IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship drivers are bracing for a challenging weekend of racing at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, which has been described as a “street circuit on steroids” with “no room for error” and being “really, really on the limit” for an expected “elbows up fight.”
Saturday’s 100-minute GT-only race, which has replaced Lime Rock Park on the calendar, will see GT Le Mans and GT Daytona class contenders take to the 2.28-mile, 17-turn circuit, which was initially built in 2018 for the NASCAR Cup Series.
While having last hosted a professional sports car race in 2000 with the American Le Mans Series, several IMSA teams and manufacturers have previously utilized the original infield road course/oval layout for testing and car development.
It has included Cadillac, which held its first-ever endurance test for its DPi-V.R in 2017, which Jordan Taylor remembers.
“Back then the Roval wasn’t really like the Roval. It was kind of a makeshift infield,” Taylor said. “Since then they’ve upped it to what the Roval is for NASCAR now.”
Taylor along with the majority of GTLM and GTD teams took part in a Michelin tire test last month, which proved to be an eye-opener for some.
“It was definitely different from what I remembered,” he said. “The flow of the track was a bit different. A lot of it in the infield feels a bit like a street course.
“There’s a lot of walls and not a lot of room for error, which is a lot different to Daytona where you have a lot of grass and exit curbs.
“Here, some of the apex and exit curbs are concrete walls.
“Learning the track was pretty stressful because there’s bumps in odd places and the flow of it feels a bit funny.”
AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus driver Jack Hawksworth said he was “surprised how much fun” the track is to drive.
“I think it’s going to be a great race around there.” he said. “That place is a street circuit on steroids in one of our cars.
“It’s really, really on the limit, difficult chicanes, walls everywhere with no room for error at all. And it feels like you’re flying. There’s no rest either.
“It’s probably the most physical track we go to.
“Quite frankly I was expecting it to be a bit mickey-mouse. But it really isn’t. It’s super high intensity, high-level technical track. I think the racing there will be insane.”
Hawksworth’s co-driver Aaron Telitz believes it will be one of the more physical races this season.
“The Roval is going to be an elbows up street fight,” he said. “The track has some serious street course on steroids vibes.
“It’s fast with walls everywhere. Any mistake is going to be an end of race mistake. Passing is going to be tough to do on track, so our pit stops and strategy are going to need to be spot on.
“Of all the tracks and all of the driving I’ve done now in GT cars, I never had a sore neck. But I had a sore neck after the Roval. It’s going to be physical.”
Porsche’s Earl Bamber, who was the only driver out of Porsche’s four-driver lineup that was able to test, believes traffic management will come into play.
“I think one of the main issues is how you’re going to be able to pass,” he said. “There’s no straights so you’re always working. It’s quite physical on the driver.
“Traffic is going to be a big topic about trying to get clear laps and through GTD cars because it’s so tight and twisty through the infield, almost like a go-kart track.
“With the cars in GTLM and GT3 quite close [in performance] it’s going to be tough to get ahead.”
While having suffered a sizable accident in the opening day of the test, Bamber feels that maximizing the curbs will also be key.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” the Kiwi said. “There’s obviously big lap time gain by taking the curbs. It’s sort of risks vs. reward on that side and sort of an unknown for everyone.”
While the majority of teams took advantage of the test, during the week of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Friday evening’s opening practice session will mark the first laps for several drivers, including Corvette’s Oliver Gavin as well as Laurens Vanthoor, Nick Tandy and Fred Makowiecki.
Gradient Racing team manager Andris Laivins, believes anyone not having been part of the two-day test will enter the weekend at a “big disadvantage.”
“Before you visit Charlotte, the track doesn’t seem super complicated, but having now tested there, I’d say any team who is figuring it out this week is going to be at a big disadvantage,” said Laivins.
“There are a lot of pavement transitions, curbs, walls, and sight-lines that took our guys a while to figure out.”