61 cars make Daytona “a bit like a gymkhana”, says Bourdais


Next week’s Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona will feature 61 starters, including nine cars in IMSA’s new premier GTP class. With the first day of 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship action now in the books in the Roar Before the 24, Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac’s Sebastien Bourdais suggested the GTP participants are treading especially carefully when lapping the four lower classes, since no manufacturers have had a chance to stockpiled spares.

“It was a very busy this morning that is for sure,” said the French ace, who scored 37 Indy car wins but has also accumulated two wins in the Rolex 24 Hours and one in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. “With 61 cars, everyone was trying to find their references and it did feel a bit like a gymkhana in heavy traffic which is a little scary because everybody is really scarce on spare parts and we all got the message loud and clear.

“You are already finding yourself in situations you do not want to be in because you can’t afford to damage anything, so that is going to be a consideration for sure.”

Sebastien Bourdais, Renger van der Zande and endurance race extra Scott Dixon will race the #01 Cadillac V-LMDh, while for this IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season opener, Ganassi’s full-time WEC entry will also be participating, driven by Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn and Richard Westbrook.

Speaking after the first of two sessions today, Ganassi director of operations Mike O’Gara explained: “Both cars are virtually new so it’s a lot of in and out laps and checking sensors, checking calibrations. This car depends a lot more on the data that it is generating itself to run itself. So, things like tire pressures, brake sensors, brake pressures – things that were important before – are critical now. They are mission-critical, so we have to make sure all those basic things work before all the other systems like the hybrid system, the electronic brake bias… before those other things work properly.

“So, this morning, with two new cars, we were just making sure all of that worked right. This afternoon, and the rest of the weekend, we can just start pushing. There is a mountain of work and a mountain of data for all of our folks to look at just to make sure all of that is functioning properly before we can start pushing on the rest of the systems in the car.”

Van der Zande said that “going testing as a driver is a lot of waiting, doing a few laps, and waiting a long time because you want to make sure everything is correct and doesn’t blow up. If you blow up something, then it takes even longer.

“It’s a mix of trying to do as many laps as you can, trying to get a feel for the systems in the cars, at the same time doing it systematically with the group of people that tries to work together. This is a human sport. If you have the right people, the good people, that’s when things are successful.

“That’s the game – trying to get everyone connected and make the most out of what they bring to the table. As a driver, there’s a lot of waiting. Once the car is running – for example, at Sebring we did a 24-hour test – it’s beautiful to do so many laps with so many people in the garage working for one goal.

“As a driver being a part of that, giving feedback of what’s wrong, basically, they’re trying to put the best car on the track and the first thing they ask you is, ‘What’s wrong?!’… You want to give compliments but you have to tell them what’s wrong. That’s how you move forward, with the critiques on how to get better. As a driver, it’s really cool to be a part of that.”

Along with the complexities of the cars, one of the challenges the IMSA aces face in 2023 will be potentially increased tire dropoff since the new GTP cars are more economical than their DPi predecessors, so there will be fewer pitstops and there has been a reduction in the number of tire sets available. Bourdais played down the effects of double-stinting, while also admitting that the cars do make different demands of their Michelin rubber.

“We tried to see what the tire evolution was like at the test in December,” said Bourdais. “I don’t think it’s very different from what we had to do in DPi to be honest. We had to double-stint tires in DPi as well. We’re in a very similar scenario because the stints are a bit longer with the fuel that we have on board.

“Although we have less tires, the number of stints that you’re going to have to double-stint are going to be probably fairly similar.

“We’re, I’d say, a long ways off determining exactly where we need to be to make the tires last and optimize everything. There are quite a few things that have to happen before that.

“I don’t think it will be a major problem. Most of this race is survive, survive, survive and make it through the night, and then set yourself up the best way possible for the last couple of hours shootout. At that point you’ll be done with double-stinting tires. 

“[The tires’ behavior] is different. It’s the best of the best that Michelin has. There are many differences between the fact that the car is heavier, it has a lot less downforce, it has more power. It’s much harder on tires. So comparing the two [DPi and GTP] with different tires, there’s not a single thing that lines up to be able to have a fair comparison. We just know that Michelin is doing their best to give us the best product possible, and give us the most grip, and sustainable performance level.

“That’s all we can ask for, and it’s a very safe tire. I’m feeling pretty good about that.”

#01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh aces Renger van der Zande and Sebastien Bourdais.

#01 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac V-LMDh aces Renger van der Zande and Sebastien Bourdais.

Photo by: Richard Dole / Motorsport Images

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