Here we are. The 2019 Rolex 24 at Daytona has already passed us by and the start of IMSA’s 50th season is underway.
As quickly as it had arrived, the Rolex 24 is done and dusted for another 365 days, which seems like awhile from where we’re all sitting right now, but guaranteed that by this time in 2020 I’ll be saying the exact same thing.
Hopefully with a new watch…
Starting from the top, I’ve been fortunate to have a lot going on since the last time I reported to you all way back in November.
In this two-month span (feels much longer than that, I must say), I’ve been brought back onboard with VOLT Racing and Alan Brynjolfsson for the newly rebranded Michelin Pilot Challenge, except this time in a partnership with Park Place Motorsports in a beautiful new Porsche 718 Cayman GT4.
I’m happy to be back with Alan and VOLT with the addition of Park Place for the entire 2019 championship.
This is the kicker, and I still have a hard time believing it, but I’m proud to be back with Mike Shank and the Meyer Shank Racing team in the No. 86 Acura NSX GT3 Evo with Mario Farnbacher for the full 2019 WeatherTech GTD championship!
Six years of scrapping in IMSA’s support categories to finally be in the “big show” full time and I couldn’t be happier and more grateful for the opportunity.
However, the real work only begins now. Getting there is one thing, staying is a whole different story… and we’re here to not only stay, but also conquer.
Fast forwarding through the Roar, to my surprise (or horror, depending on your perspective), we ended the three day test at Daytona the quickest in both GS and GTD, proving the quality of new machinery as well as the effective, high level team work being portrayed by VOLT Racing and Meyer Shank.
The MSR team is largely unchanged although joining Mario and me in the No. 86 for the Rolex 24 would be the man, the myth, the legend himself; The Dinger, and Justin Marks who will join us for the remaining Michelin Endurance Cup events as well.
Before we even arrived at Daytona for the Rolex 24, the idea of winning ourselves a new watch was a shared thought between all of us at MSR, but ultimately not spoken about until we started with driver change practice on Wednesday afternoon.
At that point, the gravity of this event really started to take hold. Even despite not being THE fastest car in free practice, we were close enough to the mark where the thought of a new watch was not far fetched.
Although, we know there were 23 other GTD teams thinking exactly the same as us; so what did we have to do in order to set ourselves apart from them? Simple. Pay closer attention to detail – and we did just that.
The very same principle was applicable for Alan, the VOLT/Park Place team, and me for our four hour event on Friday.
This became even more apparent after qualifying on Thursday evening, where we would start 5th on the grid as the highest placed Cayman GT4. This race would have to be won on cunning strategy.
It was four hours of straight warfare on Friday with the VOLT Racing Cayman GT4.
I had run the starting stint where we maintained P3, Alan hopped in after me and had an extraordinary run with all of the other pro’s ending his stint in 8th, then it was again my turn to bring it home to the finish.
A unique strategy, to put it lightly, meant driving through the field on a few different occasions but the VOLT/Park Place Cayman was killer in traffic and we had no issues clawing our way back into contention.
Unfortunately, I was awarded a drive through penalty with 50 minutes remaining due to a jumped restart. It’s 100 percent on me, and took us out of 2nd position and ultimately a shot at victory.
The final run from 19th to 7th was a hell of a lot of fun, although disappointing in the end since we had the potential for a podium finish.
Whenever I’m home, I’m fortunate to train with some special people, and in the world of combat sports a phrase I often hear from these folks states “we don’t lose, we learn.”
So with no time to dwell on Friday’s mistakes, it was time to learn from them and move on.
I would be rolling off the grid for the 57th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the 3rd position and an opportunity to win which I did not want to squander.
I’m starting to realize how much the Rolex 24 can affect one’s sanity. For awhile there, I think the entire MSR squad could almost feel the cold steel of a new Rolex on their wrists, especially when we held the lead at various points throughout the night into the early hours of Sunday morning.
However, Mother Nature had other ideas and we took a pretty huge strategic gamble following the first weather stoppage which ultimately did not work out as hoped.
When the race restarted, to our surprise, we knew that only luck could get us a watch, which was a harsh reality to accept after almost 20 straight hours of competition.
There’s absolutely nothing more this team could have done. It was a damn near perfect race up to that point.
When looking at final results, a 7th place finish in GS and a 5th place finish in GTD may not necessarily scream promise or progress but it does give both these teams an excellent starting position in a very long championship season.
We also need to be reminded of the underlying story and circumstances that played into these final results. We know we have great cars, great teams around us, and plenty of speed. Our wins will come this year.
Thank you Alan Brynjolfsson, VOLT Lighting, Park Place Motorsports, Trim-Tex as well as Mike and the Meyer Shank Racing team, Acura, Honda HPD, La Salle Solutions, and my extraordinary co-drivers AJ, Mario, and Justin for their efforts all month.
It’s only the start of a great year with these two teams.