SRT Motorsports drivers Tommy Kendall and Kuno Wittmer meet the media during the American Le Mans Series' Winter Test at Sebring International Raceway.
Q: Have the track characteristics changed much for you at all or is it the same ol' beast?
Tom Kendall: “Well, back in 1985 when you went way the heck out there and two runways met, it was quite a bit different. The track is still rough, but it's smoother than it was. In addition to the cardiovascular, spending some time on one of those mechanical bulls and if you can find one of those paint shaker machines would help!
This one is a tough one and it's on my list. There's sort of a family score I need to settle. I never bring it up but when the family gets together, my brothers and my dad, they always throw out the trivia question, ‘Who's the only Kendall that's raced at Sebring that's never won at Sebring (laughs)?' My dad won here in '81 in the GTO class and my brother Bart won here I think in '88 or '89. I would like to right that.
“We've come a long way in the year but you need to kind of check your expectations based on what Corvette did when they came in, you watch what BMW did when they came in, you watch what everybody did. We knew we were getting better. The car is only one piece of that. It's all experienced people but it wasn't a unit until less than a year ago. The processes, the way the information flows, the debriefs and all that stuff, it's like putting a whole new company together.
“The car and the lap times are what you see but there's a lot of stuff going on. We're working just as hard on all that stuff. We had a meeting this morning and they said we're asking more of everyone. We're asking more of the team, we're asking more of the car, we're asking more of the drivers and that's how you get better.”
You mentioned about how the track has changed since you were first here. When you came back a couple of weeks ago, how much of a learning curve was it?
TK: “You know, it comes back pretty quickly. You know, I haven't raced here since '99 but it's amazing how quickly the stuff comes back to you.
“You've heard the stories about the infield here. I was 18 years old. I was racing my dad's RX-7 in '85 and we had an idler arm break in the first hour. I jumped out of the car and this guy said, ‘You want a beer'? I was 18 and I said nobody offered me beer! But we came back, got the car fixed, ran until the end and finished second. But the infield here is a good time.
“The track, I like it. It's hard on everyone and everything. There's a cool rhythm here and a good assortment of corners. The thing that frustrates you the most about trying to get the car to work over the bumps is that's also where the gains are. A lot of these tracks are beautiful, the new ones, and they're so smooth but some of the character and individual challenges are the same. So, I both don't like it and like it at the same time.”
From the first race last year, even the end of last year, where have the biggest gains been made in the program?
Kuno Wittmer: “It's like Tommy just said, a lot of the gains are what we see on track when it comes to lap times but some of the major gains were behind the scenes as far as team personnel, who is keyed up with who and the pit stop changes, how many times we practiced and all that. That's where the major gains have been made. As far as development goes, it's an ongoing process. Lap times can only tell so much. Definitely, the biggest stuff is getting closer with your teammates, getting to know each other and keep building that chemistry along with your guys, your crew. That was definitely the biggest development.”
TK: “All last year, pretty much, it's like we were house shopping. We were shopping for neighborhoods. All the changes we made were broad brush, whether it was diff or traction controls, springs, shocks, bars whereas now, we're kind of getting directions that the car likes. We're still relatively early. This is my first time working with traction control and I think you could probably spend three or four days doing nothing but that as a tuning tool. You just never have enough time. We've got our heads down.
“It reminds me of when I was recovering from my accident – if you looked at how far you'd have to go, you'd never start. You just kind of put your head down and you go for a while. You look up 30 days later and you're like ‘Wow, I covered some distance.' So we're kind of in that mode.
“One of the nice things is having as few variables. Michelin is the benchmark for us. If we were on some other kind of tire, you'd blame stuff on the tires and say that's probably what's going on here whereas we know they're sort of the benchmark. We don't get to share information with the other teams but we know that we have consistency on the tires. It really keeps us pointed back to the car and different parts of it which is a God send. You can talk yourself into going completely the wrong direction, and we still do that for sure, but it's kind of nice having that North Star with the tires.”