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HARRISON: HPD 30th Anniversary Weekend

Ashton Harrison files her latest Sportscar365 column following Road America…

Photo: Racers Edge Motorsports

We’re already more than halfway through the Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS season – which is so hard to believe! Most recently, we headed Road America for the next rounds of the Pro championship fight.

Mario and I had a really great weekend in Wisconsin last year, sweeping both Fanatec GT Pro-Am races and earning the 100th team victory for Racers Edge Motorsports.

As you can imagine, our expectations for the event were high, but Mario and I were prepared for the challenge!

Road America is my favorite track in the United States; our no. 93 Harrison Contracting Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 is an absolute joy to drive on the iconic four miles and our team of engineers and mechanics give us a mega car every single weekend. We also had the honor of celebrating a milestone for HPD Racing- the company’s 30th anniversary in motorsports.

The weekend started off on Thursday night for the parade in downtown Elkhart Lake. If you haven’t been to Elkhart Lake, you’re seriously missing out: it is the cutest town and even better when it’s filled with more than 100 race cars.

We gave out tons of goodies including our signature HCC sunglasses, drink koozies, so the quaint streets around Siebkens turned into a sea of Harrison Contracting red. Racers Edge Motorsports also created limited edition HPD 30th anniversary stickers and posters designed by Acura Motorsports for the special celebration.

Photo: Racers Edge Motorsports

The swag is fun, but my favorite part of the parade is letting kids (and some adults!) sit in the seat of our Acura NSX and compare it to a spaceship. It’s pretty awesome!

I got behind the wheel of our no. 93 Harrison Contracting Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 on Friday morning for our two usual practice sessions.

We focused on set-up with the Pirelli tires on the new track surface. As the day went on, the small changes we made were leading to improvements and we all felt confident for qualifying. The brief glimpse of cooler weather broke into blazing sunshine on Saturday, turning up the heat in the cockpit and on track.

As usual, I took the first qualifying session and secured P6 in class, after which Mario qualified P3. With the grid positions set, and more debriefing with our engineer, the team prepared for the afternoon’s race confident in our strategy and the car’s capabilities.

Our goal kept the championship in sight: finish ahead of our closest competitors and make up ground in the points battle.

I had a solid charge through the field at the green flag of Race 1, passing four cars in the first few laps. Despite the full course caution soon after, I kept our Acura NSX within sight of our competitors, and focused on gaining more ground as the race went back to green.

Photo: Racers Edge Motorsports

The team performed flawlessly during the pitstop, as always, and we put Mario in position to attack for the podium. Over his stint, Mario steadily chipped away at our competition, overtaking three cars, two of which were in class, to secure a spot on the podium. With a P3 finish, we gained some points in the championship, reached our goal of finishing ahead of our closest competition. It was a great day!

Preparation for Sunday’s race involved more discussion and some tweaks to our game plan, focused on having the best outcome we could possibly achieve. Our jobs- as drivers, engineers, mechanics- is never done, because we constantly strive to find ways to improve and push ourselves on track and off.

On a steamy Sunday afternoon, after a grid walk with great fans, Mario took the green flag from P3 on the grid, keeping a steady, solid pace over the course of his stint. Fifty minutes later, he brought our red NSX into the box for my stint. I jump behind the wheel and take off, in typical Acura NSX style, with a sweet smoke show burn out.

Mario and the team put me in an optimum position to push for a podium, but one of the factors in multi-class racing involves slower, out of class cars. Navigating that traffic is always challenging, especially when also focusing on gaining ground to the in-class cars ahead.

Just as I started gaining some ground on the field, an incident on track caused a lengthy full course yellow, which packed up the entire field behind the safety car. After some quick calculations, our engineer, Jim determined we’d have only five green flag laps of racing to secure our current third place podium position or better.

Engines roared as the green flag drops for a five-lap shootout.

Photo: Fabian Lagunas/SRO

I held my position at the restart and even made up some ground on the car behind me, which was a driver much more experienced than me. One car drove off track, so I slid into P2 overall and in the Pro class. My confidence in the speed and balance of our Acura NSX GT3 grew every lap as my focus honed in on the leader.

The field exited The Kink, a corner that demands respect and commitment, and raced into Canada Corner. The new surface at Road America is tricky at times because the track has a lot of grip on-line, but no room for error off line because there is no grip.

We entered the brake zone at Canada Corner, I broke late, aimed the car towards the apex, drove off the corner and opened up my hands to carry as much speed as I could. After driving off line for a moment, I rejoined the track.

Although I lost a little time gap, I held my position in P2. As I entered Turn 13 and went into defensive mode to protect my position, our NSX was tapped on my left rear, sending me sideways and into a spin.

Heartbroken. We finished P4 in class. Not a devastating result but neither did we gain any ground in the championship fight.
The other car involved is in the Pro class with us but isn’t in the Pro championship title fight. They were served a drive-through penalty for incident responsibility but unfortunately their penalty didn’t change the result on track. I was frustrated by the spin, but I respect the driver and know accidents happen.

Now we regroup and focus on the next race.

We have three races left, two at Sebring and the double-points season finale at the Indy 8 Hour. As we learned from last year, it’s not over until it’s over, and this team has the fight and capability to win another championship in our Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 and to make history, again.

See you at Sebring.

Ashton Harrison is a HPD Junior Factory Driver competing with Racers Edge Motorsports with WTR Andretti in Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. .

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