To say the world has changed in the last few weeks would be an understatement. Just three weeks ago, I was getting ready for the kick-off to the 2020 season in the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama. Today, most of the country has been put into lockdown to fight COVID-19.
Upon our arrival to St. Petersburg, Fla., we were unsure how or if it would affect us that weekend. The reality was setting in across the nation as to what was necessary to control the spread of the virus.
This is my brief overview of the behind the scenes happenings from that race weekend, the forward impact it has had on me, and surprisingly, the positive outcome so far.
We flew into St. Pete on Tuesday, March 10, a day early to participate in the invitational Mayors Challenge Media Pro-Am Kart Race with drivers representing all series that were competing that weekend, including a few IndyCar drivers. This has become an annual event and is a great way to kick off the race weekend.
When we arrived, I opened Instagram. The first thing I saw was that the NBA had suspended their entire season. I was shocked. That was my first real wakeup call as to what was happening at the time.
The next day, I headed over to the track to get the morning festivities started. When I arrived the Mayor of St. Petersburg was conducting a press conference regarding COVID-19. He assured every one of the precautions that were being taken and the race weekend was going to continue, so for me that was a big relief.
Next up was the Mayors Challenge Media Pro-Am Kart Race, and it was an absolute blast.
Each “Pro” driver was paired with two local media personalities, there were nine teams total. I was paired with radio personalities Randy Harris and Matt McClellan. These guys have the longest running sports radio talk show in St. Petersburg called Knockout Radio. It’s worth checking out; they have a fantastic show!
The race itself was determined by each team’s total time, combining the times of all three team members.
We ended up winning the race, turns out my media guys had been practicing (especially Matt). This was a fantastic event and created plenty of excitement for the upcoming race weekend. The local news outlets did a piece on their 6:00 pm nightly news broadcast.
After the race, I was given the opportunity to go hang out with my media teammates, the guys at Knockout Radio.
Their Wednesday afternoon show studio takes place at Matt’s Pizza Parlor in St. Petersburg named Tour De Pizza. We were live for a couple of hours, talking racing, promoting the series, and giving the listeners some insight into what it’s like to drive a Porsche 911.
The entire day was an absolute BLAST. I can’t thank the organizers of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg enough for putting on the event; as well as, Matt and Randy for their supreme karting skills, and some “entertainment” along the way – Thanks guys!
On Thursday, we were scheduled to have a practice session at 1:30 pm, with the track going “hot” at 12:00 p.m.
The Moorespeed crew and I were going through the motions getting everything ready. We quickly realized that at around 1 p.m., there weren’t any cars on track – it was eerily quiet. 3 p.m. rolls around and still the track was “cold”.
We honestly had no idea what was going on and had assumed that they were finalizing the track preparation since it’s a street course.
At 3:15 pm, we were notified the day had been cancelled. We were still going racing just with a slightly condensed schedule on Friday. This was coupled with an announcement of fans not being allowed to attend the event. At the time, that announcement felt a little bittersweet.
We weren’t going to be able to share the weekend with the fans, but we were still scheduled to have the full event.
On Friday, we had a 30-minute practice session at 9:30 am. It was a great first session and it felt good to jump back into my office and to be out on track. As we were going through the data, getting prepped for the second session and reviewing the upcoming run plan, we suddenly got notified that the entire event had been cancelled.
It was a pretty surreal moment for everyone in the paddock. The collaboration between Porsche Motorsport North America, IMSA, IndyCar, the promoter for the event, and the city of St. Petersburg was nothing short of amazing.
Thank you to everyone involved for trying to continue a much-anticipated event, but ultimately the right call was made.
The span of those four days was the purest definition of an emotional rollercoaster. Not just for me, but also for everyone else who was there to compete and attend the event. Teams, competitors, fans, event organizers, sponsors – everyone involved. We all felt the emotional drain of a race weekend being called off, let alone the season opener.
As it stands, our season will begin at Watkins Glen June 25-27. Other updates for our series include the IMSA Monterey SportsCar Championship at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, which has been moved up one weekend to run on Sept. 4-6. The 23rd annual Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta has been moved back one week and now will run Oct. 14-17.
So…what to do until the revised season begins? Well that’s the positive outcome mentioned at the beginning. To me, this “pause” in the action is essentially just another offseason. I’ve already started treating it as such…more training, on top of more training, on top of more training!
The common thing that all drivers are doing right now is putting in more time on their driving simulator.
Trust me, I’m no different and am spending plenty of time in my sim as well. In addition, you may remember from my previous column, I gave some color on what my workout routine was in the months leading up to St. Petersburg (if you haven’t read my last two columns, go check them out!).
For this “continued offseason”, I have committed to additional cardio and endurance training as my primary focus.
One of my High School friends (who loves running) and I have put together a program that purely consists of endurance training, through running.
Neeraj and I during our first week, did about 20 miles and this past week we logged 28 miles. What has been interesting about this increased level of training, I actually enjoy the runs. That’s a good thing, and I am really looking forward to seeing where we end up by the time June rolls around.
Stay tuned, we have about three months before our next event. The excitement and emotions will be bigger than ever once we get there!