12 Hours of Sebring-GTLM Preview

(Houston, Texas, March 10, 2016)…Rick Mayer, race engineer of the Risi Competizione No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTLM team, takes a look ahead at this year’s 12 Hours of Sebring, March 19, 2016, at the historic Sebring International Raceway.
Pilots of the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 for the 64th Annual  Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida include Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy), Toni Vilander (Finland) and Sebring rookie Davide Rigon (Italy).
General: We have a field of 49 cars for this year’s 12 Hours of Sebring, down slightly from 2015. It’s a large number of cars for the bumpy 3.74 mile 17-turn track. Pit boxes will again be small and traffic nearly constant. The high amateur content and car count in the GTD and PC fields will again make patience pay in the race. The GT3 cars will be very fast on the straights and very difficult to pass cleanly, a big concern.
GTLM Competition: There are NO weak cars, manufacturers, drivers or teams in GTLM this year. The No. 4 Corvette won Daytona, in a convincing fashion, as both Corvettes were super quick, while stretching their fuel windows in the final stints, but they showed their BoP (Balance of Performance) advantage and they shouldn’t be as dominate at Sebring. All the GTLM manufacturers: Ferrari, BMW, Porsche, Corvette and Ford, will have super-competitive cars and second to none driver lineups. You can do this race with two drivers but all will have at least three on their entry list. We won’t know the comparative inter-class pace until the race, that is if anyone shows true pace. No one is showing true all-out pace from fear that IMSA will BoP any advantage away. The difference between proper setup work and an inherent performance advantage is difficult to separate. Unfortunately IMSA’s first three race tracks are anomalies; Daytona, Sebring, and Long Beach. From IMSA’s Sebring Test you would have to give the BMWs, followed by Porsches, a slight advantage at Sebring. But Corvette didn’t attend the recent Sebring test. We don’t know their relative pace, nor does IMSA. You can’t compare performance from different test days at Sebring, the track changes too much. The Fords were very consistent with good pace; they received a boost increase in the latest BoP to further increase their top speed, which they dominated in GTLM at the test. The Risi Ferrari would appear good at the test, based on a small number of quick lap times, but is compromised on top speed and straight-line performance with the BoP, relative to all other GTLMs. This straight-line speed and HP disadvantage will carry through Sebring, as no increase was given to the F488 GTLM. The Ferrari has typically been fast here with a good finishing record, but is a long shot this year with the current BoP having it down on power.
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. You’re always chasing the setup, as the track changes throughout the week. 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 Turn 1 and Turn 17 on the bumps and a good platform in Turns 3-4 and Turns 15-16 for the change of direction. Good power down out of Turns 5, 7, 10, 13 and 16 aids in a quick lap, as they all lead on to relatively long straights. You reach over 140 Mph five times a lap here so power is very important in lap time.
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/control. Ride heights are always higher than the legal minimum to keep the car from bottoming, mainly in Turn 17 (left side) and the exit of Turn 1 (right side). The typical GTLM Ferrari setup 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 historically the worst track for this tendency. A soft setup tends to aggravate this tendency. The Ferrari 488 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. Sebring is bumpy. Sebring is low frequency large amplitude bumps (inputs), just the opposite of a track like Long Beach which is more high frequency low amplitude.
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 small and crowded. This track doesn’t have the best runoff area and with the large car count and 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. The new GTDs (GT3 based cars) have ABS (allowed by the rules) and have so much power they will be very difficult to pass here. The GTLM drivers will have to take some risk to get by a lot of the GTDs.
This is my personal favorite track and it’s been a good track for Risi Competizione with numerous podiums and three GT class wins. Let’s just hope our series of bad luck in recent long races comes to an end.
Tune-In Information:
The 12 Hours of Sebring race is available live in the U.S. on March 19, on Fox Sports 1 and on the FOX Sports GO! mobile app beginning at 10:30 a.m. EST and on Fox Sports 2 beginning at 12:00 p.m. and again on Fox Sports 2 at 10:00 p.m. EST. The International fans can watch the race stream live with IMSA Radio commentary at IMSA.com. A highlight broadcast of the 12 Hours of Sebring is available tape delayed on FOX Sports 1 on March 27 at 12:30 p.m. ET