Rick Mayer, race engineer of the Risi Competizione No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTLM team, takes a look ahead at this year’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen endurance race, July 3, 2016, at the historic circuit in the Finger Lakes region of New York state.
Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy) and Toni Vilander (Finland) will return as drivers of the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTLM after a spectacular podium finish at the recent 24 Hours of Le Mans.
General: Watkins Glen is a 3.4 mile permanent road course that has been resurfaced since last year’s race. ‘The Glen’ is a classic American track with decades of racing history. It is one of the few natural terrain road courses we race on. We run the long course which includes the ‘Boot’ and the ‘Inner Loop’. The track has some long medium to medium-high speed corners, with a long uphill section (the Esses) from Turn 1 to the ‘Inner Loop’, reaching a top speed of 260 kph/160 mph, one of the faster permanent road courses we race.
The Track: The circuit will have a new character this year from the resurfacing. The surface was previously bumpy in sections with a mix of tarmacs and track patches. We are not sure how the new ‘Inner Loop’ curbing will affect the racing line or ability to use the curbs. The fast line around this circuit could be quite different this year as the many apex patches of the old surface determined where the best grip was. The previous ‘best line’ was not a classic racing line based on track and corner geometry. The previous track surface was quite hard on tires until it gained some rubber. There is very little runoff in the majority of the corners, so if you go off-track, there is a high probability of damaging the car. The Finger Lakes Region of New York gets an above average amount of rain in the summer, so a wet session or rain during the race is a common occurrence.
Setup: Watkins Glen has no real low speed corners where you would favor biasing the setup toward low speed grip or traction. The majority of the corners are long and moderately fast. Understeer tends to be the limitation in the long carousel corner (Turn 5). There is time to be gained (or lost) in the ‘Inner Loop’; the car needs to be good on the curbs and have good change of direction capability. You need a car that turns but also has good braking stability, as you tend to carry a lot of brake into the corners (trail brake). A moderately stiff setup is preferred here but you also need to curb well for the ‘Inner Loop’. You need to match downforce and drag to your peers, for top speed parity, to not lose position up the ‘Esses’ into braking for the ‘Inner Loop’ or down the front straight into Turn 1, both of which are prime passing areas.
Competition: This is a large unknown. You need good downforce and good power. Watkins Glen is a medium to high-speed track with no real slow corners. The entire GTLM field is partnered with Michelin for tires. The tires for Watkins Glen and the rest of the season will be the same options all teams had at Laguna Seca. This was a different offering than the tire used from Daytona through Long Beach. At Laguna the BMWs, Porsches and Corvettes seemed to struggle getting used to the new tire. Tire durability in the past has been a concern here. The new surface could change this. We will know more after the first practice, that is if it’s dry. If it is a wet race expect the Porsches to dominate as there is only one wet tire (IMSA rules) and it suits the Porsche best.
The Race: The track will be busy in practice and the race and there is a high car count with 42 cars. There is a large Pro-Am content for this race with very little runoff area; expect several safety cars in the race. The large field will create passing opportunities with traffic but adds higher risk. Staying out of trouble will be a larger challenge than previous races. The 6-hour length changes the complexion and strategy slightly, but all the races now, regardless of length, are all sprint races. You will need quick pit work to keep up front, but that has been the case all season and luckily in our favor. The safety car wave-by rules will keep the interclass battles fueled to the end. The race will likely come down to the final stint of the race in all classes. The track layout should suit the GTLM Ferrari 488. We are anticipating a strong, competitive race. We hope we can continue our run with another good result after our podium finish at Le Mans.
Tune-In Information: The Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen race is available live in the U.S. on Sunday, July 3 on FOX Sports 1 and on the FOX Sports GO! mobile app at 10:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. EDT. The race will be streamed live in its entirety for international audiences on IMSA.tv and the IMSA Mobile App.