Colin Braun drives, the No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA FLM09 Prototype Challenge (PC) car, in the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. Having won multiple championships and countless races and poles, Colin is the youngest driver to podium at Le Mans and is considered the crème of the crop among sports car drivers. He will be writing a series of blogs for us this year to highlight the driver’s perspective on a variety of topics.
Well, first off I am very excited to be doing another round of blogs this year for Continental! I certainly enjoy writing about my passion! This year we were discussing what the first blog should be shortly after the Daytona 24 Hour race and it came to my mind that I wanted to talk about “racing in the rain” and what it takes and how it works. I know that many people know that NASCAR racing on the ovals NEVER happens in the rain – ever! In the world of sports car racing we absolutely race in the rain, even at a place like Daytona where we run a huge percentage of the NASCAR oval. And we do it at night!
I hope that many of you reading this tuned in to FOX to watch the Rolex 24 Hour race on TV and if you did, you know that the rain played a huge part in the race, especially in the overnight hours! I think we had nearly 10 hours of rain. Here is the tricky part of racing in the rain; there are no “yellow flags” or “red flags” to allow you to put on rain tires and adjust your car to work better in the slippery conditions which makes it a bit like rolling the dice in Vegas.
All the race teams knew there was a large threat of some rain during the late evening hours prior to the race, but we didn’t know for sure exactly when, or how much. All the teams kept a close eye on the radar to try and predict how many potential hours of rain we would have. As you can imagine there are drivers who prefer the rain versus others who do not like it at all. So getting an idea of how much, and when the rain will come, helps each team work our driver rotations around a bit to get the most out of our driver lineups!
Put yourself in the shoes of an engineer (crew chief in NASCAR) and a driver during the race. Everything is going along smoothly, no rain yet, but you do see it on the radar – but how can you predict when it will actually start to rain versus just seeing those green and yellow blobs on the radar! You rely on your driver and the good ole “weather rock” to let you know when the rain starts to fall! And, by the way, at a 2.5-mile oval, it can be raining at one end of the track and not at the other.
Making The Switch To Rain Tires
Now, once the rain starts to fall you have to decide when or IF you will need to pit for rain tires. Sometimes it just spits rain and it dries up so quickly we hardly slow down. Or you may get a torrential down pour that quickly moves through and then the track dries right out. Making the call to pit for rain tires is a big choice, it will cost you nearly one lap on pit road to make the switch, and then if you make the switch to rain tires and the track dries out really quickly, now you have to come back down pit road and change again – back to slick tires which is nearly another lap.
An additional consideration at Daytona is the fact that you are running a high-banked oval and the flat infield portion. The oval tends to dry out quickly at Daytona while the infield can puddle giving you two completely different tracks at different levels of wet.
One bad choice can be almost two laps to your competition of loss. We usually use the 10-second-a -lap gauge as a rough point to change from dry tires to wet tires and vice versa. What does this mean? Simply, if we are running around a 1 minute 48 second lap – we would really want to change to rain tires when the lap times slipped to the 1 minute 58 second lap range.
The tricky part is when you have 50+ cars racing at full-speed around Daytona and it starts to rain pretty heavy, since you are already on HOT slick tires you can stay out pretty darn long in the rain on slicks. The real trouble starts when it comes down heavy enough to start puddling up in places that cause you to hydroplane – but what we had at Daytona was a pretty steady down pour that didn’t seem to cause too much hydroplanning early on. It certainly encouraged people to roll the dice and stay out on slicks for a LONG time. Because of the extremely cold temperatures that night (around 40 degrees Fahrenheit), it was a huge priority to get heat in your tires as quickly as possible and if possible, keep hot tires on the car.
Our Team Strategy
My team decided to switch to rain tires a bit on the early side under a full course yellow (so we didn’t lose all that time under green on pit road) and roll the dice that we could pick up some time to our competition with our CORE autosport Porsche machine! It looked for a while like it wasn’t going to pan out (remember earlier when I mentioned the oval might be dry and the infield would be wet) and we just about needed to pit under green and put slick tires back on. But sure enough it worked out perfectly and it started to rain hard enough and we jumped in front of quite a few people that had to stop under green – nice work to the guys on the pit stand! It sure was a nail bitter for a few laps though! Running rain tires when there is not enough water is a bit nerve racking as the tire can over heat and cause issues! That’s why you see us searching for puddles when we are running in dry/wet conditions like that on a rain tire. The puddles help cool the rain tires down.
Once you’ve put on rain tires, and the track eventually starts to dry out some, you go back to this same problem but in reverse! This happened pretty much all night as everyone faced different amounts of rain and so many different track conditions!
Continental has built us a great rain tire that is able to work in a very wide spectrum of rain and track conditions. Per IMSA rules, we only have one rain tire option so it has to be versatile! This rain tire is a “softer” compound to help make grip in the slippery conditions and also has the traditional grooving and channels to help pump the water through the tire to prevent hydro planning! We are going nearly 185MPH at Daytona around the banking, at full throttle, in the pouring rain at night, windshield wiper working its heart out, with four tires holding us from spinning out! It felt like another day at the office when I was out there, but when you step back and look at it, it is really pretty impressive!
I hope this provided a bit of insight into racing in the rain. Now you know, it’s not quite as simple as just putting a set of grooved tires on and going for broke. While it can be a bit hairy at times, it is fun!