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HARRISON: Overall Winners at COTA

Ashton Harrison files her latest Sportscar365 column reflecting on overall victory at Circuit of The Americas…

Photo: Chris Green/Racers Edge Motorsports

“Back in the saddle” might be a bit cliché for Texas but the phrase also best describes our weekend at Circuit of The Americas in our No. 93 Harrison Contracting Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 with the Racers Edge Motorsports crew. COTA is well known for its success in Formula 1 but also for its high-speed, technical 20-turn track.

We came to Texas ranked third in the Pro class championship; after heading to NOLA first in points, we were eager to regain what we had lost in the two Louisiana races.

Thankfully, we had two solid days of track time prior to Saturday’s qualifying sessions and Race 1. Temperatures on both Thursday and Friday reached over 90 degrees Fahrenheit; you can imagine the blistering heat of the track surface. Our cool suits and helmet blower got a workout keeping the cockpit from becoming a sauna.

I’d raced COTA many times prior to this weekend but had never driven the track in a GT3 machine. However, I had success at COTA in the past, so my personal expectations were high for my performance in the Acura NSX.

I haven’t had my best runs in my qualifying sessions so far this season, which isn’t like me. I’d always felt qualifying was one of my strengths but recently, I’ve just struggled laying down that vital one-lap flyer, for various reasons.

Rain threatened on the morning of qualifying but by the time of my session, the track started to dry off. We planned a two-lap qualifying run but I made a mistake on my fastest lap and ran over some wet curbing. As a result, we ended up at the way back end of the field. I wasn’t happy with myself but I had to refocus on the race less than six hours later.

Mario qualified second in class and seventh overall on a dry track, giving us a much better starting spot for our Acura NSX GT3 for Sunday.

Prior to our first race, I studied the competitors around me on the starting grid and plotted my plan of attack for the first few laps. The rest of the Pro class cars were in the overall top four, so I had a lot of ground to make up in my 45-minute stint.

After green flag flew, I popped out on the inside going into Turn 1. I felt pretty comfortable in that position but the cars beside me weren’t expecting me to be on their inside, so I got pushed even further in, went over the apex curb, and unintentionally made contact with another car.

As a result, we were required to serve a drive through penalty 20 minutes into the race after I’d made up five positions overall and was making ground on the field.

Photo: Chris Green/Racers Edge Motorsports

The penalty shuffled us to the back of the field again but a full course caution gave us the opportunity to catch up to the pack. Two Pro cars got tangled up in contact, which immediately put us into contention for the podium but we still needed to push on the restart to give Mario solid position after the driver change.

The FCY delayed the pit window, so Mario took the wheel of the No. 93 Harrison Contracting Acura NSX with less time in his stint than usual. After a quick pit stop by our crew, Mario rejoined the field in P3, not too far behind the leaders.

He had clean air driving solo on track and our competitors were side-by-side at the corners ahead, so we started to make up even more ground.

With less than 20 minutes to go, the in-class car ahead was black flagged for a mechanical issue, and we slotted into second position just before the checker.

Sometimes a race can be really, really good; sometimes, the entire 90 minutes is roller coaster of emotions. This one was a bit of both – we survived, we podiumed, and both were achievements. We had a strong Acura NSX throughout the race. We let the race come to us, avoided damage and prevented any more mistakes that would’ve hindered our podium finish. We made up some points lost from NOLA. But we also knew that we needed to step it up a notch in Race 2.

Our engineer kept an eye on the weather Sunday morning, through the fan walk, up to the second we needed to fit our race tires. Mario lined up seventh overall on the grid and as we got closer to the green flag, the rain started to dampen the track but not enough for rain tires.

Mario loves driving in the rain, so the conditions didn’t stop him from chasing down the lead car in the Pro class. A few laps later, he passed for P1 and immediately focused on building a gap to the field. Mario did an amazing job in his stint; he continued to get faster to give us a solid lead going into the pit window. At that point, he handed our Acura NSX GT3 over to me 3rd overall and leading in Pro.

The rain started falling on my first lap.

As a driver, we have to be prepared to drive in any possible track condition and constantly be aware of the potential for those circumstances to change throughout our stint. I had 40 minutes to the checker, and already steady rain was falling on half of the track. Every lap I had to analyze the best line on the track to not only continue to be fast but also to not hit wet curbs or lose any ground.

After our pit stop, we soon took the overall lead in our Harrison Contracting Acura NSX GT3 Evo 22 and still had a big gap to the field. But as the track started to dry up, we all started to pick up pace again- including my competitors.

My goal was to maintain a competitive pace to bring home the win and make no mistakes. Each lap, I could see the car behind me in my mirrors so I kept an eye on his pace and position. If I did my job well, we still had the gap and pace to finish the race in the lead – so that’s what I did.

Photo: Chris Green/Racers Edge Motorsports

For the first time this season, and in my career driving with Racers Edge Motorsports, we earned the overall win! Everyone on the Racers Edge crew was hanging on the wall when I took the checker. I literally thought Mario was going to fall on the track when I drove by, he was hanging off the fence so far!

As I drove into victory circle, the crew just piled off the Taylor Dunn, cheering and hugging. Mario grabbed me in a bear hug as soon as I climbed out of the car.

Our win was well earned but also just boosted our morale as a team, after our challenging weekend in NOLA and the hard work from the crew over the last few weeks. We’re back in the championship hunt and more hungry for that title than ever.

We also had a big group of Harrison Contracting Company guests joining us at COTA and between our victory and the overall racing action, the GT World Challenge America series provided some amazing entertainment.

This is the second overall win I’ve had with Acura and Honda Racing/HPD; first at the Indianapolis 8 Hour in 2021 and now, achieving that goal with my teammate and friend, Mario Farnbacher, and with my Racers Edge Motorsports family makes it even more special.

The entire Racers Edge Motorsports with WTRAndretti team have worked incredibly hard the last few months to tackle the challenges in both of our race programs.

They’ve worked long days and have traveled all over the country but because of their continued hard work and dedication, our No. 93 Harrison Contracting Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 continues to be one of the strongest cars in the field, in both series.

I’m honored to represent this team, this program, and our sponsors every time I step on a race track.

We head to Virginia International Raceway in three weeks; our Acura NSX GT3 was really strong at VIR last year. We are midway through the season and to stay in this championship fight… we need to win.

Challenge accepted.

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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