Every year, Daytona is a race weekend with a lot of buildup and a lot of anticipation. Although we have one of the shortest off seasons of any series, we don’t usually get tons of testing so I’m always a little antsy to get back to racing by the end of January.
The first race of my 2014 season was the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race on Friday. I joined a new team in the Continental series this year with Fall-Line Motorsports.
Looking at the full season, we knew that Daytona has always favored the BMWs and it should be the track most suited to us this season. While that is a good thing, it also adds another little layer of pressure to perform and come away with a win at a place where we are supposed to excel.
Qualifying was shortened due to a red flag, which meant everyone only got one lap. Trent qualified, and was frustrated after the session because he made a mistake in the Bus Stop on his one timed lap, which in all likelihood cost him the pole.
I’ve been there, so I figured there was no consoling him, but I personally wasn’t worried because I knew he would do a good job in the first stint. Besides, I know from experience that feeling you have something to make up for always gives you a little more drive to be aggressive versus feeling safe and overconfident after getting pole.
As expected, Trent drove a great stint and I got in on the first stop. We were running near the front and made a strategy call to pit on a later yellow flag so that we would be good on fuel to the end. The RumBum Porsche and Turner BMWs stayed out, which meant that they were gambling on fuel but had the track position over us. Some extensive yellows meant that they looked to be able to make it to the end, so I was pushing hard to make moves to the front.
If you watched the race, you know what’s coming next—I tried a move on Bill Auberlen around the outside in the brake zone of T1, but I was braking late. The brake point itself wasn’t later than I’ve ever hit the brakes, but I had a double draft and was probably 10mph faster than I’d ever been at that point.
I realized I was in a little hot and instinctively pushed the pedal a little harder, but that got me into the ABS. Although the ABS system stops you from locking tires, it actually increases the distance needed to slow down if you’re hard into it versus just being on the edge of it. I was hard into it, and went way wide and nearly into the wall, losing two spots. I crossed the line in P4, but after two penalties to cars ahead, walked away with P2 while our teammates in the 48 car won.
Although I would always rather win, it was good to see Shelby Blackstock with his first win, as well as Ashley Freiberg pulling off a rare feat winning in her very first race. On top of that, it was a Fall Line 1-2, so as a team we can say we got the best out of a track where we needed to do well.
There was no celebrating for me as I had the biggest race of our season the following day—the first TUDOR United SportsCar Series Rolex 24. For us in the BMW Z4s, Daytona is not a track that we expect to be dominant, so we felt fortunate that it was an enduro rather than a sprint race, as it leaves time for the race to take its toll as people are always bound to have problems.
Our motto was just to keep truckin’ and we can move up the charts when others have problems.
BMW Team RLL was executing a great race in the GTLM class and we were running P3 and only one lap down about 19 or 20 hours into the race. With the wave by’s that occur by staying out under caution, we expected to get that lap back before the end of the race and pressure the leaders.
However, a failed right rear wheel bearing put an end to those hopes and dropped us down the order to P6. Fortunately for us, a couple other cars had bigger issues and moved us back to P4, while the black Z4 made it to the lead lap and ended the race P2.
Considering that we expected Daytona to be our worst track pace-wise, I think we as a team can be content with P2 and P4 to start off the season.
Next up is Sebring International Raceway, the track where I got my racing license back in 2004, and where BMW Team RLL has walked away with multiple class wins over the years. See you in Sebring.