This past weekend marked the second year the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge has raced at Kansas and going into the weekend we assumed we’d be pretty competitive since we finished 3rd there last season.
At the start of the weekend however the Caymans, which have shown a very strong straight line speed at every track we’ve gone to, finally found their stride and were running lap times that we knew we couldn’t replicate.
We had a good balance with the car and this weekend debuted our larger HPD brake caliper which took some getting used to but for the first time in five years of racing the Honda we finally don’t have to save brakes anymore.
Qualifying rolled around and we weren’t shocked to see four Caymans in the top-five spots on the grid but we were surprised to see we got out qualified by a few of the MX-5s on a track that the series assured us they wouldn’t do very well with.
Another surprise was to see our car starting back in 15th but my co-driver Kyle Gimple did the best he could with what he had and we knew we would be able to race towards the front.
As the green flag fell Kyle settled in and was able to run a good pace and over the course of the stint worked his way up to the 10th spot. Usually there is a yellow around the 45 minute mark which allows us to do the driver change pit stop but in this case the yellows flew too early so we ran for about an hour and 10 minutes before we did a green flag pitstop.
In true Compass360 fashion, our guys did a hell of a good stop and we picked up two to three spots when I rejoined the track. During the pit stop my crew chief noticed we had torn the boot around the driveshaft on the left front corner and that usually means we have about 20 minutes until it breaks and on top of that, a few minutes after I got settled in I noticed we were having some gearbox issues, particularly 3-4th upshifts and 5-6 upshifts wouldn’t engage properly and would just grind without going into gear.
A yellow came out which bunched up the field and when we restarted I was able to race my way up to 3rd despite turning lap times roughly a second slower than the pace of the race. With about 25 minutes left in the race and with the drive shaft thumping and shaking the wheel and a grinding gearbox I found myself 4th and on Charles Espenlaub’s bumper.
For the next 25 minutes we battled back and forth like crazy, We’d run side by side from the Exit of Turn 6 all the way to the front straight and onto Turn 4 before having to go single file again, This happened four or five separate times and we never touched once.
It was easily one of the best races and Charles has been a guy I’ve looked up to for a long time so I was really happy to have such a great race with him.
On the last lap I had the lead into the final hairpin and on the exit Charles was on my bumper! We ran into the banking and he was using the draft perfectly. As we came out of Nascar Turn 4 I stuck to the bottom, he popped to the outside and when I went to shift into 6th there was nothing there. The grinding was so loud Charles said he heard it in his car as he passed for 3rd place.
We came home P4 and to be honest I didn’t think we had a top-five car before the race started. In fact I can’t believe the drive shaft didn’t break and that we even finished the race let alone almost get a trophy.
It just goes to show you cant give up and you have to always give it your best.
See you at Watkins Glen!