A race pit stop in WEC is fast and furious; blink and you miss the details. So we chatted to Brian, our outside wheel gunner at pit stops for the #1 TS040 HYBRID and asked him to explain what exactly he’s doing… Beside, you'll see here a fascinating head-cam perspective of a pit stop.
First of all, what are you doing at the race track beside the pit stop, what is your job?
Normally I’m behind the scenes doing sub-assembly; that involves putting together suspensions, shock absorbers and things like this. We prepare all these parts ready for the mechanics to put them on the car. I’m doing especially the shock absorber for both cars and beside this I’m helping as much as needed at the car when the guys need a hand.
So that’s behind the scenes, but during pit stops you are taking centre stage…
In a way, yes. I do the outside wheel gun, which means I’m the one, with my colleague, who is putting the wheel on and running around the car.
Can you describe how this whole process works?
It’s pretty difficult to be honest, because it happens so fast. Basically the tyres get delivered to the front of the garage, when the cars enter the pit lane. So we have maybe 5-10 seconds to grab the wheels and to make sure that our equipment is ready. When we talk about a clockwise track, which is normally the case except Austin, I start with taking the front left wheel in my hands and I have to wait behind the line with everybody else for the car to stop. When the car is refueling I can place the front left wheel in position ready for the pit stop, then I have to walk back behind the line.
What do you mean ‘behind the line’?
During a pit stop only two people are allowed to cross the line and work on the car, the only exception is the one who is helping with the driver change. It means that within our pit stop crew we all have to have an eye on each other to make sure that nobody additional is crossing the line by accident.
And what happens when the refueling is finished?
Then I’m looking for two things, one is the guy lifting the car with the air jack and second is the rear right wheel change. Rear right always starts first in our team. Once the rear right guy has finished his wheel change I can then run from the line to the front left of the car, gun and take the wheel of. I place it then on the floor correctly; if it’s not placed flat and moves it could be dangerous and we would get a penalty. That’s why, even in hurry I need to make sure that I don’t just throw the wheel away. While I’ve taken the wheel off and by the time I’ve changed the switch on the gun, my partner already has put the other wheel on and I can attach the wheel again. Then we run to the rear left and do exactly the same. Once I’ve finished I run as quickly as possible behind the line so that the front right can already start taking off their tyre. In between my partner collects the two wheels we’ve changed and crosses the line as quickly as possible after me.
And that’s your job done for the pit stop?
Not quite. My other job after changing the wheels is to release the car; I pull out the pneumatic line to the air jack. But I can’t do this until the right front wheel has been changed. So I have to carefully watch the guys changing the front right. If they have a problem and I don’t see it, we could waste time dropped and then lifting the car. In the worst case, the car could leave without the wheel fully tightened. So I have to be really careful and concentrated, even after my ‘main task’ is done.
How do you prepare for such an intense task?
You definitely have to be physically fit as you need to do all the race pit stops without slowing down. It’s an explosive task, which is done within 15-20 seconds. You also need to be strong enough to pull the wheel off with one hand; it weighs around 25kg and in the other hand you’re holding the wheel gun, which weights another 6kg. So you need to be fit and strong.
The wheel gun is that heavy?
The gun has to loosen the nut and then tighten it again after the tyre chance. The wheels are tightened with over 500Nm of torque, which is a lot. So there is a lot of force in the gun, which is powered by around 25 bar of air pressure. If you don’t hold the gun properly or you don’t expect such forces you could hurt yourself, so we have to be careful at all times.
Can you do some special exercises to help?
Definitely. In general it’s important to know which muscles you’re using to do what job. My partner for example who put the wheel on uses different muscles than I do. So he practices holding weights in front for a long time. I am pulling the weight away, so it’s different. I usually do a lot for my forearms and always maneuvering the wrists to keep them flexible and strong.
The overseas races this season just started and most of them are in pretty warm conditions, is it even harder because of the heat?
It’s tough, for sure. Having to wear fire-proof underwear and then the suit, helmet, balaclava, all makes it even warmer. We all need to make sure to drink a lot and to save our energy as much as possible. The pit stops are pretty hard but it’s even harder to wear all this stuff for the whole six hours of the race in the heat of the garage.