Watkins Glen: Chevy, Hendrick Motorsports interview

What if? Rain tires, GM Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (Aug. 8, 2002) Chevrolet, Jeff Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports team have been the most successful in NASCAR Winston Cup races on Watkins Glen International's...

What if? Rain tires, GM Racing and Hendrick Motorsports.

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (Aug. 8, 2002) Chevrolet, Jeff Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports team have been the most successful in NASCAR Winston Cup races on Watkins Glen International's 2.4-mile road course in the 19 races held here: Chevrolets have won nine times, including the last five races; No. 24 DuPont Chevy Monte Carlo driver Jeff Gordon has collected four wins here and is the defending champion; and Hendrick Motorsports has dominated this circuit with six victories, three more than Jack Roush Racing.

While some races at Watkins Glen in the past have been shortened or re-scheduled because of rain, and time trials have been rained out, the Winston Cup teams have not yet had the opportunity to race here or anywhere in the U.S. under wet conditions.

The second of two road-course races on the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup schedule will be held this Sunday, August 11, at Watkins Glen International. And, although NASCAR and Goodyear have been ready since 1999 for the Winston Cup cars to race on road courses in the rain because of Goodyear's development of a wet tire, the concept has not been tested under true racing conditions.

So, what if it rains at Watkins Glen this weekend? The national weather map shows a chance of precipitation on Sunday in central New York State. Will rain tires finally be used? How does GM Racing, Chevrolet and the Hendrick Motorsports team feel about racing in the rain?

We asked Terry Laise, Chassis and Aero Development Manager for GM Racing, and Ken Howes, Director of Competition at Hendrick Motorsports:

TERRY LAISE:

WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO TO THE CHASSIS WHEN RUNNING RAIN TIRES? "In general, you just go for a softer car, softer set of springs. You'd want a little bit less control in the shocks. You would probably run the chassis higher to let those soft springs travel. That's kind of the typical step you take with rain tires. When you run the contemporary setups that we run, if you made those changes it would be very difficult to cope with from a chassis standpoint. About all you could do would be to raise the car a little bit and if you had any rubbers in the springs you would take them out."

CAN YOU MAKE THOSE CHANGES DURING THE RACE? "Yes, you can do those things during the race."

IT WILL TAKE TIME TO MAKE THOSE CHANGES DURING THE RACE: "It would take a little bit of time, but everybody would have to do it. Everybody who knew what to do would do something; some people might not. But if you didn't do it you'd probably be slow anyway. So, any advantage you would gain from a shorter pit stop would go away. Pit stops are still not going to get long enough that you would lose a lap there. A lap takes so long at Watkins Glen, it's not an issue."

SOME OF THE CARS DID TEST RAIN TIRES AT WATKINS GLEN IN 1999 AND 2000. WAS THERE ENOUGH TESTING TO LEARN ANYTHING? "Apparently, there was enough for Goodyear to learn something. And we did have some of the cars do a practice session on them. But I think most teams have changed enough personnel since then that I'm not sure that there's any history to go back to."

SO, IF THE TEAMS HAVE TO RUN RAIN TIRES IT WILL BE A WHOLE NEW EXPERIENCE FOR THEM AND GM RACING: "Pretty much, to a large extent. I think a lot of our Chevrolet Monte Carlo racers are very experienced and they've raced other kinds of cars that do run rain tires on a more regular basis, so I think a lot of them have experience. There are team engineers I know of with many of the teams who have backgrounds in sports-car racing where they do run rain tires. They have an idea of the direction to go with, at least, but it would be difficult."

WILL THE ROAD RACERS HAVE AN ADVANTAGE IN THE RAIN? "Those are the guys who would do well in road racing anyway. It looks like the guys who are already ahead might get further ahead."

WOULD GM RACING LOOK FORWARD TO AN OPPORTUNITY TO RUN IN THE RAIN? "I don't know. We do so little of it, that it's sort of irrelevant. A test in the rain would be the way to learn something. You don't learn very much from a car (during a race) except from driver comments, with the lack of instrumentation, which is the way NASCAR runs it at an event. The teams would probably learn from the race and be better the second time."

KEN HOWES:

HAVE THE RAIN TIRES BEEN TESTED? "I remember in 2000 at Watkins Glen they were used in practice on Friday or Saturday. I recall that some guys went out in the rain. I remember Robby Gordon went out; he was having a good time, enjoying himself driving in the rain. I think maybe a third of the cars actually went out. The rest of the people just used better judgment, said no good's going to come from this mess and just watched. Eventually it dried up.

"The thing with the rain tires is it's got to be reasonably wet for them to have any chance of staying alive. So, it's hard to know where NASCAR would go with it if it were to rain."

IF NASCAR SAYS GO TO RAIN TIRES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RACE, HOW DO THE TEAMS AND CREW CHIEFS FEEL ABOUT THAT? "I think there will be a mixture (of opinions) up and down the pit road. I think some teams, depending on who their drivers are, will be fine with it and some will not be that happy. I think some of the road racers, who have perhaps had experience of racing in the rain, will be fine with it, providing it is wet enough. If it's just a small amount of rain I think the tires really won't last very long at all. It needs to be reasonably wet for them to survive."

WOULD PUTTING ON RAIN TIRES HAVE A MAJOR EFFECT ON HANDLING? "I don't know that anybody has had a lot of experience with them because of the limited opportunity to run in the rain on a wet-enough track. If you put them on during a race there's really not a lot that you can do other than to tell the driver to be careful. If you knew beforehand that this was going to happen you could make some compromises in the setup that might favor the rain tires. You may run the car with softer suspension and adjust a few things to take advantage of the wet conditions. Being that you don't know that for sure going into the start of the race, you are just going to have to bolt them on and go."

WOULD YOU WELCOME AN OPPORTUNITY TO RUN RAIN TIRES IN PRACTICE? "If you ask me, no. The best thing you can do when it rains is go indoors. That seems to me to be the smart thing to do. I think a lot of it depends on the drivers and their view of the situation and how comfortable they feel or perhaps what their experience has been on rain tires. Some have probably had none at all; they're not too crazy about the idea of racing in the rain. Some of them have and it would favor the road racers, people like Robby Gordon, and one or two others who had experience in different series, where they've raced more in the rain. They'd be less intimidated; they probably could turn it into an advantage. It starts with the driver and what his feelings are, and that will vary. There will be 43 opinions, I guess."

HOW ABOUT THE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS DRIVERS? "I think Jeff (Gordon) is OK with it. (He believes) if that's what you have to do, then that's what you do. But, given a choice, he'd rather not. Terry (Labonte, No. 5 Kellogg's Monte Carlo) is probably the same way. He's not that crazy about it. I don't know where Joe (Nemechek, No. 25 UAW-Delphi Monte Carlo) is about it. And Jimmie (Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo) my guess is that he'd be OK with it because of his off-road racing background. He would possibly see it as an advantage. He's used to driving under miserable conditions, in slippery places, and changing track conditions."

HOW ABOUT WINDSHIELD WIPERS? "You have to have them anyway. The cars are equipped with all the mechanisms and the motors. If you needed to put them on in the pit stop when you went to rain tires, it wouldn't take but a few seconds just to put the windshield blade on it. All the other components are there. To have a rain light is also part of the rules."

WHAT'S A RAIN LIGHT? "It's a red light on the package tray in the rear window. It only has to be there on road course cars. If it rains and the conditions get bad then you turn that red light on in the rear of the car."

IF YOU HAD YOUR DRUTHERS AND IT RAINED, WHAT WOULD YOU WANT TO DO? "Wait ^Ìtil it stopped. I think that's the majority of the feeling.

"Goodyear brings the rain tires to both Infineon Raceway and Watkins Glen. The idea, I think, is to try every way possible not to have to run the race on Monday, so NASCAR will try to use whatever breaks they could to let the race go ahead and at least be completed, or maybe at least get halfway on Sunday. NASCAR wants to have some options to work with, should the weather turn bad. But, I think everybody would keep their fingers crossed and hope that it doesn't rain. But if it does, then we'll all have to deal with it, and some drivers will do better than others."

DO THE CARS HAVE DEFOGGERS? "Most teams have come up with some arrangement knowing that fogged-up windshields could be a problem."

DO YOU GET TO USE DEFOGGERS IN A HUMID BUT NOT WET RACE? "We've not had a problem, typically. Most teams, like ours, have somebody on board who's been around racing enough or road racing or some other form to know that should it rain you definitely will need some kind of defogging system. Different teams have come up with different arrangements: hot-air blowers, heating elements, whatever they thought was the best arrangement. No one has really had to use it much other than for a short time, and I think the only time was at Watkins Glen in 2000.

"To race in the rain or not to race in the rain is the question."

WOULD THE FANS LIKE TO SEE THEM RACE IN THE RAIN? "Probably. If they could see a race, get all wet and muddy and go on home (they'd be satisfied). Otherwise, they'll have to get wet and muddy and not see the race and have to stick around ^Ìtil Monday."

-tmc-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Robby Gordon , Jack Roush
Teams Hendrick Motorsports