Detroit, Michigan - A more careful, cautious approach was called for today by VICI Racing at the Belle Isle street circuit in Detroit; rapidly changing weather conditions, coupled to a car that has just been rapidly rebuilt since last Sunday's ...
Detroit, Michigan - A more careful, cautious approach was called for today by VICI Racing at the Belle Isle street circuit in Detroit; rapidly changing weather conditions, coupled to a car that has just been rapidly rebuilt since last Sunday's accident at Mosport and which was slightly down on power, meant that the team had to be satisfied with Marc Basseng's best qualifying lap of 1:28.075, which will place the car onto the fifth row of the grid for tomorrow's Detroit Sports Car Challenge.
The driver line-up in the #18 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR which is supported this year by Hughes Telematics, Hughes Network Systems, LuxuryMotors.com and Wempe, is unchanged going into Detroit; Marc, who qualified the car today is teaming up with Nicky and Francesco Pastorelli once again.
It promises to be yet another demanding race for the team as none of the drivers have been to the island circuit before, and with just a handful of laps in damp conditions today, they will be plunged right into the thick of the action in tomorrow's 2 hour 45 minute race. For the team, on its first visit here, there isn't the data of previous visits to rely on so thought will have to go into developing a final set up. The team is also awaiting a new exhaust section, the part, reused from last weekend today, caused a slight loss of power. A new unit will be on the car tomorrow.
It's been a tough week for the Miami, Florida-based team following a crash last Sunday at Mosport in Canada in the previous round of the American Le Mans Series, caused by a suspension component failure that was beyond our control. However a lot of very hard work by the crew and a string of late nights in the temporary paddock on Belle Isle later and the #18 car was prepared and ready for the start of running on the track this morning.
Action on the 2.09-mile, 14-turn temporary course, laid out at the southern end of the 982-acre island which is sandwiched by the United States on one side and Canada on the other, was scheduled to get underway this morning (Friday August 29th) with a 90 minute long practice session (9:00-10:30AM) which was open to all the ALMS classes. This would be followed by a further hour's practice in the afternoon (3:20-4:20 PM), again open to all classes, before the customary, and brief, 15 minute break lead into the 20-minute qualifying session (4:35-4:55 PM), this time reserved as usual for the GT1 and GT2 class teams.
The 90 minute long opening practice session would give the drivers useful time to familiarize themselves with the temporary track and the vagracies of a street circuit, although Nicky can count on some street circuit experience, having raced in the ChampCar series at temporary tracks including San Jose, Long Beach, Denver and Long Beach, as well a couple as in Europe.
This morning at Belle Isle started off damp, overcast and generally miserable. A brief shower during the minutes leading up to the waving of the green flag to indicate the start the first session ensured that the teams were greeted with a very slippery track and consequently wet tires were called for. Further rain fell during the opening quarter of an hour of the session, with Nicky, who started first, making several careful exploratory laps before turning in a 1:56.682 after 9 mins. He followed this up with a 1:56.422 before making a brief visit to the pits after 12 mins. Out on track again after 16 mins the rain was still falling steadily and the 25-year-old turned in a 1:59.785 after 22 mins before pitting to hand over the #18 to Marc.
With the rain easing off but still with a lot of standing water on the track, the German recorded a 1:56.238 as the clock ticked to the half an hour mark, one third duration. His next lap was a 2:02.414 as he eased his way round, before chopping his best to 1:53.897 (33 mins). With the track slowly drying the times started to tumble; he followed up with a 1:53.201, 1:51.272, 1:51.026, 1:51.664, 1:50.628 and a 1:50.242, set after 43 mins. Next time round Marc posted his first sub-1:50 lap, in 1:49.370, before heading to the pits after 42 mins of the session.
With some fuel added to the #18, it was now Francesco's chance to get out on track for the first time, and he headed into the fray after 50 mins of the session. With the track rapidly drying, although he was still running on the original Kumho wet tyres that had started the practice session, the 21-year-old turned in a 1:56.805 and 1:52.653 as he completed his first flying laps. He followed this up with a 1:53.484 (58 mins) and then a 1:53.305 as the clock ticked to one hour (two thirds duration). Francesco then ran a 1:53.305, 1:50.473, 1:49.633, 1:50.130, 1:48.100 and a 1:50.353 before, after 1 hour and 10 mins of the session, he pitted to end the team's involvement with the morning's proceedings. At the end of the session the #18 car had run 30 laps with Francesco's 1:48.100 (lap 28) being the quickest in an average speed of 68.936 mph.
It remained overcast, but without anymore rain falling, through the late morning and early afternoon right up to the 3:20 PM start time of second practice. With the track now bone dry and the teams all relishing getting some serious running in, the first spots of rain arrived as the final seconds counted down to the green light. Nicky took the #18 car out, and just as the island began to reverberate to the sound of racing engines, the heavens opened once again. The Dutch former Jordan and Midland F1 Official Test Driver completed only one lap (for the record in 1:37.515; 4 mins), before an off track excursion by the #40 Ford GT brought out the red flags after 5 mins. And although the rain stopped, the track was treacherous, meaning that VICI Racing, along with the majority of the teams, stood out the bulk of the session. In the final minutes the track dried sufficiently for slick tires to be used again and Marc was strapped into the cockpit for a handful of laps. As the checkered flag was waved on the session he turned in a 1:31.358 (82.59 mph) which was the third fastest GT2 time of the session.
After two wet sessions the ALMS teams saw a sunny and mostly dry track for the first time as the 20-min final qualifying session got underway at 4:35 PM. Marc was entrusted with qualifying the #18 car and after an out lap he turned in a 1:30.333, followed by a 1:28.075, 1:28.655 and a 1:30.330, before pitting to check tire pressures after 14 mins. With four minutes remaining he went out and turned in a 1:28.913 and a 1:28.432 before the chequered flag was waved. Marc's fastest time in 1:28.075 (on lap 3 of 10) at an average speed of 85.67 mph puts the #18 car into 9th place in the timesheets.
Roland Wall, Technical Director VICI Racing: "The qualifying session was a little bit disappointing, but we were losing some power with the exhaust which we had to reuse from the Mosport incident. That will be sorted for tomorrow. I think though we will have a pretty good race pace here and the circuit is easier on tires; the Kumho compounds are working ok here so I think we can pull a solid pace in the race. It's going to be difficult passing tomorrow and there is going to be a lot of traffic so the drivers will have to be very aware and we will have to have a flexible strategy. All three drivers showed a good speed here although the conditions weren't good and they didn't get much time in the car."
Marc Basseng (Germany): "It was pretty tough out there in the morning session when it was raining. The mix of surfaces was bad in the wet, it was grip, no grip, grip again in some of the bends and you had to work out when you could let the car slide. It's bumpy too. This was my first time on Kumhos in the wet so it was interesting to see what they can do. In the qualifying I wasn't able to set a better time but in think that the car has more speed in it. None of use knows the track in the dry so the drivers who drove here before will have an advantage. I will see what changes are made overnight, the car feels quite good so and hopefully me and my team mates can have a nice race."
Nicky Pastorelli (Holland): "I didn't get much time in the car today. In the morning session it was very wet and as we weren't testing wet tires I came in. In the afternoon the weather was bad again and my run was only one lap before it rained. I haven't had much time in the car, and no dry laps, but I hope to drive some laps in the warm up tomorrow morning and hopefully it will be dry. There are a lot of different types of surfaces here for sure and the track is quite tricky in the wet on the concrete bits. On the asphalt it's ok, but as soon as you get on the concrete it slides."
Francesco Pastorelli (Holland): "I got a few laps running in fairly dry conditions in the morning. It's my first time on a street circuit so I'm enjoying the experience, although I have to get used to the surface changes. I was on wet tires on the track though when it was getting dry but it was a good learning experience and my times were ok. The RSR feels nice here and has a good balance so I think we should run well in the race if it is dry tomorrow."
Team Co-ordinator James Lang isn't with us at the track today, he had to rush home to Columbus, Ohio last night due to a family emergency. He is in our thoughts at this difficult point for him and we wish him well.