In this first edition of our WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (WTSC) round table we take a look at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. We talked to GTD drivers, Andy Lally (No. 93 Acura/Curb Records Acura NSX GT3) and Andrew Davis (No. 59 Stevenson Automotive Group Audi R8 LMS GT3) and Prototype driver, Joao Barbosa (No. 5 Mustang Sampling Cadillac DPi), all winners of the longest American sports car race, to get a little insight into what to expect and what their strategy might be. Take a look…
Q: What Challenges does a track like Daytona present?
Andy Lally: Daytona is such a unique circuit because essentially you have two different circuits in one. It’s a track that is 3.6-miles and we have so much of it where we are flat out, high-speed on the high-banks of Daytona and then so much of it where you are on the completely flat, zero-banking, tight hairpin, switchbacks on the infield. There’s always a compromise we have with our chassis set-up and the tire where we have to make the best of both worlds and find where we need our strong points to be. That’s not a lap time thing, it’s a strategic thing for when we race and where we’re going to be strong. Our lap time might not be as strong, or as efficient as we can be but in a pack, we’ll battle better and find the weak points of our competitors and be able to attack.
Andrew Davis: The track itself presents certain challenges and then the race presents certain challenges. When you race for 24 hours there’s so many uncontrolled variables that the teams have to deal with. Daytona is a very interesting circuit because you have some of the highest speeds we reach all year and the extreme banking, the 32-degree banking, that really puts a lot of load and stress on the driver, the car, the tire, all those factors you have to take into account. Then at the same time, you’ve got very heavy braking because at those high speeds, we’ve got a heavy brake zone into (Turn) one and into the bus stop on the back straight which puts a lot of force through everything so it makes it difficult for the car and the driver to deal with all of it. Then on the infield section of the track you have some of the slowest corners we drive all year. The surface here is great, the people here keep the track in top-notch condition. It’s a world-class facility. At the same time, you’ve got very slow corners, hard acceleration out of those slow corners, and very fast banking and straightaways that lead into heavy brake-zones. So it really puts a good test on the driver, the car, the tire, everything.
Joao Barbosa: Daytona is a great track and it’s a great way to start the season, especially being my home track. It doesn’t seem like a very technical track when you look at it on paper but once you start driving, with everything that’s going on in a 24-hour race including traffic, darkness, temperature changes, it makes it very technical. It’s very unpredictable and it’s very easy to make mistakes, especially the approaching speeds when a faster car comes upon a slower car, it can make a big difference in judgement. Mentally it’s very tough as well because having 50 cars on track and you have no time to rest at all. You’re constantly overtaking cars and lapping them so you have to focus 100 percent and because you don’t have any rest physically, it ends up being pretty demanding as well. You need to be in top shape not only mentally but physically as well to get through the race without any major problems.
Q: What is tire strategy like for a 24 hour race like Daytona?
Andy Lally: In the specific case of GTD we’ve got a really good tire in the Continental tire. It’s very durable and it’s built to be able to withstand the high, long G-loads we get in the banking. That’s the tricky part here is that when we’ve got a flat infield road course, we tend to want to have a lot of camber in the set up for the corners to be able to create peak grip in the middle of those tight corners and to come off the corner. The problem with that is when you are running a lot of negative camber on the banking you’re going to drag the inside of that sidewall around so that sidewall has to be really, really tough and we have to stay within our parameters so there’s no damage to the tire. We are running right on that ragged limit, flat out for an hour and then at night time, we’ll double stint these tires and get two hours out of them flat out which is hundreds of miles of running at extreme speeds and extreme slipping. Getting all that together, and combining our air pressures, our cambers, our toes, and then spring and shock set-up to make everything work is our biggest challenge.
Andrew Davis: It’s super important. It’s kind of an exciting strategy play that the teams who are good at it, can make up ground. Where you don’t get that in our sprint races. A few things happen here. In the daytime, it can get very warm here and get greasy and really pound those tires so in those stints, we want fresh Continental tires. We’re going to put tires on more frequently and we’re not going to double or triple stint tires. You want to make sure you have the freshest tires when it’s hot and greasy so you have maximum grip. But as it starts getting cold and the sun goes down, there can be advantages to running the tires longer not only in the timing of the pit stops but more importantly, those out-laps in between stints. You can make up so much time leaving the pits on tires that are already warm, that first lap and a half is so much easier and so much faster. When it’s 40-degrees or less and it’s 3 o’clock in the morning and you go out on a sticker set of tires because you haven’t done your tire management properly, those first couple laps can be a bit harrowing. You’re moving around and sliding around quite a bit trying to get heat in those Continentals so you want to try and double, triple stint tires in the evening and night and you want those fresh Continental tires when it’s hot and greasy.
Joao Barbosa: It’s very important. You have to be very aware of what kind of tires you have in different situations. Let’s say if you’ve just pitted and put on a set of sticker tires, this place can get you very easily on cold tires. You don’t realize how easy it is to make a mistake on the first two corners of the track so you have to be very careful and know exactly what tire situation you are in so you know when to push hard and make a difference. So there’s a lot of strategy that goes into that especially when the temperature gets cooler going into the nighttime. That’s where we made a big difference when we won in 2014 is how we managed the tires in the nighttime. I’m not going to say what the secrets were because we’re going to try and do it again this year but tire management can help you avoid mistakes or make you prone to mistakes.
Q: What is your most memorable moment from the Rolex 24 at Daytona?
Andy Lally: This is like my 17th 24-hour race and I have a ton! I couldn’t name one. I have five victories here and all of them are extremely special. The first one in 2001 was extremely special, winning the 50th in 2012 is really special, winning it last year the way we did was really special but also there are some little moments around here. My first 24-hour I was running a Prototype and I got to be side-by-side on the banking through NASCAR 3, 4 with Dale Earnhardt. I knew that because I had an open cockpit car and I could look right as I would come by and he was in the Vette and you could tell it was him because he was still the only guy running an open-face helmet. And it was very obvious. That was a really, really cool moment for me being a huge stock car fan and wanting to be a stock car driver back then. Tons of moments racing with some pretty insane top-notch guys.
Andrew Davis: It’s amazing, this will be my 16th running of the 24 Hours of Daytona. When I was a five-year-old kid hanging on the fence, watching IMSA racing, I would have never imagined this so it’s an honor and I’m very proud to have been here this long. It gives you lots of memories, good and bad, but I’ve been with Stevenson now six times but some of my fondest memories were of my time with Brumos Racing. Being able to stand on the podium with Hurley Haywood at his final race in 2013 was a really big moment for me. And also in 2012 I had the pole position in the famous No. 59. Lots of great memories, some I want to forget but lots I won’t ever forget.
Joao Barbosa: I have a lot of good memories. Luckily I’ve been able to win three times, two overall and the first time we won overall it’s a big, big memory since we had many challenges. We worked as a team and managed the problems and brought the car home in first-place. It was our first win for Action Express, first race for Action Express, so that was probably one of the best memories. But every time you win it’s special. Hopefully with this new era and the new Cadillac DPi we’ll go out and make a new memory.
Q: What can fans expect to see at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona?
Andy Lally: We’ve got 55 cars at the Roar and every one of them is competitive. During night practice at the Roar we had 18 cars within a second in the GTD class so we’re going to see competitive classes all the way through. The new Daytona Prototype International (DPi) has shown huge speed already and big handling and a depth of field that has increased from last year. And again we’re seeing the same GTLM battle come back. It’s great to see some of the manufacturers stepping up and bringing more cars and I think as usual, GTD – this might be a biased opinion – is the most competitive class out there with 18 cars within a second of one another. What you’re going to see, is a 24 hour dog fight.
Andrew Davis: I think with the new category that came last year with GTD, the FIA GTD3 platforms, and the excitement of the DPi and the Prototype category, fans are in for a real treat this year. I’m seeing so much strength in this WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. I’m excited and happy IMSA has done what they’ve done, they’ve kept looking forward and working on their plan and things are starting to come to fruition. We’ve got an amazing field of cars, drivers, teams and I think we’re going to see one of the closest, strongest races we’ve seen ever. Fans are going to see a 24-hour battle and it’s going to be great.
Joao Barbosa: They will see a lot of cool cars. That GTD field has been tremendous. A lot of really new, nice cars and they’re going to see the new Prototypes they’ve never seen before. The first race for the Cadillac DPi which is something great to see. The classes are so competitive I think the racing is going to be one of the best races ever, very competitive. They’re going to be able to see a lot of cool cars racing with European teams who have come here, there’s a lot of good drivers and good teams. I think it’s going to be one of the best races in recent years.