Viper Racing Lead Engineer Matt Bejnarowicz relates the process of planning setups for the next round of the American Le Mans Series: the demanding, bumpy street course in Baltimore.
We're heading to Baltimore next week to do our third American Le Mans Series event in a little over a month, and after coming off a pair of podiums at Mosport and a win at Road America, tackling the notoriously bumpy street circuit around the inner harbor will present an interesting challenge.
Leaving the natural terrain road courses behind requires a significant shift in how we will engineer both SRT Vipers, but we have a lot of confidence in the solutions we have to bring. If you look at Mosport and Road America for us, the car setups weren't actually all that different. The tracks aren't particularly similar, but the car wants similar things. There are fast turns and the car wants to be stable on corner entry, and then a lot of those corners are followed by long straights, which tends to favor the Viper. And if you look at the way the Viper was designed, we have a good balance of downforce and drag to work within those speed ranges. It was a really good match on all fronts.
For our setup needs next week, Baltimore is going to be completely different. It's the roughest track we visit all year, so with what we learned at Long Beach, we'll rely on that data to begin the weekend in Maryland. If we look back to last year's run at Baltimore, the program was still in its infancy and we've come a long way in developing the SRT Viper chassis since then. That makes using our previous Baltimore setup less of an interest to us than starting with what seemed to work quite well at Long Beach as our baseline.
The railroad tracks and other harsh surface transitions at Baltimore means the car wants to be sprung as softly as possible to handle all of the bumps, while at the same time you want to keep the ride height up a bit to keep it from rubbing the belly pan off of the car! Most street courses require a lot of quick, sharp turning, and mechanical grip is definitely what you're after because you rarely have long, fast corners where downforce makes a big difference. Most people might not believe it, but the Viper probably has an advantage in its handling and mechanical grip, so a tight track like Baltimore isn't a place where we expect to give anything up to our competitors.
If you look at the stock SRT Viper, the car is pretty wide, the suspension has pretty long control arms--a double wishbone suspension, and those are the attributes you most commonly associate with a racing suspension. The street version of the SRT Viper actually gives us the basic suspension layout we've been able to adapt to racing, and it will come in handy at Baltimore where the geometry is just right and the chassis is extremely stiff, which ties the handling together.
The wheelbase on the SRT Viper is also shorter than some would expect. At 99 inches, the car fits right into a sweet spot on the road courses and also at a Long Beach or Baltimore. A rear-engined Porsche might have an advantage putting down the power on a street course because it has so much weight sitting over the rear tires, but I don't know if they have the overall balance that the SRT Viper provides. Looking at the handling and tire usage over a long run, we're confident in what our cars are capable of giving to our drivers.
After Mosport and Road America, talking about momentum would be an obvious topic to raise, but I'd suggest that rather than those two races giving us momentum leading into Baltimore, the momentum within our team – behind the scenes – has actually put us on the path we're currently on.
Since we started the program, we had to build the race team from scratch and wanted to make sure we built the culture to follow the SRT brand's culture. There aren't big egos inside the team; it isn't a place where people go to earn big paychecks and rest on their laurels. We've really honed that culture since the beginning, and I think the reason you're seeing success within the team recently is because everyone is starting to jell. Especially our four drivers; you'd think they were separated at birth and they're getting more confident and comfortable at each race
The mechanics are also coming together; they know the cars inside and out and triple-check everything before we go out. And the engineers are also becoming one with the cars. The cars are coming off the transporters and are fast right away. These are the things you need to happen to have a shot at winning, and they are indeed happening.
We have more growing and improvements to make, but if you look at where we are today, it's exactly what we hoped for two years ago: the sum of the team is greater than its individual parts.
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