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HINDMAN: A “Tire-d” Challenge

Trent Hindman files his latest Sportscar365 column following a busy weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca…

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

I miss calling this place Mazda Raceway. Growing up with the Gran Turismo series of games, especially Gran Tursimo 4, the newly dubbed “WeatherTech Raceway” Laguna Seca was always a staple of the series.

Even back then, the colorful blue and orange branding of Mazda and Laguna Seca created a pretty long lasting imprint on the minds of millions of young kids who all dreamed of racing there one day.

So to me, this transition is fantastic for the sport, but I suppose the end of an era. At least the track as we know it remains unchanged.

One aspect of Laguna Seca that many of us drivers, but mainly engineers, find challenging is the rate of tire degradation.

It’s been extreme in recent memory, but this year was an en-tire-ly (punny) new challenge.

The difference between new and old tires at most racetracks, depending on weather and conditions, tends to be right around one second, maybe a bit more if you factor in fuel load, etc.

However, this weekend in direct back-to-back runs, we found literally three full seconds per lap on new tires. That’s pretty insane.

Having decided this would be the main hurdle and deciding factor for a potential race win, the VOLT Racing team focused their efforts on how to manage the loss of time and balance in the car over the course of a full race stint as best we can.

This was proving to be a difficult challenge, as we found ourselves pretty far outside our normal window of setup, but it was a gamble worth taking since it seemed to show some promise throughout practice and qualifying.

Photo: Jake Galstad/IMSA

After qualifying 12th, Alan had a fantastic start and had made up three positions by the end of lap one by doing nothing more than being smart and keeping the nose clean – exactly what we needed him to do.

From then on, the rest of the stint was pretty straight forward for him, until the battle of attrition with tires began.

At that point in the race, which was only about 40 minutes in, we could tell that almost every car was dropping off quite heavily. Seeing this, along with the first and only full course caution of the race, made for a difficult strategic scenario.

Avoid pitting and run an even longer stint in an effort to one-stop the race, or do we plan on two stops, taking tires on both knowing that may be more conducive to achieving a result over a gain in track position? We decided to go with the latter.

The VOLT team put together two very strong stops, we made good progress in traffic and were gaining significant time per lap on the leaders when, with about 20 minutes to go, we hit that metaphorical wall and started losing time. Fast.

At that point all one can do is hang on and defend.

Losing two positions in the last few minutes of the race, then gaining two on the last lap due to cars ahead of us running short of fuel, meant that we could have had a sure podium finish. Slightly disappointing, since we ended up P4, but overall a strong run for Alan and me.

Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

The challenges presented with tire degradation were the same for everybody in every series across the weekend. There was nowhere to hide… the Prestige Performance/Wayne Taylor Racing team encountered the very same dilemma in Lamborghini Super Trofeo.

We found that we had a very quick car over one lap, but hanging on to that speed was a different story.

Either way, we had gone into Race 1 with plenty of confidence in the tuning path we had chosen. Unfortunately our day ended prematurely when I handed the car over to Jonathan, as we decided not to continue running due to a technical issue.

Obviously that was secondary, as our friend and teammate, Sheena Monk, had a very significant accident in the corkscrew. The details of it and the extent of her injuries have been released. All I can say is that I continue to pray for her full recovery and all of us in the paddock hope she is back with us soon.

Situations like this are tough but it also goes to show the strength of the teams that compete in this sport, since individuals could not do this alone.

We carried on for Race 2 and following a fantastic start from Jonathan, I hopped in the car from the lead with no pressure from behind… until the last three minutes of the race.

Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

Hanging on by a thread, I did my best to defend but alas, it was not enough and we ended up second overall. That’s going to eat at me until Vallelunga.

The challenges were ever present this weekend at Laguna Seca and I just thank those who work through it with us and keep making it happen; Alan, the VOLT Racing team, Trim-Tex, Wayne Taylor Racing, and Prestige Performance.

The year is winding down but this is only the beginning really.

One more opportunity to bring home a GS win with Alan remains, the Lamborghini Super Trofeo World Final at Vallelunga, Italy beckons, and finally I look forward to making a return with my (recently winning) family at Meyer Shank Racing to close out the IMSA season at Petit Le Mans in that beautiful Acura NSX GT3.

Trent Hindman (@TrentHindman) is the 2014 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge GS class champion, driving for VOLT Racing in Continental Tire Challenge and Michael Shank Racing in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races.

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