A little past one hour into the race, and the first moment where race control needed to act on contact emerged. The dueling pair of Lola-Aston Martins collided at the top of the hill, diving into the Corkscrew. The trailing No. 6 Muscle Milk AMR car hit the factory No. 007 entry – how hard changed depending on who you talked to – but immediately, it triggered a response.
“That to me was cut and dry as they were absolutely nose to tail,” Barfield explains. “When the 6 drove into the Corkscrew behind 007, if he would have backed off immediately, and 007 wouldn't have been affected, there would have been no call. But as he pushed for even a couple car lengths, that to me was an immediate call. Although we did immediately go full-course yellow for something else. After seeing a replay, I got the same gut feeling to verify the call.”
The other talking point in the early stages of the race was some incredibly hard-nosed, or overly aggressive (again, depending on perspective) driving between the Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia and the eventual GT class-winning Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Toni Vilander and Jorg Bergmeister were beating and banging on each other in the lead-up to and through the Corkscrew.
As it occurred, Barfield and his team monitored the situation, and Barfield decided no further action was required.
“The 45/62 was aggressive driving on both of their parts, but really came down to, ‘No harm, no foul,” he says. “They were racing hard with each other, they were leaning hard on each other, they didn't leave each other a lot of room, but they're both top-notch professional drivers who did not negatively impact each other's day.”
The tone for Risi changed when Jaime Melo drove Bergmeister to the wall while the two were battling for the lead at the end of the race. As Risi had previously been warned for blocking and there was no time for an on-track penalty with the race at its end, Barfield decided to add 90 seconds to Risi's race.
“The reason for the 90-second penalty was that it was the equivalent to a stop plus 60 seconds, a precedent set for avoidable contact,” he says. “The defensive move resulted in contact and forced the vehicle into the wall, and that was the penalty assessed based on precedent.
“We have a pretty clear line about taking somebody to the other side of the track in terms of blocking or being defensive,” Barfield adds. “Earlier in the race, he had been warned for blocking, and he took a block to the point of squeezing someone to the wall and initiating contact with an immediate call. The fact that the 62/45 incident happened in the middle of the front straight, was just unacceptable. At that stage, your responsibility whether passing or being passed is to leave enough room once you've established himself with any other car alongside.”
Barfield says those decisions, along with any others he makes, are largely rooted in his ability to trust himself and not rely too much on other voices.
“I think where my strength comes from is making my decisions on my own,” he admits. “It's me who has to stand in the driver's meeting and say what I will or won't call. If I ask for someone else's opinion, their personal beliefs or opinions might differ wildly from mine.”
Races like this week's Petit Le Mans, a joint round between ALMS and the ACO-sanctioned Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, gives Barfield the chance to learn and understand the officiating rationale across the pond.
“They have grown to respect me and how I run the operation, and totally leave me alone,” he says. “They're a great resource to have. I am still learning and getting my head around how the ACO and Le Mans operates, and those are very important things. Under the ILMC/WEC events, it's important for me to consult with them on some of the calls via their input, or set some precedent for what teams expect at Le Mans and other international events.”
Barfield attended this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans per Elkins and ALMS CEO Scott Atherton's request, in order to further the understanding and background of the global sports car landscape. Understandably, Petit Le Mans poses the largest challenge of the year, with 53 cars trapped on a circuit in Road Atlanta (2.2 miles) less than a quarter of the length of Le Mans!
Any call is dictated strictly on the incident itself, not the individuals involved at that moment.
“With the exception of warnings issued previously, I literally look at incidents without looking at the color of the car, the car number or even considering who's driving it,” he says. “I look at incidents for exactly what each one is.”