By: John Dagys, Trackbytes.com
After a two-week break, the American Le Mans Series is back in action this weekend for the Generac 500 Presented by Time Warner Cable. The seventh round of the Series takes the cars and stars to beautiful Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, for a four-hour endurance race into the darkness.
Road America is one of North America's golden treasures, and a driver's utopia. With high-speed straights and undulating terrain, the 4.048-mile, 14-turn course is a dream to race on. Many compare it to mythical European circuits such as Spa-Francorchamps or the Nurburging Nordschleife. However, Road America's historic status won't stop the top sports car racing stars from producing some fireworks of their own.
One driver hoping to be in the thick of things come Saturday evening is Gerardo Bonilla. The B-K Motorsports Mazda racer may only be making his first ALMS start at Road America, but he is no stranger to the four-mile circuit. In way up the motorsports ladder, Bonilla competed here in the Skip Barber National and Star Mazda championships, and still regularly instructs at the Skip Barber Racing School, which offers courses at Road America. With this in mind, Motorsport.com asked Bonilla to give us a one-lap tour of the track, providing valuable insight to this weekend's race.
Despite being a rookie in the ALMS, Bonilla has shown veteran-like skills behind the wheel of B-K Motorsports' Lola B07/46 Mazda entry this season. Bonilla got his start in karting before graduating to Skip Barber Formula Dodge. He won the 2005 Formula Dodge National championship and moved to the Star Mazda the following year, claiming the Expert Championship and placing sixth overall in the standings. One overall win in that series propelled him to a dominant season in IMSA Lites in 2007, claiming seven victories and the series' title for B-K Motorsports.
His success with B-K in IMSA Lites was rewarded with a pre-season test in the team's Mazda-powered LMP2 machine. Bonilla's impressive pace and consistency landed him the full-season ride alongside co-driver Ben Devlin. While the duo got off to a rocky start in the season-opening Twelve Hours of Sebring, Bonilla and Devlin bagged a sixth place in-class finish at the second round in the streets of St. Petersburg. Two further top-10 overall results proved the car's reliability, but the team wanted more.
After partnering with tire partner Yokohama for the first half of the season, B-K switched to Dunlop rubber starting at Mid-Ohio, making an instant impression on the competition. Bonilla and Devlin ran lap times consistent of the leaders and got as high as fifth in the race, but got hung up by a fluke fuel vent hose issue that cost them valuable laps in the pits. However, the team learned that it does have what it takes to compete with the mights of Porsche and Acura in LMP2. Bonilla hopes to show the car's true potential, and what better time to do it in the team's backyard at Road America this weekend.
"Our pace at Mid-Ohio was very encouraging, only to be denied by a part that never breaks," Bonilla says. " Road America is another track that suits the BP Lola Mazda MZR-R well. Ben and I will be ready to give our best, as will the rest of the crew. As a driver, you learn something new every time you race. Although I've raced at Road America in other race cars, it will be great to learn what its like in the LMP2 with multiple classes on track."
Bonilla and the rest of the ALMS competitors will be on track Thursday for a two-hour test session at 1:40 p.m. (CST). Friday's activities include a morning practice session at 10:00 a.m., followed up by final practice at 1:50 p.m. and qualifying beginning at 3:00 p.m. The four-hour race into the darkness gets the green flag Saturday at 4:00 p.m.
Gerardo Bonilla - One lap of Road America
Road America is a favorite racetrack of many drivers professional and amateur alike. The track works well with a wide variety of cars, from Spec Miatas to Champ Cars, from low horsepower to high horsepower. The racing is always great thanks to a variety of slow and fast corners, plenty of passing zones, a great track staff, and a great atmosphere for after hours fun at places like Siebkens and the village of Elkhart Lake.
Starts are always interesting with the long straight to the fast Turn 1. The first turn is one of the toughest on the track, with a relatively narrow width, but fast apex speed. You next fly downhill through a small kink named Turn 2 into Turn 3. This corner looks like a 90-degree right-hander, but is slightly more than 90 degrees, making it easy to early apex and hurt the exit down the long straight to Turn 5. The apex always seems to be a little more slippery than other corners.
Turn 5 is a fan favorite, with a large grandstand overlooking this very tight but uncomplicated left-hander and it's action packed braking zone. Definitely a great place to watch, especially the feeder leagues in their equal cars. Up the hill and into Turn 6, this slow to medium left-hander has a slightly blind entry, but with plenty of other references it's easy to be consistent here.
Turn 7 is a fun right hander, usually done flat out, but some cars have enough power or less grip that it's a real challenge to get it right. Then its downhill to Turn 8, another tight left hander, although slightly faster at the apex than Turn 5. It's important to exit well, as it can affect what happens at Canada Corner a mile or so up the road.
Next is one of the most interesting corners at Road America, the Carousel. Few cars can do it flat out, and those that do still give the driver a nice challenge to keep the car balanced. This long right-hander goes on and on, with a subtle elevation change mid-corner adding interest to what you feel in the car. Quite fun, especially in the rain!
With huge speed you next see the Kink, a famous corner for its challenge in most cars. With downforce, it's easy to do flat out, but the heroes are the drivers in the club ranks who don't drive cars with LMP, Atlantic, or Star Mazda level downforce and have to work their butts off to take it flat, or close to flat. It's a great challenge.
Plenty of passing opportunity awaits on the way to Turn 12, also known as Canada Corner, a somewhat tight right-hander done in 2nd or 3rd gear depending on the car. It's great fun to find more speed, as the slight uphill elevation change gives you more grip than you first realize is available.
Billy Mitchell corner (Turn 13) looks a lot different without the bridge in place, but the thrill of this very fast left-hander is still there. The exit leads to the very technical final corner Turn 14. The radius decreases on the way to the apex, then opens to the very long front straightaway. Visually, it's easy to get the entry wrong, so you have to trust your mind and less your eyes as you choose when to turn in.
At four miles in length, there's something for everyone at Road America!