HPD Blog

Friday, June 6, 2014

HART Visits Historic Lime Rock Park

Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge: Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park recap
HART traveled coast to coast from Laguna Seca to Lime Rock for the fourth in a 12-race season.  Lime Rock Park is situated in the hills of Connecticut and is known for its park-like atmosphere. It is also known as a “bull ring” with its short track and tight confines.  This track is very difficult to pass on and can lead to aggression amongst competitors.  It is also a fairly high-speed circuit,  frequently producing lap times of under one minute.

This would be the first time for the HART drivers to visit Lime Rock.  With no test day and only two, 25-minute practice sessions, the team would need to use its expertise and engineering skills to dial the cars in with little data.  HART relied on driver feedback to get the most out of the reduced track time.  Since Lime Rock is made up mostly of right hand corners (only one left hand corner), Andrew Salzano and Ryan Breed worked their magic on the initial setup to add cross weight to the car, thus putting more weight on the right front tire in order to reduce abuse to the outside (left) front tire.

In the first practice session, all drivers were getting used to the track and trying to find their pace.  The weekend would include off-and-on rain showers, so the track was very “green,” with little grip.  By the end of Practice 1, the drivers were coming up to speed, but due to the short duration, HART’s drivers were only able to slot into the 23rd and 25th positions.  However, even though the times did not show it, HART was getting valuable information from both the drivers and the data logging.  HART was also testing a new brake package developed by Honda Performance Development (HPD) on the #92 car.  This package was intended to reduce weight, reduce heat build-up, and improve pad life, allowing for more consistent braking performance throughout a race.

In the second practice session, the drivers were more familiar with the track, so they could focus more on setting up the cars.  The team made changes to the dampers and stabilizer bar to increase grip and better balance the chassis, front to rear.  These changes proved to be effective, as the drivers moved near the top 10 and took almost a second off their lap times.  Leading into qualifying, the team attempted a few more improvements to the car, but these could not be validated as a rain shower moved through the area, causing IMSA to cancel the session (the IMSA series races, but does not qualify, in the rain).  When qualifying gets canceled, the starting grid is determined by championship points. This situation would work out all right for the #92 car, as it would be starting 10th but would be disastrous for the #93 car due to its poor finishes in the first two races (a DNF at Daytona due to contact and a poor finish at Sebring due to a driveshaft failure).  The #93 car would be relegated to 26th (out of 33) on the grid.

Steve Eich would start the #92 car, Chad Gilsinger started the #93 car.  Heading into race day, there was a strong chance for wet conditions, so the team prepared for anything weather-wise.  The goal for both cars was to stay out of trouble during the opening laps while trying to gain positions.  As the green flag flew, the 33-car field jockeyed for valuable track position going into Turn 1.  Needless to say, contact occurred and cars went everywhere.  Eich was able to make it through, but lost a couple spots in the process.  Gilsinger had a great run and weaved his way up to gain 10 spots on the first lap. On a track like Lime Rock, track position is key.  The team had to watch the race closely, updating strategy with each lap to make sure the cars pitted at the best time in order to gain track position.
Gilsinger never had a time to rest.  He managed to jump about 15 positions in the first 30 minutes of the race.  There would be another yellow before the 45-minute mark bunching the cars up once again.  Gilsinger was hoping to move up additional spots on the re-start, but was blocked by a slow-moving vehicle and was forced to make an evasive maneuver going into Turn One.  This sent the #93 car back a few positions, but fortunately no contact was made.  Around the one-hour mark, the #92 and #93 were separated by only one car, and both were running just outside of the top 10.  A full-course caution came out at that point, and the team decided to bring in both cars.

Michael Valiante was now behind the wheel of #93 and Kevin Boehm took over the #92.  Due to the great work of the crew, HART had the second-fastest pit stop and was able to gain about five spots in the pits.  With about an hour left in the race, Boehm was headed into the top 10 and Valiante had moved up to third!  As the race went on, there would be no more yellows.  The HART cars had good track position but due to all the battling to get there, their tires were wearing, and without a yellow they would be forced to stop for fuel.  As the time ticked down to about 20 minutes remaining, the team hoped for yellows, but they didn’t come.  The #93 car was in seventh position, with the #92 car battling for 13th.  As crew chief Andrew Salzano planned for a fuel stop, he also decided to put left front tires on the cars to give them more grip and hopefully, an advantage in the last few laps.  Once again, the team did an amazing job to get the cars in, serviced, and back on track without losing positions. The #93 was still in the top 10 and the #92 car was just outside.  All was looking good until the final couple of laps.  With two laps to go, the #92 car had an electrical glitch and lost power momentarily, causing it to lose about five spots. Then, with only one lap to go, the #93 car was hit by the #74 car of Compass 360, sending Valiante into the tire wall outside of Turn One. Valiante managed to maintain control and get the car back on track to cross the finish line in 10th.

“With the contact, we lost a few more positions than we should have, but coming home with a top-ten finish after startng 26th at a track like this is amazing,” said Gilsinger.  “The crew did an awesome job; they had the second-fastest pit stop and planned a great strategy. If we could just steer clear of other teams’ mistakes, maybe we could bring it home with a little less damage next time.  I would like to make it easier on the crew between events one of these days!”

“The new brake package worked great,” said Kevin Boehm. “We lowered our pad temperatures and were able to run the same set of pads through the practice sessions and the race.  We can’t wait to get this package on both cars for the Kansas race. That track is brutal on brakes.”

You can follow all the action on the new IMSA website, www.imsa.com
The Lime Rock race will not be televised but watch for upcoming events on Fox Sports 1.
The next event will be at Kansas Speedway, June 6-7.

To keep up with HART’s progress and to see pictures and video of the cars and team, ‘Like’ us on Facebook  ( www.facebook.com/HARTracingteam )
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