Houston, Texas - Fresh from its resounding GT victory at VIR last week, Risi Competizione has good reason to look forward to the American Le Mans Series season – and series – ending race, Petit Le Mans. After one of its most challenging seasons to date, the return to form in Virginia was just reward for all the hard work put in by the Houston-based, privately-owned team.
With a storied history at the 2.54 mile Road Atlanta track (see stats document), Risi Competizione is planning for its No.62 Ferrari 458 Italia to be a key player in the outcome of the 1,000 mile or ten hour (whichever comes first) event. Keeping the red Ferrari in that position will be its regular driver line up of Olivier Beretta and Matteo Malucelli, and their proven blend of speed and experience will be supplemented by the addition of experienced GT stalwart Robin Liddell to the driver line up (see separate release).
The requirements to go fast at Road Atlanta are always the same. You need a good platform for the high speed corners - Turn 1, the Esses and Turn 12. You can gain a significant amount of time using the apex curbs effectively at Turn 3 and the exit curbs of Turn 5. There’s some real curb jumping at Turn 3; it’s a good corner for photos and those at Turns 7 and 10 also yield lap time.
However, as much as you need the curbs for a quick lap time, you have to exercise caution as using them repeatedly here can lead to failed drive components. It’s a long race and you need to be somewhat kind to the car to finish first, first you have to finish (as we know only too well). Top speed is very important as there are few places to pass.
Setup: Stiffer (springs and anti-roll bars) is better for platform support but curbing is so important here, it’s a compromise. A stiff setup also makes cleaning the pick-up off the tires easier as you can load the tires harder. With an increased field, the number of times that a GT car may have to go off the racing line, and therefore experience pick-up, will be increased.
Dampers that give support, but blow off on the curbs, can make a big difference here, not just in lap time but longevity of drive train components. You need dampers that provide good transitional support if you don’t run stiff. Top speed and down force level will be based on peer group strait speeds on the strait(s). Greater overall downforce is the quicker way around the track and better for tire life, but you can’t let the competition drive around you on the strait.
Passing will be difficult, especially in GT with the 11 regular, super competitive cars. The best passing spot will be braking into Turn 10. However, if you can’t keep up on the strait you won’t be in position to out-brake someone into Turn 10. The track isn’t particularly hard on brakes, but you need the brakes to last the 370+ laps that the GT cars are likely to run in the race.
The Race: This race has always been a lap (mileage) race, except for 2009’s curtailed event which was rained off after four hours, even though there’s a time limit of 10 hours. A race distance of 394 laps for the leader makes the 1000 miles, typically a little less than 900 miles for the lead GT car.
This makes pit strategy a bit different as it’s not the GT lap count that determines when the race ends, but the pace of the overall leader. It means that we have to keep a more careful watch than ever on what’s happening all through the field instead of just in our class.
Qualifying isn’t as important at these long races as our usual 2h 45 minute events, but keeping up in the lead pack will always be vital due to the level of competition. The current caution rules should keep the GT front runners on the same lap, unless you have an extended stay in the pits.
Traffic will play a large role as always at Petit with a 37 car field. Keeping out of trouble will be crucial for success; pit work needs to be only fuel, tires and drivers changes with the occasional addition of engine oil. Anything extra, or slow pit work, will quickly put you at the back of the pack.
Let’s hope we can keep our winning form going from VIR and repeat some of the success we’ve had in the past at Road Atlanta.