Sandbagging has come up a lot in sportscar racing lately. Every team got busted for sandbagging before the 24 Hours of Daytona, and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Ford GT and Ferrari 488 didn’t show their true pace before qualifying. How do teams trick officials into thinking cars are slower than they are?
Sandbagging, of course, refers to the act of hiding one’s true speed so as not to give it away before a major event. Imagine a giant sandbag weighing down a car and slowing it down, and it’s easy to see where the term comes from.
Teams don’t sandbag only to hide speed from other teams. Major sportscar series use data from practice sessions and prior races to determine “balance of performance” tweaks. The idea is to put the different makes and models of sportscars on a somewhat even playing field by adjusting things on cars like ballast weight, restrictor size and the like. Series that use balance of performance mods want the race to come down to driver skill, not to one car’s superiority. That and there’s always a fear that one car will run away with the championship and everyone will stop caring about the series. (I’m looking at you, Mercedes F1.)
Hardcore fans follow even the most minute balance of performance changes, and they moan and gnash their teeth whenever they feel a series has unfairly ‘penalized’ a fast car with a BOP adjustment. That’s the rub, though. Teams are always looking for an advantage, be it fair or unfair.
Naturally, if a class result appears lopsided, as it did with the Fords and Ferraris in the LM GTE Pro class at Le Mans, that also means that someone played the system pretty well. But how do they do it?
Geoff Carter, the senior series and technical manager for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, told Michelin Alley all of the things that their teams were doing to sandbag at the Roar Before the 24 test ahead of Daytona:
We found some teams not using full throttle, running full fuel loads, varying tire pressures well beyond normal ranges, short shifting, braking early, and using “lazy” acceleration. Some guys ran the “wrong” gears to limit RPM. We saw 10 or 11 different mechanisms. GPS can tell us the line the driver took. Some guys at “The Roar” ran the entire test without hitting an apex. Some just rolled into the corners.
Some of those are pretty creative. Well played, Daytona entrants. Well played.
Less creative was the egregious trick that was all too easily caught by IMSA’s mandatory Bosch data-logging systems (or someone with a good ear):
In NASCAR Turn 4, coming onto the front straightaway there were cars where the driver had completely lifted and the throttle position was zero!
Oh, bless your heart.
Ford skeptics can rest easier ahead of IMSA’s race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, though: the Ford GTs received several Balance of Performance tweaks for this weekend, per Fox Sports. Like the World Endurance Championship’s post-qualifying adjustments at Le Mans, this is an unusual, unprecedented move for the WTSC series. The Ford GTs easily finishing 1-2 in their class at last weekend’s 6 Hours of the Glen showed officials that it was time to put the Fords back on an even playing field.