Thursday, as I packed my things at my place in SF after a 50-mile bike ride, I was thinking only about the track. The track that I took my first ever green flag at in a Skip Barber car. It was 8 years ago, but I still remember everything about the day. I was thinking about how the Ferrari would feel in the corners that I’d seen before, the braking references I had used before, and the blind hill that I have figured out in the past.
Typically Laguna Seca is known more for being a Porsche track, but the Ferrari will be strong in the last 4 corners due to the weight distribution of the car, and come Saturday morning I got to experience this first hand. The weekend had a condensed schedule (which not many were pleased about) so the team was as antsy as myself after burning a few days without exploring the 2+ miles in Monterey.
Saturday was to be a busy day, two One-hour Practice sessions followed immediately by a 15min qualifying session, on top of speaking to all the local media, sponsors, and guests for our team’s home race. If I remember correctly, I did four interviews, and one guest tech talk session at the tent between the two practice sessions while making all of the team briefings and being ready to go in the car 20 minutes prior to our next session. Squeeze a hello to family and friends in there as well as lunch, and nearly every minute is accounted for from 8:30am-5:30pm.
Somewhere in there, I was able to chat with TNVC’s; Vic Di Cosola and AR15.com’s; Ed Avila (& family’s). It was really great to have both of the guys and their families come check out the Scuderia Corsa #63. The weather was perfect, and the surrounding area to the track did not disappoint.
Practice went well, with the #63 ending up in the top 5 in practice 1, and top 10 in practice 2. We made an adjustment to try and make the car better for Practice 2 but realized although it did what we wanted it to do, the car was now harder to manage over the lap. Essentially the car lost it’s balance on the way into the corner, so I had to brake slightly earlier to keep the car stable when I turned the wheel, which wasn’t what we wanted in our race car for Sunday.
Qualifying was immediately after the end of the 2nd Practice session, so Alessandro Balzan stayed in the car, strapped on new tires and squeezed the most that we could out of our slightly imperfect 458GT. At the checkered flag we ended up 13th in qualifying, about 1.2 seconds from the front of the grid. Considering what the car was doing, we knew we would have a better race car come Sunday morning, so after a team meeting with the engineer that lasted until the series driver meeting at 6:45p, I departed the track to get myself prepared for making the horse prance at 10am.
Sunday morning was an early one, since we needed to use the 8am warm up session to verify our changes. Balzan was the last one to feel the car, so logically he was the one to try it with the changes post qualifying to verify their characteristics.
Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time for me to sample the car before the race, but the benefit of the relationship Balzan and I have as co-drivers last year is that I know that we like the same feeling from the car, and if he’s happy with it, I can drive it. My job in the next 2 hours is to keep the car clean by not abusing the equipment and keeping the other cars away from damaging our chances at a great finish, as well as make some forward progress through the field.
The parade lap begins, and I start to warm the tires. As the green flag drops, I am sitting at the apex of turn 11, which is the last corner at Laguna Seca. This is not ideal, since I can’t really accelerate until I open the radius of the corner up, so getting a position at the start of the race wasn’t an option for me. I would have to pick my way through the field in the upcoming laps.
I passed 2 cars or so, and the yellow flag came out, bunching us back up for a restart. This time we would be single file, so as soon as the green comes out I put myself in a better position to take advantage of the situation and begin slicing through the field right away. The last group of cars I needed to clear was a Porsche and Viper running nose to tail, battling amongst themselves which allowed me to take advantage of their compromised corners and slip right past them. The viper needed a little intimidation, so I filled his mirrors and moved like I was going to pass into a few corners just to get in the head of the driver. Shortly there after he locked his tires going into a corner, missed the apex and started making mistakes in each successive corner after that, ultimately allowed me me to pass him exiting the last corner and opening up quite a big gap until the next caution.
From 13th to 4th in 40 minutes, with 1st-3rd right in front of me, but the team wanted to take advantage of the yellow and do the driver change since I passed the minimum time to score points, so I bring the #63 into pit lane with our #64 car pitting right ahead of me, meaning that I would have to stop the car in a pit stall with a car in the way, and not hitting the mechanics running out to service the stopped car ahead.
Normally they are mechanics from a competitor’s team, so they take a little bit more caution, but since it was my own crew, they flew out without hesitation, and I turned in as late as I could to still make it in my spot. In perfectly choosing the best angle to allow the entire pit stop process to occur, we did have one casualty. The drivers side mirror on the car hit the tire in the hand of the crew man running for the right front of the 64 car, which left our mirror dangling on the door. But the team ripped it off so we wouldn’t be black flagged, and the 63 resumed after a short 35 second stop.
The only mistake we had all race was a speed violation during that pit stop, yet we are unsure of whether it was me on the way into the pits or my team mate leaving the pits. Either way we lost 20 seconds, which truthfully only cost us 1 or 2 positions, as the Porsche’s pace on old tires was impossible to match late in the race. With that said, it was a very enjoyable weekend all around, great to see industry folks, family, friends and a track that I haven’t been to in quite a while!
We scored some good points, and are ready to show up to Detroit later this month as that was a GREAT event for us last year.