INSIGHT: STRATEGY ON THE FLY
many instances,” Riley continues. “If
you’re the leader, you can control the
strategy pretty well; and if you’re close to
the leader, you’d better be ready to follow
them in. If you’re not controlling the race,
you’re looking to see what they’re doing,
and if you can race them for the lead,
you’ll try and mirror their strategy.”
The approach taken to race strategy is
somewhat standardized across all the
categories in IMSA’s multi-class TUDOR
Championship. The data points are nearly
identical between a Prototype and a GTD,
and the familiar practice of following the
leader is found in all forms of motorsport.
Where endurance racing diverges from
the norm is how racing with two, three, or
four classes at once can ruin some
strategies, while bestowing good fortune
on others. Even when a race is panning
out exactly as planned, one tiny mistake
by a driver in a different class can easily
and instantly turn things upside down.
“When it goes bad, it tends to go bad
pretty quickly,” O’Gara says. “You can be
looking like a hero, but if you get caught out
on a yellow, it can come crashing down. We
have a whole list of alternative plans – Plan
B, Plan C, and all that – but usually you don’t
switch to them unless something’s wrong.”
Having multiple plans in hand is the
routine practice for race strategists, but
as Riley reveals, his modus operandi
definitely goes against convention.
“Before the race, we talk about
different scenarios, but I think one of my
best strategies is not to have a strategy,”
he concedes. “Why? Because you’ll get
caught up in trying to make your strategy
work. As cool and as great as your
strategy might be in theory, depending
on yellows and how the car is running, it
ain’t going to work. And you aren’t going
to make the race conform to your
strategy, so why bother to begin with?
“It’s the same with chassis setups,” he
continues. “You can’t force your setup on
the track. Either it works or it doesn’t, so
you’d better be prepared to forget it and find
what the track wants and your car needs. Of
course, we’ve done this long enough to know
how to approach a race; we have a baseline
we work from, but once we’re racing, we
work more by feel than from a sheet with
some secret formula on how to win. It
never works out the way you want it to.”
Whether it’s falling behind because of
something going wrong during the race,
or a poor qualifying session, strategists
have a few tricks to regain lost positions.
“We do huddle up – a reality check to
ask ourselves, ‘What is going on here, and
how do we get out of this?’” Riley notes.
“We’ll pit off-sequence right away if that’s
best, and then just pray for a yellow. You
definitely can’t stick to what everybody
else is doing. You always have to adapt –
Just as track length is a key factor in
strategy, race length also impacts pre-race
plans and a team’s outlook on when to
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“You aren’t going to make
the race conform to your
strategy, so why bother to
As vice president
and chief engineer of
Bill Riley led the
design of the
Viper GT3-R and
the GTLM/GTE-spec Viper GTS-R.
With the factory
Viper program now
ended, Riley ran a
GTS-R in the 2015
Le Mans 24 Hours.
(MAIN) The Riley Motorsports crew
celebrates its Rolex 24 GTD class win.
(BELOW) Multi-class competition adds
another dimension to race strategies.