The Wed/Thurs test went great with the car - we tried out a combination of two different Yokohama compounds and got the car to a good balance with a competitive time.
Friday was a roll-in day to the track as we changed pits and got ready for the weekend.
For Saturday, we had 1 hour 45 minute free practice session in the morning followed by combined qualifying at noon (both drivers pass the minimum time) and then knockdown Q1 (10 mins), Q2 (7 mins), and Q3 (7 mins) sessions.
For morning practice, the plan was to test out two softer compounds to see if they would last the race duration and to figure out the qualifying setup/tires.
Unfortunately, a clutch problem allowed me only 2 laps in the morning practice. Within the two laps I knew the direction in which to take the setup to work with the softer tires, and we proceeded with those changes.
Then qualifying came, and at this point we knew that the clutch was still going to be a problem due to some circumstances. We just had to muscle through it. I posted a time in 1 lap and got my partner, Ito, in the car and he had struggle with a slipping clutch but did pass the standard time threshold.
There was enough time until Q1 to get the drivetrain cooled down again and go for the attack, and we knew that Q2 would not be possible as it was right after Q1 with not enough time to allow the car to cool.
The objective was simply to get to the top 16 out of 22 to pass Q1 and start the race in 16th.
But before Q1, the race officials came by to check the car's compliance for the air restrictor specified for this car in the rules. This was rather unusual timing for such a check, but we had to comply. The mechanics did their best to disassemble the air-box in time to get to the very deep-in-the-car air restrictor. It took them about 35 minutes to get it out. But at that point, we only had 15 minutes to the start of Q1 (10 minute long session). I barely got out of the garage with 2 minutes and 30 seconds to go, which meant I only had one lap for the attack.
I warmed up the tires as best as I could, but the Boxter being a mid-engine car, the fronts have always taken at least 2 laps to get up to operating temp during our tests.
With just one warm up lap, it was not enough, and as I went into the brake zone at turn one I had a strong front lock up that cost me time, and as the tires continued to gain temperature, the grip was getting better throughout the lap, but the lap time was just not enough to get us in the top 16 to continue into Q2. We needed at least 3 laps to post a competitive time.
Being forced to qualify on cold tires is rough!
Hopefully the clutch engagement problem will be solved by tomorrow morning's practice session so we can at least do a little bit of setup tweaking before the race.
The race should be 48 laps (GT500 is 53 laps), so it's pretty short, so the only good chance we have of finishing significantly higher than our start position will be a no-tire-change strategy.
I will start the race with a full tank and go the maximum allowed 2/3 distance (32) laps and pass the car on to Ito, minimizing our refuel time to our practiced 16 second driver-change time. With that, we will hopefully make up around 30 seconds on most other teams that do plan to change tires. Our tire compound will be harder than the rest, but if I can keep the avg race lap time to about 1 second below the top runners we still have a chance.