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LAW: Tackling Pikes Peak and Portland

Flying Lizard Motorsports program manager Darren Law checks into Sportscar365…

Photo: Flying Lizard

After having a few weeks break between events we are back to racing. It started off with the race to the clouds for the 97th running of the Pike Peak International Hill Climb then on to the SRO Pirelli GT4 America series at Portland International raceway.

This was our second year running the Pikes Peak event in conjunction with Toyo Tires. We again opted to run the Time Attack 1 class in a McLaren GT3 car but chose to do it in a newer model than last year and ran the 650S GT3.

Preparing a car for Pikes Peak is a much different endeavor than what we do on a normal basis for all of our current racing programs. You never stop evolving so each year will be a new challenge to improve upon previous year’s event.

Pikes Peak can be compared to a street course venue such as the Long Beach or St. Petersburg Grand Prix, except that it would have a lap 10 times longer and in place of walls lining the course, you have trees or cliffs.

The car must also have tuning suited to high altitude, the course runs to approximately 14,000 feet. Along with the tuning it’s necessary to have adequate engine cooling as the air is thinner and has reduced cooling properties.

The course is rough in places so proper suspension set up and tuning is paramount. Tires are one of the most important factors in the overall performance of the car. Choosing a softer tire compound will increase the potential for more grip for the run and Toyo Tires produced a specific compound and construction for us just for this event.

The event testing on the mountain starts two weeks before the actual race week. It is not possible to test at a high-altitude course, so the engine tuning is complicated.

Photo: Flying Lizard

Because Pikes Peak is a state park and open to the public, the testing and race week hours are from 4am load in to 8:30am load out. The runs start around 5:30am and allow little time to set up and be ready to go on time.

It is long hours, early wake up times, and working in the dark. At Pikes Peak it is necessary to be prepared for freezing weather, snow and hot weather as well.

You are working in complete darkness or in full sun, on a tarmac or dirt pit surface. The willingness of the competitors and race officials to work together provide one of the most amicable racing experiences of any professional racing event. Pikes Peak is a high consequence event that can be an emotional roller coaster but when completed it is very gratifying.

The McLaren 650S GT3 ran without a problem for the duration of the testing. During this year’s race we were forced to stop and return to the start two thirds of the way up on its run by a red flag caused by a competitor further up the course with a mechanical problem.

Once that car was cleared, we restarted our run from the beginning. This required a quick turnaround- refuel and a fresh set of TOYO tires and so we could take another shot at it. This was problematic as the car was starting at a higher engine temp than the original run and subsequently ran hotter than our previous run and this affected the power output.

Driver Clint Vahsholtz was able to manage the conditions and bring home the car safely with a respectable time given the conditions we took second in class and eighth overall.

Flying Lizard and Toyo Tires look to expand the Pikes Peak program with more manufacturer involvement to return to meet the challenge in 2020.

Photo: Halston Pitman

The next event on our schedule was the SRO GT4 America event at Portland International Raceway (PIR). After an eight-week break, this was the first weekend back from injury for Michael Dinan, and it was a SprintX weekend so Robby Foley joined Michael for this race as well.

Robby was just coming off a win from pole the weekend before at Mosport and we hoped some of that positive momentum would carry over to this weekend.

We ran this event last year so we were comfortable from the car setup and preparation even though it was our first time at PIR with the new Porsche Cayman GT4 MR.

Throughout practice and qualifying we were quick, and both Michael and Robby liked the car and felt good about our chances for the races. Michael qualified seventh for the first race and Robby qualified sixth for the second race.

We had solid runs in both races but both ended with punctures in the left rear tire. Some weekends just don’t go your way but we are happy to come away with a car intact and ready for the next event at Watkins Glen next month

There is still a lot of racing to go for us this year with all the various programs Flying Lizard Motorsports has going on. I am off to spectate at the Spa 24 hour next weekend, an event I have never been to, then back at it for the next round of races.

Photo: Gavin Baker

Darren Law (@Daw544) is a sports car racing driver turned team owner, serving as the program manager for Flying Lizard Motorsports.

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