From 24 hours to two
The Belgian Grand Prix is the closest that Formula 1 comes to an endurance race, with the longest lap of the season at just over seven kilometres. But at least the grand prix is done within a couple of hours. Pirelli’s last visit to Spa, at the end of July, was for an actual endurance race: the famous Spa 24 Hours. And for the Italian tyre firm, the Spa 24 Hours marks the biggest tyre supply of the season for one individual race.
In total, 13,000 tyres were brought to the Spa 24 Hours, as opposed to around 1800 for Formula 1. The jewel in the crown of the Blancpain GT Series is also the biggest race for Pirelli in terms of manpower: 112 people from 10 nationalities were involved in the four-day event. For Formula 1, Pirelli brings around 55 people to each race.
At every grand prix, there’s a fitting area: the place where all the tyres are put on the rims. With 63 cars to service at the Spa 24 Hours, instead there’s an extensive ‘fitting village’, where a small army of Pirelli fitters can deliver a tyre every 14 seconds at peak capacity. Arriving for the race on Saturday morning and leaving on Sunday evening, they’re awake for around 36 hours. Whether it’s in F1 or GT, Spa likes to make people suffer.
From the drivers’ perspective
One driver who has experienced both single-seater racing and endurance competition is Italy’s Luca Filippi. The Italian has not only competed at the highest levels of GP2 and Indycar, but has also tested in Formula 1, as well as commentating on it. This year, he’s competing in the Blancpain GT Series, driving a Lamborghini Huracan.
“It’s a very different mentality to driving in single-seater racing, but it’s one that I like,” says Filippi. “The races are called endurance, but these days it's basically a sprint between pit stops, so you are pushing as hard as you would in a formula car. Probably the biggest difference is that you don’t only think of yourself, you have to think of your team mates as well. So there are more compromises.”
In Formula 1, drivers tailor the car to suit their precise preferences and driving styles. In GT, the set-up has to suit three drivers: sometimes four at the Spa 24 Hours. And with the drivers having to swap over quickly during pit stops, even the driving position is often sub-optimal.
“I think many people underestimate the challenge of GT racing at this level,” points out Filippi. “There are some aspects that are even harder than single-seater racing. But I would recommend everyone to try it. This style of racing improves you as a driver. And just like Formula 1, getting the most out of the tyres is a key to success.”