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MANN: COTA Debrief

Pippa Mann files her first Sportscar365 column following Super Trofeo debut…

Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

“The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” Mark Twain.

Before this weekend at Circuit of The Americas, the last time I got to race on a road course, and turn right in anger in a race car on a race weekend (outside of those lovely moments of oval “LOOSE” of course) was five years ago in a one-off appearance when the Auto GP open wheel series visited the U.S., and I was a guest driver for one race weekend.

The last time I got to road race for a season, with the opportunity to get to know a team, and a car, and to grow and improve was in Indy Lights in 2010.

The last time I was tasked with learning a new race circuit with the limited running on a race weekend was in my first year in the U.S. in 2009.  In racing driver terms, these are not insignificant gaps of time…

A Lamborghini Super Trofeo car is a fairly different car from an IndyCar, an Auto GP car, an Indy Lights car, or any other open wheel car I have driven.

Yes, it has four wheels, a steering wheel, an amazing array of buttons that can prove downright dizzying to the uninitiated, and yes it is a racing car. But there the similarities sort of end.

In an open wheel car I can see the tops of wheels, I sit in the middle, it’s light and agile, and it has downforce that holds me into the race track in the fast corners.

In a Super Trofeo car I sit on the left, and the vision through the windshield in that car feels almost like looking through a tunnel – I can’t see my wheels at all. I have lots of power, which I like, and great brakes, which I like a lot too, but it’s this big, heavy car compared to what I’m used to, and the weight moves, and rolls, and the damping makes the whole car react differently over bumps and through compressions.

In my IndyCar, I am strapped tightly into a form-fitting seat by my crew, and I have time to sit, and reflect before my engines fire.

Here, I need to fit into the same seat as my teammate, and learn how to do fast driver changes, and be ready to go as soon as possible in the car. Much to the amusement of my crew, and my co-driver, even learning how to strap myself into this type of car is new to me.

Add in the technical, challenging and twisty 20 turns that make up a single COTA lap, limited seat time before the weekend, limited seat time during the weekend with relatively short on track sessions, and splitting the seat time available with my new teammate Jackie Heinricher, and I knew coming into this weekend that it was going to be challenge.

I thought I was ready for it, and had a good read on how big the challenge would be. Right up until the moment seven laps into my first run I was called to pit lane.

With 2 minute 10 second lap times, and a 40-minute session, it was already time to do a driver change, and hand the No. 57 Prestige Performance Lamborghini Paramus race car over to my teammate Jackie. No adjustment of pressures, and a moment to think, and another run to keep learning the track.

When you’re sharing a car with someone, you have to share the track time, and we were already halfway through the session. That was the moment when I suddenly realized I had underestimated just how tough this was going to be.

After one more 7-8 lap run in the car in the afternoon on Thursday, I did manage to qualify us 14th out of 22 Super Trofeo cars for Race 1 on Friday morning, and by Saturday morning during my stint as our closer in Race 2, I really started to feel like I was beginning to not only understand the race track, but more importantly that I was beginning to start understanding the car.

As the race wore on, and the power going through the rear tires meant they were going away and my lap times should have started to get slower and slower, but as my understanding started to grow, little by little, the times kept getting faster.

My fastest lap of the race was the one where I took the checkered flag, the gap to the times I am aiming for coming down lap by lap.

At that moment all I wanted to do was to bolt on another set of new tires, and to go qualify the car again to see how fast I could go now, but sadly, racing doesn’t work that way.

After the checkered flag, the circus packs up, and moves on to the next destination.

The good news is our next destination is Watkins Glen, a race track I have been to before and like, and my knowledge of this new car is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was coming into my first race weekend.

I still have a huge amount to learn about this type of car, and this type of racing, and my graph won’t be linear – just like everything else in life, and in racing, there will be ups and downs, but this weekend thanks to Wayne Taylor Racing, Prestige Performance, Lamborghini Paramus and Jackie Heinricher I got my beginning.

Chapter 1 of this new adventure is in the books, and I can’t wait to see where Chapter 2 takes me next.

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