By Prince Chula of Thailand
We are very pleased to be able the present this article on a most important aspect of racing by one who is recognised authority on the subject – Ed.
It was with diffidence that I accepted the invitation of MOTOR SPORT to write something on pit control. In spite of the fact that I have perhaps achieved some success as a pit manager, I still regard myself as an amateur, owing to my ignorance of the technicalities of an engine. However, I suppose I cannot go too far wrong if! confine myself to my own experiences as manager to my cousin “B Bira”.
With us ‘pit control’ started with the preparation of the car. In 1937 our Maserati blew up after Bira had a duel with Raymond Mays in the International Trophy. Later I read in a motoring paper, “Prince Chula was angry. He can find no excuse for mechanical breakdown.” This remark was in some ways true. I do not think a well-prepared car for the independent driver should break down. I think it was the refusal or the failure to realise the difference in the approach to racing between a firm and an independent, which accounted for the fact that, few of the fine British independent drivers during the past five seasons achieved consistent success.
A firm races to improve their cars, so they must forever be experimenting, hence unreliability must be faced. An independent should be racing for fun only, and the most fun can surely be obtained, if not in winning, then in keeping the car in full fettle through the race. This can best be achieved by keeping the car which one has bought as standard as possible, just giving it careful preparation. Many independents were so busy trying to alter their engines that thoroughness in ordinary preparation must have been lost. Their can might have been faster for a few laps, but were soon to be a dead-car park.
I believe a racing car must be designed as a whole, and once that has been achieved, an independent should leave it alone. We had countless failures in the first years of racing, and it was not until the 1938 season we discovered the true method of an independent and with this policy carried out in the year by my mechanic, Stanley Holgate we only had four retirements in 16 races. Each was traced to faulty material, so by adding a crack tester, we went through 1939 without a single retirement, “Bira” never placed lower than third. So much for preparation.
The next step is at practice and there again the control is as important as in the race itself. I am not suggesting the driver is not capable of judging how he should carry out practice – far from it.! merely think he ought not to do so. He should be able to concentrate on his driving, and the practice should be supervised by pit control. First class driving is an art so fine that to give it full justice a driver has no time to worry about other things. Many people, I believe, used practice for further tuning. We did not. Our car was tuned at Brooklands a day before, and once practice began we left the engine alone unless absolutely necessary. Apart from the minor adjustments, the car was left as it came from the garage.
The practice period was used for “Bira” to lap at the fastest speed within safe limits. The idea was he should get used to knowing his limit on every corner, but it was always hoped this limit would not be necessary in the race. It was also used to match our car against the speed of the others. This would give an idea as to the race, but would not dictate our race policy. I believe in Bira making the fastest lap provided no risk is taken. It has a psychological effect on the others; on many occasions it caused our strongest opponent to take his engine down before the race in the hope of getting more speed. The car would have more speed but last only a few laps.
In the race, pit control would be impossible if the driver and the manager did not share the same policy and did not trust each other. After trying others, “Bira” and I discovered that for a lone independent driver there was only one policy. This was to drive the car at the fastest and safest speed throughout the race, as if one was racing alone. My pit control, therefore, consisted entirely of giving Bira full information so as to keep rigidly to this policy.
This mutual trust between us in pit control can be seen often in the sixty-eight long distance races in which Bira ran, winning twenty of them. If Bira had eased and found he was given the faster signal he’d always try to obey, however unreasonable it would seem to him at the time. The best case of this was perhaps the International Trophy Race in 1936. Towards the end of that long race Bira was a safe second, but I thought he was a whole lap behind Mays. The mistake was caused by the fact that we had a muddle at the refill stop and I had omitted to put that lap on my chart. Thus it seemed absurd to keep Bira going so fast, and he was allowed to ease off. With eight laps to go, Mays came to his pit for a refill and I discovered then that Bira had been really on the same lap, thus he was now in the lead. The faster signal was promptly given. Utterly bewildered, he obeyed and kept ahead of Mays till the last lap. That Mays then passed him to be reposed by Bira within sight of the finish is now well known. The close finish, which delighted the spectators, would not have taken place had Bira hesitated to obey a seemingly absurd signal.
It was agreed that he was left with no discretion with regard to the “slow down” signal which had to be obeyed, and yet he was not to slow of his own accord. This is because unless one is in pos.ses.sion of full knowledge according to the time chart, one cannot know when it is safe to slow.
The best example was the Isle of Man Race, an in a downpour of rain in 1937. Bira was driving magnificently in those appalling conditions, and by half distance had a lead of 56 secs, over Fairfield, who was second. When he came by the pit, one could catch a glimpse of Bira’s surprised face as he searched for the “slow down” signal. Somehow had had an intuition before the race that Fairfield would not have to stop for a refill. I was proved right, and although Bira was overtaken while refilling, his lead had been so great that he was able to get it back and obtain victory.
Although our policy is to drive consistently fast: regardless of the others, I always gave “Bira” his position in the race, those of the others, and the gap of time separating him from them. These signals were designed to keep him amused and informed. as to the general situation. Thus I have often found that I gave more signals than anybody else.
As I can see it, races are won by fine drivers driving well-prepared cars. The task of the pit manager is to help in co-ordinating their efforts into the same harmonious channel.