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KIMBER-SMITH: Rolex 24 Debrief

8Star’s Tom Kimber-Smith files his first Sportscar365 column…

Photo: John Dagys

Photo: John Dagys

Daytona is one of those races that everyone wants to do. This was my second attempt at the Rolex 24 and a race that I felt honored to be a part of. The new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship has taken some criticism since its announcement but it was great to finally see it kick off.

Since the test at the Roar, 8Star Motorsports has been working every single hour to get the car ready for one of the most grueling races it would ever face.
However, when we hit the first practice session we soon found out that all that hard work was put to no use as we had a differential problem.

It is not a nice feeling to be driving at top speed down the front straight and to suddenly hear an alarming bang come from the rear of the car. My first thought was a blown tire, but as I pulled the car off the track I could see that marshal frantically waving at me. He could see a small fire coming from the back of the car.

I jumped out quickly and managed to take the engine cover off of the back of the car to uncover a small fire from the driveshaft boot, which was easily solved with a little extinguishment.

The differential put us out for the remainder of the session, plus qualifying and then the night practice. So we could honestly say we really were on the back foot.

At this point, my teammates had little time in the car. Michael Marsal and myself had been in the Turner Motorsports BMW in the Continental Series, so we at least had driven the track during the day.

But there is a big difference in downforce between a Prototype Challenge car and a BMW M3, so we needed to get him time in the car. Rob Huff was at the Roar, but with another team, and Enzo Potolicchio had yet to turn any laps in 2014 and needed to shake off the cobwebs.

The plan for Friday practice was to at least Michael, Rob and Enzo some laps… Well, that was the plan.

Fifteen minutes into the session, Enzo came on the radio and said that he was put into the wall just after the kink on the infield. Now for those of you that don’t know, Enzo he is a bit of a joker but this was no joke!

The car was taken back to the garage where it was met by the 8Star guys. We could instantly see that this was not going to be a quick fix. We all soon realized that some of us would have to learn the car in the race. So we all prayed that we had a good enough setup and a balanced car for the race.

We started the race at the back of the field and I was lucky enough to take the first couple of stints. Having done many 24 hour races before I know that the race cant be won on the first lap or even first hour.

So the plan was to take it easy for the first two laps and let the field spread out before we make a move. That went out of the window by the first corner!

By the end of my double stint, we went from P67 to P18 and 4th in class. The car was not at its best and the balance was slightly off but we could run the same pace as the leading cars.

Michael was in next and this was his first opportunity to get to grips with the car. He was soon running a competitive pace and looked comfortable in the car. As we cycled through the drivers, Enzo then Rob, we found ourselves in the top three of the class.

We all hit our marks and everybody did their job, which is all you can ask for. The car ran pretty faultlessly stint after stint and by the time we came into the last quarter of the race we still found ourselves in the top three.

You could see everybody get a second wind at this point and we all wanted that win. Enzo, Michael and Rob just kept running fast stints, which brought us into contention to race against a familiar team to me, CORE autosport.

It was decided that I was going to take the last couple of stints in order to bring the car home and hopefully take the challenge to CORE and good friend Colin Braun.

But just before I was about to get into the car Rob reported that the steering felt strange. He said it wouldn’t turn right comfortably. This is not really what you wanted to hear before you’re about to get into a car and drive its wheels off!

After my first lap, I literally thought that the wheels were going to come off. I instantly felt the same issue as Rob and I was just thankful that it was an issue turning right not left. That would have made the banking quite interesting on the banking.

I reported to the team that I was comfortable driving the car but wasn’t sure how long it would last with this steering issue. So we all decided that its best to finish 2nd than not at all.

I was gutted that we could not take the battle to CORE in the last hour but I was very proud of all the hard work that the 8Star guys had put in.

My teammates had not put a foot wrong and we ran a pretty faultless race. Considering the way we started the event it was a special way to finish on the podium. It’s great points for the championship but there’s a long way to go still.

Sebring is just round the corner and I know that we are all excited about getting there.

The series is doing a great job and it’s nice to finally see it happening. There are still issues to be resolved such as the BoP between cars and classes but like the saying, Rome was not built in a day!

Tom Kimber-Smith (@TKS77) is a three-time Le Mans class winner and 2011 European Le Mans Series champion, currently driving for 8Star Motorsports in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and Turner Motorsport in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.

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