1 - Bolstered by a few too many beers, sometimes a fan in the stands will brag that he could drive a Daytona Prototype better than some of the Rolex series drivers out on the track.

That may or may not be the case.

However, it's very likely that if that fan actually did get that opportunity, he probably wouldn't even know how to turn the car on.

Although Rolex series driver Forest Barber modestly says there's not that much to it, it's more complicated to the layman than one might think.

We asked Barber, one of the four winning drivers of the Kodak EasyShare DORAN JE4 Pontiac No. 54 at this year's Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, to walk us through the steps to get his car started. Barber is in a unique position as both a driver and a car owner, although Terry Borcheller and Christian Fittipaldi will drive his car in this weekend's VIR 400 at Virginia International Raceway. The Bell Motorsports/Feeds the Need Racing team won this race last year from the pole with Borcheller and Andy Pilgrim driving. Sunday's race is scheduled to start at noon Eastern time and will be broadcast live on SPEED.

We'll assume our fan is already wearing approved fire-resistant underwear, a firesuit, Nomex driving socks and shoes; he may or may not have his cool suit on too. We'll also assume that his special radio earplugs, which were contoured to his ears alone, are in place and secured with duct tape. It's also a good idea for our fan to have gone to the bathroom recently.

We'll also assume the crew has already warmed-up the car, which takes approximately 30 minutes. They've already tightened bolts and done other things, but that's another story. They've also probably activated the on-board fire-suppression system, which will shoot fire-retardant into the cockpit and engine bay if the driver needs to push that button.

After our fan is dressed and at least looking the part, here's what Barber said to do:

1. Put on your balaclava, your helmet, your HANS device (the fork-like thing that stands for Head And Neck Support that is mandatory in Grand American) and your Nomex gloves. Plug your earplug wires into your helmet.

2. Get in the car. (Although there are no points for this, try to do it gracefully.)

3. Connect your lap belts. Connect your drink bottle and your cool suit if you use them.

4. Connect your shoulder belts. Make sure your shoulder belts are on top of the HANS device.

5. Tighten your shoulder belts.

6. Fasten the helmet blower hose to your helmet. Adjust the temperature of the cool suit and the speed of the helmet blower.

7. Install the steering wheel. Make sure you match up the splines correctly and make sure it's secure. (It wouldn't be good to have your steering wheel come off in your hands at over 150 mph, or anytime for that matter. The seconds before the crash would definitely be a Kodak moment!)

8. Connect the cord from your helmet to the radio receptacle in the car. Push your helmet microphone to your mouth.

9. Look over the instrument cluster to make sure all the breakers are in. Put the dash on the correct page. (There's usually a warm-up, practice and race page, all displaying different information.)

10. Flip the switch to turn the power steering on, and select the different level of power steering you want. There are four useable settings.

11. Check your mirrors to make sure they're aligned properly.

12. Do a radio check to make sure it's functioning properly. Team manager Jim Bell will get really frustrated with you if you can't hear him when he calls you in for a pit stop or asks you if you need any changes to the car's set-up before that pit stop.

13. If your crew hasn't already done it, put up your window net and close your door.

14. Put your visor down if you haven't already.

15. Make sure the car is in neutral.

16. Turn the ignition switch with your right hand. (No, Daytona Prototype cars, even the ultra-popular DORAN JE4s, don't have keys.)

17. Press the starter button with your right hand.  (Just the ignition switch
doesn't do it!)  Once the engine starts, check the gauge for oil pressure.

18. Glance at the dash one more time to make sure there are no alarms.

19. Select first gear.

20. Wait for a signal from your pit crewmember that the pits are clear, and then slowly leave the pit area. Be careful not to stall the car or over-rev it leaving the pits, which can be a little embarrassing.

21. Press to engage the pit limiter button.

22. You can floor the throttle because the pit limiter is on as you leave the pits, restricting your speed to 45 mph.

23. At the cones at the end of pit road, press to release the yellow pit limiter button again with your right hand to disengage it.

24. When you're off pit lane and onto the track, press and hold the fuel reset button, which helps the crew keep track of how much fuel is in the fuel cell at all times.

Now that you're underway, there are a few more things you're responsible for besides just going fast and passing cars. Not only are your crew, your sponsors and your fans counting on you, but your car owner also needs you to take good care of his baby, which cost approximately $375,000. (The engine alone cost more than many people's mortgages.)

Barber was nice enough to explain some of those things too.

The first one is to monitor the instrument panels, especially the oil pressure and the water temperature.

"The dash is pretty automated and warning lights will come on if something is not where it should be, and we have telemetry between the pits and the car so the engineer is monitoring those same functions too," Barber explained. "They're monitoring all the warning lights plus watching your shifts."

(Yes, your engineer and team manager are watching your shifts. You better not make up any big stories about where you shifted as you entered that high-speed turn because they already know what you did or didn't do, and they have graphs on their laptops to prove it.)

"I learn a lot by going over the telemetry after sessions to see where I shifted in relationship to where Terry [Borcheller, one of his teammates and the reigning Daytona Prototype champion] shifted," Barber says. "The dash has a series of lights to tell you when to shift though. There are three green lights, and then when the red lights flash on the steering wheel it's time to shift."

Barber also explained that you don't use a clutch to shift either up or down. "You push or pull the shifter on the floor (depending on whether you're going up or down through the gears], but you don't use a clutch because it's part of the shift mechanism," he said.

Barber also said that most Daytona Prototypes, including his Bell Motorsports/Kodak EasyShare DORAN JE4 Pontiac, have traction control. "It senses wheel slip, and if the wheels slip it will adjust the power going to the wheels," he said. "It's adjusted by different data settings that are keyed in for different tracks and for different conditions, like rain.

"Our car doesn't have power brakes," he added. "ABS brakes aren't legal for our class. The tracks we run on are pretty smooth, but the car is very physical and it's a very hot car to drive."

In the interest of safety, Barber also pointed out the car's kill switch on the dash. "You need to use that if you're in a wreck," he noted. The driver also needs to know where the switch is to activate the in-car fire suppression system.

One of the best ways to avoid getting into a wreck is to use the side mirrors. There is no rear-view mirror because the rear "window" is filled with a lot of gold foil, which is used to reflect engine heat. "That gold foil was developed by the aerospace industry to reflect heat off rockets," Barber explained.

While you're using your side-view mirrors, remember that you're looking out of a visor that's only about 4 inches high and 10 inches wide.

And, while you're watching your instruments and your line as you enter, go through and exit a turn and set yourself up for the next turn or straight coming up, remember that there are other cars around yours, going at very different speeds.

"With the different classes all on the course at the same time with very different closing rates and very different braking rates, traffic can be a very big issue," is the way Barber put it.

And all this was to just get rolling down pit road. Pit stops and driver changes are a whole other matter, and we haven't even covered how to drive the thing.

So is it really as easy as it looks?

Hardly!

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Christian Fittipaldi , Andy Pilgrim , Terry Borcheller , Forest Barber