Automatic Racing Seeks Advantage in VIR Testing Alton, Va. (March 3) -- The Grand-Am Cup Series, a professional road racing series that showcases street-stock high-performance sedans and coupes in two classes, will visit VIRginia...
Automatic Racing Seeks Advantage in VIR Testing
Alton, Va. (March 3) -- The Grand-Am Cup Series, a professional road racing series that showcases street-stock high-performance sedans and coupes in two classes, will visit VIRginia International Raceway twice during the 2006 season. The first visit will be over the weekend of April 21-23, as a companion event to the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve, for a 200-mile sprint race. The second will be for the series' season finale, a 12-hour endurance race that will be the longest race in series history, over the weekend of October 6-8.
Those two races will total approximately 15 hours on VIR's scenic and challenging 3.27-mile circuit, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of the entire season's mileage. With that in mind, Automatic Racing, a Florida-based team that fields four BMW M3s in the Grand-Am Cup's Grand Sports class, spent two days testing at VIR this week.
Team driver David Russell has been with Automatic Racing since its inception in 2002, and says that the Grand-Am Cup series is some of the best racing in America.
"We think it's a great series," he said. "The growth has been amazing, and the quality of the competition is outstanding. We are seeing fields of at least 40 cars at every event, and there are literally 20-plus cars that can win any race. I don't think any other professional road racing series in America can say that."
Considering the amount of time that the series will be racing at VIR this year, the decision to do a two-day test this week was a natural, Russell explained.
"We love VIR," he said. "It's got a good mix of everything -- elevation, low-speed corners, high-speed corners, a little bit of everything. For us, it's a great place to test seeing as how the next race is here and the season finale is here, which is hopefully going to be important to our run for the championship. Plus, due to the variety of corners and elevation changes, testing here helps us prepare for a number of other tracks on the schedule."
The 2006 Grand-Am Cup season opened at Daytona International Raceway in January, with a 200-mile race on the day before the Rolex Series' 24-hour season opener. Automatic Racing didn't fare as well as they would have liked, as a result of electronic gremlins struck three of the team's four cars. Much of the testing at VIR involved working through those problems, and Russell said by the end of two days that the problems were found and solved and the team is confident for the upcoming VIR 200, which will be the series' second race of the year. Automatic Racing's BMWs will face tough competition from Ford Mustangs and Porsches.
"Our main competition has been the Mustangs," Russell explained, "but this year the Porsches are going to be really tough because they have a new car, the 997 model. Technically, those guys have the package; the car is lighter, it's more aerodynamic and it has a lower center of gravity. But the BMW is so user-friendly that it gives you confidence. You can really drive it into the corners really hard, get on the brakes late and carry your momentum, and that's where you make up the time."
Automatic Racing will enter all four of its cars -- No. 09 with team owner Jep Thornton and Matt Mullins; No. 90 with Russell and Jeff Segal; No. 91 with Emil Assentato and Nick Longhi; and No. 99 with Dave Riddle and Kris Wilson -- in both events at VIR. The team's finished seventh and ninth in class last year and is hoping to improve upon that this year. The cars are all BMW M3s, with stock engine internals and suspension components. The only modifications allowed are to the shock absorbers and front brakes, and an aftermarket engine management system is used. Safety modifications such as a roll cage, racing seat, five-point harness, fuel cell and fire suppression system are mandatory.
Russell said that the season-ending 12-hour race at VIR in October is going to offer a new and difficult challenge for all the teams, particularly taking a car that normally races three hours at a time and making it last for 12 hours, but that Automatic Racing will be well-prepared.
"I'm really looking forward to the 12-hour race," he said. "I love endurance racing, and that's one of the reasons we're here this week. We're doing some longer runs, trying some different brake pad compounds and testing some different configurations to see how we can make the car live over the course of 12 hours."
The prospect of racing at VIR in the dark was not a concern to Russell, who conceded that it would be an advantage to some drivers and a disadvantage to others.
"It's probably going to be really dark," he said, "since they're probably not going to install a lot of lights around the track, and that's the way it should be. I like that, and it brings a whole new aspect to the race. I'm definitely looking forward to that."
Russell expressed confidence that the 12-hour race will become the series' marquee event and an annual tradition in the years to come, and that the addition of the GT Live attraction for the young tuner-car enthusiasts will bring in an entire new audience.
"It sounds like Grand American is going in the right direction, with the promotion they're doing and with the GT Live program coming too. It's going to bring out a new demographic, all those tuner-car enthusiasts who probably have never seen this kind of racing. I think they're going to love it, because we're probably going to have 75 cars here banging wheels for 12 hours. It's going to be awesome.