Houston, Texas, 16th September 2013. After what can only be described as a dreadful run of bad luck over the past few months, Risi Competizione has headed the short distance from its base in Houston to the Texan state capital of Austin in search of a turnaround in fortunes.
The 8th round of the American Le Mans Series at the Circuit of The Americas forms a major part of the International Sportscar Weekend, with the ALMS running alongside the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Even with an entry of 34, car count will not play as big a role here on a longer 3.4 mile circuit. COTA is quite wide and has ample straits where passing slower traffic will be easier than on street or tighter, permanent circuits such as Lime Rock. It has a good, smooth track surface – as you’d expect from a new track – and has good run off areas.
As Championship titles start coming into play, this will likely be another fierce GT battle with the Porsches, BMWs, Vipers and Corvettes all having good handling at this type of circuit. We would expect the Vipers and Corvettes to have a slight advantage, based on the rules, giving them better low-end engine torque which will be helpful in getting a good exit off the multiple low speed corners.
However, the latest Balance of Performance decision favors the Ferrari 458 Italia with a 0.6 mm larger air restrictor, the same size that Extreme Speed Motorsports was allowed to run last year, which should bring closer parity.
This will be a new track for a lot of the drivers as this is the first visit for the ALMS. We’ve been given extra practice time which will be much needed as the track has 20 turns and a long lap time, just over 2 minutes; it will take a while for the drivers to master the circuit.
The track: COTA is certainly a more traditional, European-style layout than some of the others we visit. The twisty section between Turns 3 and 9 will be partial throttle for GTs and this section will probably have more than one line; this could be a tricky complex to get right. The curbs should be usable here and aid in reducing lap time. Top speed going into Turn 12 will likely be on par with Road America, Mosport and Road Atlanta. The low speed corners (Turns 1, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 20) will work the rear tires hard.
Setup: The track has one long strait with the run up into Turn 1 being quick as well. A good lap time here will come from being able to run through the corners well as opposed to trimming for top speed. It has 20 corners, including some long ones, and we’ll need to find a setup and tire compound that allows the tires to last.
This track should prefer a stiffer platform as there’s a lot of high speed corners and the surface is smooth. But it’s a compromise as the many low speed corners will work the rear tires hard. We’ll work with the dampers to get good transition support. Honestly, not having tested here means it’s a bit of an unknown but we have a list of changes that we can go through once the drivers determine what they need to go fast.
The race: We would expect few full course caution periods during the race, with the amount of run off here. The conditions are forecast to be HOT – we’re in Texas in September so that shouldn’t surprise anyone. That will make the tires and tire life the key for long runs as the heat will exaggerate their fall off. The heat could also exaggerate any deterioration in driver performance so teams will need to be careful with stint planning.
We expect some green flag pit stops to play into the outcome of this race. The Ferrari should be quick here but the competition is never higher and this will be another thriller of a GT race for the fans. We can only hope and pray that our bad luck is over for the season – we’ve certainly had more than our fair share and we need to finish up front and get some momentum for the last part of the season.