The IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama championship is in full swing, with already six races completed out of the scheduled 16.
Most recently we finished up Rounds 5 and 6 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, which was a rollercoaster of a weekend for me and the Moorespeed team.
Picking up from my previous column, we were headed to Virginia International Raceway.
Long story short, the weekend was not one the prettiest race weekends I’ve had.
In both races I made mistakes that cost us. Ultimately in Race 1, we ended up in fourth and in Race 2 we finished third. The finish of Race 2 came with some excitement at the end though.
A late race full course caution gave us a two-lap shootout to the checkered flag.
With two laps to go, I was able to climb to final spot on the podium from a sixth-place restart – it was an entertaining end of the race!
Moving on to Road Atlanta. Admittedly, I was still disappointed about VIR but instead of carrying that disappointment as baggage, I turned it into fuel for the fire.
Road Atlanta is easily one of my favorite tracks. What makes it so great is that you can’t describe it with a single adjective.
It has many features that are all connected making Road Atlanta one of the most legendary tracks in North America. Tight, technical, fast, and flowing barely scratches the surface.
With my love for the track, I had some added confidence with our next outing being there.
On Friday, we had a fairly compressed day. Two practice sessions and then qualifying to finish off the day.
The first practice was forty-five minutes long which is also the length of our races in the GT3 Cup Challenge USA. For that session, we focused on our long run pace.
Then in the second practice which was only thirty minutes long, we did a shorter run. We wanted to get a clearer picture of what our outright pace was. In the end, we were fairly quick and going into qualifying we had the speed.
As I have mentioned before, in the GT3 Cup Challenge our qualifying sessions are slightly different.
In our series you need to push your Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car to the limit and lay down two fast laps, as opposed to the traditional one.
The fastest lap during the qualifying session establishes the pole for Race 1, and the second fastest lap is the provisional pole for Race 2 (unless there is a faster lap time in Race 1).
Our plan for the qualifying session was to use the out lap and the first timed lap to warm everything up. Then have the second timed lap as my second fastest and then the following lap the fastest. This is crucial to tire pressure, tire temps, and optimal grip that everything is done according to the strategy.
I would’ve loved for that “plan” to have worked out, however there was a bit of drama that changed the plan entirely.
On the first timed lap, the driver that was behind me, was on a different strategy and was already pushing hard on that lap. Going into Turn 10a, he ended up passing me. I was able to back off just enough to start my actual qualifying run…or so I thought.
By the end of my second timed lap, going into 10a I was forced to make a choice. I was catching the driver ahead enough to where my following lap would be affected, if you remember the third timed lap is supposed to be my fastest.
I was presented with two options, either A: finish the lap I was on and risk ruining my fastest lap, or B: bail on the lap I was on, back up to the driver behind me, to guarantee the following lap would be clear. I essentially would be then gambling that I could get another fast lap later in our fifteen-minute session.
Spoiler alert, I took the gamble and chose option B. This was probably the hardest decision I’ve had to make going 160 mph with about a three second window to decide!
On my third timed lap, I laid down a lap that was fast enough for the Race 1 pole.
Now onto the tough part which was getting that second fastest lap.
After I had done two additional laps, David Moore came on the radio and told me, “Hey buddy, I need you to go get me another tenth.”
He calls me “buddy” when it gets serious! At this point I was starting my sixth timed lap. By the end of that lap, I found the tenth and with that I was on pole for both races!
Fast forward to Race 1 the following day. Before the green flag was ever waved, I noticed something slightly unusual in the rear of the car… particularly in the left rear. While I was going through my warm-up procedure on the out lap, the rear brake was locking a bit more than normal.
At this point, I just moved my brake bias towards the front and thought nothing of it.
The green flag dropped and we are off. For the first two-thirds of the race, it was fairly straight-forward. I built myself a reasonable gap and everything smooth sailing. I led from the green for about 20 laps, and then all of a sudden my pace took a huge nosedive. I ended up losing the lead and finishing in second.
After the race, it took a bit for me personally to process what had happened because I knew that I gave it my absolute best.
With that, David and I went to work. We spent a couple of hours going through the data with a fine-tooth comb looking for answers, and we were still scratching our heads.
The only conclusion we were able to come to was that throughout the run the left rear had fallen off massively.
Thanks to IMSA’s technical inspection after our race we later found out that my left rear damper had failed and had zero pressure. The reason why I mentioned the abnormal rear locking above, is because that was a symptom of the failure. Essentially it had failed prior to the start of the race. Nothing that anyone did wrong, it was simply a rare mechanical failure.
Now in the same breath, that news made me much more excited about Race 2!
For the second event of the weekend, as John Hindhaugh called it “a fascinating cat and mouse” and indeed it was!
My competitor, Jeff Kingsley, and I had a great battle all the way through the 45-minute long race. This was highlighted by both of us having to navigate through lap traffic during the latter parts of the race and then my defense.
The Moorespeed team and I were able to lead flag-to-flag en route to our second victory this year. I can’t say enough about my guys at Moorespeed.
Whenever things didn’t go our way we took it as it came, put our heads down, and went to work. Thanks guys for a great weekend!
Next up on the calendar is Rounds 7, 8, and 9 at Mid-Ohio September 25-27 in a unique triple-header formatted race weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back to Mid-Ohio and I can’t wait to share my experience with you soon!