Thursday, Apr 17, 2014

A need for speed


Published:

SEBRING INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY - With the merger of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron (ALMS) and the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, 2014 will be the first racing season for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Series that will be sanctioned by the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA).

With the change or merger, the classes of race cars has been reduced to four. There is Prototype (P), GT Le Mans (GTLM), Prototype Challenge (PC) and GT Daytona (GTD). Tentative maximum entries for each class for the 12 Hours of Sebring in March 2014 are the following: P Class maximum is currently set at 20 cars, PC Class at 10, GTLM at 14 and GTD at 19.

Saturday and Sunday saw several teams tested at Sebring International Raceway, testing new cars, drivers and implementing new rules. In some cases, such as Paul Miller Racing, they are not just testing a new car but getting acquainted with a new manufacturer.

For the past six years, Bryce Miller of Paul Miller Racing drove Porsches. This year they moved to the GTD class and will be driving the Audi R8 LMS.

"We stepped down a category into this new GTD" said Miller, "and it is showing to be a really healthy category so far. There is a lot of manufacturer participation here with Audi, Aston Martin, and Viper, so it's really good for the championship and it is good for this category."

The son of Paul Miller and nephew of Kenper Miller, Bryce started his career with go-cart racing at the age of 7 and won over 60 International Karting Races to include the Grand National Championship and the East Coast Regional Championship.

On the big stage, he reached the podium 24 times from 2006-2009 in the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Championship, Grand-Am Series and America Le Mans Series, according to an online bio.

Other notable accomplishments were winning Road Atlanta Generac in 2008 and second place finishes in Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2008 and 2011 and at the 24 Hours of Spain in 2009. He has also raced in the in the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice.

Miller stated that they decided to make the switch because there were some fundamental changes in Porsche with their resources going to GTLM racing.

"We have had a long standing relationship with Audi in our dealer group business, so there was already a foundation and a platform for us to work on. Relationships that are already in place with success and integrity at a business level and dealer side of the relationship."

"This expands that relationship, builds upon it and we are excited about moving forward in motorsport with Audi. This opportunity is almost like a seamless process because so many factors were already in place."

Miller has been racing Porsche for the past six years and competed in the GTLF class last year. Changing cars or manufacturers in this racing series is not similar to a driver switching teams or manufacturers in NASCAR. Instead it would be more of the equivalent of a driver switching from Indy Racing to NASCAR.

This is the first weekend that Miller has tested the new Audi cars and admits that there are some differences between the Audi and Porsche that were immediately noticed.

"The biggest difference in the cars is the weight displacement with the positioning of the engine." Said Miller of the two cars, "the Audi is what they call a mid-engine car. In the Porsche, the engine sits out well over the rear axil, in the Audi the engine is in front of the rear axil, which results in a different balance."

Miller noted that because of the weight distribution difference, it requires a different style of driving than the Porsche.

"These test days are a great opportunity for me to get acquainted with the feel of the car and try to understand where I can apply myself in certain ways to find speed."

Miller also commented that the Porsche and Audi require to different styles of racing.

"Porsche is a pretty physical car in which you come together in this battle with steering and pedal inputs and it rewards you in driving the car aggressively."

"The Audi on the other hand rewards you more for smoothness and precision." Reflected Miller, "It is two different things identifying speed with aggression for the past six years and now I have to redefine that in my paradigm of thinking and work harder on smoothing out inputs."

Though there is a learning curve with the change to Audi, Miller expounded that he hoped it would be a short one with the 2014 racing season nearing.

To hasten that learning curve, Audi flew in several engineers and test drivers to Sebring work with the Paul Miller Racing team. They will also accompany Paul Miller Racing to Daytona this weekend for more testing.

One last minor detail that has yet to be decided is the color scheme of the car. Miller said that no decision has been made at this time and probably depend on sponsors and other variables.

The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship begins in Daytona with the Roar Before the Rolex 24 on January 3-5 and the Rolex 24 at Daytona on January 23-26. After that they head to Sebring for the 12 Hours of Sebring March 12-15.

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