Gap in Schedule Provides Opportunities to Overhaul and Test
By Godwin Kelly
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – From the checkered flag at Sebring International Raceway to the green flag for practice at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, there is a gap spanning 55 days on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule.
If you thought race teams turned off the lights and locked the doors during this time, think again.
While they are not in full competition mode, teams use this time to tear down their cars, replace parts, refurbish equipment and go testing.
All these cars go from an endurance package, designed to handle the rigors and stress of the two season-opening events – the Rolex 24 At Daytona and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts – to sprint-race equipped machines. The next race on the schedule is the Acura Sports Car Challenge presented by the TLX Type S, a 2 hours, 40 minute race on May 16 at Mid-Ohio.
Most of the cars that will be racing in the three competing classes at Mid-Ohio – Daytona Prototype international (DPi), Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) and GT Daytona (GTD) – have been taken apart and put back together again since the end of the March 20 Sebring race to ensure all the parts and pieces are up to race code.
“We did a pretty significant overhaul on our car,” said Bob Vigilone, team manager at Wright Motorsports, which campaigns the No. 16 Porsche 911 GT3R.
“We didn’t quite take it down to the frame, but we inspect compounds based on their service interval,” Vigilone added. “These cars are pretty sturdy. It’s not like 20 or 30 years ago where you have a lot of race attrition and part failures.”
The open space on the race calendar, caused by the rescheduling of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca events from April to September due to the pandemic, has been good fortune for the No. 01 Cadillac Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R team, managed by Steve Eriksen.
“Given how late this program came together, this break is actually a welcome relief,” Eriksen said. “This team came together fairly late. We had to go into the two longest races of the season – Daytona and Sebring – pretty much straight away. So a lot of the things, the niceties you want to have in place surrounding what you are doing, we didn’t have time for, frankly. This break gives us some breathing room to catch up on that to-do list.
“Right now, if you were to visit the shop, you’d see the spine of the car is there but everything apart from the spine is off the car,” Eriksen added. “Parts of the bodywork are being repainted. The four corners of the car – the uprights and suspension – are all off and being serviced. The fuel cell and steering rack are being serviced. The brake calipers get rebuilt. We are freshening the whole car.”
There was also a major to-do on Eriksen’s schedule-gap list: build a spare chassis for drivers Renger van der Zande and Kevin Magnussen.
“We went through the first two races without a safety net,” Eriksen admitted. “If we had a crash that damaged the monocoque enough that it could not be reused, we didn’t have a backup. One of the things we have worked on during this break was obtaining another monocoque, and we are outfitting it with the fuel cell, harnesses, steering rack and electronics, so it will be ready to go as a spare if we have a big accident.”
The Mazda Motorsports No. 55 Mazda DPi, wheeled by Harry Tincknell and Oliver Jarvis, is going through a major rebuild as well before heading to Mid-Ohio.
“It is always necessary to completely disassemble the race car, even after short sprint races,” said a spokesperson from Multimatic Motorsports, the team that operates the Mazda DPi program. “Every single nut and bolt is removed and parts are typically cycled through. Gearbox ratios are changed as well. Everything must be fully inspected and rebuilt A to Z.”
While the LMP2 team of Era Motorsport won’t be back in action until Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, June 24-27, the team had much the same report from its shop.
“After an event like Sebring, everything is replaced, regarding the driveline and suspension,” the team representative said. “The car is totally inspected. Mileages are kept on most every component in the car. A grueling event like Sebring generally means that we shorten the window on the limits we run parts. This also is a time where we can upgrade and improve our transporter and pit equipment. One item that needed more than the normal routine maintenance is our wheel guns. We’ve taken this time to rebuild them.”
Some teams are scheduling a test session during this down time.
“IMSA gives you eight days of testing, so we are trying to be very careful how we use those days to get the maximum benefit out of them,” Eriksen of Chip Ganassi Racing said.
“There’s always a gap between Sebring and the next race, so most teams have a test or two built into this window,” Wright Motorsports’ Vigilone said. “When we do our end-of-season review, we pinpoint where we need to improve the most and test at those tracks.”
After giving it more thought, Vigilone added that this break is critical to success the rest of the season.
“This is the time of year you must make sure all your equipment is serviced before you get into the meat of the season,” he said. “Once you kind of get into the May swing, everything starts rolling pretty consistently. Before you know it, it’s September and October and the season is over. We do use this time to prepare above and beyond.”