The calm, measured voice of FIA World Endurance Championship Race Director Eduardo Freitas, instantly recognisable to sports car racers around the world, is a reassuring and constant presence to not only the series’ organisers but also to its competitors.
The decisions taken by him during a race potentially affect its outcome but none of them are taken without thought and care – bringing into play the many years’ experience gained by the Portuguese in international motorsport.
Beginning as a marshal over 30 years ago, and working in every aspect of race control since, Freitas is respected and admired as a Race Director like few others. In a rare break from his duties, we asked him a few questions about what his race weekends entail:
How do you determine what calls to make concerning an incident on track during a practice session or race?
EF: “First of all it depends on the nature of the situation, the track, the experience which I take from the track marshals and the way they can deploy human resources or rescue vehicles. The first criteria to consider is how severe it is, if there is physical danger for example, and that immediately goes into a separate ‘folder’ where normally one would call for a safety car or red flag if it involves the well-being of someone – the driver, the marshals or the public. The main priority is always safety and the rest comes as a consequence.
“If it’s something minor we tend to resolve it by sending in a marshal to pick up debris, for example, or to deal with a situation, but if it’s something more serious then we have to go to a more serious plan such as a safety car or ultimately a red flag.
“As a race itself, my view is that these are 6-hour races and they are not to be divided into shorter parts. Personally I only use safety cars when absolutely necessary.”
Before every race, you make a detailed track inspection. What does this involve?
EF: “Before I arrive on site I study the layout of the track to understand what possible lines the drivers can have. When making the inspection, you must look out for recent works which might not be finished, the wear of the track – if there are holes behind kerbs, for example, or anything that is exposed which can put the drivers or cars into danger.
“You must also look out for places where drivers can short-cut and make an advantage [in lap time or position] out of it, and I can call on people such as YannickDalmas – the FIA WEC’s Driver Advisor – to give me feedback on how a driver will approach Turn A or Turn B and how we can improve safety at that point.
“For example, at Bahrain last year, due to the level at which the driver’s head is inside the car, at Turn 7 was basically blind. It’s in the middle of nowhere, with no identifying references, and we had to consider that in this championship we have both professional and gentlemen drivers. In order to improve the visibility and, after discussing it with Yannick, we put a bollard in the apex of Turn 7 and we then had no problems at all in that area. It’s good to have the experience of a driver who can give me data in this type of case as I never raced myself.”
What information is available to you in Race Control during an event?
EF: “It changes from circuit to circuit. In Europe we have two sources of information on the video side which is the TV feed and the Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) cameras around the venue, which are a good source of help and we have a lot of footage from CCTV cameras which TV viewers don’t see at home. Sometimes on TV it looks one way and on CCTV the story can be totally different, and it can be misleading to the TV viewer.
“We can re-trace on CCTV as many as 10 previous laps of a particular car before an incident to see what sort of line he has been taking through a corner, and what changes he might have made when something happened, either contact or an accident. It’s a useful tool but unfortunately at circuits such as Sao Paulo we don’t have this available; there it’s all based on TV broadcast.
“We have access also to other data, including that of the car. We don’t run a set up as sophisticated as F1 where they have live data of the car on each lap, but here we have it at intervals of one hour when the car stops in the pits and downloads its data. Sometimes decisions have to be taken with urgency to get back to the sporting value of the race. We have quite good information from the timing, although we don’t run GPS systems and use just three timing points around the track, and that’s also important for analysing the behaviour of a car on track, deltas of speed and so on. We are working on a progressive way to increase this information but it’s a very expensive business and has to be done step by step!”
How do communicate with the teams during an event?
EF: “We communicate by means of information on the timing monitors and I can also speak to them via the pit wall radio – a frequency which works only one way, they can’t talk back to me – and we also have an internal messaging system where teams can ask questions and we can answer them all individually and privately.
“Marshals must communicate with the Clerk of the Course, normally someone national, through a radio system, and they communicate with the drivers through the flag system which has now been in use since 1896. It’s the only way we have to ‘speak’ to the drivers live, other than via the teams’ own radio system. We can’t yet send an SMS or BBM, for example, but the technology exists and the time will probably come when we can do that.”
FIA World Endurance Championship