Home » Sports Cars

Rain Could Turn 24 Into Episode Of Survival

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 30 2010
The sun has been out for practice and qualifying for the Rolex 24, but it may not be for the start of the race. (Photo courtesy of the Grand-Am Series.

The sun has been out during practice for the Rolex 24, but it may not be for the start of the race. (Photo courtesy of the Grand-Am Series.

Editor’s Note: RacinToday has two reporters – Mike Harris and Jonathan Ingram, both veterans of the event – on site at the Rolex 24. They will periodically file updates, notes and features during the race and wrap the event up afterward.

Daytona Beach, Fla. – The Rolex 24 at Daytona and rain are no strangers. Three of the past nine runnings of the event have been run in rainy conditions. According to the weather reports, a wet race is on tap again.

With an 80 percent chance of rain falling from a storm making its way east from the Gulf of Mexico, teams in the Rolex are anticipating a wet start at 3:30 p.m. If the forecast is accurate, the rain will continue to fall during the first several hours of the race before beginning to clear. High winds may also arrive on the heels of the storm.

“If it starts in the rain then it’s going to be a matter of survival,” said David Donohue, who co-drove the Brumos Porsche to victory last year.

The outcome may not depend on the weather conditions. In 2008, an all-star driving line-up at Chip Ganassi Racing led virtually from start to finish in constantly changing conditions of wet and dry. That’s the most difficult scenario, according to Scott Pruett, one of the winners that year.

“The conditions were pretty treacherous,” said Pruett, “because it was rain and then it was dry and then it was a little bit of wet and then you weren’t sure whether to go (with) wet or dry tires. And then it rained again.”

Experence in the rain is not necessarily important. In 2004 when rain fell almost from start to finish, it was the line-up that included NASCAR stars Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. that was leading until a broken rocker-arm in the suspension slowed their Crawford entry shortly before the finish. Stewart had only driven in the rain “to the grocery store and back,” he said. Earnhardt Jr. had driven once before in the rain, aboard a Corvette C5R at the 2001 Rolex 24.

The best place to be in the rain is in the front. Drivers expect a multitude of cautions in a field dominated by 28 GT machines and just 14 Daytona Prototypes. Being at the front on re-starts means a clear track. But staying at the front also means judging the fine line between a quick pace and survival. “You have to control your own destiny,” said Darren Law, one of the defending winners at Brumos.

“Starting in the rain, the only issue is staying out of trouble,” continued Law. “The chances of going off, or having an accident or somebody else having an accident are huge, especially with so many GT cars in the field.”

Donohue pointed out that the Brumos team came from three laps down after snafus to win last year, because caution flags allow teams to catch up. But a race with numerous cautions prevent the leader from lapping the faster adversaries. “It’s a 20 to 22-hour qualifying race,” said Donohue. “You have to be at the front at that time and then you can go for the win.”

The forecast calls for less chance of rain in the evening, but it may continue intermittently. Teams say that the change from a dry set-up to wet with the Daytona Prototypes is not a radical one, especially since most of the teams are expecting rain. In the rain, teams plan to add taller wicker bills on the rear wing for increased downforce and will soften the rear suspension by disconnecting the rear anti-roll bar.

The teams rate the series spec tire from Pirelli highly in the rain. “The Pirelli rain tires are so good you don’t have to do much to the car,” said designer Bob Riley, who will have ten entries in this year’s field, which includes two Dallaras, one Lola and one Coyote chassis.

The key problem, as Pruett pointed out, is knowing when to switch from wet to dry tires and vice versa. That will add another strategic dimension to a race always full of decisions on pit stops and pace.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 30 2010
One Comment

One Comment »