Hi guys - We are going to touch on some of the differences and challenges that each race venue presents with three totally unique tracks to kick off the season from Daytona to Sebring to Long Beach.
Let’s talk about Daytona a little bit. What a race for us at CORE Autosport. We were very happy to finish in third place after a grueling 24 hours of racing! This was a very strange year where we only saw four caution periods during the race – let me tell you - that massively threw everyone for a loop. We planned on having a LOT more caution periods when we had our pre-race meeting on the Friday before the race (based on prior year stats, we expected the amount of yellows to be in the mid-teens).
IMSA limits the number of tires you are allowed to use during the race to help control the cost, and with the Prototype class cars only being able to go about 40 minutes on a tank of fuel, this means a lot of pit stops. With the number of pit stops we knew that we would have to “double” stint tires during the race (meaning we stop in the pits to add fuel only and keep the tires on the car). You ideally want to double stint your tires when you have a short green flag run followed up with a caution so that you aren’t just running flat out for 2 + stints on a set of tires. As you can imagine with the lack of yellows we had no choice but to run many consecutive green flag double stint sets of tires.
The Continental tires performed really well for us, and we found the lap time drop off in the second stint to really be pretty minimal. At night time when the temperature is lower it can be very hard to generate tire temperature and thus grip, so you can be pretty slow on the first few laps getting up to speed – well when you double stint you don’t have to worry about that and can gain quite a bit of time from having nice and hot tires right away.
DIFFERENT TRACKS, DIFFERENT CHALLENGES
Now let’s talk a bit about the first part of the IMSA schedule – we go to Daytona, Sebring, and then Long Beach. We could not go to three more distinctly different tracks. Daytona is a high speed ROVAL (road course / oval), Sebring is a very long and bumpy classic road course with all kinds of different surfaces (concrete, asphalt that is new and old), and then we go to a street course in Long Beach. With all three of these tracks being so different, it really forces us to run totally different setups to find lap time at them. Luckily IMSA just recently had a nice two day test in Sebring for us to be able to try a lot of different setup packages!
A track like Daytona is all about straight line speed so the cars in the Prototype class all run a “lower downforce” package that makes less grip in the fast corners but also has less drag and allows the cars to be much faster in a straight line. When we go to Sebring we get to put on the “high downforce” package, this creates a lot more grip and the faster the car goes! This will typically require us to run a different suspension package to compensate for the extra load being put into the car! Secondly at Daytona we get to run a “ROVAL” specific tire from Continental that is built to be able to withstand the massive loads put through the tires in the NASCAR high banks for a long time.
From Sebring onward we go back to a new road course tire that we will use the rest of the year and this requires some tweaking to find the balance of the car that makes us picky drivers happy! So it was really useful to get a chance to do a bit of testing at Sebring with all these new things, and of course for us at CORE with it being our first year in the Prototype class it was ALL new for us! Continental did a great job of bringing a new road course tire for this year, it seems to be well received by all!
Following Sebring, we go to Long Beach where we typically get to be the first cars on the race track when practice starts on Friday morning and whew is the track dusty and dirty with ZERO grip down when the session starts! Luckily the track seems to get rubber down fairly quickly but those first few laps can be pretty scary with all the dust blowing around.
Teams typically run a fairly similar setup to Sebring since that track is quite bumpy as well, the only big difference is that Sebring has some very fast corners where Long Beach is mostly low speed corners that require a lot of heavy acceleration. A track like Long Beach challenges teams to find a way to make “grip” from the chassis since the surface is lower grip. A track like Sebring that has a lot of “grip” in the track will allow us to be more aggressive with our chassis and load the tire harder which makes the car more nimble with better cornering in the higher speed corners.
I enjoy the variety of different tracks we head to early on in the season as it sure does push everyone to explore and try some different setups. This is what is interesting about sports car racing, the flavor and variety from the different cars to the different tracks.