Rick Mayer, race engineer of the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTLM team, gives us a preview of this year's Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 24-27, 2019.
The Risi team previously announced its four driver line up for the 57th running of the historic Daytona Beach, Florida 24-hour race. Italians Alessandro Pier Guidi and Davide Rigon will be joined by Brit James Calado and Spaniard Miguel Molina.
Rick Mayer, race engineer for Risi Competizione
General: The Roar weather was a bit warmer than the current race event forecast. All the GTLMs had a chance to test the different Michelin tire options on track. These are new tires for all GTLM cars. The event forecast of cool days and cold nights should have every GTLM using both their soft and medium tire options in the race. Each GTLM team had to choose their limited allotment two weeks before the event week. Based on the forecast we're happy with our choice. GTLM cars are allowed 38 total dry tire sets for the event, which includes all the practice sessions and the race. Quantity shouldn't be an issue; compound choice might be.
There are a few significant rules changes this year. Under the safety car this year, the pits open first for all Prototypes (Dpi+LMP2) and then all GTs (GTLM+GTD) on the second opening. This could mix up the GTLMs and GTDs in the queue for the restarts. There's still a fueling advantage of six seconds on a full fill (from empty) for the GTLMs. Minimum full fill time (from empty) is regulated at 34 seconds for GTLM and 40 seconds for GTD. Safety car fuel stops rarely occur when you need a full fill from empty so the actual difference will be proportionately less. I think we'll see some GTDs mixed with GTLMs on restarts. The GTDs are so fast on the banking and with their ABS it's difficult for GTLMs to pass without risk. Restarts could be entertaining to say the least.
Last year the pits opened for P+GTLM on the first opening and GTD on the second opening. This gave a natural class split between GTD and GTLM. The P (Dpi only) car pass around prior to restarts is still in place; this started last year. This reduces the risk of P cars trying to get around GTs on a restart. Patience is rare in racing drivers, so this is a good procedure.
Pits are laid out differently this year so every GTLM and every Prototype have a clear in and out of their pit box under a safety car pit situation. The GTDs weren't so fortunate.
Competitiveness: The IMSA WeatherTech specific balance of performance (BoP) GTLM rules evolved from last year's Daytona without accounting for other 2018 races. IMSA moved to a Daytona-specific BoP. The Ferrari didn't fare well with this and will be at a disadvantage to the other GTLM manufacturers. How this will play out, we'll only know at the end of the race. Last year Ford dominated this race without real competition. This year BMW and Porsche should have dominate pace. Let's hope the analysis that leads to this prediction is wrong. The GTLM competitors "displayed" performance will vary. This is just the start to the long season. Our Risi Competizione team is only signed up for this race; the others are signed up for the season. Showing what you have at Daytona might result in a BoP reduction that will carry through for the entire season. Teams will be cautious of what they show and when and how much true pace they display.
Setup and track: Clearing traffic at Daytona is significant in setup considerations. There is a tradeoff between lower downforce (lower drag) for banking speed and higher downforce for better braking and power down at corner exits. Trimming downforce too much can be slower overall on the banking from compromising the exits leading onto the banking; but there is a limit. There are also different minimum wing angle rules for each car specific to Daytona. Each car is built to a very car-specific homologation, very little can be changed by the team. The only way to really control banking speed (other than power) is by wing angle, to control drag. In addition to braking and power down at corner exits, the higher downforce also helps with the bus stop and tire longevity/degradation. But little passing is done in the infield so banking speed is important; if lap times are similar, choose better banking performance. These are all significant factors when racing for 24 hours, not just a lap.
The Race: There were only four safety car periods in last year's race; the norm is closer to 20. Could this year be a repeat of 2018? Possibly. Clearing GTD traffic this year will again be challenging. The lap times are closer than ever between GTD and GTLM. GTDs have very good banking speed, some better than GTLMs. Combine that with their ABS (not allowed in GTLM) and it's hard for GTLMs to pass GTDs cleanly. The evolutions of the IMSA pit stop rules have mostly removed the potential to gain time in the pits. Cars are BoP'd, in part, to ensure the same number of laps in a fuel stint and the same time to take a stint load of fuel in a pit stop. The only real way to gain in the pits is to save fuel on track (use less fuel per lap) and either make less pit stops or shorter stops as the pit stop time is determined by the time it takes to fuel the car. The battle should be mainly settled on track. Strategy still comes into play, particularly in the closing stages of the race. One less stop in the last three or four hours could determine a win or podium.
Risi fared well in the past at Daytona. We have a great driver lineup with four very experienced drivers who have all raced at Daytona and they all know the F488 GTLM and have raced with Risi in the past. Let's hope this familiarity plays to our advantage and we have a good result.