Tracy Krohn, a Houston businessman, will be driving a Ferrari F458 Italia in next Sunday’s World Endurance Championship at Circuit of the Americas. He said he’s been considering just how that race might shake out.
“I just believe there’s going to be quite a bit of contact,” Krohn said. “I expect a certain amount of carnage here.”
The action will get underway Friday when the circuit kicks off its first full fall schedule of racing with a weekend of endurance sports car competition. After a Friday practice and qualifying, the American Le Mans Series will hold its race Saturday at 3:45 p.m. The following day, the WEC will have its six-hour race, beginning at 11 a.m. The package is one of three big events in the fall for the track in Southeast Austin, which will stage its second Formula One Grand Prix on Nov. 15-17.
Comparing sports car racing to F1, 1990 Le Mans winner and current Austin resident Price Cobb said, “You’ll see a different kind of car. And you can get way closer to the teams.”
At $79, general admission for the sports car weekend is priced significantly lower than tickets for the F1 race and access to the paddock and other areas will be much more fan-friendly. Oh, and there should be a lot more overtaking in the sports cars races than in F1 — which is part of the challenge and excitement for spectators.
On the surface, sports car racing can look as a confusing as the start of the recent ALMS race in Baltimore, which became a tangled jumble of wrecked cars in a matter of seconds. Both ALMS and WEC have a variety of races going on at the same time. ALMS has five classes, the WEC four.
At the top end for both series are prototypes, purpose-built cars that look futuristic and that can hit speeds of more than 200 miles-per-hour.
“It sometimes just amazes me what they can do. Their speed through the high-speed corners, they look like they’re on rails,” Krohn said.
To the prototypes, even the exotic production-based cars like Krohn’s Ferrari can become moving obstacles to lap. Krohn said while there are differences between the top speeds for the two breeds of cars but the biggest disparity — more than 100 miles-per-hour Krohn said — can come in the turns, where the prototypes can wait longer to hit the brakes.
“I think driving (the slower class) GT is more difficult than prototype,” Krohn said. “You’re always looking in your rear-view mirror before you turn.”
The ALMS race Saturday and the WEC on Sunday have their differences.
The afternoon ALMS race will be two hours, 45 minutes. The WEC race will last six hours.
ALMS is a domestic series that will merge with rival Grand-Am after this year. Although the format can be confusing to the casual observer, ALMS has a very fan-friendly web site that explains in words and videos the basics of the sport, http://www.alms.com/alms101/american-le-mans-series-car-classes. ALMS races at most of the best road courses in the United States.
The WEC, which was created a little more than two years ago, is the latest incarnation of an international brand of racing that traces its roots all the way back to the 1950s and the World Sportscar Championship. It’s not uncommon to see former Formula One drivers in the WEC. The series currently has eight stops around the globe with Austin being the only one in the U.S.
“They travel the world,” said Cobb, who is now general manager at Moorespeed, a local race shop.“The reality is there are some really good teams in Europe.”
This year all the WEC races are six hours long except for the most famous race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Audi is a fan favorite and this year, heading into Austin, two Audi teams are atop the protoype standings with their diesel hybrid.
Krohn is one of the few U.S. drivers in the WEC and considers Austin’s circuit as his home track. Looking forward to next Sunday, Krohn said, “It’s a very fair track. There’s some places where you can take a risk.”
What: Sports car endurance racing
Where: Circuit of the Americas in Southeast Austin
When: Sept. 20-22. American Le Mans Series race Sat., Sept. 21, and 6-Hour World Endurance Championship race Sunday, Sept. 22.
Price: Three-day passes $79. Children 12-and-under admitted free when accompanied by an adult
Added attractions: Kid festival, Streetbike Freestyle and Formula Drift demos, autogrpah sessions, open paddock and pit and grid walks