Secrets to Long Beach
Secrets to Long Beach
Keeping a secret in racing is hard. Teams are jammed side-by-side in the paddock and along the pit lane. Top competitors closely monitor each other’s radio traffic, pit activities and set-up changes. Drivers, crew members and families are often friends with former teammates, rivals and media who encounter each other in the same airport lounges, hotel lobbies and restaurants around the world.
So, when the 2012 Long Beach Grand Prix drew to a close it was unusual that Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf had taken the checkered flag, done the post-race television interviews, accepted their trophies and sprayed the champagne without anyone catching on to their race-week secret.
Finally, as the winner’s press conference drew to a close they were ready to spill the beans: Their victory came in part thanks to newly developed MICHELIN® tires, dubbed “street soft” because of their extreme grip levels.
“Temporary circuits like Long Beach typically start out dusty and slippery and everyone is looking for extra grip,” said Muscle Milk Pickett Racing team owner Greg Pickett. “We knew that Michelin had developed a special street soft tire a few years back for Audi. We thought we could work together with Michelin to make something special, and we did.”
The challenge in creating an ultra-soft tire is maintaining the consistency and extended tread life, which are Michelin hallmarks.
In fact, the second-generation MICHELIN street soft tires proved so successful that the Muscle Milk team was able to double-stint them to victory in the following race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, using just three sets of tires for the six-hour race.
As the ALMS teams roll into Long Beach for 2013, tires are still an important, although no longer secret, part of the pre-race story.
The Dyson Racing Mazda, the 2011 American Le Mans Series champions with co-drivers Chris Dyson and Guy Smith, has also switched to MICHELIN tires for the 2013 season
Joining the Long Beach fray for the first time is the 2012 Petit Le Mans-winning Rebellion Racing Toyota team. Former Sauber F1 teammates Nick Heidfeld and Neel Jani are reunited as teammates in the UK-based team that also competes in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Each team faces a different challenge.
The Dyson team committed the 2012 season to the wide front tire design concept pioneered by Acura and Michelin, but chose a competitor’s tires that fell short of expectations, resulting in a frustrating season.
That prompted the Dyson Racing switch to Michelin, which pioneered the wide tire concept that contributed to the de Ferran Acura victory here at Long Beach in 2009 and was raced with considerable success by Audi, Toyota and Rebellion.
For the Dyson team, it is now a process of quickly unwinding their experience from 2012 and developing the car set-ups and understanding of their new combination to return to championship form.
For the Rebellion team, the wide front tire package is well sorted; the challenge is taking on the team’s first street race. Heidfeld and Jani will look to make the most of the limited track time prior to the two-hour race.
The top independents in the 2012 FIA World Endurance Championship, Rebellion, took the final spot on the podium alongside the all-conquering Audi prototypes at the recent 2013 ALMS season opener at Sebring.
Rebellion has come to the ALMS to compete for overall race wins and is now leading the 2013 ALMS P1 championship. A win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach would be a tasty prize for the Toyota-powered team.
That makes three top teams, one powered by Toyota, one by Honda and one by Mazda.
The Muscle Milk team has won here the past two years and has been refining the winning HPD Honda package from last year.
The iconic Dyson Racing Mazda team, one of America’s premier teams for the last quarter century is looking for its first Long Beach win after making a fundamental change.
Rebellion Toyota, a top international team, makes its first appearance at Long Beach and has never run an ALMS street race, but has a lot of talent and racing experience.
“You also have two different approaches with the MICHELIN street soft tires on Muscle Milk and our ultra-wide tires on the Rebellion and Dyson cars,” said Ken Payne, Michelin North America motorsports technical director.
“One of the great things about open competition is seeing how different teams take different approaches to optimizing performance,” said Payne.
And that is no secret.