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Ganassi Team Facing Big Challenge At Big Track

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 22 2012

Things have been a bit stormy for Chip Ganassi's GRAND-AM team this year. They could get worse at Road America this weekend.

Scott Pruett let loose with some very nice words about Road America this past week. Words that indicated that the central Wisconsin road circuit is among his very favorite race tracks. But the veteran sports car driver also indicated that he’s not all that confident about racing at Road America this weekend.

Not enough horsepower under the bonnet of his Chip Ganassi Racing BMW Riley, he said. Not enough downforce in the body work.

And not enough help from the GRAND-AM Rolex Series rule-makers in remedying those problems.

At over 4-miles around, Road America, the scenic and historic circuit located just south of the hamlet of Elkhart Lake, is the biggest track on the GRAND-AM schedule. While it has 14 curves, it also has some of the longest and fastest straightaways on the schedule.

For Pruett, co-driver Memo Rojas and the rest of the TELMEX Ganassi team, its going to be a major challenge.

“Well,” Pruett said during a teleconference this week, “I think that most certainly we all know that Road America is a horsepower place.”

“But also with that, you have to make whatever downforce you can as efficiently as you can, because that’s just straight power, if you’re able to generate downforce real efficiently, then that will let you go faster down the straightaways. So I think on both sides we are lacking a little bit.”

Pruett and Rojas won at Road America a year ago. It was one of five places where they won on their way to a second-straight – and third in four years – GRAND-AM prototype championship.

But things have changed for them this season. Their BMW Riley is no longer the baddest DP car on the block. While their team does have the points lead after the first six races of the season – by just two points over the Starworks Motorsports team’s Ford Riley – it has yet to win a race.

And it certainly appears that the new DP Corvettes of the SunTrust and Spirit of Daytona teams are the new bad boys as the current GRAND-Am rules appear to be highlighting those cars’ racing characteristics.

Pruett, asked if the Corvettes are the car to beat, said, “As we have seen so far, I mean, we were a second off the pace (this year). If you had a Riley standard body work, there was no way you could compete.”

The difference between the Corvettes and the other cars should be even more pronounced at big old Road America.

“What we are seeing with the Corvettes is,” Pruett said, “it seems like the body work, they are a little more slippery or efficient on the way they make downforce. We are looking for a balance on it. I know that Riley is spending a lot of time, designing our body work, they spend a lot of time looking at options and things that we can do for our current body work to be more on par with Corvette.

“So it’s all of the pieces put together. It’s horsepower and efficiency on how you make downforce, and also the other piece with Road America, you’ve still got to have mechanically a good car, your springs and shocks and the way that those pieces tie together, they have patches on some of the turns, so you have to be able to getover the patches and still be efficient on the mechanical side of things, making grip.”

GRAND-AM has granted some relief to the Ganassi team, Pruett said. Relief in the form of allowing the car an extra 100 RPMs or so.

Pruett called that a good start but, he said, it probably won’t make a big difference this weekend.

“The extra RPM is not much,” he said. “When we saw the Fords got significantly more than we did and they have been leading the championship. I think if nothing else, we should have matched with what the other manufacturer was doing. I don’t really understand that.

“However, anything we can get is better, and I know that they (GRAND-AM officials) are looking at the aero side of things, as well.”

The last time out, at Mid-Ohio two weeks ago, Pruett and Rojas finished just .23 seconds behind the winning Corvette of the Spirit of Daytona team. And that provides hope.

Plus, because rain washed out qualifying on Friday, the points-leading Pruett-Rojas team will start from the pole.

“We are having to overcome the horsepower side of things and take the downforce out and try to make it up mechanically, and it played out well for us at Mid-Ohio,” Pruett said. “Hopefully we can do the same this weekend.”

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 22 2012
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