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MANN: Monterey Debrief

Pippa Mann files her latest Sportscar365 column after Monterey…

Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

When Shea Holbrook and I paired up to share a car and drive together for the first time at Road America, the experience left us both wanting more.

It was something we had wanted to do for a long time and this was one of those rare occasions where the reality was even better than the dream. We both agreed it didn’t feel like a one-off, it felt like a beginning.

As two racers who try to raise our own sponsorship to race, we didn’t simply leave the race track and hope this would happen. Instead we left the race track with determination, a purpose, and a direction on how we thought we could get this done.

I know it seems like an odd combination – a burger company and a campaign to drive organ, eye and tissue donation awareness and registration amongst race fans.

However BUBBA burger is not only the most heart healthy option in the frozen burger aisle, but they also do countless events to support causes close to their hearts. With the Driven2SaveLives campaign being a cause so close to my heart, together we started to find connections and synergy.

The idea to bring the campaign to the West Coast, and to the IMSA fan base with BUBBA burger’s support was born.

A few days before the deal was publicly announced I drove up to Kokomo Speedway to find Tim Clauson, Bryan’s father, to share our plan with him in person. I definitely got Kokomo dirt in my eye…

At the race track itself, I took a moment to place my hand on the logo on our Prestige Performance Center Wayne Taylor Racing Lamborghini Super Trofeo car, and then it was time for me to get my head back into the game of being a racing driver.

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was another completely new race track for me. I had obviously heard about the famed corkscrew, have seen the famous Zanardi pass, have watched on board footage, and I spent time at RaceCraft1 trying to learn the track on a sim before I arrived in person.

However nothing could prepare me for the elevation changes in real life, and for the fact that the track literally sits on the side of a small mountain! People can tell you these things, but sometimes you just have to see them in person!

Luckily for me, Shea raced at the track several times before, however given her front wheel drive touring car is nearly as far away from one of these cars as an open wheel oval car is, we were both very glad to be able to take part in the promoter test.

For the first time in my new roof racing adventure, I was finally starting to get comfortable with getting up to speed in the car as quickly as I should be able to in the sessions, and after our final practice before qualifying on Friday, I had just reset our fastest delta, so it was decided I would get the chance to qualify first.

My new found ability to get up to speed in the appropriate time would have to stick, or I would be wasting our tires. No pressure then!

Happily I’m able to tell you I made it work, I lowered our best lap time by another second, and I did it in my allotted four laps, then parked to save the tires.

Several drivers stayed out longer, and with more laps I was shuffled down the order to 15th overall, but we knew that those drivers would be using up their tires, and would be slower in second qualifying.

I think Shea was as nervous as I was before my run, but she took a deep breath, got in, and I have to say, she rocked it. She set our best lap time of the weekend so far again, and she qualified us 9th overall for the second race! That evening we were two happy racers!

The start of Race 1 was chaos. I avoided all of it, but not without a few heart-stopping moments. Then it all settled down for a few laps, and then it went crazy again.

Cars dropping wheels sent up huge plumes of dust and sand you couldn’t see through, dragging dirt back onto the racing line as they recovered. Someone had a coolant issue, and the final turn, first and second turns all became ridiculously treacherous.

The second lap running through this section one of the drivers mis-calculated how bad the lack of grip would be, and we went under full course caution.

Things did not settle down much after the restart, but I did pick up a couple of places, and then it was time to hand the car over to Shea.

Just as in qualifying, if I ran well, she starred. A fast out lap, some awesome laps in clean air, a couple of great on track passes, and she was inside the top ten, on the podium in our class, and hunting down the next car.

Then with ten minutes to go, our entire side of the timing stand cussed loudly, and was chastised by the team manager for language. An unforeseen mechanical issue had taken us out of the race.

As a race car driver you quickly learn that you have to focus on the positives and move forwards.

While we were gutted with the result, our performance had us on target to achieve the realistic goals we set ourselves of running in the top 10 overall, and getting onto the podium in our class. 

We also had to pick ourselves up and focus forwards because shortly after our race we had an autograph session to attend.

One of the goals of the Driven2SaveLives campaign is to engage and connect with race fans, so Shea and I organized an autograph session sponsored by BUBBA burger at the Donor Network West booth at the race track.

Fans could come and meet us, get signed cards, caps, BUBBA burger swag, find out more about donation and transplantation, and enter to win my race worn gloves from the weekend if they were already organ donors, or if they signed up on site.

We had an incredible turn-out of race fans, and our one hour event stretched to nearly 90 minutes.

On Sunday it was Shea’s turn to start the race, and this time the start was clean.

However, she got stuck behind a slower car and was trapped there nearly her entire stint. Finally he took his pit stop before she did, and she laid down the fastest laps she could before handing the car over to me.

We had our best driver change yet, and our pit strategy put me back on track right behind the car we were racing for the 10th overall, and just one car behind the third place driver in our class.

I pushed like crazy, closing down the gap lap after lap, but then seeing it fluctuate again as we went through lapped traffic.

Then with just five laps to go, we paid the price for all the pushing in both our stints, and I simply ran out of tires and grip. I spent the last few laps of the race just hanging on, trying to make it home, and in the end we finished 12th overall, and 4th in our class – that top 10 result and podium still just out of reach.

Immediately after the race we were both frustrated, and, once again, gutted. But we win as a team, and lose as team, and we both knew we had both done the best jobs we possibly could in what turned out to be a second race in extremely difficult conditions.

As the dust startled to settle, we also realized that being this disappointed with your best race result so far as pair is not a bad thing… It simply means that we’ve improved so much in such a short space of time working together, that we’re already aiming higher.

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