To me, every win, podium, or even race finish will be hard fought no matter what because we will always be going for the win.
This-four hour Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race at Daytona was amongst the hardest fought races that I have ever competed in. If it was one thing above all else though, it was simply a hell of a lot of fun!
After the Roar Before the 24, Cameron Cassels, Bodymotion Racing, and I all knew we had quite a lot of work that needed to be done in order to be competitive once we returned to Daytona for our first race of 2017.
Although we were very confident in our Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport that we had already raced for a year, there were still some questions about how we would perform against some of the beautiful, brand new SRO GT4 machinery that were making their debut in GS competition.
When it finally came time to practice on Thursday morning, we were quite surprised to find ourselves at the top of the time sheets in our morning session.
All of us at Bodymotion Racing knew that now more than ever it was not about setting that one quick lap; rather, the name of the game here was to have a strong car at the end of a proper four hour endurance event.
Throughout the rest of the day we shifted our focus to A) getting Cameron more comfortable in a car that was going to lose its rear tire at the end of a stint, and B) figuring out how we were not going to lose our rear tire at the end of a stint! We were also dealing with a pretty big unknown considering all GS teams were using a brand new spec Continental tire.
You know, unfortunately you hear a fair amount of folks around the paddock, some that are not even drivers, mentioning some negative comments about the tire that Continental puts out on the racetrack.
In my experience in the series, they have been nothing but consistent and reliable. Think of it this way – Continental is tasked with an extremely unique challenge in the sense that they have to create a tire that works on a multitude of different cars and racetracks.
How the hell they can engineer a tire that is reliable, gives good feel and feedback to the driver, yet can be fitted on a little Porsche Cayman GT4 or a car as brutal as a Ford Mustang GT4 is really very impressive.
Hats off to the guys and gals at Continental who make it happen.
Improvements made pre-qualifying were still not quite what we needed to win Friday’s four-hour enduro and the decision was made to run the pre-race warm-up early Friday morning.
Honestly, I felt more weight on my shoulders going into that warmup than I did going into the race! So many times have we seen cars get torn up to the point where they are forced to withdraw from the race by really pointless incidents in the Daytona morning warm-up.
I was concerned, but luckily made it through… Then came the next challenge as we made a swap last minute as to who would be starting the car, forcing us to the very back of the GS grid.
Again, nerves were quite high as we were surrounded by drivers with whom I have never shared a racetrack with, so there were simply a lot of unknowns.
Fortunately we made a great start and opening stint, and I was able to hand the car off to Cameron from P2. From then on, the man himself drove out of his damn mind!
I am very proud to see the progress Cam has made in less than 12 months, as he never fell outside of the top-ten and even lead the field on a restart. Lots of pressure on a guy who has not been road racing for very long.
With roughly two hours remaining, it was my turn to hop back in the car and finish off the race. I knew it was going to be a fight as many teams were on similar strategies and we had some really, really fast cars to work through.
Over the next two stints in the car and the final two pitstops, we had battled our way back to the lead… then the fun began. A short full course caution with less than ten minutes to go in the race meant a sprint to the finish with a tired car and a winner-take-all scenario.
I was confident in what we had underneath me, as this is the exact scenario we had worked on in practice.
Patience on the restart, and two clean, mistake free laps and we were fortunate to find ourselves in victory lane at Daytona!
A first for me personally on three attempts and coming close twice, which made this very special and a hell of a way to start Bodymotion’s 2017 campaign.
In between all of the excitement with our GS program, I was also very fortunate to be teamed up with Johnny Mowlem, Adam Merzon, David Cheng, and Tom Papadopolous in the BAR1 Motorsports Prototype Challenge car.
These are guys who all have some experience in prototypes, so there was certainly a lot for me to learn coming from the GT side of things. Luckily, past open wheel experience played a huge roll in getting acclimated to this style of car as there was very little time to do so on the racetrack.
My first ever stint in a Rolex 24 came just before the skies opened up, from about 7-9pm Saturday night. I thought that was a fun one but I got back in the car about 1 a.m. when the rain was really starting to pick up and I did not get out until about 3:30 a.m… Yes it was cold, very cold, but probably about the most fun I have ever had in a racecar.
Seriously, between all of the spray, traffic, the horrible need to use the bathroom, no feeling in my hands or feet, and the constant thought that you were going to end up in the fence at any moment, it was a great stint since the No. 26 Case-It, BAR1 PC was making up quite some time to the leaders!
Unfortunately all of that fun quickly came to an end when we had an ECU that shorted due to the amount of water, and that, for the most part decided our race. That issue, coupled with a pesky fuel pick up problem, haunted us since the very start of the race.
It was disappointing because we thought that as long as we kept the car on the “island”, pointed straight, that we would have a shot at getting one of those beautiful Rolex Daytona watches, all while giving Johnny Mowlem a proper send off in his final professional race.
That Cinderella ending never came but the experience was still surreal as I believe most drivers’ first Rolex 24 would be. Nonetheless, capping the weekend off with a second place finish in LMPC certainly is not a bad thing!
All of that cold rain has now finally caught up to me as I sit home, typing this with a pretty gnarly flu.
It’s amazing how long adrenaline can keep you going but it all comes crashing down at some point or another. Either way, if a flu is the worst thing I walk away from the Rolex 24 with, I will take it every time!
A huge thank you to all who made such a fantastic weekend possible; Bodymotion Racing, Cameron Cassels, Brian Alder and his entire BAR1 Motorsports team, Adam Merzon and Case-It, and Trim-Tex Drywall Products. See you all in Sebring.