Maximum Attack.

2013 - American Le Mans Series, Laguna Seca.

image

After a rough start to the ALMS season at Sebring and Long Beach, I was really looking forward to racing at a track I was familiar with! That’s not to say I was expecting a good result, there’s so much in racing that’s beyond your control.. but it was nice to go somewhere and not have to spend any time figuring out where the track goes! :-)

IMSA allows the ALMS GTC class to practice with the IMSA GT3 Cup series on promoter test days, which is really nice for us. It allows me time to learn the new tracks and in the case of Laguna Seca, it gave us time to try a few new things for the weekend. The IMSA GT3 Cup group had two 40 minute practice sessions on Wednesday which we were able to participate in. Since we wouldn’t be back on track until Thursday at around 5PM, I decided to drive down for the day and head back home for the night so I could go to work Thursday morning, then drive back down to the track Thursday afternoon in time for our first official ALMS practice sessions.

Our first session on Wednesday started pretty well. We began with last years race setup on the car, but knowing the track conditions would change for the race weekend weren’t too concerned with the balance or pace— which was ok, but not exceptional.

For our 2nd session on Wednesday we wanted to get a little crazy and tried a drastically different spring rate and a different brake package. Because the track conditions were so bad in the 1st session, we weren’t expecting much but it was a valuable test session for us. Needless to say, it didn’t work out very well and the car was extremely  difficult to drive!

With those two test sessions in the books and a single long session on Thursday available to us, we had to act quickly. We had a new set of developmental dampers that were delivered to us Thursday morning (original plan was to try them on Wednesday) and we had to decide if we could risk further testing or continue tuning a “known” setup. Because the GTC class is so competitive this year, we felt there was no choice.. we had to try the development dampers looking for more speed!

The upside of a single long session is it allows both drivers plenty of time to work with the engineers to tune the car, the downside is there isn’t  time for big changes… you simply can’t get the car back to the truck and back out on track in time. We weren’t happy with the balance or pace of the car with the developmental dampers, and after spending 90 minutes tuning and trying to make it work our session was over. Strangely, the changes we were making were not having the desired effect… they were almost doing the opposite of what we were expecting!

Not only were we having issues with our dampers, but our dash board stopped working! For those unfamiliar with a Porsche Cup car, it might not sound very important… but without the Motec dash not only do you have no idea what gear you’re in, lap times, predictive times or if you’re on the pit lane speed limiter but you also don’t have shift lights!!

After our one and only session on Thursday, we were in a bad place. We had big question marks on our brake package, our dash didn’t work and our “base” setup wasn’t great. Our developmental dampers performed horribly, and with only 1 practice session left we had some tough choices to make!

image

That evening we had found that one of our 4-way adjustable developmental dampers had zero’d out all of it’s settings on it’s own at some point during our practice session. That explains why Jan and I were so unhappy with the car and why Luke our engineer was pulling his hair out. But, that left us in another bad position for our practice session on Friday. With one practice session left Friday morning and one Friday afternoon leading straight into qualifying, we had to start rolling the dice.

We decided to go with last years setup and simply make some tweaks in the upcoming practice session to make it work for us. With the pace we were showing, if our brakes and dash board kept working we thought we could still be competitive. Friday morning went ok, we made the car better but still not great for either Jan or myself.

By Friday afternoon we thought we were in a pretty solid place. We weren’t able to get the car perfect, but we were pretty close and thought we’d be excellent for the race. Jan was going to qualify, so I was going to start the session on old tires, then half way through we’d do a driver change (at speed for practice) and Jan would finish out the session with a qualifying simulation on new tires which would lead straight into our qualifying session. The car would not have time to go back to the truck between our final practice and qualifying.. any changes we’d want to make would have to be done in the pit lane. We had made some changes to the base setup and needed to verify it was the rite direction. With the help of Porsche and one of the IMSA teams we were able to locate a spare Motec dash and continue debugging our electronic problems, the only downside was we wouldn’t be able to use the data as it didn’t have all the fancy memory upgrades.

On my second lap during the final practice session I clipped the tall red FIA curbing at the inside of Turn 6. It’s there for a reason (to keep us from short cutting!), but man is it big and harsh! After I hit it, I kept my foot in it all the way up the hill while radio’ing in to the team that I smacked the hell out of the left front and that we needed to check it out. As I put on the brakes to enter the corkscrew, the front left tire collapsed (in 5th gear!) and most of my deceleration collapsed with it! I went straight off into the gravel at the top of the hill. Luckily once I came to a stop, I managed to get the car moving by doing my best ninja impression w/ the clutch and was able to get out of the gravel trap on my own without a tow (which would have ruined the practice session for everyone else). 

The tire was down and the wheel was broken. The team put a new wheel on the car and I went back out rite away to make sure it was still (relatively) straight. After a lap shaking out the gravel I was back up to speed. However, since it happened so early and because the hit was so harsh we couldn’t really evaluate the changes we had made before the session. I was positive I had knocked something out of spec as the car was driving different in left and right turns and locking the left front wheel in most braking zones.

Unfortunately for Jan, he had to go straight into qualifying with a bent car. Rule #1 for a co-driver, don’t screw up the car for the next guy… woops! In my own defense I normally don’t do that….

Jan was still able to qualify P5 out of 10 cars which was awesome. It put us rite in the middle of our class which is fine for a 4 Hour race. 

image

Friday night our JDX Hertz crew was hard at work inspecting the damage I had caused. I wanted to make sure we had a really good look at everything as I didn’t want any surprises during the race. Before I went to bed Friday night I got a text from Luke, corner weights were knocked off by 150lbs and our damper was bent. Ouch! That left us in a pickle.. we only had the developmental damper set left.. which was “self adjusting” the only time we had used it. Not only that, we only had a 20 minute warm-up in the morning before the race started. Not a great way to start a 4 Hour endurance race… self adjusting dampers using a “best guess” setup to make them work, a borrowed dash board and the first time we were running this brake package in a race!

Jan and I both agreed that when the race started Saturday, no matter what issues we had or how the car drove or braked, we were going to drive the m*er*f*ing wheels off the damn thing!!

Our Saturday morning warm-up was pretty uneventful. We each did a couple laps to try and get a feel for it, and it was over. Time to hang out with our awesome Hertz guests at the track, do an autograph session, and meet with other people to take care of some business. 

After all that work and struggling during the week, it was now 3PM and time to GET IT ON! Whatever issues you had go out the window, the only thing to think about is how to get the most out of what you got.

image

I would be starting the race, and then at some point after reaching the minimum drive time (1 Hour 10 Minutes) I’d hand over to Jan.. our plan was a single driver change.

The race started pretty smoothly. I think I made up 1 or 2 positions early in the race while trying to get a feel for the new setup on the car (we had made a bunch of changes after the warmup). We had 2 early cautions which ended up splitting the strategy for our class. Some cars elected to come in early and top off and possibly get fresh tires. By rule, each car must start on the tires that were used in qualifying the previous day. About half our class opted to stay out, expecting more yellows in the future and maintain track position.

By chance at the 2nd restart, I was in P2 directly behind our class leader, who was directly behind one of the prototypes that would be taking us to the green flag. It’s a little abnormal for GTC cars to be so far at the front on a restart, but I didn’t care! On the restart I immediately went on the attack and was able to make a pass for the lead entering turn 2. Knowing that the fastest prototypes were rite behind us and probably cursing me for holding them up, I went a little wide and left the inside open on the exit for the Rebellion P1 car (and overall leader) to easily get under me… but I wasn’t expecting the Muscle Milk P1 car (and overall P2) to pass me on the inside entering T3! Either way we all managed to get through there without taking each other out and then I focused on absolutely maximizing my speed and minimizing my lap time loss while being passed by the faster classes. After about 2 laps it had calmed down and most of the faster classes had made their way around me and I had a 5-6 second gap on second place in our class. At that time I put my head down and drove as hard as I could. If it stayed green, I knew we’d need as big a gap as possible to come in and do a driver change that wouldn’t put Jan at a big disadvantage to the cars that stopped earlier.

After about an hour, the team radio’d me and said we’d be doing a full-stop w/ driver change in 3 laps. We hadn’t had any cautions and I couldn’t see the P2 car in class in my mirrors anymore.. so I was hoping we had a solid gap. If it wasn’t for being gang raped by a train of 5 or 6 GT cars all battling for position on my in-lap, that would have been my fastest lap of the race. As it stood, it was the lap before that. :-)

We had a very smooth stop and driver change (while under green, pits were empty) and Jan was back out. We didn’t have enough of a gap to maintain the lead, but we were still within striking distance. With another yellow or a pit-stop rotation we’d be back near the front!

image

Unfortunately during the next pit stop for fuel and tires, we had a slight delay with a wheel nut. That put us back in the 4th or 5th position. We were still in it though, and we still had an advantage on pit stop rotations.  Rite after we came in for our final fuel stop of the race… IMSA dropped a bomb on us. We would have to serve a stop & hold + 20 second penalty because the wrong person changed a driver water bottle during one of the earlier stops. Needless to say, that put us at the end of the lead lap… and with only 1 lap under green after the final caution we finished in 5th place.

Jan drove a hell of a race and the team worked really hard all week. But, as they say… that’s racing!

Now we have a few weeks off before the ALMS returns to action at Lime Rock.

-mike