The sun rises over empty grandstands as the testers arrive to a virtually empty paddock. The crowds are weeks, maybe even months away.
For every moment of race glory, there must be hundreds of hours of work. Racing is a team sport and shop lights often burn all night as teams build, prepare, and maintain the cars that take to the grid at each American Le Mans Series race.
Away from the shop, teams work in an endless cycle to test, develop, and refine the cars, as they push toward ever-higher performance goals. Central to that process is the tester.
For some drivers, the role of testing comes naturally.
They have the gift of being able to slow each lap in their mind and provide detailed and insightful feedback to their teams. Others develop the ability through hard work experience. Not every driver is a great tester.
Testing is a long cycle of repetition punctuated by brief moments of terror when a new part fails or a new set-up proves disastrous.
Teams typically test one change at a time in a trial-and-error process. Track time on race weekends is limited so every gain is important. Even finding out what does not work saves valuable track time.
The tester’s subjective feedback is combined with the data recorders that measure everything except what he or she had for lunch.
There is more to testing than just making a car go fast. Once found, the speed must be repeatable, consistent, and establish a platform for possible changes on the race weekend.
Robertson Racing relies on the experience of David Murry to not only to find the appropriate combination for the #04 car driven by Murry and Anthony Lazzaro, but for the #40 sister car driven by Andrea Robertson and Melanie Snow.
Guy Cosmo faces a similar task at Extreme Speed Motorsports. He helps to work out packages for the #01 of Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek, while finding a set-up that will also be comfortable for his co-driver Ed Brown.
Even the top factory teams tend to lean upon one or two of their stars to find those final few tenths of second.
Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin, Flying Lizard Porsche’s Joerg Bergmeister and Patrick Long, and Risi Competizione Ferrari’s Jaime Melo, all ALMS champions, all log testing miles. That alone should tell you all you need to know.