WATKINS GLEN - As qualifying concluded here Saturday at Watkins Glen International for Sunday's Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen, the talking point among the teams of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship turned to the weather and the predictions of temperatures Sunday possibly reaching near 100 degrees at this fabled road course.
The Sahlen's event is not only a WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season points event but also doubles as one of the four races included in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup. Extremely hot weather promises to put a premium on the endurance factor.
In sports car racing, the cars are driven by co-drivers who take turns swapping driving stints throughout the Sahlen's six-hour grind. Some teams employ three driver line-ups while others will go with just two. All drivers must drive a minimum total of 90 minutes each in the six hours. Quicker tire wear could also be an issue. Hot weather will also factor in the race strategy.
Colin Braun captured the pole in the Prototype class Saturday driving the No. 54 CORE Autosport ORECA LMP2. He will co-drive with Romain Dumas and Jon Bennett.
"I'm happy about the fact that we have three guys that can share the workload," Braun said. "We've worked really hard to get our driver changes done as quick as possible. So on a day like tomorrow when it's warm if we need to change our drivers more often it won't be any time loss. If we have to do that because of the heat I don't think it will be a really big deal for us."
One team that will be trying to beat the heat as well as the competition is the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports driving trio of Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Luca Stolz. They will start 11th in the GTD class in Sunday's Sahlen's race.
Bleekemolen says that he will use a combination of ice packs inside his uniform and switch on and off the car's cockpit air conditioning during the race. It will still be very warm inside the car. One dilemma is that when the air conditioning is switched on it deprives the car of some of its power. Compromises are often in order.
"It will be a challenge for everybody," Bleekemolen said. "The rules are getting better for the drivers in terms of having regulated cockpit temperatures with a.c. units in the car. In our class (GTD), there isn't any rule like that so we can run without air conditioning which is the fastest way to run these cars.
"It will be really hot and yeah there's not too much you can do about it. You try to to have enough water in your body. We have air conditioning but when you're fighting (for position) you don't want to miss that extra horsepower so you've got to turn it off. But at least under yellow, we can switch it back on. I think only half of the field even has it. I usually lose 3 kilograms during a driving stint so it's quite a lot.
"Some people use cool suits and helmet blowers but I usually just put ice packs in my race suit which helps. Everybody has their own way of dealing with it."
The Mercedes team also has a portable air conditioning unit in their pit area that uses a system of plastic tubular pipes to feed and blow cool air onto the team personnel that sit atop the pit cart as well as the members of the pit crew behind the pit cart. The unique system was developed by their team lead engineer Tyler Hook.
Also in qualifying Saturday, Jack Hawksworth put the No. 15, 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 on the pole in the GTD class for Sunday's race. He will co-drive with David Heinemeier-Hansson.
"We have a helmet cooling system." Hawksworth said. "It will be hotter tomorrow and could be another ball game so I honestly don't know what to expect. If it's going to be 100 Fahrenheit, I don't think we've ever run this car in 100 degrees. For me, I just try to stay as hydrated as possible. It's going to be hot. 100 Fahrenheit- that's stupid hot so we'll just have to see what happens."
The GTLM pole for the Sahlen's race was captured by Ford Chip Ganassi Racing No. 67 Ford GT driver Richard Westbrook who will co-drive with Ryan Briscoe.