Setting the scene
Sebring Raceway at dawn is an emotive place, the Florida sunrise lifting the veil on one of the true Cathedrals of Speed we have the privilege to visit. For some of your writers on DSC this week it’s a first-time experience and for those of us returning the hairs on the backs of our necks were still up.
Awesome is an overused word these days but awesome this is, and if you’ve never made the trip you should.
Tuesday’s paddock was sparingly populated, but the adjacent WEC and IMSA zones truly came to life today as this year’s unique two-ring circus pegged down its respective pitches ahead of the IMSA sessions tomorrow.
The scale of this meeting is enormous, illustrated by Michelin’s central warehousing facility (we’ll go into that more below). As a supplier to most of the entry this week, entire plantations of rubber are stacked high in a temporary structure that may just be visible from space.
With IMSA duties starting in earnest tomorrow though, the WeatherTech Championship’s teams were setting up shop as the WEC teams set about scrutineering.
Sebring’s paddock is fairly traditional, lacking some of the glitz of the FIA’s venues, but in the spirit of its host nation, this week special local detail was paid to the concrete outside the garages.
For the first time observer, the IMSA entry is indeed spectacular, the retro-livery aspect of some of its GT entries (seen at Daytona, but still very much notable here) a fine touch.
Atherton looks ahead to IMSA’s big weekend racing with the WEC
DSC spoke to IMSA president Scott Atherton earlier about a variety of topics. One of those was his impressions of ‘Super Sebring’ so far, now the paddock is set up and the fans are pouring in.
“Credit where credit is due, Wayne Estes the circuit president, and Rick Humphry who looks after IMSA’s property division, those guys working hand in hand with the WEC have enabled all this to happen,” he said when asked about his first impressions compared to his expectations.
“So far it’s exceeded even our highest expectations. It’s early yet, but it’s a great start.
“There’s some wild crowd numbers I’ve heard. I can’t speak to the 1960s, but in modern times this will be the largest crowd we’ve ever had at Sebring and the largest crowd ever for an IMSA race. The advanced sales are up substantially, today’s the first day of gate sales and that continues through Saturday.
“We’ll have to see where it ends up.”
DPi’s times set to tumble?
DSC caught up with Tristain Vautier earlier today, the JDC-Miller driver looking forward to the team’s second outing as a Cadillac DPi customer team here at Sebring.
Vautier believes that due to the change in tyre supplier from Continental to Michelin for this year, like Daytona and the shackles being taken off the DPi runners since the class split, will result in the times tumbling.
“I think we should see a jump here. If you look at Daytona, yes the cars went quicker because the DPi’s are unleashed, but if you look at the LMP2 times in qualifying, the tyre was a big part of the performance gain. I think a good pole position time will be more than a second quicker than last year.”
In terms of JDC Miller’s outlook for the race, Vautier feels that a strong result is possible here now that the team has a race and plenty of testing with its new Cadillacs under its belt.
“Daytona was good, we got a strong result to build on for the rest of the season. We’ve tested here and made progress since Daytona. The speed at Daytona wasn’t there, because we weren’t used to setting up the cars. If we can score another top five here we’ll be happy, we need to make strides.”
Setting up a Caddy for Sebring
With a number of drivers on double duty this week their challenge is unique in terms of physical endurance, but mental and technical agility will be firmly put to the test too.
Renger Van Der Zande was up early and explained to DSC the fine balance of setup for this tough circuit and how he hopes to manage the switch between his Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Cadillac Dpi-V.R. and his other machine, Dragonspeed’s LMP1 BR Engineering BR1 Gibson.
“The Michelin is a little more spongey around here so you have a little more to play within the dampers. To get it right at Sebring you have to be smooth over the bumps, if you’re not, forget it. So that’s the first consideration.
“You have those sessions where the first time you go out you just think, ’Oh, no…that’s bad,’ other times, if you’re lucky, you go over the bumps and think, ‘Wow, this is easy!’ That can be the difference, it can be that extreme.”
“The most time around here is found in the damping. You want to be soft on the springs because of the big hits and if you get that balance wrong it puts a lot of pressure on the car. On the other hand, on the LMP1 car, sometimes you get it right at the rear but if you can’t match that at the front it starts bouncing from the front end. So even if the car sticks at the rear it’s still bouncing. It’s a very fine line in getting it right and the situation from car to car is never the same.”
Michelin’s big weekend
Michelin’s ‘Super Sebring’ is set to be its biggest every motorsport event as a tyre manufacturer.
Michelin will supply Sebring with 16,000 tyres for 137 cars across the IMSA WeatherTech, Pilot Challenge, Prototype Challenge and WEC grid, all of which will be stored and mounted on behind the start-finish straight. And although it has only rained once in the last 20 editions of the 12 Hours of Sebring, Michelin is fully stocked with 5,800 wet tyres too.
Twenty-one trailers will transport the IMSA rubber, as well as nine 40-foot maritime containers coming from overseas.
By comparison, it’s a far bigger event logistically than, say, the Le Mans 24 Hours, which Michelin only needs 8,000 tyres for!
All of these will be stored and prepared in 27,000 square feet of workshops of which 24,000 is under a tent on the IMSA WeatherTech paddock.
Being the official and exclusive supplier of three IMSA categories, the chosen partner of all GT-Le Mans teams and supplier of 31 of 34 FIA WEC teams, Michelin will have an extensive workspace for mounting, balancing and monitoring of tires. The French manufacturer will build 27,000 square feet of workshops of which 24,000 is under a tent on the IMSA WeatherTech paddock.
The only other tyre supplier here with representation is Dunlop, the British constructor supplying three WEC LMP2 cars.