Watkins Glen International is a 3.4 mile, 11 turn high speed race track that overlooks Lake Seneca in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Formula 1 called Watkins Glen its US home from 1961 through 1980. Now Indy car, Pirelli World Challenge, IMSA and NASCAR visit the “Glen” each year.
We ran the Glen for the first time in 2014. The track is very humbling and we had a difficult time learning the fast line. Team Tiger won that first year and also captured the GT2 track record which we reset again in 2015. We always try to run the test days before the Major weekends so as to dial in the car and more importantly…the driver.
At the Glen, to get a good lap time it is crucial to get a good exit out of turn one and get the gas pedal matted for the long run up thru the “esses.” In practice I was having trouble with a high speed push on entry to the “esses.” We changed the rear wing’s angle and lowered the front splitter and that made a huge difference.
Friday was the first qualifying session and we were battling two Nissans, a 370Z and a 300ZX, for the pole. Unfortunately, the 370Z encountered an engine failure in the session and was done. The 300ZX laid down the best time which we matched on our lap seven, but he came around the following lap and beat us by 0.8 seconds for the pole. The weather was absolutely fantastic Thursday and Friday with temperatures in the low 70s and low humidity (big change from the 6 straight days in 90+ degree heat and drenching humidity we left in Cincinnati.)
Saturday’s qualifying was wet so we stayed in and prepped for the first race on Saturday afternoon.
We were gridded second in the GT2 class and sixth overall with the Nissan right next to us. On the pace lap, I was busy building heat into the brakes and tires getting prepared for a tough race with the Nissan. On the pace lap the Nissan started dropping back due to an ignition problem, eliminating our main threat.
The green flag dropped and, without the Nissan in the race, I took a very conservative approach to turn one, three GT1 cars blew by the Tiger. I spent the next 20 minutes watching two of these GT1 cars battle while they held us up… but without any pressure from behind, we played it smart and waited for them to make a mistake instead of forcing the issue and possibly getting involved in an accident.
The Cadillac that was leading our three car scrum started blowing oil out upon the entry to “the boot.” a series of difficult turns. A few laps later the Camaro, that was the “meat in the sandwich,” thought he had a run on the Caddy but ran out of track and slammed into the guard rail, but continued (be sure to watch it on the video.) Finally after 10 laps we cleared the number two car and finished the race first in GT2…. getting our first win for 2018!
The Sunday race
I was really looking forward to the Sunday race with the possibility of getting another win but Mother Nature decided to make it challenging. During the race before us, it started to rain lightly at the end of the race.
Watkins Glen has many turns that are banked so the track will dry much quicker than most tracks we run. If it did not rain anymore the track would be completely dry by the fifth lap of our race so we opted to run on slicks.
We were one of a few that went with the dry setup and on the pace lap looked like we had made the right choice. As we came to the green flag for the start it started to sprinkle. As we completed the first lap it had become a much harder rain, covering all 3.4 miles of the track. We pitted on the following lap as the slick tires had absolutely no grip on the wet surface. The weather got so bad the race was red flagged the following lap. That is always the hardest choice to make…rains or slicks and this time the choice was wrong. Our grade for the Glen was A+ for the car and engine but a D- for weather forecasting.
The next race for Team Tiger is two weeks from now, July 7 and 8, at Gingerman Raceway in South Haven, Michigan.