Michelin engineers,drivers aim for inch perfect at ALMS Long Beach Grand Prix

April 11, 2012

The official race sanction for the second stop on the 2012 American Le Mans Series says that the Long Beach Grand Prix circuit is 1.968 miles long. That is one way to look at it.
Race team engineers see Long Beach as 10,391 feet, with 11 turns, and multiple track surfaces. To Michelin engineers and drivers, the circuit is 124,692 inches per lap and the goal is to be inch perfect.
To be inch perfect at Long Beach means the driver must place the car exactly right at each braking point, corner entry, apex and exit and be exceptionally precise through traffic.
A key to the plan is the recently introduced Michelin front tire that is 1.2 inches (3cm.) taller than its predecessor for the Michelin technical partner GT teams from Aston Martin, Corvette, Flying Lizard Porsche and Extreme Speed Ferrari. The taller tire provides a slightly larger surface for braking, improves consistency, extends tire wear and can widen the window for car setups.
“An extra foot or two under braking can help make or prevent a pass. More precise turn-in at corner entry can also help set up a pass if another car is struggling to maintain its line and begins to open a hole that becomes increasingly difficult to defend,” said  Karl Koenigstein, Michelin ALMS technical team leader.
“Consistency lap after lap is very important to the drivers and their confidence on a very unforgiving circuit with concrete barriers all around,” said Koenigstein. “The competition in the ALMS is so tight that every pass, every position, every point is important.”
Michelin has also developed new tires to help Muscle Milk Pickett Racing team and drivers Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf defend their title at Long Beach. The team, victorious here in 2011 with an Aston Martin Prototype, has switched to the latest HPD/Honda Prototype and Michelin has worked closely to create tire constructions and compounds to optimize performance.
Michelin engineers and technical partners will need to hit a moving target in optimizing car setups and tire selections for the two-hour race beginning at 4:30 pm (PDT). ALMS teams practice at 7:15 am Friday morning and do not return to the track until qualifying begins at 5:20 pm that evening.  There is no Saturday warm-up and the track surface typically changes significantly throughout the day on Saturday, with IndyCar practice and qualifying and support races.
“Much of the track is in shadow and starts to cool for the second half of the race, so gaining and maintaining tire temperatures,  especially on late-race restarts, is very important,” said Koenigstein. Official sunset is at 7:23 pm.
The race will be broadcast live on ESPN2, Saturday at 7:30 pm (EDT). Live streaming of qualifying and the race is available on ESPN3.com.