Yesterday, Risi Competizione, the top North America Ferrari GT racing team, ran at Lime Rock in Connecticut. Lime Rock is and always has been a tough track for the Ferrari; it’s traditionally been much better suited to the Corvettes and Porsches and BMWs that also race in the GTLM class. Risi Comp finished the race P4; they had qualified Q4 and were, at one point in time, leading the race. Watching the race on TV brought to a mind the race report filed about the team’s day racing at Lime Rock several years ago; here, direct from the archives at the Racing Bunker is the infamous “String Theory” report on GT racing at Lime Rock.
PART ONE: LOST DOCUMENTS AND EQUATIONS FROM THE RISI COMP LAB
18 July 2009
“You better watch out, you better beware.
Albert says that E equals MC Squared…”
—Einstein A Go Go, by Landscape.
Physics is a never ending source of amazement to those who managed to get past the mangling of the topic often delivered by high school teachers. Looking for an appropriate framework for this week’s recap of the ALMS race at Lime Rock, it seemed that a visit to the land of theoretical physics might just do the trick and so…open the door, Alice…we’re off to Wonderland.
As everyone who reads this particular blog knows, matter is made up of atoms, tiny particles that were once believed to be the smallest forms of matter. Further investigation of atoms revealed that within their tiny form, even smaller particles (protons, neutrons, electrons and, some believe, political ethics) were dancing around and causing all kinds of material mayhem when combined/decombined in the wrong combination (i.e. nuclear weapons). These elements were given the name “subatomic particles” because they were smaller than an atom but—believe it—bigger than another type of particle known as the quark. Quarks live by their own rules—as do all of these elements of the universe and yours truly—and those rules can found in the study of Quantum Theory, if you have the time to do so. I don’t today, because I’m on deadline.
Time does not stand still and neither does investigation of the physical limits, elements, and compositional makeup of our universe and soon yet another hot new mathematical model of theoretical physics was developed. This model was called “string theory”. The base belief in string theory was that all particles and even energy in the universe were constructed of “strings”, infinitesimally small elements that have, as their physical characteristic, only length (stay with me…it’s theory and it’s going to be dense). They have no height or width but could have up to 10 “dimensions”. It’s a bit of a hard concept to grasp because it runs counter to our embrace of a universe that has dimensions of height, width, and length. And, of course, one more dimension that has everyone’s interest, which is that of time.
String theory advocates believe that there are even more dimensions to the universe than the four just cited (perhaps as many as 10) but that we cannot experience or detect them. One of these dimensions is probably a hidden gate into the galaxies where the keys to your car disappear when you cannot find them, but that’s another story entirely. Filling out the string theory overview is a concept that says that says the strings vibrate and the frequency with which they vibrate determines how they appear to us; typically as a manifestation of one of the Big Three: Gravity, Light, or Matter.
Amazingly, a whole series of differing string theory equations were developed that seemed, at first, to be at odds about such elementary issues as what are the true rules of molecular construction and action in the universe but, overtime, the differing theories converged as physicists discovered that each of the variant theories was actually describing the same thing but from different perspectives. Columbia University Professor Brian Greene notes that the two main schools of theoretical physics (quantum mechanics and relativity) each have different areas of “coverage”. Quantum mechanics handles the small stuff: atoms, subatomic particles, molecules. General Relativity is used to sort out the big issues: galaxies, stars, etc. String theory has the ability to combine these two very different areas of study into one coherent “theory of everything”.
PART TWO: PHYSICS AND FERRARIS ON A STRIP OF ASPHALT IN THE COUNTRYSIDE
Which brings us to Lime Rock Park Racetrack, a place with not a lot of length, no height, and marginal width. I.e. A string of asphalt upon which to race through time.
Lime Rock is not our favorite track, despite it’s importance in the history of Risi Competizione and the current generation of mid-engine Ferrari race cars. It was at Lime Rock, in 2004, that Risi Comp (running a Ferrari 360GTC) broke Porsche’s long-running wining streak with a victory.
Since then, we have been 5th & 10th in 2006, 3rd & 9th in 2007, 3rd in 2008 and, ultimately 2nd in 2009. We love the area (Connecticut in the summer is just beautiful), the fans are smart and enthusiastic and knowledgeable and it’s a totally different world from Texas. This year, coming off a major heat wave that had the thermometer pegged at over 100 degrees for almost three straight weeks (and no rain to cool things down) the team was glad to be back on the upper East Coast for a race.
But there are problems with racing really fast cars on such a short (1.5 miles) track as Lime Rock. The lap time for GT2 cars is in the 55 to 56 second timeframe; for the P1 and P2 cars the lap times are in the 46 to 48 second area and, as noted previously, this means the Prototypes lap a GT2 car after 9 laps and so the track gets crowded. Lime Rock is one big right hand turn…. plus it’s not too wide, which reduces the number of great passing spots to…..one (turn 1 at the end of the main straight).
This year, ALMS decided to thicken the field by bringing in 5 Porsche Cup Cars from their ALMS Challenge series. These cars were lapping in the 59 second and up timing range and—don’t take this the wrong way all you Porsche Cup drivers—taking up valuable track real estate at a place where there is not really enough track real estate to go around.
ALMS has, in my opinion and to their credit, outgrown Lime Rock. The track is close to NYC and the East Coast has a lot of great, long time Ferrari and race fans, but it is dangerously crowded these days and was designed and built for a time when cars did not have the sheer velocity that every car running in ALMS today can produce. ALMS needs a presence on the East Coast, close to New York and the major media (networks, publications, etc.) but it just cannot be at Lime Rock for too much longer. It’s amazing to me to see that there is such a paucity of options available; there was a time when Bridgehampton, on Long Island, was the center of racing on the East Coast and that was a track much better suited to ALMS style racing than Lime Rock.
The Bridge was a 2.85 mile long , 13 turn circuit. It was a classic. Sterling Moss and Mark Donohue—a couple of the best drivers who ever lived—both called it “the most challenging racetrack in the world”. It’s gone now; developers turned this hallowed speed ground into a golf course with luxury housing and today a good drive means something entirely different than it did thirty years ago.
But that’s what we need in the East—a track that brings out the absolute best in the cars and drivers, like Bridgehampton once did. Maybe one day……….
Now to business. The weekend started off great. Jaime Melo snagged another pole with a 54.665 lap in qualifying, pushing Bergmeister (Porsche No. 45) to second at 54.729 and Henzler (Porsche No. 87) to third on the grid with a 55.026. When we say Porsche, we’re referring to the Porsche model 911 GT3 RSR, the Porsche RS Spyders now out of the series. In fourth, BMW was feeling good, as Joey Hand delivered a 55.049 in the No. 90 BMW E92 M3, followed by teammate Dirk Mueller in the No. 92 BMW E92 M3 with a 55.050 lap, which placed him in 5th. If you picked up on the notice I wrote in the blog prior to the race, you got to see qualifying live, over Speedtv.com’s internet feed.
Qualifying went off at precisely 3:35PM on Friday, 17 July. Jaime Melo decided to set the bar and five minutes later he logged a 54.774 for the fastest lap and the pole, then immediately went to the pits to see how the field played out. Patrick Long, teamed with Bergmeister in the No. 45 Porsche, then put up a 54.729 to snatch the pole away from Melo.
Or so he thought.
Melo, who plays the waiting game rather well, went back on the track at 3:48PM, 13 minutes into the session. Three minutes later he tore off a 54.665 lap, which secured the pole for the No. 62 Ferrari 430GT and pushed Long/Bergmeister back to second. Melo delivered the lap by making the little “s” turn at the exit of turn one into a straight line—a move that was soon picked up by everyone else on the track; Melo’s straight line tactics turned that portion of the circuit into part asphalt/part dirt track and along with his usual edgework of adhesion artistry, it was enough for him to grab the pole. The whole qualifying drama was wonderful to watch on SPEEDTV.com.
Race day was the New England summer at its finest, temperature in the high 70s, some humidity, and lots of expectations. The warmup rolled out at 10:05, had a quick red flag when the Doran Ford GT started blowing water and steam out of the rear of the car—where the engine is located—and then the flag went back to green at 10:11. Kaffer warmed it up for Risi Comp, put in a 57.796 and the drivers then traded bragging rights for the rest of the session by showing off their warmup times. In the end, it was Bergmeister who was quickest in warmup, with a 55.730.
At 2:07PM the race was started under the yellow flag as the cars were not properly lined up for the green. One minute later (it’s a short track!), at 2:08, the green flag dropped unimpeded and the race was on.
Kaffer took the first shift for Risi Comp, grabbed the lead in GT2, and held it until 22 minutes in, when he was tapped in the rear bumper by Patrick Long, who then took the lead in the class as he knocked young Pierre just enough off of line to get by. It was a racing incident and thus no hard feelings.
At the 43 minute mark, Long had extended his lead to 5 plus seconds over Kaffer.
Risi Comp’s chances for a win at Lime Rock vanished at approximately the one hour point in the race when a yellow flag came out. Four minutes later, Long went into the pits for tires, fuel, and a driver change (Long out/Bergmeister in). Bergmeister returned to the pits, again, at the one hour, 10 minute mark of the race for more fuel. Meanwhile, Kaffer had stayed out and went in late at 1 hour 12 minute mark for fuel, tires, and the insertion of Melo into the driver’s seat.
However, the timing was off just enough that the car lost an entire lap because at 1:13 in, the pace car passed while the Ferrari was still in the pits, the green flag dropped and the Rosso Corsa Ferrari was now down a lap. Ooops
Melo pushed the Ferrari hard and pulled within 20.991 seconds of the Porsche at the 1 hour 37 minute mark. BMW had their moment of glory (1 minute to be precise) when Joey Hand passed Jaime Melo for second position at 1 hour, 41 minutes, at turn 1, but that glory didn’t last long as Hand spun the BMW one minute later and Melo blew by as did Hand’s team mate, Dirk Mueller. Fame is fleeting.
Melo remained solidly in second, but time was running short and closing the gap on such a short track was an almost impossible task.
At 4:29PM, the Risi Comp Ferrari F430GT encountered another difficult situation, again in the pits. Melo had pitted for fuel (it was that time again) and left to rejoin the chase, but the electronic pit speed limiter failed, and he exceeded the 30MPH limit set by ALMS on cars in pit lane. So after a lap, Melo was back in the pits for a stop and go, and all hope of closing down on the lead Porsche had vanished.
Sixteen minutes later, at 4:52PM, the checkered flag came out and the GT2 finishing order was: Bergmeister (No. 45 Flying Lizard Porsche 911 GT3 RSR); Melo (No. 62 Ferrari 430GT, and Hand (No. 90, BMW E92 M3. Overall winner was Simon Pagenauld/Gil de Ferran in a P1 Acura ARX -02a; the durable and consistent Butch Leitzinger took P2 in a Lola BO9 86 Mazda and, Bob Faieta in a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup was tops in the Challenge class. Well done, all.
It was another podium for Risi Competizione, but certainly not the return to action that the team had hoped for after their complete dominance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the second year in a row.
Up next: Mid-0h. What will we see at Mid-Ohio? Lots of surprises await. Renewed fight, perhaps, from BMW for being spared the program ax like their F1 brothers in Europe. New to GT2 at Mid-Ohio will be the Corvettes, now running in GT2. Book it: they will be fast.
As the top classes thin, GT2 has become the meeting place of the major brands in sports car racing—Jaguar is planning on joining the gang later in the year, perhaps at Petit. GT2 has always offered the very best racing and now also offers something even more valuable in this environment: the most economical racing as well (in comparison to racing a prototype…racing is not cheap, at any level).
Will the Rosso Corsa Ferrari find ALMS form again on the track at Mid-Ohio? Will Corvette revitalize itself by racing in GT2 against Ferrari, Porsche, and BMW? Will BMW finally make it to the top of the podium?
Only one way to find out. Stay tuned.
Oh, and one other thing for you to ponder. The next great area of theoretical physics is this: What if time and space are actually made up of something? Little tiny particles of some type, like……..strings. Dive into that while running a pitcher of margaritas and report back. With the equation.