The 2008 American Le Mans Series closes this weekend with the Monterey Sports Car Championships presented by Patr¢n, or the “Last Waltz” as Risi Competizione Technical Director Rick Mayer calls it. Although Risi cannot win its second straight GT2 championship, there is plenty on the line at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with Ferrari in the hunt for its second straight manufacturer title. How can the Ferrari teams best put the Prancing Horse in position for a repeat championship? Mayer gives us a few clues.
The Track Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca has several long medium- to high-speed corners and a low top speed of 240 kph or 150 mph, one of the lowest top speeds of all the tracks we run. Sections of the track are similar to street tracks but with elevation changes. The surface is relatively smooth as the weather is very consistent all year round. General grip level is typically low.
The big issue at Laguna is that sand surrounds the track edges, as opposed to grass at most permanent road courses. As the higher downforce cars run near the edge of the track (or unintentionally off track) the sand is sucked onto the track which makes the track low grip and slippery and not always predictable. A moderate wind will also bring sand onto the track. Shortly after the start, the track will only have one racing line; it’s difficult for GT2 cars to go off line to pass (or get passed by faster classes) and have any grip. If you go, or are forced, off line it takes several laps to clean the tires.
Setup Laguna’s typically a low grip understeer track. The only real change of direction is in The Corkscrew section, but it’s relatively slow and falling away downhill. It’s a unique corner all to itself and you don’t spend any time setting up for this complex, although it does tend to set the minimum ride height for the car; cars usually ‘bottom’, i.e. the floor of the car touches the surface of the track, here.
A moderately stiff setup is better at Laguna Seca. Pitch platform is important for braking and turn-in, and you need support through the long corners which you can’t do with dampers (shocks). The last corner is very slow - a good exit is important here as this leads to the main straight and to Turn 3 which is a prime passing area. The car needs good low-speed traction to get off the last corner well.
The Race The GT2 championship titles are pretty well sorted. All the teams will be looking for the win and not being conservative relative to championship points. It’s a long race (four hours) and it will be tight on fuel for a three-stop strategy.
Low grip translates to low tire wear. The Ferraris should be able to double stint tires if it’s strategically advantageous.
The Ferrari will be the favored GT2 chassis. The lack of long straights and several long corners will be a deficit for the Porsche; the long corners play to the Ferrari’s handling advantage. The 62 ran well here the last two years, winning both years. We are hoping the trend continues so we can end our problematic stateside season on a high note.
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