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2014 USCR (Sebring 12): Sebring - A Handling Track/An Engineer's Track
Posted by: newsla on Mar 11, 2014 - 04:26 PM
2014 USCR (Sebring 12): Sebring - A Handling Track/An Engineer's Track

Greg Fordahl is the race engineer for Alex Job Racing and was kind enough to explain the challenges of setting up the WeatherTech Porsche at Sebring and the intricacies of damper adjustment.


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How is Sebring unique in setting up a Porsche to go fast around the 3.7-mile, 17-turn layout?
Sebring presents some of the most difficult track surface conditions we encounter anywhere. The size and frequency of the bumps make it very challenging for a rear engined car. The lack of mass in the front makes the dampers work extra hard when compared with a front or mid-engined car. The tendency is for the front to start following the bumps rather than absorbing them, which creates a condition called "porpoising" and makes the chassis unstable and difficult to steer.

How does the ZF damper work in concert with the spring?
Springs react to the driver inputs, curbs, and bumps by absorbing the energy and then returning the energy when it attempts to return to its static ride height. The ZF damper is very good at controlling these forces and creating grip from the tires by limiting the suspensions natural tendency to oscillate. Controlling and matching the harmonic tendencies of the suspension movements is what separates a great damper from an average one, and the ZF four-way dampers excel at motion control.

How do the high and low speed damper adjustments affect the handling?
The low speed adjustments come into play with low frequency, slower motions of the suspension. We adjust the low speed area of the dampers to provide feel for the driver, gain grip, or to adjust the balance if a fine adjustment is required. The high speed adjusters work when the suspension velocities move out of the low speed area and become much more violent. The transition from low speed to high speed damping is the most critical area of the damper tuning for vehicle performance.

How does the sway bar come into play?
The sway bars control the vehicle roll, but can interfere with braking if adjusted to stiff. Most drivers like the bars to be quite stiff so the car responds quickly to inputs, but sometimes find they are losing grip. This is where having good dampers is key as we can reduce the bar setting to gain back the grip and use the hydraulic support from the dampers to replace them.

And the final wild card, what is the key to satisfying three driver preferences for set-up?
This can be one of the most challenging aspects of the longer endurance races. Occasionally you will have three (or more) drivers with different desires as to the handling of the racecar. This problem is worse when we throw gentlemen drivers into the mix. Generally there will be a lead driver that does most of the set-up work, and then I sort of "round off" his set-up to be useable for the other drivers. For the longer races tire degradation, stability and predictability are more important than outright speed, so the set-up will go that direction no matter what the drivers think they might want.

Fordahl has amassed nine Sebring wins, including a total podium sweep of the GTC Class in 2011.

Patrick Long Sebring Clutch Performer

Patrick Long is a Porsche Factory Driver and a past winner at Sebring International Raceway. Since that 2005 GT win, Long has held a love/hate relationship with the 3.7-mile, 17-turn central Florida race track that began life as a World War II air base.

"Sebring is up there on my list of favorite tracks because it's very challenging and full of heritage," Long said. "It's not up there because it's a hot, bumpy, difficult track that is tough to set a car up to go fast on, while managing all its surface changes. What you love about Sebring is what you hate about Sebring, that's what makes it iconic."

Over the years the Sebring circuit has seen subtle changes with the reworking of Turn Seven and the Esses before the long back straight, but the basic layout still challenges drivers to put their best effort in for a fast lap.

"The key to driving Sebring is not to over drive the entry to certain corners such as turns five, seven, 10 and 13," continued Long. "It is one of the toughest tracks in the world to produce consistent laps over an entire stint. You are constantly challenged by all of its 'character,' by character I mean its bumps, jumps, walls, holes and different aged surfaces."

For drivers that are new to Sebring and for those watching the race at home there are pit falls that can ruin your day Long explains, "over attacking on cold tires, dropping wheels on corner exits, overdriving and locking wheels on turn in are all things not to do at Sebring. On the engineering side, chasing ride quality and giving up platform when it comes to set-up. You have to compromise some corners that are so extreme that they do no hurt the set-up in the other, faster sections."

Long is teamed with Joerg Bergmeister and Michael Christensen in the No. 912 Porsche RSR in the team's factory colors of gray, red and white.

Sebring: A Legendary Track and Fan Favorite

If there is one race track in North America that is synonymous with sports car racing, it's Sebring International Raceway. Sports car fans have flocked to this central Florida track since 1950 - helping make it the oldest road racing circuit in America.

This storied 3.74-mile road course was converted from a World War II airbase to create one of most grueling endurance races in the world - the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. The combination of concrete and asphalt surfaces has put many of the world's best drivers' skills to the test and it continues to do so six decades later.

"Sebring is a very tough track," said Ken Breslauer, Sebring communications director/track historian. "It combines both asphalt and concrete surfaces and day and night racing. The raceway's somewhat unlikely location adjacent to orange groves and cattle ranches 'in the middle of nowhere' adds to its mystique. More than anything, the history and tradition of Sebring makes it hallowed ground for racing fans. Former winners include Juan Manuel Fangio, Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, Stirling Moss, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Al Holbert. The list goes on and on."

As Breslauer noted, many legendary drivers have made their way to Sebring's victory circle. But, just as legendary as the drivers are who have won here, equally legendary is the fabled Green Park. It too has its own mystique.

"Someone once said Sebring's Green Park is the 'Woodstock of auto racing,'" Breslauer said. "Green Park is famous for its many campsites that appear annually. Some people have been attending for over 40 years. They begin lining up several weeks before the gates open to make sure they get their favorite spot in Green Park. It is obviously a very festive atmosphere with some intense partying, but despite that, you would be surprised how seriously they follow the race.

"Many fans don't realize that the raceway was originally a World War II B-17 combat crew training base called Hendricks Field. It was one of the largest Army Air Corp bases in the US and it trained thousands of airmen. From 1942-45, it was a city of over 15,000 people."

ZF Motorsports Race Reporter Video Library

The ZF Race Reporter series is in full production. The videos, hosted by Motor Racing Network's Tony Rizzuti, show race, event, and technical features from the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, inclduing the popular ZF Fan Reporter segment Past and future editions can be viewed at www.Facebook.com/zfmotorsport. Look for new content from TUDOR Championship events at Daytona, Sebring, Detroit, Watkins Glen, Indianapolis, and Road Atlanta.

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