Michelin prepares for Road America up, down, fast and around
Carrying momentum from five consecutive 2012 American Le Mans Series overall and GT-class wins, Michelin and its technical partner teams are preparing for some specific challenges at the Road America Road Race Showcase, here August 18.
The rural scenery and casual atmosphere surrounding Elkhart Lake Wisconsin’s Road America belie the fact that the 4.08-mile natural terrain circuit in the Kettle Moraine is one of the most stressful circuits for tires in the ALMS season.
The uphill, mega-long, 4,300-foot front straightaway produces top speeds matched by the downhill run to Turn 5. The circuit incorporates more than 160 feet of elevation change from top to bottom, with 420 feet in elevation changes over a single lap as the cars chase nose-to-tail through a wide array of differing radius turns at speeds approaching 200 miles-per-hour. The margin of victory in the 2011 ALMS race here was a mere 0.112-seconds.
“We learn the most when we race at the extremes, and Road America's combination of high straightaway speeds and long, fast corners produces tire stresses among the highest we see in the ALMS,” said Karl Koenigstein, Michelin technical team leader. Michelin is prepared with solutions. “Many of our technical partner teams will choose a combination of hard and medium and maybe even one soft compound tire for their set-ups, to meet the different challenges,” said Koenigstein.
“For Michelin the goal is to help enable the performance for each of our technical partners,” said Koenigstein. “The Muscle Milk Honda (LMP1) and Dempsey Prototype (LMP2) have their own needs. It’s even more dramatic in the GT class. Corvette Racing and SRT Viper teams are front-engine cars, the Flying Lizard Porsches are rear-engine and the Extreme Speed Ferraris are mid-engine GT cars. The Michelin engineer in each team will help our partners extract the maximum performance and consistency for the race.”
The Muscle Milk HPD Honda has taken the overall race victory in the past five consecutive ALMS races while Corvette Racing has three GT wins and Flying Lizard Porsche and Extreme Speed Ferrari have one win each in that span.
The four-hour race length adds another dimension to race tire selections and race strategies, as teams will make at least one additional pit stop.
With plenty of opportunities to pass and most teams generally able to stay on their respective lead lap on the long circuit, the timing of any caution periods opens up a number of tactical options.
“You can plan out lots of different strategies and scenarios,” said Koenigstein. “Sometimes, the cautions catch you out and the competition in the ALMS is so close that there isn’t much you can do to recover. With a fast and consistent car you can maximize the opportunities and minimize the consequences that 'racing luck' throws your way.”