Rick Mayer Previews The Sebring 12 Hours

Risi CompetizioneOVERVIEW:  There’s a 66 car field crowding  the 12 Hours of Sebring’s 3.7 Mile track for this year’s race, including 11 very competitive GTLM entries from 5 different manufacturers. This crowd will again make for a very tight pit lane, as it was at Daytona. The series rules are still evolving and the BoP (balance of performance) is still being adjusted, particularly in GT. Fuel capacities have dropped across all of GTs, with the Ferrari having the least amount of fuel. Pit stops will be shorter because now you can fuel and change tires at the same time.  This will put a greater emphasis on wheel changes and further reduce the time slot for a drivers change.

GTLM Competition; There are NO weak cars, manufacturers, drivers or teams in GTLM this year. The Porsche won Daytona but none of the others had a clean run. Porsche has been very good at Sebring in the past and they were the quickest in the February IMSA test on long and short runs. BMWs have always been good at Sebring and with the BoP giving them a larger restrictor for 2014 they will be even better as that’s all they were lacking last year. On average they were the fastest car in the speed traps at the February test. Corvettes won last year’s Sebring race. In 2014, they’ve had some new car teething pains, hurting them at Daytona, but have all the parts of the puzzle to be quick again this year and Corvette proved that in the February test. Both BMW and Corvette are able to run a soft setup which suits Sebring. The Vipers have been quick most everywhere, coming on strong the end of last year. They dominated the timing metrics at Daytona and Petit and little has been changed regarding their BoP to slow them down. That shouldn’t be different this year, including Sebring. Only their bad luck has held them back. The GTLM Ferrari 458 had pole last year and lead a considerable amount of the race. It has the least fuel capacity of any GTLM car in the field (new BoP for Sebring) negating any fuel economy advantage it previously had. The Ferrari’s BoP is relatively unchanged with no performance enhancements from last year’s car. It’s a solid proven car and will be fast at Sebring and expect it to contend for the win.

THE TRACK: Sebring is a historic track hosting the longest running endurance race in North America; it’s also one of the toughest tracks to get the setup right. The track changes throughout the week; you’re always chasing the setup. It’s super bumpy in sections, which means you want to go in a softer setup direction. There are numerous near- threshold braking zones that require good platform support and two sections where change of direction is important, which doesn’t suit a soft setup. So it’s a conundrum. You need very good braking here and that’s a main area for gains, and the brakes need to be consistent and last 12 hours. The drivers need confidence in T1 and T17 on the bumps and a good platform in T3-4 and T15-16 for the change of direction. Good power down out of T5, T7, T10, T13 and T16 aids in a quick lap as they all lead on to relatively long straights.

THE SETUP: Sebring is a compromise. You need dampers that support the car but are compliant, with enough high speed damping to settle and control the car through the bumps. Too much low speed damping upsets the car on the bumps but not enough and you lose platform support. Ride heights are typically higher than the legal minimum to keep the car from bottoming mainly in T17. The typical GTLM 458 Ferrari direction is moderate springs with anti-roll bars on the soft side. GT cars, in general, struggle with rear stability under braking at turn-in and this is the worst track for this tendency. A soft setup tends to aggravate this tendency. The Ferrari 458 is no exception. Good power down is important with the many long straights; most are not actually ‘straight’ but are long full throttle sections. If you get the rear stable, the tendency for off-brake mid- corner understeer becomes the next problem which delays the ability to go to power.

THE RACE: The last several years have seen the end to the classic endurance race strategy where you’d save the car to make it to the end. The cars are all so reliable now that long races are just long full-on sprint races. The safety car wave-by rules are intact from Daytona, which should again keep the class fights competitive to the end, as this race will likely be caution filled. Pit boxes will again be very small and crowded. This track doesn’t have the best runoff area and with the huge car count, patience on the track will be very important. You have to finish strong to win and penalties for avoidable contact are steep; you’ll go down a lap easy in the penalty box.

This is my favorite track and it’s been a good track for Risi Competizione with numerous podiums and 3 GT class wins. We finished 2nd here last year, we’re hoping for one position higher this year.

Source. Risi Competizione/Photo. Ferrari

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