Watkins Glen, NY - Mark Wilkins has scored a Rolex Sports Car Series win and a pole position at Watkins Glen International, both on the ultra-high speed 2.45-mile "short" course that the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series will utilize this Saturday evening as part of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race weekend.
Wilkins will team with Burt Frisselle in the No. 61 Gamma 88 BMW-Riley in a two-hour "sprint" race set to go green LIVE on Speed at 6 PM ET. Wilkins and AIM Autosport have campaigned a partial 2011 GRAND-AM season and is looking to make a big impression in their return to action this weekend. Before taking to the track, Wilkins sat down to describe what it was like to take a Lap of Watkins Glen on Continental Tires.
"This is a big momentum track, very high speed and I think the highest average speed of any track we go to all year. It can be daunting. It's a very short lap--so the good thing is, if you mess one up, you get the chance to go back and pound the next one out right away! It is all commitment, all the time. It's a favorite of mine. AIM has always been strong there and I'm really hoping we can bring home a strong result for the GAMMA88 guys this weekend.
"Heading into turn one, a right hander, the nice thing is that now there is a lot of run off room there and you can really push into this corner. This is probably the most important corner to a fast lap. The key thing is to bring as much momentum as you can in, but also you need to get the car turned, so you have to find the right speed. You want to rotate the car so that you can get back on the throttle as soon as you can.
"You have to have the car neutral enough to rotate well through that corner. On sticker tires and in qualifying, we'll be pushing our braking forward as far as possible to get the most out of the grip in the tires and then just fight to put the power down as quickly as possible. It's all about bringing as much speed in while also being able to be the first back to power for the long run up to the bus stop.
"From one, you head up through the esses and you have to be flat there (full throttle) all the way through so you need the rear tires to be planted all the way up and through those corners. If you are not, you are just chewing up the tires and that's going to make life hard later in the stint.
"Then the long, fast run to the chicane bus stop is a great series of corners. You can be really harsh on the curbing there and we always try to straighten the line out as much as possible. You need to have everything working well together to change direction right-left-right really quickly. So this is another section where we'll be able to be really aggressive in qualifying and in the beginning stage of each tire stint, but will maybe have to be a little more conservative as the run goes on. You want to get through that and turned quickly enough to get back on the throttle to get to the carousel.
"This (carousel) is a long right hander, and it's exceptionally quick--it's a long corner--but you are traveling at very high speed.
"The problem here is that you are really working the left side tires hard here. And depending on how the car is handling, abusing the fronts or the rears--and both if it's really bad! If the car isn't turning well, you will end up chewing up the front tires. But if the car is turning too well and has too much rotation, you'll be doing the same to the rear tires. And that will hurt you everywhere else on the track. You'll have to feather the throttle in the esses and probably be slow back to power out of one. That will just kill your time.
"So in the carousel, you have to have a car that will rotate well enough to preserve the fronts as well as be able to turn well to get back to power quickly. But it also has to not be so positive that you are burning off the rears or having to back out of the throttle before you want to. Another tricky compromise for the engineers.
"Then you are headed again flat out to a quick left hander. It's funny, this corner when you are on the long course, it seems faster than it does when you are on the short course. This is not a forgiving corner. The exit is tricky and if you are not exactly where you should be, it will bite you. This is my favorite corner. When you get it right, it just feels fantastic. It's not the fastest corner or anything, but with the exit the way it is and how things seem to narrow as you enter the braking zone, it just is really rewarding when you get it right.
"Right out of the left hander then you make a quick move over to set up for the last corner. This is another fast, unforgiving corner. The wall is RIGHT there, and you want to use as much of the run off as you can without of course hitting the wall. You are right back where you started, heading past pit lane and start finish and ready to go again down into one!"
"This will be an interesting race with the 45-minute (teams were previously required to make one pit stop by 45 minutes into the race) rule not in place. It's a two hour race, and with our fuel set to go about 55 minutes, it just doesn't add up so you'll have to come up with a strategy that will get you to the finish."