So the dust has settled on the final American Le Mans Series season and the SRT team’s first, and already we’re thinking about testing for 2014. This is not a long off-season for U.S. sports car teams which have at last been brought together again into one series, going forward. The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship kicks off in late January at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and before that there are the Balance of Performance tests plus all the regular testing we’ve got planned. And that’s fine by me. It means we all stay sharp.
So let’s grab the brief opportunity to reflect on a thrilling season in which I honestly believe that the GT class in ALMS produced some of the best racing in the country. The fact that SRT as a team was so often front and center in these battles is something we can all be proud of. And the closeness of the racing also hopefully means that not much needs to be done to our class in these Balance of Performance tests. The formula was pretty much spot on, in my opinion.
A great example of this was the Circuit of The Americas race in late September where we were less than one second from achieving SRT’s second win of the year. We went into it in a positive frame of mind following the test there, because the team had given us an awesome setup where the car felt well balanced over the course of a whole stint. (You ask any racecar driver how often that happens in a year, and he’ll tell you maybe once or twice!) We definitely had the car and the Michelin tires under us so that we could make that charge in the final stint, laying down qualifying laps.
Also, at COTA there are places where, if you’re bold in traffic you can make up a lot of time, and once I was up to P4, the three cars ahead of us were running pretty much together and so they were driving on their mirrors, driving defensively which is not the quickest way. By comparison, I could just focus on what was ahead, and trying to catch them. Lap time-wise we had a little bit more pace, but the big gains came when we hit traffic.
Of course, in the GT category, we have to remember that we are traffic to the prototype drivers, and so you have to become smart about where to let the prototypes come past. I couldn’t risk being pushed off line by someone being super aggressive. So you get used to looking in the mirror, trying to figure out who’s coming up on you and planning where to let them pass. If they’re running solo, then you can govern where it is that you move over, but if there are a couple of prototypes battling hard, you really don’t want to get caught up in their battle because there’s a risk you’ll be pushed out.
Interestingly, the places that a GT driver chooses to lap a GTC car are a little different from the parts of the track where he’ll let a prototype driver through. For example, at Circuit of the Americas, you didn’t want the prototypes going under you at Turn 6, because it would take you so far off line that it would screw up your flow through the Esses. It was better to keep them behind you through the Esses and then let them through at the hairpin by just turning in a little bit later and still allowing yourself a good run down the big straightaway. That would hurt you by only a couple tenths of a second, whereas you’d lose a full second if you got compromised before the Esses.
But for us to pass the GTC cars?well, if you just caught them down the long straight but weren’t close enough into Turn 1, you had to try and get a good run down the hill to try and pass them before the Esses. Get stuck behind them through the Esses and you were going to lose three seconds, honestly, because the corners come up so quick that at that point it’s a single-line racetrack.
So I was hoping the lead trio would battle and hold each other up just that little bit longer. The team was telling me the gap to them, how much time to go, and I knew I would have to deal with the BMWs really fast if I was to have any hope of catching the Corvette. And that went well, but then with two laps to go, I realized I needed a little help if I was going to take the Viper to Victory Lane. I was hoping there might be someone coming out of pit lane who might cause the leader to bobble. Ultimately I’d say we needed a maximum of just two more laps to make the victory happen, because we passed the checkers only 0.8sec behind.
It certainly was exciting, especially for the fans. And returning to my earlier point about how good the GT formula has been, I’d like to point out that was a 2hr45min race with no yellows, and yet we still ended up with four cars battling for the lead to the checkered flag?
Those last three races ” COTA, Virginia International Raceway and Petit Le Mans ” were also helpful in giving us pointers for next year regarding what areas of the Viper GTS-R we need to work on. In that test at Road Atlanta just before PLM, we really put our heads down and focused on aspects where we felt we still needed to make progress compared with our competitors, and they worked: we made big gains. We had a good racecar for the whole 10 hours of Petit Le Mans, strong in a variety of conditions, so although we didn’t get results that reflected that, we actually felt very positive after the race. We feel we have a good start point for the inaugural TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and there are still lots of other things that we can test and try out so we can kick the season off right.
We’ve all been in racing for too long to get complacent, though. SRT may be very young as a team, but the people who make up that team have decades of motorsport experience between them, and so we’re well aware that none of the teams are going to stand still in the off-season. There are new cars coming, there are teams who came on strong at the end of the year, and there are a lot of things to get our heads around with the new TUSCC rules. Having said that, our class stays pretty much the same, so that means we can use 2013 as a good guide for 2014.
I’ve got a feeling that the Viper GTS-R will be very strong at Daytona, but of course we won’t really know what we’re up against until January. But it’s great to head into this brief off-season with so much positivity in the SRT camp, and so much to do. We all love keeping busy, keeping the adrenaline flowing, and we’re all going to be proud to take the Vipers to the green flag at Daytona.
Thanks for reading.
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