Making his professional racing debut in the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup USA, seat time in his new car was a priorty for CJ Wilson. For Till Bechtolsheimer and his partner/driver coach Marc Miller, getting intimately acquainted with the Sebring International Raceway's 17 tricky turns was the number one goal but that did not require spending any time at the historic 3.74 mile venue.
While Wilson pounded his way around Texas World Speedway, Bechtolsheimer logged dozens of laps in the simulator at GPX Labs in Miami. For the team owner, comfort and familiarity with the car required him to test and he put in many laps over two days at the College Station track. For the New York based Briton, re-learning the Sebring layout was key so that he could hit the ground running for the Visit Sebring 120, Round Two of the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge in mid-March. The common denominator was the coaching expertise of Miller, who was on hand at both sessions.
"Marc's presence was incredibly helpful because we have a lot of faith in each other and communicate using the same terms", Wilson explained. He went on to explain just how much he had been able to pick up by attending races over the last number of seasons. "Having sat in driver debriefings for the past six years with the race team I was able to take all the input logically and make progress each session."
The private test at Texas World Speedway did present it's own challenges to the GT3 Cup rookie. "The only odd thing about the test is that nobody else was here, which was the first time I have ever been on a track completely alone, so when we did a race simulation I had to use my imagination. Texas World Speedway is a really fast and bumpy track. I expected Rick from Walking Dead to lead a pack of people to come over-run our trailer."
Miller was impressed with the two-time MLB All-Star's progression. "He took quickly to the new Porsche GT3 Cup car. It is confidence inspiring and such a capable platform so that suited him well in getting up to speed. We were able to get a lot of track time at TWS, which is now late in its life and a bit of a ghost town environment, which is quite ironic seeing as its this the spot where CJ's driving career, in a proper race car, begins. Overall it as a successful first outing and I look forward to working with Wilson this season. I expect he will have a solid debut at Sebring. He better or I'm likely fired."
For Bechtolsheimer, getting used to the GPX Labs simulator was the first hurdle. "Because there is no motion or G-force, you don’t feel the car getting away from you until its usually too late. About thirty crashes later I started to get the hang of it and the lack of feel actually proved helpful as it forces you to concentrate on the consequences of every input."
The value of the GPX Labs facility was not lost on Miller. "Since their simulation is built upon real-world data and input from the driver, they were able to get the overall handling characteristics, shift points, grip level and speed data similar to effective re-create our No. 33 'Darth Cayman'. We also were able to do a corner by corner "track walk" without the need to actually walk the track, looking at various angles and curbing to discuss corner entry lines, apex points and car placement.
While the team will have to wait another week or so to asses the true value of his preparation, there were clear benefits from in the time and effort invested in the sessions at GPX Labs. So much so that it may have fundamentally altered the way Bechtolsheimer prepares for future events.
"I had all but forgotten the details of Sebring so it was hugely helpful in getting me prepped for the next race, so a big thanks to Marc and Robert for all their coaching," he said. "I’ve never used any simulators or racing games to prepare for a race before, that may have to change now that I see the benefits."
How big those benefits could be for both Wilson and Bechtolsheimer will become apparent on March 15th at Sebring. Race 1 of the Porsche GT3 Cup USA takes place on Thursday, March 16th at 5:45pm EDT with Round 2 on Friday, March 17th at 11:55 a.m. ET. The second round of the Continental Tire Challenge, the Visit Sebring 120, takes place on Friday, March 17th at 3:40pm EDT.
You can follow all of the races at IMSA.tv or via the IMSA App.