VICI RACING & KUMHO TIRES - CLOSING THE GAP Miami, Florida - VICI Racing and Kumho Tires have joined forces this year to run a challenging tire development program in the toughest of global sports car championships, the prestigious...
VICI RACING & KUMHO TIRES - CLOSING THE GAP
Miami, Florida - VICI Racing and Kumho Tires have joined forces this year to run a challenging tire development program in the toughest of global sports car championships, the prestigious American Le Mans Series. Importantly, this program is taking place not just in the world's toughest sportscar series, but in the most competitive class in that series - the ALMS GT2 class is arguably the most competitive sports car class in the world today, with Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Marin, Ford, Dodge and Corvette all represented. The level of competition is enhanced by the presence of factory teams and big manufacturer money being poured into the class with the sole aim of winning against the best in the world.
Within this backdrop, VICI Racing and Kumho Tires, two entirely different organisations with much complimentary strength, and most importantly, a burning desire to succeed, have opted to carry out a tire development program undertaken in the full glare of a highly professional motor racing series. In this setting, there is nowhere to run or to hide. Into this intense competitive ring step two smaller, but highly ambitious, players- Kumho Tires and VICI Racing- focused on taking on the motorsports world's heavyweights, and punching above their weight. And while the program has been taking place, VICI Racing has been building a crack racing team capable of competing successfully in the ALMS, with a number of new personnel being assimilated to complement the team's core professional staff.
Two important players in the cast are VICI Racing Technical Director Roland Wall and Kumho Tires Motorsports Development Director Jason Myers, the technical leaders for the race car and the racing tires, respectively. The objectives these two would seek are clear: Kumho would develop a new generation of GT2 tires to suit the new Porsche 911 GT3 RSR (2008) while simultaneously VICI Racing would develop the car to suit these compounds. The Goal: rock the boat; take on the establishment. Learn and line up for the next race smarter and more competitive.
The Team - VICI Racing
Miami-based VICI Racing is a core division of the VICI Group, an international company with a long history of embracing ground-breaking development challenges, evolving new, innovative ideas; always daring to take bold steps in the direction of success. In recent years VICI Racing has carried out a Lamborghini sports car racing development project and most recently it re-evaluated a faded GrandAm brand. The VICI Group has also taken big strides in adapting the latest composite material technology to offshore powerboat racing, taking up the challenge of attaining suitability of these new-generation lightweight products to a discipline where the stresses and buffeting of hulls on the waves brings out new performance parameters of materials that have been primarily developed for automotive and aeronautical use.
Ron C. Meixner - uncompromising racer turned team owner
VICI Racing is headed up by its founder, Ron C. Meixner, a former professional sports driver who made it to the top of the tree driving factory-supported, Joest-run Porsche 956, 962C and IMSA GTP cars at the toughest of races, such as the Le Mans 24 Hours, Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours. Ron has taken his will to win straight from the cockpit to the pitwall, demanding absolute commitment and ruthlessly professional standards; he has instilled the methodologies the team follows.
Roland Wall - driving the pursuit technical excellence
The team's engineering brain trust is directed by Technical Director Roland Wall, who is one of motor racing's most experienced engineers. From the deserts of North Africa to the international race circuits, on two- and four-wheels with everything from MotoGP bikes, single-seaters and sports- prototypes, Roland has built up an unsurpassed knowledge of how to engineer a car to win.
Taking on this year's challenge of developing the Kumho Tire package and closing down the daunting gap to the front of the GT2 class, is a task that the German relishes. For Roland, leveraging engineering through every possible plane is his motivation. Finding new and innovative solutions makes him tick.
"This has been a challenging project, but one that has been rewarding, although factors, outside our control have prevented us from recording better results recently," says Roland. "However, we have shifted the benchmarks with each time on track, and we are pushing hard towards the goal of hitting the front-running pace. In the last two races we have closed the gap so that we can maintain a race pace that's about 1 sec a lap off the front. From where we started, that's a huge achievement, but we have a long way still to go."
"The RSR was never developed with running on Kumho tires in mind, and in fact until we gave our first car its shakedown runs prior to Sebring, the RSR had never sat on Kumhos before. Kumho also came to GT2 from prototypes, which requires a completely different scenario in tire construction principles, plus the VICI Racing was moving into ALMS and running the RSR for the first time, so really everyone was starting with a blank sheet of paper; but it was one big potent new mix. This meant we had no data or experience to build upon, but we also had the freedom to move forward as we wanted. A blank sheet of paper can often be the most rewarding way to start."
"We kicked off with an urgent dual need: to develop the tires' durability as well their stiffness. In the beginning we couldn't even do a full stint, so before we could start looking for speed we needed durability," continues Roland. "Kumho made huge strides here and the results have been impressive, during our last two races the tires were lasting longer than Michelins. The RSR has very specific requirements, it's a unique race car, and we have had to build the data and gather feedback to edge our way towards optimising the tires.
"At the same time we were developing the tires for the RSR, we were doing development work on to make the RSR work optimally with the tires. It's a very interactive development program, with strategies and innovations going both ways. We have been working all season to adapt the overall car package, with a close focus on the suspension. Here we have had invaluable support from Sachs; their development of dampers specifically for our requirements has allowed further evolution of the RSR. We also use revised linkage geometry, meaning that our car is quite different from the Michelin- shod GT2 Porsches. We have further suspension revisions to implement, particularly on the front axle, as we need to evolve beyond the presently designed limits in adjustments to allow further optimisation of the tire running life.
"The race performance is now pretty good, so now we need to work intensely on the qualifying performance-- which requires additional testing time that we have not been able to squeeze into what has been a hectic schedule during the season," adds Roland.
Drivers chosen to suit this development role
The team's driving strength has carefully evolved over the season to suit the specific targets of this program. Nicky Pastorelli, a former European F3000 Champion (in 2004), brings a wealth of knowledge gained when he fulfilled the role of Official Test Driver for the Jordan and Midland F1 teams. Consistently fast, smooth, and able to run lap-after-lap at the performance edge, his feedback and ability to interact with the engineers helps to drive the project forward. Marc Basseng meanwhile brings huge experience of sports car racing, particularly with the Porsche 911, in all its versions, to the table. He undertakes all shakedown tests of new Porsche race cars leaving the factory in Germany, and he is utterly in tune with the individualistic needs of the RSR; his knowledge of all aspects of this honed race machine helps to provide comparisons and speed up evaluating the new tire compounds. The third member of the line-up is Nicky's brother Francesco. Young, fast and already highly rated, the 21- year-old Dutchman bring another set of values and calibrations to add to the mix, all combined with his pace and press-on mentality.
The Tire Company - Kumho Tires
In any form of motor racing there are a certain amount of unknown variables. Every team has an army of extremely smart people to run through every scenario that might arise, to limit the exposure to these unknowns. Teams spend vast resources on research, testing, simulations, and predictions. And a tire company is no different. Kumho Tires has been involved with motorsports for many years with fair success in many series, most notably, a win in the LMP2 category at Le Mans last year. Its motorsports programs span the globe; some of the best drivers in Formula 1 have succeeded on Kumho Tires in formula cars as they climbed the ladder to success in the pinnacle of motorsports.
Jason Myers - leading the Kumho learning curve
"To achieve our goals, we must eliminate or control the number of variables that can come into play at any given time," says Jason Myers, Kumho Tires Motorsports Development Director. "In 2008, an opportunity arose with the GT2 category in the ALMS. VICI Racing. Kumho Tires chose to partner with VICI Racing at the beginning of 2008 in GT2 with the new and improved Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. Our experience in the ALMS was primarily with prototypes; however the new challenge was to partner with a new team in the most competitive class in the ALMS in recent history. While this was new territory for Kumho, we immediately started to gather data and begin R&D to produce a tire capable of challenging the top teams. It was time to start eliminating variables.
"Partnering with a new team, new car, new engineers, and new tires has many unknowns, particularly the car. The Porsche is very different from other race cars in the fact the motor hangs over the rear wheels. As the season began, Kumho and VICI worked very close on construction and durability to ensure the tire performed as expected with no surprise handling characteristics. The drivers, importantly, felt that Kumho Tires had a solid base to work from."
The ALMS season officially begins with the Sebring 12 Hours. After many hours of testing and development, Kumho supplied three options for VICI Racing. "Although we chose only two compounds to use for the race, they performed very well indeed," continues Jason. "As the race progressed the team found it was in the hunt for a podium spot, unfortunately one of those infamous unknown variable surfaced and a part failure dashed hopes of a stellar finish in the famous race." The tires didn't have any issues during the event and the drivers had very positive feedback from the experience. Their input was key in the production of the next generation tires that were to be supplied for future races.
After a race weekend the work really starts for Kumho, as its engineers analyze the data and telemetry, look over driver feedback, and examine used tires and compounds. Reports are written and sent to the Kumho R&D center in Korea, along with recommendations and design changes. There is continued testing done at the Kumho Technical Center with the current tires, to try and gain an advantage over the competition. The Porsche runs a lot of negative camber, and the construction has a large impact on how the tire wears and performs under those conditions. With little time in between races, it's important to look at everything and decide the next course of action. Once the data is fully analyzed and new requirements sorted out, the order is given and the tires are constructed by Kumho's dedicated staff at a pilot plant in Korea, shipped over in containers to arrive for the next race.
"As the year goes on we continue to communicate changes and ideas with the team; Roland has been a big help with his input and desire to win," adds Jason. "We have a better feel for how the team operates and what's expected of the tires. We set goals for every race and work hard to achieve them, as a tire manufacturer, and as a technical partner. The drivers are confident in our tires and they can see that Kumho is taking steps each race to make better tires; it's a progression they can see and feel. The variables get eliminated one by one with experience and working together. At the beginning of the year Kumho faced many unknown variables, as we get later in the season we can run simulations and predictions based on hard data. This allows us greater latitude to try new materials and processes. Meeting these challenges and overcoming them is one of the reasons we race. Performing against the world's best under extreme pressure adds another level of difficulty to the process, but you can't be the best unless you go up against the best and get comfortable at that level, get competitive against all comers. Our goals are constant technical evolution to the highest standard and constant and consistent on-track performance. We're pushing each race and reaching those goals and we have more to achieve. This program is accelerating and the season isn't over yet."
The #18 VICI Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR will be in action in the Petit Le Mans next weekend (Oct 1-4). It is the next appointment for VICI Racing and Kumho Tires in the 2008 ALMS. The car will be driven by Nicky Pastorelli, Marc Basseng and Francesco Pastorelli. The 10-hour (or 1,000 mile) endurance classic at Road Atlanta will be the toughest challenge yet for the ambitious development program.
-credit: vici racing