A Race Engineer’s Perspective
Rick Mayer, race engineer of the Risi Competizione No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTLM team, takes a look ahead at this year’s Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca sprint race, May 1, 2016, at the beautiful Monterey, California circuit.
Pilots of the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 for the Continental Tire Grand Prix Powered by Mazda two hour race are Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy) and Toni Vilander (Finland).
General: Laguna Seca is a 2.24-mile long permanent road course that resides in the very picturesque Laguna Seca State Park outside of Monterey, California. The track has several long duration medium to medium-high speed corners and a low top speed of 240 kph or 150 mph, one of the lowest top speeds of all the tracks we run. The track has some elevation changes, including the famous ‘Corkscrew’ turn, a steep drop away over a blind 90-degree left-hand bend that immediately sweeps away to the right.  It’s the signature corner complex of the track.
GTLM competition: The number 25 BMW won here last year and was on pole, but the Porsches and Corvettes were also competitive. The number 62 Ferrari had the fastest race lap last year, finishing fourth in class. This will be an excitingrace this year with the 2016-era Ferrari, BMW and Ford, which have not raced or tested here. The big question of the race is fuel mileage. Can any car make it on one fuel stop? This could be pivotal. All the GTLMs are on Michelin tires and will be on new spec tires for this event, and unknown. The Porsches and Corvettes both had great pace the first three races, as have the BMWs. The Fords are still working through some new car bugs. Pit stops will be paramount here and the Risi crew always stands out in pit stop performance and will hopefully push the car forward as it did last year. The current BoP (Balance of Performance) has the Ferrari lacking some straight-line performance; this will make it difficult to pass competitors. The BMWs again are likely to be quick here. Porsche and Corvette have cars that are evolutions of their 2015 cars; their setups should be good off the truck. The Ford has shown some pace but has not been reliable yet.
The Track: The surface is relatively smooth as the weather is very consistent all year round and the track is not heavily used.  The general grip level is typically low due to one of the big issues at Laguna which is that sand surrounds the track edges, as opposed to grass at most permanent road courses.  As the higher downforce cars run near the edge of the track (or unintentionally off it), the sand is sucked onto the surface which makes the track low grip and slippery, and not always predictable. A moderate wind will also bring sand onto the tarmac.  Shortly after the start, the track usually has only one racing line. It’s difficult for GTLM cars to go off-line to pass (or get passed by faster classes) and retain any grip.  If you go, or are forced, off-line it takes several laps to clean the sand off the tires. The track is also surrounded by gravel traps, a safety feature as there’s quite a lot of motorcycle racing here, and if you go off into any of those traps you lose LAPS while the safety crew extricates you from the gravel.
(L to R) Rick Mayer, Risi Competizione race engineer, with Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander
Setup: Laguna Seca is typically a low grip, understeer track.  The only real change of direction is in the Corkscrew section, but it’s relatively slow and falling away downhill.  It’s a unique corner all to itself and you don’t spend any time setting up for this complex, although it does tend to set the minimum ride height for the car; cars usually ‘bottom’ here, i.e. the floor (or the gear box or the engine sump) of the car touches the surface of the track. A moderately stiff setup is better at Laguna Seca.  Pitch platform is important for braking and turn-in, and you need support through the long corners which you can’t do with dampers (shocks) alone.  This track is hard on brakes. The last corner is quite slow (70 Kph/43 mph), a good exit is important here as this leads to the main pit straight and to Turn 3, a prime passing area.  The car needs good low-speed traction to get off the last corner quick for a run down to Turn 3.
The Race: This year’s race will have only two classes, totaling 18 cars, in a 2-hour race, the same format as 2014, with a separate race for P+GTLM. There were no safety cars in that race; the race went green from start to finish in 2014. With few ‘off pace’ cars and few ‘non-Pro’ driver pairings, this year could go without a safety car as well. We have a few unknowns. We have not run this F488 GTLM package here, and we have new tires from Michelin, different than Daytona, Sebring, and Long Beach. Fuel looks tight, but we don’t know, as this is a new chassis engine package, but with one recon lap and two pace laps, the initial thought is we might not be able to make it on one stop. It is very difficult to pass at Laguna Seca, making qualifying position extremely important for this event. The race will likely be two stops for the Ferrari. Strategy will be based on fuel economy and ‘if’ and ‘when’ any safety cars happen.
Risi Competizione has had good cars here in the past, including class wins, and a pole position in 2013. The track suits the Ferrari and hopefully that’s the case again this year.
Tune-In Information:
The Continental Tire Grand Prix Powered by Mazda race is available live in the U.S. on May 1 on Fox Sports 1 and on the FOX Sports GO! mobile app at 2:00 p.m. EDT/11:00 a.m. PDT. The race will be streamed live in its entirety for international audiences on IMSA.tv and the IMSA Mobile App. 
For more information, please contact us or go to www.risicompetizione.com.


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Paul Ebeling

Paul A. Ebeling, polymath, excels in diverse fields of knowledge. Pattern Recognition Analyst in Equities, Commodities and Foreign Exchange and author of “The Red Roadmaster’s Technical Report” on the US Major Market Indices™, a highly regarded, weekly financial market letter, he is also a philosopher, issuing insights on a wide range of subjects to a following of over 250,000 cohorts. An international audience of opinion makers, business leaders, and global organizations recognizes Ebeling as an expert.

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