Portland Pirelli Testing – The Detail
The first leg of the West Coast Pirelli Tire testing tour kicked off on Tuesday at Portland International Raceway, where the ALMS traveling show will visit in late July – writes Gary Horrocks. After Portland, the tour will continue to California, visiting both Laguna Seca and Infineon (Sears Point). While it was not clear and warm yesterday (Tuesday), at least it wasn’t raining, as is common here. But then again, it wasn’t 104 degrees F without a breeze, as it was at the IMSA race in 1984.

dailysportscar.comPresent at the test were the ACEMCO Saleen S-7R and Risi Ferrari 360. The early portion of the testing saw the Risi car sidelined with a clutch issue, which was finally resolved at around 2:00 pm, allowing the car on track to join the Saleen. Most of the Ferrari testing was performed by Anthony Lazzaro, with Ralf Kelleners finally getting in the car late. According to Technical Manager, Rick Mayer, this was the first time that they had been out with their new car since Sebring. “We’ve been concentrating our development efforts on our older car so we can keep the miles off this one. What we are running here is pretty much as delivered to us before Sebring. For a variety of reasons, we have kept this car that way and concentrated development on the older chassis. The new car is slightly better that the older car in many areas, but all those improvements still add up. I can tell now that this track (Portland) will not be a good one for us though. We don’t get a good jump out of the corners, compared to the Porsches, and they are much better down the straights than we are. Here, it is the straights that are the prominent feature. We’ll do much better at tracks like Sears Point.

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“I would have to say, that even now, with running the Pirelli tires, we are better off than we were with the Michelins. Pirelli has been developing a tire that will match the characteristics of our car, and this testing will allow us to get even better. What we are looking at is trying a variety of compounds and constructions, all with the intention of getting the car faster. This is something that we can work on now, as we don’t have to worry about Le Mans. Why aren’t we there? I can give you half a million reasons why. At this point in the development, it just doesn’t make sense for us to go. What would we do, race for the top three if things went well, hoping that others had problems? For now, it is just not worth it.”

Despite the late start, it appears that Risi was forging ahead and making good progress, even practising pit stops and driver changes.

dailysportscar.comThe ACEMCO team concentrated all day on tire testing and tire testing only. “We start with a baseline set up and maybe adjust a bit, but what we are looking for is consistency, not outright speed,” commented Terry Borcheller. Johnny Mowlem added, “when I’m in the car, I’m not looking for the absolute quickest time. We’re running half to three quarters of a tank, and then go out and do eight laps on a set of tires. Now, I could go out and smoke a set of tires in five laps if I needed to, but what we are looking for here is to get a read on the tires. I give my feedback and the technicians check out the temperatures and pressures. Times are not the big thing here. It is the feedback and the data.”

After the team ran through its paces on eight different sets of tires of differing compounds and constructions, Terry Borcheller ran close to a full stint at the end of the day on Tuesday, to determine the life of a specific tire. Besides testing the tire, this also allows the team to determine fuel consumption, which will influence race strategy down the road.

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ACEMCO is viewing the development of the Saleen as starting from scratch. “Unfortunately, development of this car was basically non-existent over the last few years. Even though this car is a few years old, we feel that there is some great untapped potential in this car,” commented ACEMCO Engineer Jim Bell. “What we are fighting right now is that Corvette has upped their game considerably. We expected them to be tough, but they have really raised the bar.” Johnny Mowlem added, “I believe that we are close to the pace of the Prodrive Ferraris, but it will be difficult to match the pace of the Corvettes right now.”

The success and speed of the Saleen in the FIA Series is a boost to the effort, but the regulations make the cars too different to compare. While it is good to see the car get a win in Europe, most of the specific developments just don’t carry over to the ALMS effort.

Development of the motor is on going back at the shop, and it is expected that the development will be “many evolutions” beyond what the team had at Sebring, both in terms of output and also reliability. Johnny said “we are hoping that the developments in both tires and the motor will get us closer to the Vettes. I know there was a lot made of their time at the Le Mans test, where they broke the 3:50 barrier, but the last time I was in a Saleen at Le Mans in 2002, I think Terry and Oliver Gavin had a Saleen down to a 3:52. This car has it in it. We just need to work to get it out of it.”

dailysportscar.comOne thing that was clearly evident from the testing is the seriousness of an effort such as this and also what it takes to make such a project happen. According to Doug Matthews from Pirelli, “the logistics of pulling something like this off is not a simple thing. You need to plan months in advance to pull this off. I give the truck five days alone just to get across the country from our base in Georgia and for this trip we have to include all the tires that are needed for the tests here and in California. And that is just for us. The teams need to go through the same planning process, making sure everything is in place for a successful test.”

While the car was on track, a muffler system was being developed for the Saleen. Surprisingly, it was not for Portland, which has a long history of noise issues, but is for the upcoming Laguna test.

The only visible problem at the test appeared to be the smell of Terry Borcheller’s race suit. It seems that the suit was left in the transporter since the last test, well over a month ago, at Mosport. To say it stunk might be an understatement. “I bent over to speak with Terry when he was in the cockpit of the car, and I couldn’t believe the smell. I had to move so I could speak with him. It was bad,” commented Johnny. Terry was last seen carrying his suit in a plastic bag, held at an arm’s length away from him. Unfortunately the bag was tearing (or melting) as he walked off. I just hope the environmental authorities weren’t alerted. It could be ugly…
Gary Horrocks

 

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