I’m hoping this isn’t just me; maybe it is, I don’t really know… but it feels like “crunch time” in the off-season is happening later and later each year.
You’re biting your fingernails off until the very last second to hear that “yes” or “no” from a team you very much want to work with.
The wait was much longer, and therefore more tense for me this year, but the end result was surprisingly the desired one.
Between 2016 and 2017, I was fortunate to have the chance to drive in both Lamborghini Super Trofeo and the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge on most IMSA race weekends.
Once in the habit of jumping around between multiple cars in a weekend, it’s something that you’re pretty reluctant to give up. That additional seat time is a huge benefit in every aspect and it was a major goal of mine to stay in that position.
Luckily before the Roar, it was confirmed that I would be putting some real miles into my racing shoes once again as I would be driving the VOLT Racing Ford Mustang GT4 with Alan Brynjolfsson in the CTSC as well as the Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 in the WeatherTech Series in the long distance races.
This was a great opportunity, especially when I found out that I would be sharing the No. 86 Acura with Katherine Legge, Alvaro Parente, and AJ Allmendinger… a group of absolute legends, paired with some unknown young and dumb kid.
They were taking a pretty big leap of faith on that one!
The learning curve involved with working with two very new teams and cars was fairly steep, but the Roar helped to smooth that transition pretty well.
The cars are the easy part; at the end of the day they still have four wheels, a steering wheel, and some pedals so it’s on me to figure that part out.
The other half of the equation here is learning the groups of people you will be working with for 2018.
It’s the human side of it that can become much more complex but luckily both teams are well staffed with some people who I’ve had the chance to work with in the past and that was another big help with my integration into each program.
On Friday morning, it was just starting to hit me as to what lied ahead with four hours worth of competition with VOLT Racing in the CTSC, followed immediately by arguably the most grueling race on the WeatherTech Championship calendar – the Rolex 24.
A total of 28 hours of racing was staring me straight in the face but I felt well prepared, physically and mentally, and had faith in both teams. I was so honored to be working with them.
The four hours of Daytona kicked off well with Alan moving up several positions and maintaining a solid pace. We decided to double stint him early on to complete his minimum drive time but in general, the guy was just doing a damn good job.
I hopped in the car with roughly 2.5 hours to go and all seemed to be going quite smoothly.
Our pace over the long run was not quite as good as we would’ve hoped but we definitely had a car that we could fight with.
As the VOLT Racing team manager and strategist, Mike Johnson is arguably one of the best you could have on your pit box. I absolutely stand behind his decision here, as we elected not to take new tires on our final stop in the hopes of gaining enough of a gap on track to hang onto whatever position we would leave the pits.
Running 2nd for almost the entire final stint, we were losing time to the leaders but managing a pretty healthy gap to the cars behind until a full course yellow completely took that advantage away.
From that point forward I knew it was going to be extraordinarily difficult to hang on but it was not meant to be. We ended up 8th, which was disappointing to say the least.
Having to shrug that one off to focus on the Rolex 24 was actually a good thing because at least there was an immediate shot at redemption.
Alvaro started the race from P7 and quickly moved forward. Between him, Kat, and AJ we were hanging around the 3rd and 4th positions by the time I climbed in the car.
Also, conveniently around that same time the skies opened up and absolute chaos ensued.
This couldn’t have been timed any better for us as AJ was coming onto pit lane as soon as the rain started to fall for a regularly scheduled stop.
My next stint in the car came around 2:30 a.m. To be honest, I didn’t sleep at all because of my anxiety to get back in and do a good job, as well as the belief that only the bad luck hits you while you sleep.
Again, luckily all had gone to plan and we were still on the lead lap within striking distance of the lead at any given moment.
Now – what happened when Katherine got into the car next right at dawn completely supports my reasoning as to why I don’t sleep… or maybe it disproves my theory altogether.
Either way, I would’ve never believed this had happened unless I saw it myself.
Her getting hip checked off by a prototype at T2, the massive slide across the grass, and ultimately keeping it out of the fence was enough to give us a real scare.
Fortunately that was really all it did since the car was completely fine, so apart from a few additional seconds lost, all was ok.
My final run in the car came around mid-morning. By this point everybody – engineers and strategists, mechanics and drivers alike are starting to feel the strain this race can put on you and the increased pressure for a result as you get closer to the finish.
This was all very new to me but business as usual for the MSR crew, so leaning on them for their support and guidance through this stage of the race was a must for a guy like me and again, we were able to maintain position and remain within striking distance of a Rolex 24 win.
Astonishingly, the final run to the finish went green for over five hours.
At one point, with under 1.5 hours to go in the race, we had a wheel gun failure that cost us 20 seconds on pit lane.
Obviously nobody’s fault, but clearly the racing gods just wanted to make this one that much more exciting for us.
It can be argued that our end result is traced back to this failure, but it’s too difficult to really judge. At the end of 24 hours, we finished only 16 seconds behind. So close yet so far!
Twenty-eight total hours of racing this past weekend at Daytona is something I think most drivers would dream about doing.
I’m just fortunate enough to be living that dream. Alan and the entire VOLT Racing team did a great job and we are certainly looking forward to an even stronger return in Sebring.
Working with Mike, Katherine, Alvaro, AJ, and all of the MSR crew across both the No. 86 and the No. 93 was a real privilege and I look forward to the remaining long distance races with them in the NSX GT3.
I also need to thank my friends at Trim-Tex as well as Sparco, and Arai Americas for their help in getting me prepped for such an insane weekend of racing.
I have lots to improve on before Sebring and I’m excited that the 2018 season is underway.