While making travel arrangements weeks in advance before an IMSA event, I always plan on staying for the main show of the weekend, the WeatherTech Championship, in order to kiss babies, shake hands, and make hay while the sun is still shining.
At the end of the day “out of sight, out of mind” could not be more true in the world of motorsport.
If you’re a driver like me looking to take the next step forward in their career, it is necessary to attend and find a way to be actively involved in those big races even though you may not be competing in them.
The dream of every driver, on the outside looking in, is to one day get that last-second call up to drive in the WeatherTech Championship, and I was fortunate enough for that dream to become a reality this weekend at VIR.
First thing’s first though; this was already shaping up to be a busy weekend for me between the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and Lamborghini Super Trofeo.
Being within reach of winning both championships made for a bit more added pressure, especially after falling to second position in the GS championship standings following a very bizarre race at Road America two weeks ago.
I cannot say that I focus on one championship over the other, really it’s a game where one must try and find a way to balance the two.
I’m lucky in the sense that I have the tremendous opportunity to work with great teams and co-drivers across the board. They’re really the ones who make it possible for me to plug-in and go.
Generally Thursday’s promoter test days (when we have the opportunity to run them) are the busiest, and to me, the most vital.
Showing up to official practice and qualifying with an already strong car underneath you is everything. Starting on the back-foot rarely ends well for anybody, and when championships are on the line, desperation ensues.
At Bodymotion Racing, we had a strong start to our Thursday afternoon testing but it soon turned to head scratching, as we knew we had a pretty critical suspension issue with our car, leaving Cameron with almost no laps.
Friday was really the day that my whole weekend got “flipped-turned upside down” in the words of Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff… all for the good though.
The Bodymotion Racing crew had figured out what had happened to our car and got it resolved quickly before our mid-morning CTSC official Practice 1. Their efforts were not in vain, as we quickly set a good string of laps that put us ahead of our competitors for the remainder of the session.
The main job now was to get Cam behind the wheel and acclimated to a track that he had been looking forward to driving since the end of our race weekend last year.
Super Trofeo, on the other hand, was looking very strong as our engineer David Wagener, Riccardo, and myself were really firing on all cylinders this weekend. We made some significant changes to our car during testing on Thursday and the gamble had paid off. Now all focus could be set on Riccardo learning the very difficult VIR circuit.
Somewhere in between all of this, I had missed a few texts from our Wayne Taylor Racing team manager, Travis Houge, urging me to contact him or Wayne immediately.
My mind immediately shifted to “Oh God, they’re getting rid of me” mode when suddenly I met up with Travis at the WTR tent and he promptly told me to start walking. He gave me a quick brief on why he and Wayne needed to get in touch with me, and to be honest I really couldn’t believe it.
Next thing I know, I find myself in front of a panel made up of Ben Keating, Jeroen Bleekemolen, and Bill Riley… almost felt like an episode of Shark Tank!
This was really the first time I had ever met and spoken to any of them. I was shocked to hear of Ben’s situation and potential decision to leave the track, although understandable, because Hurricane Harvey had not yet made landfall in Texas.
Basically, if Ben were to head home in anticipation of the impending storm, he needed a replacement and I was recommended to be fit for the job. I was floored, but hope I didn’t show it too much!
About an hour later I was notified by Bill that Ben had unfortunately headed home and I was to be at the Riley Motorsports trailer by 3:30 p.m. to prepare and be briefed on the general controls of the car for a 4 p.m. practice session. Game on.
There honestly was not any time to think about how to manage my focus when running in three separate, somewhat high pressure situations, which I think helped in hindsight.
My first laps in the Mercedes-AMG GT3 went off without a hitch and again, I was blessed to be given the opportunity to work with such a great team of people at Riley Motorsports.
It was clear that my job this weekend was to not set lap records. Rather, it was to keep the car on the road, pointed straight, and give it to Jeroen without a scratch. If we went fast in the process, then awesome, but that was not the main focus.
Things seemed to calm down on Saturday and Sunday, as schedules were a bit more spaced out now. Saturday morning started off strong with another WeatherTech practice session, followed by Super Trofeo qualifying, where Riccardo and I were able to pull off pole position for both races! Awesome effort by the Prestige Performance team.
Later on that afternoon was arguably the most important race of the weekend, our two-hour long CTSC race, where Bodymotion Racing, Cam, and I would have the opportunity to get ourselves back up in the lead of the GS championship.
Cam had qualified P9 on Friday evening but he, as always, made up positions during his stint and handed me the car in a fantastic position. Really I believe it was his best race-drive yet.
This is where things started deteriorating, as we had a developing communication problem between the pit-box and the No. 12 car towards the end of Cam’s stint.
That issue continued to develop to the point where under the first full course yellow of the race, being unaware of our track position and having no communication with our pit-box, we had failed to take advantage of the lap down wave-by procedure and essentially went one lap down without even knowing it.
That was it, for the rest of the race we tried playing catch up but it was to no avail.
We would finish a dismal P12 after having such high hopes. We are now 20 points out of the championship lead with two races remaining. It is still possible and we will still sure as hell try to win it, but it will be a tall order.
With no time to dwell on the continued run of horrid luck we have seen with the No. 12 Bodymotion Racing Porsche Cayman, it was straight back to the Super Trofeo race on Saturday evening and Race Two on Sunday morning.
Again, the Prestige Performance/WTR team, Riccardo, and myself had very high hopes following our qualifying performance. Race 1 was off to a good start, but a pit lane speeding penalty had earned us a drive-through penalty just before our pit stop and driver change.
We had a sizable gap prior to pitting, so taking the drive through and pushing like hell for 20 minutes made for a more exciting situation than I believe any of us really wanted. I had caught up to the leaders with roughly two laps remaining, was informed of a situation where the leading car had a penalty, and was wisely advised to think about the championship.
That’s exactly what we did, and following post race time penalties, we were awarded the overall and Pro class win.
Race 2 was my turn to start and we got a solid initial start, but then heading down to turn three it was clear that I had a left rear tire starting to go down.
Finally the cornering load of turn three shredded the thing apart. That was tough, since now we had no chance at a win and had to still push hard and try to minimize the damage done to our Pro class championship lead.
Riccardo and I battled hard for 50 minutes and ended up P2 in class, P6 overall. Not bad for almost going a full lap down after lap one.
Again, no time to dwell on what could have been, so it was full steam ahead on how to properly execute what Bill Riley, Ben, and Jeroen needed me to do behind the wheel of the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GTD class of the WeatherTech Championship.
Jeroen would be starting a solid P4, I would hop in for a full fuel stint right in the middle, and then Jeroen would bring the thing home for the final stint. Pretty straightforward.
Physically, I was fine. Mentally, I was exhausted. This was a weekend where I had really experienced the highs and lows of motorsport all within 36 hours, and I was running off pure adrenaline and coffee, lots and lots of coffee.
But again, no time to worry about it now as it was show time for arguably the best opportunity of my entire racing career. I wanted to and needed to deliver for Jeroen, for Bill, but most importantly, for Ben Keating.
The two hour and 40-minute race came and went just like that. My stint wasn’t flawless by any means, but I felt that I had completed my job to the best of my abilities and had done exactly what I was asked to do.
When Jeroen crossed the line in P3 at the end, I damn near cried; I could not believe it. We were on the podium in my first ever IMSA Weathertech GTD race but most importantly, I was relieved that it had all went according to plan.
This has seriously been the most incredible last few days of the 21 years I have spent on planet Earth.
Maybe it goes to show how much I really don’t do outside of the motorsport world? I don’t know. All I do know is that I have some of the greatest groups of people I have ever met supporting me and my dream.
Thank you to Cameron Cassels, Bodymotion Racing, Trim-Tex Drywall Products, Wayne Taylor, Wayne Taylor Racing, Prestige Performance, Riccardo Agostini, Bill Riley, Riley Motorsports, Jeroen Bleekmolen, and Ben Keating.
Just want to mention that my thoughts and prayers are with all who have been affected by Hurricane Harvey. Mother Nature shows no mercy at times.
It’s been a hell of a ride, but now I need a beer and some sleep! Until next time…