Risi Competizione has been featuring Rick Mayer’s pre-race commentary for almost a decade now. Rick is the Team Engineer for Risi Comp, and is responsible for setting up the car for the course and the conditions. He has a very unique perspective on the race track, our car and drivers, and the competition, and he brings his knowledge and viewpoint to every Preview that he writes. If you read only one thing about the Laguna Seca TUDOR United Sports Car Championship race this coming weekend (or any race that Risi Comp enters) it should be Rick’s column,  because he will provide you with  perspective and insight that is just not available elsewhere. Enough of the warmup; here’s the real thing: Rick Mayer on what it will take to win at Laguna Seca. 
General: Laguna Seca is a 2.24-mile long permanent road course that resides in the very picturesque Laguna Seca State Park outside of Monterey, California. The track has several long-duration medium to medium-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. The track has some elevation changes, including the famous ‘Corkscrew’ turn, a steep drop away over a blind 90-degree left-hand bend that immediately sweeps away to the right.  It’s the signature corner complex of the track.
GTLM competition: The number 3 Corvette won here last year, and was on pole, but the BMWs were also strong and had the fastest race lap and finished 2nd. This year we will have many cars with balance of performance changes from last year, which could shuffle things up a bit. The BMWs generate a lot of downforce and low speed grip and are always fast here. This year the BMWs have a larger air restrictor, making them even faster. The Corvettes were fast here last year with the 3 car winning; they should again be quick. The Porsches currently have the best balance-of-performance in GTLM. The current rules give the Porsche the best power and most downforce, and this is a downforce track. The Falken Porsche could win here. Falken makes a very competitive soft tire, which is typically the tire of choice here. The Ferrari finished third last year and has only improved. This will be the first run of the GTLM Ferrari’s 2015 aero kit and other Evo kit items accepted by the ACO and IMSA, but it will also gain some weight and get a smaller air restrictor starting at this event. The Ferrari’s balance-of-performance (weight, air restrictor and downforce) within GTLM is not as strong as others for this type of track but the Evo kit should improve this. Pit stops will again be key here and the Risi crew always stand out in that area and will hopefully push the car forward as it did last year.
The Track: The surface is relatively smooth as the weather is very consistent all year round and the track is not heavily used.  The general grip level is typically low due to one of the big issues at Laguna which 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 it) the sand is sucked onto the surface which makes the track low grip and slippery, and not always predictable. A moderate wind will also bring sand onto the tarmac.  Shortly after the start, the track will only have one racing line. It’s difficult for GTLM cars to go off-line to pass, or get passed by faster classes, and retain any grip.  If you go, or are forced, off-line it takes several laps to clean the sand off the tires. The track is also surrounded by gravel traps, a safety feature as there’s quite a lot of motorcycle racing here, and if you go off into any of those you’ll also lose laps while the safety crew extricates you from the gravel.
Setup: Laguna Seca is 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’ here, i.e. the floor of the car touches the surface of the track. 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).  This track is hard on brakes. The last corner is quite slow (70 Kph/43 Mph), a good exit is important here as this leads to the main pit straight and to Turn 3, which is a prime passing area.  The car needs good low speed traction to get off the last corner quick for a run down to Turn 3.
The Race: This year’s race will have all four classes, totaling 38 cars, in a 2-hour, 40 minute race. Last year there were two separate 2-hour races with classes split. We expect some cautions periods this year with the larger field and increased Pro-Am content, with all the gravel traps which make it difficult to go off-track and not get stuck. It’s very difficult to pass at Laguna Seca, making qualifying position more important for this event. The race will be two stops (minimum) for all GTLMs and with such a tight, competitive field the strategy is nearly always the same…be the first to make the shortest last stop and be ready to race to the finish.
Risi Competizione has had good cars here in the past; we’ve had class wins, and a pole position as recently as 2013. The track suits the Ferrari and hopefully that’s the case again this year.

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