Wake up! How Rolex 24 drivers stay alert working the graveyard shift

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – There are many ways – a hot shower, a steaming espresso, a soothing massage – to awaken from a midrace nap for a post-midnight stint in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Or you could try just staying up for 24 consecutive hours.

Having regretfully tried that in his 2006 debut, A.J. Allmendinger advises getting some rest.

“I drank like 14 Red Bulls during the night – not great for hydration by the way — so I didn’t sleep the whole time,” said Allmendinger, whose Michael Shank Racing team finished second in his first endurance race. “I wasn’t right for three days after that. So as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to kind of pace myself. I still don’t sleep a lot because especially when it’s going well, I’m so amped up. I’m always afraid if I close my eyes, I’m going to wake up and we’ll be out of the race for some reason.

“But I do try to stay off my feet when I’m not in the car and just rest. Because it’s 24 hours for a reason, so you really have to pace yourself.”

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Every driver seems to have their own method for finding the necessary jolt of adrenaline to stay alert and engaged while whipping around Daytona’s road course at 180 mph at 3 a.m.

Rolex 24 rookie Kyle Busch joked that he simply would skip signing up for the graveyard shift. But with stints generally in the 45-minute range, and the race split between three to four drivers per car, the middle-of-the-night knock on the motorhome door is unavoidable.

“I always say I hate driving between 2 and 4 in the morning and 90 percent of the time, I end up driving there,” Acura Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya said with a laugh. “I like trying to get a bit of a nap, but it is hard. We only do three drivers. If you do a double stint, that is an hour and a half. You get out of the car, and by the time you get a massage and go eat, they will be calling you in 40 minutes.”

Montoya’s routine is usually a massage, a meal, another massage and a shower.

“Then I get in my underwear that I am going to drive in, lay my uniform down on the floor and close the door, lights out,” he said. “I do not psyche myself up or do any of that. I just get in and drive the car. All my life I have been like that.”

Cars streak past the Ferris wheel in the horseshoe (courtesy of IMSA).

Staying habitual is important. Montoya repeats his routine whether exiting his car at 4 in the afternoon or 4 in the morning. His teammate Helio Castroneves said he got the same advice from sports car veteran Allan McNish to “do your due diligence” after every stint.

Sometimes, getting to sleep can be the hard part, “particularly when your number is near the top of the scoring pylon,” Corvette Racing’s Jordan Taylor said.

Teammate Oliver Gavin said disconnecting from the event and electronic devices (except maybe some noise-canceling headphones) also is useful.

“You’re trying to work on all the different things you can just to switch off,” Gavin said. “Put your phone away, stop looking at timing and scoring, take the radio off, put that away. You’ve really got to separate yourself away from the race, to try and get that hour, two hours, three hours of sleep so you then can come back refreshed to then jump back in the car”

Crew members often are napping in the pits during a Rolex 24 at Daytona (Marc Serota/Getty Images).

But it still can be difficult to arise from a deep sleep on a cozy bed.

“You know you’ve got to get up and get ready to go out there and drive almost 200 mph on the banking and get right to work,” LMP2 driver Colin Braun said. “You’re trying to get woken back up and get in gear so I try to get in a little bit of physical activity. I always carry a jump rope with me and kind of just warm up to get kind of the muscles going and the blood flowing. It’s always kind of fun and also painful to try to get going.”

Alexander Rossi has an old reliable: caffeine. Though it still doesn’t entirely do the trick when rising from a 1 a.m. slumber.

“I have an espresso, get my stuff on, get in the car, and it’s not really until I’m kind of idling down pit lane where you kind of wake up,” said Rossi, who will make his second start with Penske this year. “You’re still a little bit out of it just because it’s weird, right? You shouldn’t be doing this at 2 o’clock in the morning.

“And by the time you kind of get to the end of pit lane, and you take the pit speed limiter off, there’s enough adrenaline that you just kind of default back to the mode that you were last in and that’s the cool part about this race. Throughout the process you’re like ‘Why’d I do this? Why are we here? This is so long. This is such a pain,’ and then you know at the end you’re kind of like, ‘OK, can’t wait for next year.’

“It’s that race that always pulls you back, and it’s that challenge — especially during the middle of the night — that makes it so special.”

A prototype race car is silhouetted by the headlights of other cars while racing at night during the 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona (Brian Cleary/Getty Images).

Sergio Perez still has coronavirus; will miss second consecutive F1 race

F1 Sergio Perez out
Laurent Charniaux/Pool via Getty Images
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SILVERSTONE, England — Sergio Perez will be out for a second F1 race at Silverstone this week after again testing positive for the coronavirus.

The Mexican driver had hoped to return to Formula One after spending seven days in quarantine, but his Racing Point team said this morning he had tested positive.

“He is physically well and recovering,” the team said. “The whole team wishes Sergio and his family well and we look forward to his return.”

That means German veteran Nico Hulkenberg again fills in for Sunday’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix after having also replaced Sergio Perez when he was out for the F1 British Grand Prix at the same venue last week. Hulkenberg did not start that race because of an engine problem.

There are two consecutive weekends of racing at Silverstone as Formula One tries to pack in races following the pandemic-delayed start to the season.

Perez became the first Formula One driver to test positive for coronavirus, and it had been unclear whether he would be available to drive after the period of quarantine was extended to 10 days.

Racing Point also was in the news Friday after being hit with a 15-point penalty in the Formula One constructors’ championship and fined 400,000 euros ($470,000) Friday for using brake ducts based on those from last year’s Mercedes cars.

The stewards ruled that Mercedes was the “principal designer” of the parts, and that Racing Point made only minor changes to computer design data it received from Mercedes.

Rival team Renault filed protests about the legality of the brake ducts, which were added to the “listed parts” under F1 rules for 2020. That means teams must design their own. Racing Point argued it was merely using information about the Mercedes parts to inform its own design.

Racing Point uses customer engines from Mercedes and has admitted basing its 2020 car design on photographs of last year’s Mercedes car. The similarities led to the Racing Point being nicknamed the “pink Mercedes” when it was first seen in testing ahead of the season.

Racing Point can appeal the ruling. The points deduction drops the team from fifth to sixth in the standings, below Renault. The ruling doesn’t affect the points totals for Racing Point’s drivers.