American Le Mans Series Round 9 – Oak Tree Grand Prix of VIR
Gary Johnson – SRT Motorsports Racing Manager
“The track at VIR (Virginia International Raceway) is well-suited to the SRT Viper GTS-R. It has a lot of different characteristics including high-speed corners which the Viper performs well on.”
THE TEAM TESTED AT VIR QUITE A BIT DURING THE EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF THE SRT VIPER GTS-R. IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN USE FROM THAT EARLY TRACK TIME WHEN YOU GO BACK THERE FOR THE RACE? “It’s always helpful when you’ve got data to go back to and look at, what works and what doesn’t work. Itgets you off to a good start. We’ll obviously fine-tune to the current Michelin tire and other information that we’ve learned throughout the season.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE THURSDAY TEST DAY? “We have quite a bit of on-track testing time on Thursday afternoon. Between Thursday and Friday, we’re going toget over three hours of track time. We have sufficient time to come up with a qualification and race setup that will work well for the car.”
THE 93 CAR HAD A GREAT RUN AT CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS (COTA). HOW BIG OF A MOMENTUM BOOST IS THAT FOR THE TEAM? “It was definitely exciting to watch. We could tell that the race was going to come to us based on the lap times of the leaders. When they started to battle each other we knew that we were going to have a chance to catch up. When they were battling, we were gaining like two seconds a lap. We just needed another two or three laps to pull off the win.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO FINISH THE SEASON WITH STRONG RUNS AT VIR AND ROAD ATLANTA? “The two races are very different: one is a sprint race and the otheris an endurance race. There’s strategy that you play in both types of races. I think having good finishes to close the season is important, creating a positive mood throughout the team.”
Jonathan Bomarito – No. 93 Pennzoil Ultra SRT Viper GTS-R
“VIR is a fun track with good racing. We enjoy going there.You have to be quick. There’s the famous Oak Tree Corner, a hairpin leading on to the big straightaway so youmust have good power down off that corner as well as good top speed. The esses are high speed and the car has to change direction well in the left-right on the downhill before the front straight.”
THE SRT VIPER GTS-R HAS RUN WELL AT CERTAIN TYPES OF RACE TRACKS SUCH AS COTA AND ROAD AMERICA. DO YOU THINK THAT MIGHT BE THE CASE AT VIR? “I think VIR is going to be a good track for us.Mosport, Road America and now Austin have been the three best tracks for us so far and I think VIR fits that mold as well.”
HOW IMPORTANT WAS RUNNING WELL AT COTA FOR YOU AND THE CONFIDENCE OF THE 93 TEAM? “I think it is a huge confidence boost. Anytime you have a good weekend you roll with that momentum and try to parlay it into the next race and the rest of the year. We had a good showing in Austin. The car was good, the crew did a good job and we just need to keep it going. The 93 is pushing hard for a win. We’re not really in the points(championship) but that actually helps us with our effort to get a win. We’re not constantly looking at points and who’s around us like other teams at this stage of the game. We can just go flat-out for that win.”
Kuno Wittmer – No. 93 Pennzoil Ultra SRT Viper GTS-R
“From a driver’s point of view, VIR is one of the great North American road racing circuits. It’s on par with tracks such as Road America, Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and Road Atlanta. They are circuits that require a lot of attention. There are a lot of technical aspects to the track and some pretty gut-wrenching corners. VIR is definitely a difficult course. We had the chance to do some testing there last year. Although the cars changed dramatically over the winter and with the progression this year, at least the drivers have experience there.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CRITICAL AREAS OF THE TRACK? “Some critical areas are corner one under braking with other competitors and those daunting esses going uphill. Coming down to Oak Tree Corner, you need to get a really good run out of that corner up the back straightaway because the entire back straightaway is pretty much uphill. If you don’t get a good run coming out of that corner and there’s a competitor right behind you, chances are he will pass you on the straightaway and it’s areally long uphill straightaway. It’s vital for us to get a good setup for exiting the corners and a good high-speed balance in all the high-speed corners.
“The entire race went green at Texas, so the battle was on pit lane. That’s something we’ve been working on, gettingour pit stop times down where we can beat our competitors on pit lane.”
IS THE TRACK AT VIR FORGIVING IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE? “The issue we encounter at VIR is that it’s one of those traditional, old circuits and they’ve kept it verytraditional as far as how wide the track is. Coming fromCOTA where the track is very wide, VIR is very narrow and a little less forgiving. There’s the issue of what we call marbles – rubber buildup on the side of the course. That limits you from going two-wide in a corner with another competitor and forces the pass under braking zones instead of getting him on the outside in a corner.
“This track is not very forgiving if you go off course. It’sdifficult to recover and not damage the race car. It’s a very, very daunting circuit.”
HOW IMPORTANT WAS THE GOOD RUN THAT THE 93 CAR HAD AT COTA? “For the 93 team, it was an example of how we’re working together as a team. Without the bad luck we had at the beginning of the season at Sebring and Laguna, I think we’d be top five in the points like the 91 car.
“The plan for us is very, very simple: get points and getwins in the last two races. If we can’t get those victories,the plan is to help the 91 car. We’re two cars under one tent. We’re one team. If we can get both cars on the podium, that would be the ultimate goal.
“Jonathan and I are primed for VIR and Road Atlanta. I strongly believe that we can keep the momentum going that we’ve had since Le Mans.”
Marc Goossens – No. 91 Rush SRT Viper GTS-R
“VIR is one of those typical old-fashioned American racetracks where runoff areas are nothing like we saw atCOTA. That gives the track a lot of character and makes it a very special place. It’s a place where you don’t really want to go off track anywhere. I remember it being a very technical race track from past experience in the Rolex Series. It’s going to take a lot of focus. We definitely need to stay on track. If you go off the asphalt and run through the grass there’s often a very big elevation difference between the track surface and the drop off into the grass or dirt, especially the fast esses.
“There are a lot of special characteristics to this track.There are high-speed, low-speed corners and some elevation changes. There are a couple of fast esses, notas many but way faster than the ones at COTA. It is kind of a tricky place where you need your downforce to be fast around the corners but on the other hand, from the Oak Tree Corner coming back from that straightaway to the pit area, it’s a very, very long straightaway. You can’t put in too much downforce because you lose your straight-line speed on that back straight and gives competitors a good opportunity to overtake. I think this is a track that suits theSRT Viper GTS-R pretty well. I’m looking forward to it.”
HOW BIG OF A FACTOR IS THE CURBING AT VIR? “We did test there last year and the curbs haven’t changed that much. There are some areas where the track on the exit of a corner is pretty narrow and you need to run that curb. The curbs are narrow and very often you see people run those curbs because you need to use the maximum width of the track. You need to use the curbs but you can’t stay on them forever because if you drop your wheel in one of those dips, that could cause some damage. You have tobe very cautious that you don’t run on curbs too much or come off too abruptly and upset the car or cause any damage. Curbs are important there but I think finding the right balance in aero is going to be, in my opinion, the challenge.”
HOW BIG OF A FACTOR IS TRAFFIC GOING TO BE THERE? “Traffic is going to be a big factor. If you’re not patient enough overtaking other cars and put a wheel wrong, it can mean trouble. That is the factor that is different at VIR. If you’re faster than the guy ahead of you,you have to be patient. It can be frustrating. The esses are very high speed and if you’re behind let’s say a GTC car, it could cost you quite some time. Traffic is always an issue especially with the GT field being so competitive. The drivers that anticipate better than others are obviously going to come out of this race with a better result. It’s going to be a heads-up thing all weekend especially with the difference in speed between the GTs and Prototypes.”
Dominik Farnbacher – No. 91 Rush SRT Viper GTS-R
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES RACING AT VIR PRESENTS AND HOW MUCH EXPERIENCE DO YOU HAVE THERE? “I think we are quite capable of running very well at VIR but the track is quite tricky. I’vebeen there in the Rolex Series. There is a very fast section going up the hill, the esses uphill toward Oak Tree Corner.Those are quick direction-changing corners. I’ve made a mistake there in the past. I dropped a wheel off the course and it’s not forgiving. If you drop a wheel, usually the car is damaged because you are traveling at such a fast speed.It’s similar to Austin where you have the curbs. When you touch the curbs in the esses you can damage the wheel and the upright. If you drop a wheel off at VIR, it usuallydamages the car so it’s very important to stay on track. It’s going to be tough to overtake in those fast esses so you have to be patient and wait for the long straightaways. It’s an up and downhill race track and some corners are very blind. It’s a very adventurous race track which, for a driver, is fun but I think the car suffers quite a lot there.”
THE VIPER RUNS WELL AT TRACKS LIKE ROAD AMERICA AND COTA. DO YOU THINK VIR IS LIKE THOSE TRACKS? “We showed at Road America and COTA that we are capable of running very well at high-speed race tracks. I think we will be competitive this weekend and a contender for the top spot.”
Bill Riley – Vice President and Chief Engineer, Riley Technologies
“It was very early in the program when we ran there (testing). The car is quite a bit different and what we do setup-wise is quite a bit different. I’m excited to go back and see where we’re at.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES ABOUT THAT TRACK? “It’s a classic long-flowing track. We have to make sure that we’re set for everything. The key is staying on the racing surface. The biggest challenge is what to do if you go off course. You’re probably not going to hit anything but you could encounter bumps underneath the grass and damage the car. You can hit one of those bumps and tear a splitter off pretty easy. The drivers have to be really aware of what can happen.”
Pre-Race Quotes – Virginia International Raceway
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE TEST SESSION THERE ON THURSDAY? “The test session on Thursday is pretty important because we’ll definitely get an idea if our baseline setup is good. We’ll go there with a baseline setup from COTA. Every time you run the car, you learn more and more about what it wants and what it doesn’t want. Everything builds toward the next two races and next season.”
YOU HAD JUST A TWO WEEK TURNAROUND FROMCOTA TO VIR. HOW BIG OF A CHALLENGE IS THAT? “It’s a bit of a challenge on the turnaround but the drivers kept the cars pretty clean at COTA, so it’s a normal turnaround.”
WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE DRIVE TO THE FRONT BY THE 93 CAR AT COTA? “I was pretty impressed with it. Jonathan (Bomarito) really drove hard.We started off on the medium (compound) tires and went to the hards (compound) and back to the mediums. I think Jonathan really had the benefit of Kuno seeing what happened with the hards so when it was JB’s (Bomarito)turn to go (back in the car), he really had a good car. We were able to have it so it had a good tire life and off he went.”
HOW BIG OF A MOMENTUM BUILDER WAS THAT RUN? “The finish at COTA provides a lot of big momentum especially since the 93 car had such a rough beginning of the season. It was good for the 93 car to run strong like that. And it’s good for the whole team to show that we can run strong.”
Matt Bejnarowicz – Lead Engineer, SRT Motorsports
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES OF VIR FROM AN ENGINEERING PERSPECTIVE? “VIR isspecial because it has lower and upper esses and requires a good lap time in those areas. It requires a car that’s fairly responsive and eats up a lot of curbs. I think we can use some of the things that we learned at COTA at the last race because VIR also had a pretty rhythmic section, a lot of esses and switchbacks. It’s pretty important for us to have a car that’s nimble in response and transitions. The only thing that’s a little different is the curbing. It’s a little bit more abrupt so we’ll have to make sure that the car can absorb it and our drivers take the best line possible.
ARE YOU TRYING TO FIND BALANCE THERE BETWEEN THE CORNERS AND THE LONG STRAIGHTAWAYS? “When it comes to long straightaways, you really find out how quick you get off the real slow-speed Oak Tree Corner. That’s a pretty criticalcorner. VIR is a place where it’s going to favor high-downforce because of the faster corners and the esses.You can make up so much time there if you have the downforce. We’ll go with the higher downforce setup and we won’t try to trim it out for straightaway speed.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE ADDITIONAL TRACK TIME ON THURSDAY? “It’s important. We took the SRT Viper GTS-R to VIR several times during the development but the car has evolved so much since we were there. For us, other than knowing which way to turn, there’s not a whole lot that we can apply from our history. It’s similar to Road America or Baltimore this year – the cars have improved and we’ve learned so many things. You go to VIR with a little bit of data but you’re really relying on theevolution of the car and developments that you’ve made through the season. I think the test session on Thursday will be pretty important. We need that extra time because it’s almost like we’re going to a new track again.
“The cars drive so much better over the last year and we’ve really made a lot of improvements to where it wants to run. The nice thing is that we know what VIR wants because we’ve been there before and our drivers have raced there before whereas at COTA, we’d never been there, our drivers had never raced there so it was a completely open book.
“At VIR I think we know what the car wants. The setup information that we could pull out of our book from testing even before we started racing with the GTS-R is probably not going to apply too well. We’ll go off of what we know the cars likes and needs for that kind of track and start there.”
IS THE TRACK AT VIR UNFORGIVING? “There’s a lot of places where you can get yourself in trouble. It’s a pretty narrow track. You have all the different classes and a pretty narrow track, so the bigger challenge is the traffic and making passes on a relatively narrow track compared to COTA or Road America.”
HOW IMPORTANT WAS THE STRONG RUN BY THE 93 CAR AT COTA? “The guys on the 93 were definitely on top of it and really shined. It’s important for the team overall.That’s the reason we have a two-car team. Sometimes we do better with one car than the other because ofcircumstances here and there. As long as a Viper is up on the podium, I don’t think it matters to us which car it is. To see that car fall back in the middle of the race and charge forward all the way up to leader was a pretty big reward for the team for all the hard work that they contributed throughout the weekend.”