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Joao Barbosa files his latest Sportscar365 column following COTA…

Photo: John Dagys

Photo: John Dagys

One of the questions I was asked most going into the Circuit of The Americas event was “what do you need to do to stay in the lead of the championship?”

It was an easy question to answer. Our mentality at Action Express Racing was to go to the Circuit of The Americas to win. This would be the easiest way to protect our lead and also increase it!

Then, if the win was not possible we would look at making the most of the race and get as many points as possible if that was the case. In every situation we always had in the back of our minds the championship!

We would not want to compromise any race result with a mistake so a trouble free race was very important.

The weather at COTA was very unpredictable – very hot but with some showers in the mix. With all the rain that had fallen, the track was very slippery with very little rubber on track.

Through all of the practice sessions, we tried to find the right balance on the car but with the constantly changing conditions that was not easy to do. We were still close to the top of the charts but not where we wanted to be in terms of the feeling of the car.

We tried different things on the set up and Christian (Fittipaldi, co-driver) did a good job in qualifying us in fourth place. Still, we were lacking a little in terms of speed.

The good thing is that we still had a warm up on race morning where we could run a few laps and get ready for the race. With a 16-point lead over the No. 10 team we had to keep that car on our radar all the time.

As a team, we decided to make some changes before the race. With no rain on the radar and very hot conditions we needed to make the car better. With the knowledge we’ve acquired this year with this Corvette, we were confident that the changes would help.

The weather held off beautifully for us, but it was definitely hot!

Christian had a great start and moved us up and put us in a great position. Unfortunately for the No. 10 car, they sustained contact in the first corner from another car which caused them a flat tire.

It was unlucky for them and when I saw it on the television in pit lane, I thought ‘this is great for our championship run’, but I’ve been racing for many years and I knew that anything could happen.

We could have a mechanical problem, flat tire, or some kind of contact and everything would change.

The situation with the No. 10 made us change our strategy in the race as now we were in front of our direct championship competitors. That was the ideal situation for the championship. If we maintained good position we would then increase our championship lead going into the last race.

With just under two hours to go in the race, it was time for me to jump in the car and take over from Christian. Did I mention before that it was hot in Texas?

With good strategy and the car getting better as the race progressed, we were in the lead! It was a great place to be considering where our championship competitors were and all was working according to plan.

We had a good pace during my first stint. Inside the car, the heat was increasing but everything was working well. The main issue was traffic. COTA is a great facility and a nice race track but overtaking isn’t easy with the track configuration.

We knew that we only had to keep out of trouble and we would have a great result.

As I was driving, my main goal was to keep the car intact and I have to say that was very difficult to do when trying to overtake some GT cars! I know there is a lot on the line in each class but more cooperation between the classes would work so much better.

Instead of going for the race win, the strategy for the championship came first. We were not going to risk a fuel consumption race and get stopped on track without any fuel.

The team wisely decided that we needed to stop again in order to be safe on fuel until the end!

Following that pit stop, I was still in second place and was making some ground on the leading No. 01 car. Unfortunately by the end of the race, I was catching traffic in all the wrong places which not only allowed the No. 01 to pull away but it also made it possible for the No. 42 to considerably close the gap.

Just a few laps from the checkered flag, two GT cars fighting for position blocked me a few times and the No. 42 had a run and overtook me. On the long straight I tried to take that position back but again GT traffic played a key role there and I was just thinking about the championship!

The most important aspect of this race was championship points and I was not going to compromise our race result because of one position, so I played it conservatively and settled for third which was a great result for us!

The Action Express Racing team has done a phenomenal job all year long and now we go to Petit Le Mans with a 22-point lead. In motorsport anything can happen but extending the championship lead from 16 to 22 points at COTA definitely made our life a little easier for Petit.

On another note, we’ve done all of the races so far without using the cool suit. It’s almost 30 pounds of extra weight in the car so we always leave it in the pit box. COTA definitely put us to the test… It was hot spending two hours inside the car!

I wondered if maybe we should use a cool suit for this race and Iain Watt, our engineer, asked me before the race… “Do you want a fast car or a heavy and cool car?”

I went with a fast car!

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