When Brock released the route for the 2017 One Lap of America a couple of weeks ago, I strongly felt that this is the year that every gear head should push to be at the starting line in South Bend in early May. With Brock Sr's passing in October, this one will carry more meaning than most to Lap Dogs and Puppies and anyone inspired by Brock's writing. Excited as I was to see the routes, I knew that this wasn't my year for another campaign. Adam, Austin and I had crunched the numbers, looked at schedules, and concluded that it just wasn't possible.
This year's route looks like it is going to make for some great racing. Having spent weekends racing with Gridlife time attack at both Gingerman Raceway and Road Atlanta, these tracks are familiar. Road Atlanta in particular though is going to be crazy. The highest HP cars - those approaching 1000whp - at the front of the field should top out at 170+mph before the entry into turn 10. Like Road Atlanta from last year, Road America is definitely not for the faint of heart, or the timid racer.
So, you've decided that you want to do One Lap of America. Now what? From my own experience, it's probably best to figure out what your goals are. In my case, I was looking to try to maximize the potential of both my car, and myself as a driver. Unless you have a tremendous budget, you will likely not have the most capable car in the field. This makes the importance of driver mod and preparation critical.
There is no substitute for seat time at the tracks on the calendar. In general, you'll find that Brock makes some updates to the website and posts the schedule in October for the event the following year. If you are committed to a top finish, and you aren't an ace at learning new tracks, get to as many of the tracks as you can to do some HPDEs. When comparing the format of OLOA to events like Gridlife or Global Time Attack, OLOA doesn't give you the luxury of learning the track over the extent of an entire race weekend. If you are on a tighter budget and don't have the resources to travel the country to prepare, build your skills by doing as many auto-x events as you can. You'll find that the skills you learn in auto-x, namely learning new tracks quickly, is critical for finding success at OLOA.
This is one of the few aspects of the car that are currently unrestricted. Definitely not cheap, but if you are looking for serious speed this may be the best way to do it. Talk to the people you might know who design and produce aerodynamic components for your car. Buy it, and learn how to get the most of it by getting some serious seat time.
TIRES AND WEATHER
Last year, weather affected our performance. Our choice of tire was the Bridgestone's RE71R. In about the best control experiment that we have, comparing performance on the wet skid pad vs. the dry, we were 43rd in the wet, and 7th in the dry. Undoubtedly, there is a performance disadvantage in the wet. In our case, it rained on at least 1 session for Days 1-5. If you are choosing the high performance dry tire, pray that it doesn't hurt you too much in the wet. For us, it put us in the hole immediately, and we spent the rest of the week digging our way out. To make everyone's life easy, I collected historical data for every track on the schedule for the 2017 OLOA. Here is the expected weather, based on historical data collected since 1900.
So what does this mean? Well, if I were placing bets, I would say that it's going to rain sometime during OLOA 2017. If you are a skilled wet weather driver, this will not affect you much. If you were like me and had limited rain experience, I'd say go for the stronger wet weather tire. You will pay a little time penalty during perfect track conditions, but there is a lot of extra time to be had during the rain. With this data, I'd choose the Michelin PSS over the RE71R. If you are lucky enough to be be able to fit 19-20" wheels, you may want to consider the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S. Expected to improve both dry and wet performance over the already exceptional PSS, this may be the tire to have. Importantly though, not a ton of test data for this tire exists yet, as it is effectively new for 2017. Engineering Explained did a feature on the tire, which can be found here:
Ok, hopefully you've decided on tires. If you can, put yourself into some situations where you are driving on track in the rain. Signing up for early or late season events at tracks like Gingerman are a good idea. Weather is likely to be variable, and its a really safe place to learn more about the handling of the car in bad weather.
Supplies and Cargo
There are a couple of approaches to how one should pack: 1. Think of everything you need, and then cut that in half. 2. Pack heavy, and get trailer to pull all your stuff. After making the mistake once, I say its best to use a cargo basket for as much of your gear as possible. Avoiding the use of a trailer prevents problems. A basket doesn't have any tires to fail. We had 2 on the same day, separated by about 8 hours. It cost us a lot of time, and a lot of precious sleep. In general, I would say pack the following:
- All of the things that you would normally pack for an HPDE, plus some spare consumables like brake pads. Also take the time to think about any small pieces that might be subject to failure along the way. Anything that's cheap to carry spares, but difficult to find on the road (extra oil, brake fluid, v-band clamps, wheel studs, lug nuts, gaskets, etc.)
- Tools, including a jack, jackstands, electric impact, torque wrench, safety wire, zip ties, etc.
- 1-2 Gas cans - if you are using E85. We were using the AltFuel app for the entire week, but when circumstances aren't ideal you may want to have some handy.
- The smallest and lightest pop-up canopy to get yourself and the car out of the rain if you need to do some work.
- Lots and lots of dry clothes. Bring a rain jacket, your winter jacket, 2 pairs of shoes, and lots of socks. Being tired, cold and wet is the worst. This will also be useful to keep you worm should you be in a position where you have to sleep in the car overnight.
If you haven't been to a particular track before, the total extent of your experience is watching videos on Youtube (CRITICAL) and your out lap. In fact your out lap will likely not even include all of the turns on the track. Often, pit out can come after turn 1. Because of this, it's critical to approach your out lap with serious pace. Otherwise, you'll be seeing the track at speed for the first time during your timed laps. 7-9/10ths pace is probably what you are going to have to do to avoid a catastrophe. Going 10/10ths on lap 1 on a track you've never seen is probably not going to end well. Get to the track early, clear out the car, and get set up. Anything else that you can do without inside the car during competition, take it out. I'd say that anything you can remove or install in less than 30 minutes should be fair game for stripping at the track. Things like passenger seats, audio components, door cards and anything else that you can think of are easy weight savings that don't cost you anything. Also, you may benefit from walking the the track. To do this, you need to be at the track early. Regrettably, we didn't have the time to do the track walks. However, I would highly suggest it if you can force yourself out of bed.
I strongly recommend keeping the same driver for both sessions. Lessons learned in the morning should translate into more speed for both you and the field. Changing drivers puts you at a disadvantage. After you laps, get back into the paddock and put your car back together. The sooner you leave, the sooner you can get to sleep. Once you get to the hotel, you may want to use this time to review the car to make sure that everything is staying together. Remarkably, the cars seem to fall apart because of the road miles, not because of the 8 laps that you do on track each day.
Once you are at the hotel, and if you are lucky enough to get a bite to eat before everything closes, take some time to get to know the other One Lappers. This trip is an adventure, and getting to know other people is one of the best parts. Nearly everyone has an awesome story, and many of these people are going to be your racing buddies from this point forward. Everyone on this trip loves racing, any many are incredible resources if you are wanting to learn specific aspects of building your skills or better prepping your car for competition in the future. Finally, take any minute you can just to enjoy the moment. This trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity that you will want to do every single year. If you get too caught up in the event, you won't have any time to appreciate how much fun your having. It's the most exhausting, most stressful, most exhilarating, most gratifying, most fun thing I have ever done. I recommend the race to all of my racer friends, every chance I get. I'll be back again for myself in 2018, hopefully with Adam and Austin as co-drivers of a seriously competitive OLOA team.