Legge and Chaves do their homework ahead of the team's first appearance at the historic track
School may be out for the summer, but it’s been study time for the two drivers of the revolutionary DeltaWing coupe as they get ready for the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen at venerable Watkins Glen – a racetrack neither Katherine Legge nor Gabby Chaves have driven before.
The Watkins Glen endurance classic, which had been a stalwart on the former Grand-Am series schedule for years, joins the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship that unites Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series. The merger means that former ALMS competitors can add another “bucket list” track to their resumes – which requires a bit of homework. The race also marks the debut appearance of the DeltaWing coupe sports car prototype at the venerable circuit.
“One of the really cool things about the merger is that we go to all these new tracks, like Watkins Glen and Daytona,” said Legge. “Watkins Glen is really one of the golden oldies – it’s a real racetrack, it’s not so manufactured. It has tons of character – I grew up watching racing and this is one of the tracks I remember seeing. It will be cool to finally be there.”
“I think you can learn the basics of a new track with online simulators or watch old videos to help you get the layout down. But most race car drivers will have a new track down in three or four laps. We’ll do the track walk before we drive on the track, so we can see the curves, the undulations and the bumps. That helps subconsciously as well. And you’re always comparing notes with the other drivers in the series. But this is a new track for almost everyone on the team, including the drivers. There’s always a great deal of added pressure to get the setup right straightaway on a new track, so that is pressure on the team engineers. There’s pressure on the drivers to get up to speed quickly.
“When I first came to the states, all the tracks were new – you just get on with it and it’s really not as much of an issue as you might think. It’s a new challenge and you just double down on focus.”
Watkins Glen presents the same challenge as did Daytona and Sebring for the 20-year-old Chaves, competing in his first season in sports car racing. Chaves, tied for the Indy Lights championship after winning the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month, appreciates the chance to drive two very different race cars which require equal preparation.
“I enjoy driving both cars and I enjoy racing both series,” said Chaves. “I believe in the vision of the DeltaWing project so any opportunity I have to drive, I’ll take it. Racing isn’t any different from other sports – the more you practice, the better you are going to be, so the more seat time, the better.
“I believe the preparation is as important as the racing aspect in the days leading up to the race. I think that’s what separates the great drivers from the good drivers: their preparation. I use tools like iRacing mainly to just get the layout of a new track – I don’t like to get too involved in it, because it can set a habit if you don’t separate the simulation from reality. If you do, it’s hard to get rid of those habits when you get to the track. I also utilize the internet by looking at videos. There’s so much race footage, and you can actually get good information. I spend hours looking at old races.
“But the biggest thing for me is the track walk. Some drivers don’t take it that seriously, but others take it with so much detail, analyzing each corner and seeing themselves driving through that corner – visualizing it while they’re on the track walk. Even if it takes me three hours to do it, I really focus on that part of the preparation.”
The DeltaWing Racing Cars team might have a bit of an advantage over the other former ALMS competitors this weekend with new team manager Tim Keene, who led Chip Ganassi Racing to seven Grand-Am championships over the past 10 years, including four victories at Watkins Glen.
“I’m really looking forward to my first race weekend with the team,” said Keene. “We’re all hopeful that some new developments will help get us to the finish with a well-deserved result. We had a very encouraging test last week at Road Atlanta; trouble free for over 450 miles in race simulation mode. Katherine and Gabby ran identical, quick lap times at consistent pace. Now we’re looking forward to going racing at The Glen.”
The Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen – race three of the Patrón North American Endurance Cup - takes the green flag at 11:15am Sunday, June 29, with live coverage on FOX Sports 1. For news, photos and features follow DeltaWing Racing Cars on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and DeltaWingRacing.com.