The question of aggression is another matter entirely. The mantra established by Ayrton Senna is that “if you see a gap and you don't go for it, you're no longer a racing driver.” For all his brilliance, Senna wasn't an endurance racer, and in this line of racing you probably could alter that to, “If the gap isn't big enough, and the race is early, it's not worth going for just at that moment.” Luhr went for it, but like Allan McNish at the 2011 24 Hours of Le Mans, it was at such an early point in the race he might have been better served by backing off.
What both incidents should serve to do – since, mercifully, the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing team did a heroic rebuild effort to get the car back out and complete the 70 percent of the race needed to score points and thus secure the championship – is provide a wake-up call to both prototype and GT drivers alike that more respect needs to be taken when it comes to overtaking slower traffic.
Prototype drivers, by their nature, have to be aggressive. They have to make somewhat risky moves at dangerous points on the track to get past GT traffic – yet at the same time, they also need to be more respectful of the GT race going on at that point to not alter their complexion. If, by going for it too soon, it benefits you but screws the GT driver, you should perhaps hold back.
Two perfect examples of this came earlier this year when drivers of the same PC class car from CORE autosport – Tom Kimber-Smith and Alex Popow – pushed way too hard at a moment they didn't need to and wound up taking out other GT cars in successive races.
At Lime Rock, on the downhill run to the front straight, Kimber-Smith went through Turn 7 at full blast, on the inside and edged Guy Cosmo off the road and hard into the tire barriers. Cosmo (RIGHT), merely minding his own business and running fourth, got taken out through no fault of his own – while Kimber-Smith made it home for a class podium and without penalty.
The next race, at Mosport, Popow tried an overly ambitious three-wide maneuver that knocked Ken Dobson in another PC class car from PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and, you guessed it, LeSaffre, out of the race. For that, Popow was put on probation.
In general, the GTC class cars are started by the gentlemen drivers, so that should be cause for the prototype drivers to be more careful than normal in going to overtake them at the outset of the race when they come up to overtake them. It's easy to forget since GTC is probably the most ridiculed class in ALMS, but, since it exists, there should at least be a standard baseline respect level.
I've lost count of how many prototype drivers have bitched to me about GT traffic, and vice versa this year, but the bottom line is that a certain point, the drivers need to be self-policing in when and how they overtake, knowing who is in what car and what tendencies they have to offer behind the wheel.
The respect between prototype and GT drivers is something that needs to be both established and enforced depending on how the classes work themselves out for the 2014 ALMS/Grand-Am merger. That means GT drivers need to know and have the qualifications to properly get out of the way when a prototype is overtaking, and prototype drivers need to use better discretion in some overtaking opportunities, based on each situation.
That's not to let the gentlemen drivers in either category off the hook – there are some out there who really shouldn't be, despite their wallet and ego sizes, both of which should be checked at the door before receiving a racing license. Those ones, in particular, should be more closely monitored to not make sure they cause hazardous conditions or multiple red flags in an on-track session.
When you're nine to 11 seconds off the pace of your pro co-driver in a spec class, for instance, you have no business being on track. There are two drivers in particular I've watched this year who I could mention in this context (in fact, if you follow me on Twitter, you know I already have...).
The unfortunate matter for LeSaffre in all this is that, while he's no world-beater, he's far from the worst out there, and by no means deserving of the avalanche of entire criticism he's earned. It puts all gentlemen drivers in a bad light and make the ones are out there to improve and hone their craft (which is all of them) and the ones who are almost pro level in terms of pace in the same category. Save for his Mosport accident, Popow's been one of the drivers of the year in sports car racing because of his blindingly quick pace and usually safe race craft.
Was LeSaffre's relative inexperience on his part a factor in the two accidents? Absolutely. But it certainly wasn't the only reason for both high-profile moments of impact. The accidents should serve as a catalyst to both series' officiating for 2013, and for the combined series in 2014, that driving standards for gentlemen drivers should be monitored and so too should respect levels of both prototype and GT drivers to avoid potentially catastrophic accidents in the future.