In this first edition of our Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSC) round table we break down what fans can expect to see during the four hour race at Daytona International Speedway. Take a look as series regulars, Marc Miller (No. 33 Motor Oil Matters / Sonic Tools / Forgeline Porsche Cayman GT4) and Andrew Carbonell (No. 26 Mazda / SemperFiFund.org Mazda MX-5) give us some insight…
Q: What are the challenges that a track like Daytona presents for a four hour race?
Marc Miller: This is quite a big departure from what we are used to. For the last several years it’s been a 2:30- hour race format. This opens the door for drivers, it opens the door for much different strategies because our fuel mileage isn’t going to change. We kind of had it figured out for a 2:30-hour race and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of us that win that 2:30-hour race and will be short 1:30-hours and have to figure out from there what fuel strategy is going to win that last 1:30-hour sprint. We’re definitely going to be in that mode where you are at a 24-hour race or a 12-hour race where the first few hours you’re just riding. One, you’re positioning yourself well, getting the fuel economy you need and you’re taking care of the Continental tires so they’re there at the end. So you know what the tire wear is going to be like so that last sprint is going to be an all-out sprint.
You have to make the car survive so you can’t do anything stupid at the beginning of the race. With the GS field getting larger and larger, which is a wonderful thing, a bad day becomes a really bad day and the last thing you want to do is go out in the last hour and finish 18th which puts you way back in the points. You just can’t afford that. Last year you could make a couple small mistakes and still rebound and get on the podium. This year I can see that’s not going to be a possibility. The good thing about it, the four hour race gives you the opportunity to get laps back and get back in the hunt. It changes some of the dynamics of the race. The show itself is going to be a little more storied because there’s going to be opportunities for middle-of-the-race pit stop calls on strategy. Whether you take tires or not, this track isn’t as abusive on tires. So if you are running around in 10th, and you need track, position you can run in the top five by not changing tires and still be in the hunt. I think there’s a lot of advantages there that we didn’t have before.
Andrew Carbonell: Daytona is a special place in many ways. We always start off the racing season there, so mentally there is a lot that goes through your head just hearing someone say “Daytona”. It’s not just a track but it’s the start of the racing season! As a track Daytona serves up the challenge of being one of the fastest circuits we go to all year, which will always favor some cars more than others! Driving the MX-5 it’s always fun getting back into the infield section and maximizing how well our Mazda’s handle to chase down the nearest competitor and get back to their bumper or past them before exiting Turn 6 back onto the banking.
Q: How important is tire management?
Marc Miller: I would say normally tire management is very important but the Continental tires we have hold up very, very well on long runs and the difference in lap times around here from new tires to old tires isn’t as big as we thought. So kudos to Continental for providing us a good race tire. I think it makes the car more drivable, more racey and more stable and comfortable. Unfortunately since we’re running a lighter car tire management isn’t as big. We’re hoping with the track temperatures going up that maybe it comes back to us a little bit as far as tire management but we don’t know because it was so cold at the test, we can’t really tell.
Andrew Carbonell: Fortunately for us, the Mazda is great on tires! Being one of the lighter cars in the field, we have the ability to run well even at the late stages in a race. Nothing like a yellow flag after a long green run, where we can start in the pack and work our way through cars who are starting to struggle with tire wear.
Q: What is your most memorable moment here at Daytona?
Marc Miller: For me the most memorable moment was leading the Rolex 24 in the Viper Exchange, Riley Motorsports car. Unfortunately we didn’t get on the podium but we led quite a bit, had a very strong car and had an opportunity for a podium. But the day before actually being on the podium in the Motor Oil Matters Porsche Cayman for the first time at Daytona, was special. We had a car that was competitive on straight line speed and we were able to stand on the podium with a third-place finish. That really started the year off right for us. It was a catalyst for us.
Andrew Carbonell: My most memorable moment from Daytona is split 50/50. It’s hard to pick between going there for the first time to complete my racing school and compete that weekend on the high banks. Or when I qualified and started the Rolex 24 Hour with Mazda during the inaugural Skyactiv-D diesel program.
Q: What can fans expect to see during this four hour race?
Marc Miller: The great thing about the four hour race on Friday is there’s going to be a lot of storylines, a lot of competition because the classes are growing. The GS class is growing. It’s the fastest production car class and there’s a lot of different exotics and makes from Aston Martins to the Porsches, McLarens and the new Mustang. There’s a lot of diversity and a lot of choices and it’s an exciting wheel-to-wheel race because you’ll see cars stronger off the corners, stronger into the corners, different cars with different straight line speeds. A track like Daytona, has a little bit of everything, you’ll see a lot of raciness in the infield and drafting on the oval. It will be really the only time in the year you see pack racing going on in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.
Andrew Carbonell: Fans can expect to see some hard wheel-to-wheel, fender banging, good ole' touring car racing! We all know how exciting the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge races can get. On top of great racing, it’s looking like what IMSA has done with the GS field is working, and we will be back to two full classes of great teams and drivers all going for the top spot!