Road America Race Report
This weekend started out with an early flight and layover in Chicago’s O’Hare Int’l, which, as usual, had delays and messed with my day. I wasn’t able to make the track walk as planned because my United flight was 2.5 hours late leaving ORD, but nonetheless I arrived safely and healthy, so I can’t complain too much. I caught a ride from the airport with our team owner, and we ended up arriving at the hotel around 20:00, then grabbing dinner and talking all things motorsport, F1, GT3, Tudor, World Challenge, etc.
Friday was the first day of on track activity, but with our session not scheduled until 16:45, we woke up late and met in the gym at 09:00. I say we because we actually got my teammate Alessandro to join the boss and I—he’s normally is allergic to exercise.
We all then spent the better part of 45 mins voting for the Wall Street Journal and Microsoft “Team to Win” contest, since we figured out you can vote many times in one day before the system shuts you down. It became and obsession almost, the thought of loosing was not fun, so it drove me to be the fastest clicker on the interwebs, voting time and time again to mount a last minute charge for Scuderia Corsa. At the end of the day, with many of your help from the Arfcom, as well as the seven girls working at the Beverly Hills dealership, and all of us here in WI, we were able to win by less than 1% of the votes. I heard it was an 8-vote margin!!!
We were awarded the prize of $1,500, which we turned over to our favorite charity, Camp Boggy Creek. Boggy Creek is a camp that is funded by donations and run by volunteers in Florida for kids that are ill or have serious conditions, with families that may not be able to send their child to a summer camp due to financial constraint of medical expenses. I love what this charity stands for and does for the kids, that on a given weekend feel completely normal.
An early day on Saturday with a late arrival at the hotel on Friday night, so I think there was an outline of a pillow on my face when I walked downstairs. We had two practices today before qualifying, and I was looking forward to seeing the track again for the second time. I felt like there were a few spots in practice 1 where I wasn’t “maximum attack”, and that the speed would be better today.
During practice 2 and 3 I was able to refine my driving, working on maximizing the braking zone without over rolling (too much speed) at the apex and loosing the front grip of the car since Road America has very high straightaway speeds and low corner speeds. We were also making the #63 better as it needed a little refinement from practice 1. We had a large under steer on Friday, meaning that the front tires were relatively unresponsive at the limit, causing my teammate and I to wait for the front to catch up to what we were asking of it, and thus loosing time.
The end of practice 3 (the second session on Saturday) Balzan got in with a new set of tires to do a what we call a “pre-qualifying”. This is a chance for him to feel the car in practice the same exact fuel load and tires (new) as it will be in Qualifying, just 20 minutes later. He reported that we were okay, but still had some issues that were slowing us down around the long lap of Road America. The Porsche’s, and the lone BMW and SRT looked mega quick, so it would be a tough afternoon.
Overall we qualified P11 (The Aston in the pole position would crash out tomorrow in warm up and miss the race), which is just “ehhh”. The Ferrari’s seem to lack pace on the single “kill” lap if you will, yet we are good multiple laps in a row so the races are typically better for us. The team owner, engineer, my co-driver, his better half, and myself finished up by heading over to the track café, which apparently was pretty famous and none of us had tried it. We tried some local brats, pork and beef on the patio and enjoyed the scenery, after all Road America isn’t just a fun place to drive, it’s in a gorgeous part of the country while day became night and there was a football game on the big screen inside the track.
These are the moments that often go away for a bit amidst the adrenaline filled excitement of the job, but every now and again I am reminded of how lucky we are to live in a country like this, and be able to experience the simple things that go along with my job and travels.
I woke up Sunday feeling the most refreshed I had all weekend. As I was getting ready I was imagining the race going perfect, picking up some spots in my stint, handing the car over in a good position and letting Alessandro and the team work for the remaining time left. We arrived at the track at 08:00, to grab food before our pre-brief to the 09:05 warm up session where we needed to break in some new front brake pads.
I was first in the car, got the new pads mated with the old rotor surface, and was out of the car in three timed laps to let Alessandro sample the car we changed overnight. The grip was quite poor around the track, so we opted to soften the car up in general hoping to help the tire work better with the asphalt surface.
I liked the package we had in the short time I sampled it, and was comfortable driving that car into the race in the afternoon. We debriefed about the changes and feelings, and prepared for the autograph session where the fans can come to our trailer, meet us, chat or get some racing paraphernalia signed; hats, shirts, programs or one of our hero cards. One hour later, we were talking strategy for the race, and I was getting changed to go move the car to the pre-grid about an hour and a half before the race start. At this point, I am finishing my last water, and small snack to last me through the race, which would end around 4pm. It was warmer than I anticipated, so I was trying to get a little bit more hydration in before it was too late.
At the start, per usual it was strung out meaning we weren’t grid up at all because IMSA insists on using one pace car for four classes and 50+ cars, but I was able to get past a Porsche before the first (and long) yellow came out. The car felt pretty good actually, still had room to improve, but it was finally a RACECAR, something I can use, adjust and it reacts the whole time to my inputs.
The yellow was for massive crash at the exit of turn 12 before turn 13, which was going to require A LOT of cleanup, so I was starting to save fuel to the best of my ability. Into 6th gear, low revs and as little throttle as needed, factoring in hills and trying to be off throttle up the hill to use the least amount of fuel possible. About 15 mins into the caution, I get the word that we would be going green this lap, so I proceed to start getting heat in my tires and brakes by accelerating and slowing down.
As the field bunches up in turn 12, they start having an accordion effect from some people being anxious. Yet I don’t want to leave too much space to the car ahead, so I play along cautiously. By the third time of us bunching up, I stay right to fill the space not used as the field compressed ahead of me, but apparently the #35 Audi behind missed the memo that we were slowing down and hit the #44 Porsche directly behind me, at the top of 3rd gear, pushing the 44 into the rear of my car, and sending me spinning to the left.
As I feel like I have been shot out of a canon and hurdling forward and left I catch the rear quarter panel of the 45 Audi, spinning him out and damaging my front left. I didn’t fully spin (at least I don’t remember fully spinning), rather I slid sideways for a while and caught the spin on the grass, and continued on trying to assess the damage to my car as I am flat out up the front straight at 160+ mph.
After completing that lap, I decided that it would be wise to pit as I felt like I may have had an issue with the left rear tire that lacks grip. I thought I had a puncture, but it turns out we were slowly loosing coolant, so when I arrived in pit lane, the mechanics quickly decided to send me back to the garage to repair the car.
Unfortunately the damage to the rear was quite high, so we lost a lot of time repairing the car, which put us in a similar game plan as Mosport. Try and get the minimum drive time for me to score points for the team and myself.
This was a terrible feeling, upon entering the pits I was praying the car was okay and the tires were bad, a simple tire change and some body work repair to send me back out. Yet when I heard that we had terminal radiator damage, it was like being swiftly punched in the kidney. But I am not a quitter, especially while I watch my crew change a radiator with hot coolant pouring everywhere, so I sat in the car for 30-45mins while the team repaired the 63. Ultimately when the time for repair was finished, the best strategy was to send me out in my damaged car just to collect enough drive time to score points for the team, and myself which would be 20 minutes more.
The most depressing 20 minutes ever, some under yellow but nonetheless I couldn’t help but be sad for the team and our chances being swept away by a blunder by another driver. But from this point, I got my time, we parked the car and started preparing a parts list and logistics to get the car ready to do battle again in 2 weeks at Virginia International Raceway. What a salty way to end a race weekend!