Niclas Jonsson – Getting Set For A Change

dailysportscar.comThis is a season of change for Niclas Jonsson. After spending the last season driving for the dominant Rand-Risi team in the Grand Am series, Nic finds himself back in the ALMS this season, driving for Petersen Motorsport in a Porsche 911 GT3-RS – explains Gary Horrocks.

While the agreement is only for Sebring so far, Nic is hopeful of continuing on with Petersen for the full season. “I’m very pleased to be part of Petersen Motorsport. This is one of the best teams out there. I’m thankful for being given the chance by Mike Petersen, Dale White and also Alwin Springer. Johnny Mowlem and Craig Stanton are both great drivers, and the team is very experienced. I believe we can do well at the 12 hours.”

A major part of the change for Nic is that for the first time in his career, he will be racing in a Porsche. “It is kind of funny that in all my racing I haven’t driven what is probably the most visible make out there. I feel that I’ll be fine though. I’ve tested many different cars before, but I really feel that a car is a car. Even though some say a Porsche is hard to drive to the limit, I feel very good about it. Petersen Motorsports always sets up their cars well and I’ll have three days of testing at Sebring to acclimate myself before the race, so I do not feel it will be a problem.”

Another change was a move from California to Georgia for Nic and his wife. “It was a business decision for my wife, Helene, who runs Stand 21 here in the States. Besides being more centrally located to the company in France, the area also offers lower costs to do business. I’m just along for the ride, as in my business, it doesn’t really matter where I live. Despite being from Sweden, I really enjoyed living in California. In fact I was probably spoiled. I enjoyed the sun and being able to be outside. It’s been cold here, but it will be fine.” It has also allowed Nic to spend some time working with the Panoz Driving Schools, in addition to continuing his private coaching across the United States.

Before racing in the Grand Am in 2002, Nic was associated with BMW, driving for PTG in 2000 and 2001. The sudden departure of BMW from the ALMS caught Nic, and many others, by surprise. “It was really tough, especially with it happening so late. I still keep in contact with Tom Milner at PTG, and he has been very helpful to me. They should be interesting to watch in the Speed World Challenge. BMW racing against Audi, Acura and the others should be entertaining.”

While 2002 started out rather dismally for Nic, he was able hook up with the Rand-Risi SRPII effort in the Grand Am. “Driving a prototype was fun. I had really missed the open cockpit. It reminded me of my open wheel days."Driving a prototype was really rewarding. They are a properly built racecar, and in comparison to a GT, you can really feel the changes that you make. You really need to dial it in to get the most out of it. Driving one requires you to be very precise because the chassis is better than the power that is available.”

“Working with Risi was really a good experience. Even though we were dominating, they kept the development up, keeping both the drivers and the engineers sharp. And they allowed our two cars to race each other also. Risi was most professional, and supplied a first class product, not only to us as drivers but to their sponsors.”

Throughout his career, Nic Jonsson has always been involved in the technical aspect of racing. His background in testing and development has made him a natural to explain what is entailed in setting up a car for a race. “In endurance racing, I feel it is important to set the car up for the long run. Unlike short sprint races or difficult to pass on street circuits, I really believe that while it is nice to qualify well, it really is not that important. What I try to do is set the car up for minimizing tire wear and having the car good for a full stint.“With Petersen being an experienced team, they will already have a baseline set-up which we will start with. Track conditions along with different tire construction and compounds can cause what was good last time to have changed, but at least we know where we want to start.

“When I arrive at a track, especially for the first time, I’ll slowly walk the course, looking for bumps and holes, especially around the curbing. This will give me a general idea of the track. When I first get out in the car, I’ll go slowly, making sure the brake bias is good and get a feeling for the body roll, pitch sensitivity and whether the car is under or oversteering. Then I’ll build up the speed and determine what changes are needed. At Sebring, we will set up the car to handle the bumps. Turns 1, 10, 13 and 17 are very bumpy, and you need to handle these well to have speed here. There is also a big bump in 16 where it transitions from asphalt to concrete. If you set the car up properly, you can handle the bumps and get on the power early. If you get the power down early on these corners, you get up to speed much quicker and turn a better lap.”

Quite often, cars are seen lifting the inside front tire, especially in turn 17, causing them to lose some of the important grip. “The key to getting a car to work well is in the shocks. By getting the rebound settings correct, you can keep the tires in contact. Also because of the bumps, you need to run as soft as possible without getting too much body roll. For all of this to happen correctly, the engineer and the driver need to be able to communicate well.”

While Sebring is ‘only’ a 12-hour race, many have stated that it is one of the toughest races to drive. This year the high quality field and large car count guarantees the drivers another tough race. “Being in the slowest of the four classes, you end up looking in the mirrors almost as much as you do looking forward. Traffic can be really tough here and many drivers are not ready for the heat and humidity that is common at Sebring. As the race goes on fatigue becomes a factor, as do the changing track conditions.

dailysportscar.comLate in the race, when it becomes dark, the changing light conditions and the lights of cars coming up behind you can really be difficult to deal with. As the races gets longer and the track condition worsens, the car starts sliding around more on the marbles and passing becomes even more difficult.

“To win at Sebring, and at any long endurance race, you need to be smart. If you are down half a lap in the first four to five hours, it doesn’t really make a difference. There is still plenty of time to make that up. It can all come down to the last couple pit stops to decide the race. You need to be in a position to be there at the end.”

So how do 12 hours at Sebring compare to 24 hours at Daytona? “Sebring really is much more difficult. It is more of a pure driving, a physical track. It has 17 corners compared to five or six at Daytona. There you can run flat on the banking and can ‘relax’ a bit. The track is also much more lit up in comparison to Sebring. Weather can also be more difficult to deal with at Sebring. You need to adapt to the heat and humidity and the changing lighting conditions. At Daytona, even though you have more time driving in the dark, it is easier to adapt to it. They both are tough; Sebring is just tougher.”

As far as the 2003 race at Sebring, Nic feels “that we have a good chance to be there at the end. This is a good experienced team with good drivers. Of course the other Porsche teams will be tough, as will be the Ferraris.”

Nic is ready. Are you?


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