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Michelin IMSA Insider: The Aging Process

A look at the unique track surface of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca…

Photo: Michelin

IMSA newcomers Tyler Maxson and Tyler Gonzalez stunned the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge paddock with an exciting second place finish in their debut at the recent Fox Factory 120 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta aboard the Copeland Motorsports Hyundai Veloster N TCR.

Maxson exchanged the lead with Michael Lewis’ Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai in the final two laps at the track.

But Lewis held off the teenager, which ensured the pair of barely 16-year-old youngsters came within 0.099 seconds of becoming the youngest class race winners in IMSA history.

Ironically, just one year after Maxson and Gonzalez were born, two other young drivers set an IMSA record as the youngest overall race winners at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in October 2005.

Tom Chilton (age 20) of Great Britain and Hayanari Shimoda (age 21) of Japan secured the overall race win aboard the Zytek Engineering Zytek LMP 04S Prototype.

The 2005 Laguna Seca season was memorable on another front, as the Monterey circuit hosted the first Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix. The MotoGP podium featured the Stars and Stripes and the American national anthem as the race was won by “The Kentucky Kid,” the late Nicky Hayden, aboard a Repsol Honda.

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

Having reimagined its runoffs and curbing and replaced gravel runoffs with sand to accommodate the bikes, the circuit was freshly paved for the 2006 race.

But with record heat, the dark asphalt track surface soaked up the hot July California sun like a snowbird on a tropical beach. Michelin MotoGP tire engineers reported track temperatures of 130 degrees.

While Chilton and Shimoda are now in their mid-30s, they are likely showing a bit less wear than the Laguna Seca track surface.

During the Audi days in ALMS competition, Michelin had introduced an innovative ‘street soft’ tire construction and compound designed to help the big LMP1 car navigate the St Petersburg, Long Beach, and Belle Isle street circuits.

In later years, a second generation of ‘street soft’ tires appeared on the Muscle Milk HPD, where, after taking a victory at Long Beach, Greg Pickett’s team double-stinted a set to victory at Laguna Seca.

But, like factory drivers, racetrack surfaces have a life cycle. The years of consistent sunshine and frequent use turn every circuit grayer.

Photo: Rick Dole/IMSA

The combination of years of racing, rain and sand that blows from the nearby beaches and is dragged into the circuit from the sandy runoffs have worn through the topcoat of the 2.238-mile circuit, exposing the somewhat more abrasive underlayer.

That means lower traction combined with a higher level of tread wear in recent years and a corresponding shift in tire options and strategies.

Where the circuit was once nearly comparable to street circuits in terms of tire wear, Michelin now uses its harder, semi-confidential tires for DPi and LMP2 entries. The GTD class will use the S8M, medium option of the two Michelin IMSA specifications.

Meanwhile, the GTLM entries, with their bespoke soft, medium, and hard options may still consider their softer options for qualifying and shorter stints but will likely look to their other options for full stints.

And as a new generation of drivers moves to the fore, those who best execute an appropriate plan will for an afternoon, feel young.

The latest news, photos and video features from the trusted Sportscar365 web staff.

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