This post is part of a continuing series by Rick Mayer, Risi Competizione’s Race Engineer. This week, it’s on the challenges and realities of racing at Circuit of the Americas in this weekend’s upcoming Lone Star Grand Prix.
Houston, Texas (September 10, 2015)…Rick Mayer, race engineer of the Risi Competizione No. 62 Ferrari 458 Italia team, gives his run down and preview of the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Series, Lone Star Le Mans, September 17-19, 2015 in Austin, Texas.
Piloting the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia in the GTLM class are drivers, Pierre Kaffer (Germany) and Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy).
Looking back at past races at the Circuit of the Americas — The 2014 race only had one safety car; The 2013 race went green without a caution. A modest car count this year could see another caution-free race. CoTA’s long 3.4-mile circuit has ample run-off so this should reduce practice stoppages and race caution periods.
CoTA is quite wide and has enough straights where passing slower traffic will be easier than on street or tighter, permanent circuits. It has a good, smooth track surface – as you’d expect from a relatively new track built to F1 standards. As championship titles start coming into play, this will likely be another fierce GT battle with the Porsches, BMWs and Corvettes, who all have good handling at this type of circuit and all with plenty to prove. We would expect the Porsches to dominate here, as they did last year, and the last four races this year. The current BoP (Balance of Performance) is heavily bias toward the Porsches.
BMWs and Corvettes have a slight advantage over the Ferrari, based on the current BoP rules. The Porsches will be quick here, as this is a downforce track. The Porsches have the most downforce of any car in the GTLM class and should dominate. All the drivers have been here before with the same cars, therefore everyone should get to speed quickly.
The Track: CoTA is certainly a more traditional, European-style layout than some of the other permanent road courses we visit. The twisty section between Turns 3 and 9 will be partial throttle for GTs and this section will probably have more than one line. This could be a tricky complex to get right and will favour the cars with the highest downforce; unfortunately that is not the Ferrari. The car needs platform for this section but it will not require an overly fast change of direction, like the bus stop at Daytona or Turn 10 at Road Atlanta. The curbs are usable here and aid in achieving a quicker lap time. Top speed going into Turn 12 will be on par with Road America, VIR, Mosport and Road Atlanta.  The low speed corners (Turns 1, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 20) will work the rear tires hard on the exit.
Setup: The track has one long straight with the run up into Turn 1, and down to Turn 11 quick as well. A good lap time here will come from being able to run through the corners well, as opposed to trimming for top speed. CoTA has 20 corners, including some long ones, and we’ll need to find a setup and tire compound that allows the tires to last. This track prefers a stiffer platform, as there’s are a lot of high speed corners that require pitch control and general platform support. The surface is smooth, but it’s a compromise as the many low speed corners will work the rear tires hard. We’ll work with the dampers, anti-roll bars and springs to get good transition and platform support. We should have a good base setup from last year with some small changes based on what we’ve learned this season.
The Race: We would expect few full-course caution periods (but a good chance of none) during the race with the amount of run-off here. The conditions are forecast to be HOT – we’re in Texas in September so that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Hot and dry conditions (no rain) will make the tires and tire life the key for long runs, as the heat will exaggerate their fall off. The heat could also exaggerate any deterioration in driver performance so teams will need to be careful with stint planning. We expect some green flag pit stops to play into the outcome of this race. Changing weather conditions would make an interesting race. The Ferrari should be quick here but the competition is fierce. This will be another thriller of a GT race for the fans. Hopefully we can keep our momentum going from the last two races and finish this race with another podium.
Tune-In Information:
Live coverage of the Lone Star Le Mans race is on FOX Sports 2, Sunday, September 19 from 12:30-3:30 p.m. CDT. The race will re-air on FOX Sports 1, Sunday, September 20 at 1:00 p.m. CDT. Live timing and scoring is available for all on-track sessions at and on the IMSA Smartphone app.
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