RISI'S INSIDE TRACK: RICK MAYER ON LE MANS Risi Competizione is back at La Sarthe this week in what it hopes is a successful defense of the GT2 championship in the world's greatest auto race. With two Ferrari F430 GTs entered, there's plenty to...
RISI'S INSIDE TRACK: RICK MAYER ON LE MANS
Risi Competizione is back at La Sarthe this week in what it hopes is a successful defense of the GT2 championship in the world's greatest auto race. With two Ferrari F430 GTs entered, there's plenty to do for the Houston-based team. As is tradition, team technical director Rick Mayer takes us through the preparation and strategy for the week.
Le Mans is a tough event to work. You hope Friday isn't a late night for everyone as warm-up is at 9 a.m. Saturday and the race starts at 3 p.m. As you have to get to the track so early on Saturday, it means the crew is working non-stop for just about 40 hours - that is if you finish. It's a constant struggle to pace yourself to maintain concentration, especially on Sunday morning.
The circuit is 8.5 miles long and just over a four-minute lap for the GT2s. In the class, you're not allowed telemetry so you lose touch with where the car is on the track unless you judiciously time every lap with your stopwatch. It takes 13 minutes just to do one timed lap if you include the out and in laps... "You go do three laps and the crew and I will be eating lunch!".
You're typically at Le Mans for a long period of time, which can be tough when you are so far from home. But this year it's less with the cancellation of the pre-test. The downside of that is you now get even less track time to sort the car and cycle through three drivers. We have a total of 10 hours of practice time but the number of actual practice laps is low, in comparison to a normal stateside (or European) sprint race because of the long lap time. It almost always rains in testing and/or the race (although there's usually a blisteringly hot race week every five years or so); you just hope you have the setup and other essential testing sorted in the dry running.(Ed note: The forecast for Friday through Sunday looks extremely promising...sunny and warm - not hot!)
First you need a super reliable car; you have to finish to win. It needs to be comfortable for all the drivers with no unpredictable handling tendencies. If the car is good in the Porsche Curves it's probably good everywhere. The aero setup for Le Mans is like nowhere else we race. The long straights here are so important with three more than a mile long and two more in excess of 4,000 feet. You have to trim downforce to reduce drag for straightline speed. You want a good platform for the high speed and change of directions, so the setup is on the stiff side; there is only one slow corner. The majority of the track is smooth so there isn't usually a grip issue plus the track gains grip in the race as the rubber goes down. That's if the rain doesn't wash the rubber off! You always consider rain in the setup; seldom is the race totally dry.
Different Race methodology:
It's a grueling race; the drivers (and crew) need to be 100 percent focused. The drivers need to run a comfortable, careful but quick pace. They need to leave room in the brake zones in case they come upon some unexpected fluid, debris, gravel or other anomalies, particularly at corners with little to no runoff. We run in GT2, the slowest class. The drivers need to leave ample room when being passed by faster cars or when passing slower cars in the class. They spend as much time looking in the mirrors as they do through the windshield. The secret to success here is stay on track and out of the garage; think twice about each move - it's better to lose a second or two on the track than spend minutes or hours in the garage.
Again, (1) Stay out of the garage, (2) stay on the track, (3) don't hit anything or get hit, and (4) stop only for fuel, tires and the occasional engine oil, with a likely front brake pad change somewhere in the wee hours. Fuel economy pays dividends; try to get 15 laps a stint, 14 minimum. The new tire change rules this year (more durable tires with a maximum of two tire changers instead of the previous four; cutting the tire changers down to just two will slow down pitstops) force you to double- or triple- stint tires. A stint will be just over an hour. The tire change will take at least 30 seconds this year, more than twice as long as last year.
It's a long track and when it starts to sprinkle with rain on the pit straight, it can be dry or pouring on the other side of the track. Tire selection is sometimes more luck than skill but we have more tire options here than in the States. We have three dry compounds, two full wet compounds and an intermediate tire. The correct wet or damp option is not always obvious (see above comments about variable weather around the track).
You need a skilled crew and drivers and some luck to win at Le Mans. We did it last year, and now the challenge is to do it again with a back-to-back win.