|Oct. 7, 2020|
By Mark Robinson
IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In a normal season, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship would have run races by now on a couple temporary street circuits. But in this pandemic-unsettled year of 2020, events at Long Beach and Detroit were scuttled and no true street courses are on the revised calendar.
Enter the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, officially listed as a road course but more characteristically like a street circuit according to drivers who recently tested there ahead of this week’s MOTUL 100% Synthetic Grand Prix.
In fact, AIM Vasser Sullivan pilot Jack Hawksworth labeled the 2.32-mile, 10-turn track “a street circuit on steroids.”
Saturday’s 100-minute race (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) will feature GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) cars in a skirmish with bearing on the overall season championships in both classes and for the IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup in GTD. It will also mark the first IMSA event on the Charlotte road course in 20 years, although it has been updated in recent years to accommodate a NASCAR race weekend.
Changes included the addition of chicanes on portions of the oval track, along with larger, higher curbing. All of which should lead to entertaining and unpredictable WeatherTech Championship racing.
“I didn’t really know what to expect of it (before the mid-September test), quite frankly,” admitted Hawksworth, co-driver of the No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 with Aaron Telitz in GTD. “I was kind of expecting it to be a bit Mickey Mouse, but it really isn’t. It’s a super-high-intensity, high-level, technical track. I think the racing is going to be insane.
“I have to say I really enjoyed the circuit,” Hawksworth added. “It surprised me how much fun it was to drive. I think it is going to be a great race around there. That place is a street circuit on steroids in one of our cars. (You’re) really, really on the limit, difficult chicanes, walls everywhere, no room for error at all. It feels like you’re flying. There’s no rest, either. It’s probably the most physical track that we go to.”
Teammate Telitz agreed, saying the ROVAL test was the first time he experienced a sore neck from the G forces in all his time in a GT car.
“It’s probably not going to be all that hot since it’s a night race in the fall,” Telitz said, “but just the physicality of keeping yourself going for a full stint – it’s a shorter race but those guys are going to be hanging on at the end, I think.”
Antonio Garcia, driver of the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R and GTLM standings leader with teammate Jordan Taylor, compared the ROVAL to the concrete jungle on the streets of Long Beach, California.
“It felt a little bit like Long Beach for the first 5-10 laps (at the test),” Garcia explained. “It was a little bit stressful how fast you could go around there and how many walls you could fly by very, very close. Once you get in a rhythm, it’s just kind of a normal racetrack. With traffic, it’s going to be very tricky. I anticipate there will be a ton of mistakes and probably more yellows than normal.”
Taylor said that, while the WeatherTech Championship also competes at Daytona International Speedway on a road course that includes portions of the oval, the experiences are not alike. Daytona offers more runoff space in its infield section.
“A lot of it in the infield feels a bit like a street course,” Taylor said of the ROVAL. “There’s a lot of walls so not a lot of room for error, which is a lot different to Daytona. … Learning the track was pretty stressful just because there’s bumps in odd places and the flow of it feels a bit funny.
“And the chicanes – the big, blue curbs – we can’t really touch those. One of the other cars there testing crashed twice just from clipping the blue curbs in the chicane. There’s definitely going to be some attrition in the race if people start getting racy.”
Add in that the infield section isn’t as well lit as the oval, Garcia said, and it’s all a recipe for a wild affair come Saturday.
“We were able to run at night (during the test) and it’s not easy because just the oval is lit,” the Spaniard said. “All the infield was completely dark and it’s not easy, too. It’s going to be a question mark for everybody.”
Action at the MOTUL 100% Synthetic Grand Prix begins with a one-hour practice at 7:30 p.m. ET Friday. Saturday will see the WeatherTech Championship machines on track for a second practice from 9:45-11 a.m., followed by qualifying at 2 p.m. and can be streamed live on IMSA.com.
Live race coverage begins at 8 p.m. on NBCSN, with the green flag dropping at 8:05 p.m. In addition to the NBCSN telecast, IMSA Radio coverage airs on IMSA.com and SiriusXM Radio (Sirius channel 217, XM 202 and Internet 972).