I think I can speak for many drivers and teams that January is an exciting month every year. It’s the start of the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season at the famed Daytona International Speedway.
You get an exhilarating feeling when you pass under the tunnels heading to the infield, knowing that the championship quest starts now. Not to mention the fact that this track has so much history and seems to bring thrilling last lap finishes.
The 2015 racing season brought a lot of changes to my career as I’ve moved to the No. 9 Stevenson Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R and partnered with a new teammate, Matt Bell.
It was a bit of a strange feeling moving to a new team after spending the last three seasons with the same program. However, I knew the caliber of this team was second to none and I was ready to get the season underway.
After my first day with the team at their shop in December, I knew they would be ready to hit the ground running this year and it felt great to be a part of an organization that truly embodies the word professionalism. Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson, along with Michael and Shannon Hoffman and Mike Johnson, have put together an incredible operation.
From the outside looking in, many people would think that moving from one team to another should be pretty easy. Just plug and play. However, there is much more to it than that. There is a “gelling stage” that needs to happen.
From learning how you and your new teammate like the car to building a relationship with a new engineer to getting a new seat positioned there are countless little things that play into “gelling.” Every aspect of this is important and the quicker you can do it the quicker you can get down to business!
Coming into Daytona having already done a test was very helpful and I felt that we, as a group, were firing on all cylinders. Matt Bell and I seem to like a very similar car and we headed into practice with a solid action plan.
We ended up leading practice on the series official first day and we were heading into final practice and qualifying with a good feeling.
After the third practice session we decided to make huge changes to the setup of our Z/28.R and it was up to the guys to do it in a very limited time frame with no ability to scale or check the improvements.
I have to admit that it was very impressive to see the team get to work. It was “all hands on deck” and they even finished with some time to spare. We ended up checking the car after qualifying and it was spot on. It was a testament to the work they’ve done in the past and the knowledge of the car.
Matt did a great job qualifying the car fifth, considering he hadn’t driven the new setup until the session, which is not an easy thing to do when you have limited time to throw down a fast lap.
The race was going to be an uphill battle for us as we lacked top end speed compared to the other cars. This is when strategy and pit stops are extremely important.
Keeping track position is priority number one when you know you are going to have a hard time passing other competitors. Matt had a good start to the race and slotted in behind our teammates in the No. 6 Camaro Z/28.R (Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell) for most of his stint.
We had a fast Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R, great pit stops, strategy and driver change and found ourselves battling with our teammates for the final two podium spots at the end of the race.
The track was extremely greasy and made it quite difficult to keep other cars at bay. Robin and I locked up in the draft and worked hard to keep ahead of a charging BMW in fourth. Fortunately we were able to hold him off and took a second and third place finish for the Stevenson Motorsports team. A huge result for us to start the season!
Reflecting on the weekend, it was a great feeling to finish my first race on the podium with Stevenson Motorsports and also share it with our teammates.
It was also a very cool to be a part of the first double podium by the team! I can say with confidence that I think we are passed the “gelling” stage! On to Sebring!
Thanks for tuning into my first installment for Sportscar365. Stay tuned for more!