RICK MAYER'S INSIDE TRACK: MAZDA RACEWAY LAGUNA SECA As he as all season, Risi Competizione technical director Rick Mayer gives an in-depth look into the pre-race thinking for the team's Ferrari F430 GT. This time, Mayer tells us...
RICK MAYER'S INSIDE TRACK: MAZDA RACEWAY LAGUNA SECA
As he as all season, Risi Competizione technical director Rick Mayer gives an in-depth look into the pre-race thinking for the team's Ferrari F430 GT. This time, Mayer tells us about prep work and developing strategy for Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and the Monterey Sports Car Championships presented by Patron, the final race of the 2009 American Le Mans Series. The Risi team - with drivers Jaime Melo and Pierre Kaffer - need at least a runner-up finish to have a chance at the GT2 championship.
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca has several long, medium- to 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. Sections of the track are similar to street tracks, but with 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 and a great place to watch the action.
The surface is relatively smooth as the weather is very consistent all year round. The general grip level is typically low. The big issue at Laguna is the sand that 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 GT2 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.
Laguna 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 turn, 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. 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 very slow - a good exit is important here as this leads to the main straight and to Turn 3 which is a prime passing area. The car needs good low-speed traction to get off the last corner well.
The GT2 drivers and team Championship titles are open, but barely. It's a long shot for the Ferrari and we'll need a healthy dose of luck as well as a good race; we need to win to have a chance. It's a long race (four hours) and it will be tight on fuel for a three-stop strategy. But last year, there were numerous yellows making strategy a bit of a crap shoot and the same could easily happen in 2009. Low grip translates to low tire wear; the Ferrari should be able to double stint tires if it's strategically advantageous.
The Corvettes, BMWs and Porsches will all be competitive here. The lack of long straights and several long corners play to the Ferrari's handling advantage, and our lack of overall power (rules driven) shouldn't hurt us as much here as at other tracks. The No. 62 ran well here the last three years, with two wins and a second. We are hoping the trend continues so we can end our problematic stateside season on a high note!
The final race in the 2009 American Le Mans Series is the four-hour Monterey Sports Car Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. The green flag is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. PT on Saturday, October 10. The race will air on SPEED from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 11. Live coverage will be available via American Le Mans Radio presented by Porsche via americanlemans.com, which also will feature Living Timing & Scoring on Racehub. Live coverage also can be heard on Sirius 126 and XM 242. You can follow the Series on Twitter (almsnotes) and on our Facebook page.
The race will also mark the 10th and final round of the 2009 MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge. Tickets are available at americanlemans.com and mazdaraceway.com.