One lap of Road Atlanta through the eyes and words of Bryan Sellers, Driver, No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 GT3 RSR
The best rollercoaster anyone could ever ask to ride isn’t a rollercoaster at all. It’s a racetrack and it’s in Georgia! Road Atlanta: fast, blind, technical and one of a kind! For a driver, it’s all right here in a single, 2.54-mile lap!
The start-finish straightaway is short yet high speed. During Petit Le Mans, in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón GT class, we approach the end of the straight in the middle of the rev range in sixth-gear - which equates to speeds of high 130s to low 140s mph in the No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche. This straightaway isn’t a great place for passing internally in class but it is a great place to allow faster traffic through. It is very important to use this straightaway to plan ahead because the following sections are very tight and technical which makes it much more difficult to allow traffic by. If you can manage a way to allow traffic through here it will save you time over the lap as well as the race.
So, we’re now through Turn One and not lost in the woods. Turn Two and Three are combined into one section. At night during Petit Le Mans, I can always smell the first round of campfires here. You can tell when you’re getting close to the end of the race by the amount of smoke you smell from people beginning to extinguish the fires. The climb to Turn Two – which is a slight bend to the left before the tighter Turn Three – is very steep and blind, meaning you can’t see a thing! We approach Turn Three in the top of fourth-gear and do one downshift to third-gear. This is one of the most difficult braking zones on the track. You are always turning while braking here which makes it very difficult to keep the car from having some sort of imbalance, whether it oversteer or understeer. At the apex of Turn Three, the minimum speed is in the high 70s but what makes this corner special is the curbing you use at the apex. This is one of the hardest sections of the track for the car. You have to use the curb for speed but it is very important to make sure to set up properly and not be too aggressive on the curbing. We can see shock absorber movements of up to 15 inches per second here when a normal movement would be four to 10 inches!
The Esses are a fifth-gear corner that requires just a small lift off the throttle. The turn-in point here is crucial! A couple inches wide on the entry and you are in the outside wall. The Esses are fast and have a lot of side-to-side transitions. I would relate it a little bit to a tilt-a-whirl; high speed swings from one direction to the other. The Esses are single file and impossible to pass in which is a good thing because they need every last bit of concentration you have.
If I were to watch the race, Turn Five would be one of the places I spent my time. It is a third-gear corner that heads significantly uphill from entry all the way to the exit. This means that this is a very high-grip corner and that the cornering speeds are very high. It is a very light brake to keep the Porsche from slowing too much on the way in. Also, because it is uphill on the exit, it means you can be very aggressive when you get back to full power. It is very important to make sure you get back to full power when exiting Turn Five because it leads onto a straightaway and a great passing zone into Turn Six.
Turn Six is a good place to pass as well as allow faster traffic to pass. It is a very banked third-gear corner. Similar to Turn Five, because of the lay of the land and the banking, Six makes the center of the corner very high-grip and high-speed. This is one of my favorite corners on the track. You really feel a huge compression in your back when you get to the apex of the corner.
Turn Seven is the slowest yet one of the most important corners on the track. The only focus in Seven is “how early can I get back to full throttle.” The turn leads onto the longest straight on the track making the exit out of here possibly the most important section of the whole lap. It is very easy to be 15 feet late to full power and have it equate to a couple of mph by the end of the straight and that will equate to a couple of tenths of a second per lap. That can kill your lap and your race if you’re in a tight battle for position.
Turn Ten can be divided into two parts: 10a and 10b. This is by far the most fan friendly zone on the track. It is amazing to see the bleachers built into the hills that surround Turn 10. The fans setup tents to protect themselves from the “Hotlanta” sun. Then they kickback, relax and watch the best passing zone on the track. The approach to 10a/10b is very high speed – as fast as the low 170s – and downhill making the brake zone very difficult. You stop really late here, even with the high approach speeds. The aerodynamic grip is so high that you can brake with pressures of 1000 lbs or more and with spikes of nearly 2 G. It is intense from inside and outside the car! No one should come to Petit without spending a lot of time here.
Turn 10a and 10b can be done in either second or third gear depending on tire life. When you are early in the tire life you can carry more speed through the section making third gear more useable, but when tire life degrades you need to use second gear more frequently. Turn 10 is a compromise corner meaning you sacrifice one section to get a gain in another. In this particular corner, you sacrifice 10a to position the car better for 10b. The reason positioning becomes important for 10b is because it leads you onto another long straightaway making the exit speed extremely important.
Turn 11 is not a sharp corner but it is possibly one of the most dramatic corners on a track full of dramatic corners! It is full throttle and completely blind. You cannot see a thing! When you exit Turn 10 you head straight uphill and cross under a bridge. From the car you cannot see the other side. When you get under the bridge there is a huge bump adding to the drama of the turn. It’s all about trust and commitment here. You just have to trust the car will stick and there won’t be anything waiting on the other side.
Saving the best – and by best I mean the fastest and most unforgiving – for last is Turn 12. This is one of several “signature” turns Road Atlanta has. Twelve is the last corner before start-finish. It’s downhill, fifth gear, 130 mph with walls on both sides. I am not sure you’d even design this turn for a video game! You can see why it’s unforgiving. Just because it is the last corner on the track doesn’t mean it’s not important. There can be a lot of lap time gained or lost here by how big of a lift off the throttle you choose to make, or not make. A small lift off the throttle can equate to two or three-tenths of a second and with the competition in the American Le Mans Series that is time you cannot afford to give away!
That’s a lap of Road Atlanta from inside the cockpit of the Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Being a local driver I have logged a lot of time around this track but it never gets boring! It’s one of my favorite places to race because it rewards you so much as a driver if you get it right! It also rewards you as a fan because there are so many great vantage points to watch the race. Over the course of 10 hours, you should be able to get to most of them and enjoy some great food along the way!
Source: Bryan Sellers