The fresh coat of asphalt at Watkins Glen International has produced plenty of grip but only for the drivers who are willing to keep their foot planted on the floorboard.
“There’s a lot of speed out there, and it’s how bad do you want to go get it?” Austin Dillon challenged during an organizational test held on Tuesday and Wednesday. “It’s fun. I’ve enjoyed it so far.”
Dillon and AJ Allmendinger were among the drivers for 16 Sprint Cup Series teams getting extra track time at the repaved 2.45-mile road course ahead of the Cheez-It 355 scheduled for August 7. The amount of grip around the course seemed to be what stood out the most to both as Allmendinger also noted how smooth and slick it was.
Allmendinger’s No. 47 won at Watkins Glen in 2014, but the JTG Daugherty team didn’t get off to the best start in the test because its baseline setup from the last two years didn’t translate to the new surface. Allmendinger expects the track to change as rubber gets laid down, making it even harder to land on a setup.
“You’re sliding around trying to get an understanding of what it’s going to take and how much grip is actually going to be available on the racetrack,” Allmendinger said. “These repaves got a lot of grip in them, but when they’re completely green and not a lot of rubber on it, it takes a while to get the grip back on the racetrack.”
Watkins Glen is one of two road courses the Sprint Cup Series visits each year. The $12 million repave, its first since 1989, will leave teams approaching Watkins Glen the exact opposite of how they do Sonoma believes Dillon.
“Here it’s going to be front turn and just roll speed,” he said. “Sonoma is rear drive, strictly just straight braking power and rear drive because you have no grip there. Now you have all the grip in the world (at Watkins Glen), and Sonoma there’s absolutely no grip. It’s like running on gravel, so it’s tough. Very different road courses.”
Even with its newness, however, some areas of the track still stood out for drivers such as Dillon and Allmendinger.
“I do like the ‘esses’ with all the grip it has up through there,” Dillon said. “We’re just trying to work on the car and get the stopping power better so I can brake harder and get in the corner faster.”
Said Allmendinger, “I would say the ‘Bus Stop’ just because – and correct me if I’m wrong – I think the curbs are the same size, but the track’s just a little bit lower getting through there. So at least using the curbs through there is real challenging. You used to be able to just drive over the top of them, and you can still hit them, but it definitely upsets the car a lot more.
“Everywhere else, it’s kind of the same thing. The exits of the corners, to me, have a lot of grip but the tire combination you’re really on edge getting into the corners. It feels really stiff, and there’s not a lot of grip in it right now, so all the entry’s to the corners are a little bit hold your breath and just kind of get to the middle of the corner and when you kind of get to that and the car settles down the exits of the corners are all right.”