Oh, COTA… This was definitely not a great weekend for us at Team TGM. Let me share my story with you.
One of the challenges of this weekend was track time. With IMSA, WEC, Lamborghini Super Trofeo and GT3 Cup on the roster in addition to us in Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, we had less available track time and also no promoter test day.
We needed to be really efficient to maximize our efforts, both in tuning the car and making sure to get Ted quality seat time as COTA is not a track he’s got years of experience on.
To start the weekend off both cars suffered from overheating issues in our first and only 45-minute practice session on Wednesday.
Unable to run the cars, we were going to be behind the eight-ball with no baseline established and direction heading into Thursday.
The TGM crew worked feverishly to determine and solve the issues. Prepped and ready for Thursday we had one just more practice session and then qualifying in the afternoon.
This is it – one session to evaluate how the car is handling, make changes to improve the car AND get Ted as much track time as possible to prepare him for qualifying.
Thursday’s session proved to be short on track time as well, with a long red-flag period interrupting our ability to get up to speed. We only had time to make one change to the car and then made sure to get Ted in for the remainder of the session to get up to speed around COTA.
Much of our time prior to qualifying was focused on reviewing the driving data and video between Ted and I to get Ted as ready as possible for qualifying, in addition to making another small change to the car.
The problem at this stage is that if we were to make any big changes in setup I wouldn’t be able to evaluate and fine-tune them properly so that we’d have a truly balanced car.
Since my arrival at TGM we’ve been going through a major learning cycle with the cars and experimenting quite a bit so we can better understand them.
With the Continental Tire Challenge as competitive as it is, a car ‘in the window’ can be pretty competitive but if you want to be in a position to win you have to have everything right.
Sadly for us this weekend, we were down on laps to everyone else to get as close as possible to that ideal setup.
During qualifying Ted made significant gains and lowered his lap times considerably, securing us in 8th on the grid.
Ready to race, Ted took the green flag and had a great start. He battled for position, kept the leaders in sight and made some cagey moves to avoid getting clobbered as if he had eyes in the back of his head.
It was impressive! Running clean and strong we were in the hunt and I was ready to get in to do battle. Ted had a little spin a few laps later in Turn 11 but was able to get right back on track & keep going.
Ted finished out his stint and brought the car in to pit lane for me to take over. Unfortunately Ted didn’t quite get the car into ‘Park’ when he stopped so once the car was jacked up in the air, the rear wheels were spinning slowly and that earned us a drive-through penalty that I had to serve on my first lap out.
I have to say though, it’s rare that a race car would have to be put in ‘Park’ but what comes with the awesome technology of the Porsche PDK transmission is the street car functionality that you forget about in the heat of the moment.
Down one lap after serving the penalty I immediately got to work to see what we had.
Although the car handled pretty well it just wasn’t happy enough to allow me to get the lap times I needed out of it to catch the leader – who was right in front of me – and try to get our lap back.
The leader slowly pulled away from me as I battled a nice combination of understeer, oversteer and general lack of grip on the super hot and greasy COTA surface.
Doing what I could I kept my pace, ran consistent and kept pushing, but a new challenge was being introduced… an increasingly soft brake pedal.
At first I wondered if it was kick back of the brake pads from running over the curbs, but that wasn’t quite it. Overheating brakes? Not really.
A problem after left vs. right corners? No pattern there. Definitely a loss of pressure. The problem got progressively worse, with the brake pedal pumping up and then losing pressure until it firmed up again far further in the pedal travel than it should have.
After communicating with the team about it and monitoring my stopping distances and rates very carefully for about 30 minutes, it was time to call it quits.
I had driven it like that long enough that I could tell I’d have a major problem if I continued to drive – and that certainly wouldn’t be good!
Sadly, we retired the car with about 30 minutes remaining in the race. A quick inspection showed a leaking right-rear brake caliper as the culprit.
All in all the weekend was a big let-down for us but as a group we still really enjoyed being there!
We will build on everything we learned and take that knowledge and motivation and put it towards a great result at our final race in two weeks at Road Atlanta.