Butch 'splains it all to EFR
By: Bill King
It's the opening day of practice and qualifying for the 43rd running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. We're following one of the three Daytona Prototypes entered by Howard-Boss Motorsports in the crowded Grand American category. The Boss Snowplow No. 4 Pontiac Crawford is being piloted by veteran road racers Butch Leitzinger and Elliott Forbes-Robinson and NASCAR ace Jimmie Johnson. This same trio limped the 4-car home 28th overall last February - 8th in class - after running solidly in the top 10.
Leitzinger, a 3-time Rolex 24 overall winner, drove the first two practice sessions Thursday - an hour and a half late morning and an hour after lunch. "Elliott's here but I haven't let him in the car," Leitzinger cracked. "He's been coming here for the last 30 years, so if he doesn't know how to drive around here yet, he's not going to learn.
"I might - if I decide to be really generous - give him three laps tonight when it's very dark." Then he laughed, "That's the best thing about Elliott. You just plug him in, and he's good to go. He doesn't need any warm-up. He doesn't need anything. He's just a machine."
This is the same chassis Leitzinger drove all last season. "We did test it a few times over the winter. They've actually done quite a bit of development since last year. Andy Wallace, who's around here somewhere, has really been the lead test driver for the whole team. You should talk to Andy about specifics (we will). They made improvements in every area - suspension, aerodynamics, engine, weight. It's a team that never stands still."
Witness car builder Max Crawford's newly signed partnership with Penske Technology Group in Mooresville, N.C. "The resources that Penske has - the wind tunnel, the chassis rig (7-post shaker) - will be invaluable in enhancing the car," Leitzinger said. "There aren't that many teams that can really understand all the data that you get from these test platforms.
"It's one thing to put a car on the rig and watch it bounce around," said Leitzinger. "It's quite another thing to make something out of the mountain of data that comes from a shaker run. These guys are really good at analyzing that data and the Penske guys can help with the interpretation as well."
Asked about the new spec tires from Hoosier, Leitzinger voiced optimism. "They take a little bit of getting used to. Like always, when you get a new tire, you have to adjust the car and figure out exactly what they like and how hard you can run them and how quickly they come in. The good thing is everyone's on the same tire."
Leitzinger shrugged off some teams' concerns about wear preventing double- stinting the tires, a common practice in the American LeMans Series. "I don't see why we would want to double-stint the tires, and really because the rules don't give you any advantage to do that. In this series (The Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series), you change tires while you gas, and the gassing takes long enough that you can change all four. So you might as well change tires on every fuel stop.
"In the ALMS," Leitzinger explained, "the fueling takes place all on its own; then all the other pit work is done, including changing tires. So double-stinting tires makes a lot of sense - it can save 40 seconds because you only have two (air) guns."
I went looking for EFR and caught him walking over to find Leitzinger who had run the car in two sessions, placing seventh in the opener at a 1:49.747 - just 0.735sec off the pace-setting Target Lexus Riley of Scott Dixon. In the second session, Butch improved to 1:48.546, fourth quick but 1.286sec off Max Angelelli's SunTrust Pontiac Riley.
EFR has been doing a little work with Penske also, training new Nextel Cup driver Travis Kvapil on the intricacies of road racing a 3400lb stock car. "Those cars are a kick to drive," laughed Forbes-Robinson. "They're a lot different from the last time I drove one. Now they've got little short shift levers with a little short throw, where they used to have this really long throw. The pedals are in decent places. They've added a dead pedal. The steering box is fast enough, and the power steering helps the ratio. They've learned a lot, because they've had guys like Boris (Said) going to the teams and setting up their road course cars and the other drivers like it."
When I told EFR - a two-time overall Rolex 24 winner - that Leitzinger wasn't going to let him in the car until very late, Elliott laughed, "All I need is a couple of laps and I wouldn't mind doing 'em tomorrow. I really don't like night practice anyway. What happens is a lot of the good guys go out and practice and get the car ready to qualify. After they qualify the car, they've got their four mandatory laps. They're done.
"Night comes and all the guys who haven't driven all day get in the car. So you're out there with everybody who's looking for the track. I would just as soon by-pass the night practice and take my four laps tomorrow. If it wasn't mandatory, I wouldn't care if I got any laps at all in the car." Reminded he's been racing here at Daytona for 30 years, Elliott grinned, "I know. I got a lotta laps here. And the car - if it's good - you should be up to speed in three laps."
Leitzinger: "We just went down on the wicker a bit and gained one to two miles an hour. But it made it little bit too oversteery in the kink. That'll be good for qualifying but too much for the race."
EFR: "Did you take the toe out of the rear again? Or just stay?"
BL: "We left that in. Lowering the rear put the pressure forward a bit and that helped a lot."
EFR: "I was watching Angelelli and he is dead flat through the kink."
BL: "Before we took the wicker off, we could have been. I just didn't get enough laps to really build up to it, you know, on one setting. I think we can do it though."
EFR: "You were doing a light lift and so were a couple of other guys, but Angelelli's exhaust note never changed."
BL: "Where we are right now is with the wicker where it's at for qualifying. You can go in (to the kink) pretty flat; but the last part there's a pavement change and the rear works out a bit on that."
BL: "In the low speed stuff now, it's actually got a bit of a push, mid- turn. I'm leaving that in there, because we haven't had any wear issues at all with the fronts. And I'm just hammering them there, giving it a lot of lock and letting them scrub a bit. And they don't seem to mind it. So I'm just going to let it do that."
BL: "In the middle of the first set with your feet off everything, you might have to give it a bit more lock than you're used to. Then drive it past where you think the slip point is and then just give it a little more (lock)."
EFR: "How do you think that'll be for a race set-up though."
BL: "It's pretty comfortable. The reason I don't want to come off of that is just because I think as the session goes on, it's going to get looser and looser."
EFR: "It'll go off, yeah. So will we put the downforce back on for the race that you took off."
BL: "Yeah, yeah. We'll put the wicker right back where it was. Actually it was quite nice. It was good balance."
EFR: "OK. Maybe we'll just go out for a few laps tonight. If you can't take a good car and get down to race speed for a 24-hour race in three laps, another lap won't make any difference."
BL: "We ought to have a 24-hour race where we don't practice at all. You show up, put your car on the grid and go."
EFR: "See how good the guys back at the shop REALLY are."
BL: "Reeeaaallly." Laughing.
After all that, Leitzinger placed the No. 4 on the outside of the fourth row for the Rolex 24 at Daytona with a 1:47.877 lap, just 0.949sec off Scott Pruett's pole-winning 1:46.928 in the CompUSA Lexus Riley.
Please view all the diary entries by Bill King on the No. 4 Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac Crawford at http://www.motorsport.com/news/series.asp?S=GRANDAM