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MANN: Watkins Glen Debrief

Pippa Mann files her latest Sportscar365 column after The Glen…

Photo: Jamey Price/Lamborghini

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Henry Ford

A few days after my first race weekend in the Super Trofeo North American series at COTA back at the start of May, I was sitting in my Dale Coyne Racing IndyCar, in a garage at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, doing a seat fit to get ready for this year’s Indy 500.

The first words out of my mouth as I climbed back inside the only type of racing car I have pretty much ever driven?

“I’m all laid down in here!”

This was greeted, as it should have been, with various degrees of eye-rolling and clipping around the ear from my Indy 500 crew.

However the words didn’t just pop out of my mouth (admittedly bypassing the filter I probably should have engaged) in jest – it was genuinely a surprise to me that after one race weekend as a GT driver that my “normal” environment would feel so different to me when I hopped back in.

Thankfully that feeling went away fairly quickly once I was back on track again, and we had a fairly good run this year at Indy.

Even more thankfully given the subject of this blog, once I jumped back into the Prestige Performance Lamborghini Paramus car at Watkins Glen, the seating position, vision, sight lines, etc, all also felt fairly “normal” again pretty quickly too.

In fact, I would go as far as saying that from lap 1 of this race weekend I felt as comfortable as I felt by the end of the race weekend at COTA. Progress!

However nothing in racing is ever that simple, and due to unforeseen circumstances I was suddenly solo, and without a teammate.

I wondered whether my learning curve might be about to come to a grinding halt just as it had started to gather the tiniest glimmer of moment, but thankfully I have some incredible teammates under the Prestige tent, and Dion Von Moltke agreed to partner up with me for this weekend.

Having a teammate like Dion agree to drive with you is amazing, however pairing up with someone that good while you’re still very much learning every time you drive is also a lot more pressure!

Here is someone who would be competing in Pro, competing for outright wins and podiums in this series, and he’s just agreed to share the car with someone who is still working to be competitive in Pro-Am. Gulp.

Luckily for me Dion is not only a great driver, he’s also a great guy. From not getting frustrated with me for not improving as much as I aimed to in qualifying on new tires, to helping me understand some of the things he does to make managing the weight of this type of car easier, to spending almost an hour working with me solely on my driver changes before our first race together so that I could get better, and more comfortable with that too, he was a huge help to my learning curve from the get-go.

Our first race was my best drive in the Super Trofeo car so far. Dion drove a fantastic first stint, and gave me great information when handing the car over.

Despite my nerves about getting the driver change right, even after all the extra practice, it went without a hitch, and I was belted, ready and waiting for plenty of time before I was sent at the end of our timed stop.

Once back on track my goals were pretty simple: “Don’t screw up!”, and “Do what you saw on the data.”

I managed all of the first one, and most of the second one, and thanks to Dion’s great work in his stint before I got the car we ended up 7th overall, and on the podium in our class! The last time I had the chance to spray champagne it was in Indy Lights in 2010… Apparently I have not forgotten how!

The next day we went over data from the race, and I narrowed in on a few more areas to improve, and we practiced more driver changes – this time from me to Dion.

For Race 2, I would be responsible for the first stint. My sole goal was to improve even more, and run fast enough, and strong enough to hand over the car to Dion in a position where we could try and repeat the performance of the previous day.

If you saw our race, you know what happened next…

Unfortunately I got trapped behind a couple of slower cars at the start of the race, and I quickly realized why it is so hard to pass in this series. Even though we have 620 horses to play with, the traction control can really help out drivers when they make a mistake if they know how to use it.

I was getting so much understeer in the dirty air – just like an open wheel car – but with the addition of the traction control I found it so hard to get a run coming off the corner, because even if I felt I was almost perfect I found I gained almost nothing.

Unable to have more horses, I decided to try and use the fact I was better on the brakes than the people I wanted to pass.

My first pass of the race was a big move up the inside, and it came off perfectly… My second pass of the race was a repeat of the same move, at the same corner, but this time the driver I was diving up the inside of turned into the corner instead of leaving me space, and we made contact.

I completed the pass, and then ran my best laps of the entire weekend, but the damage was already done – I had also earned myself and Dion a drive through penalty for avoidable contact.

Whenever something like this happens to you as a driver you always feel like you let yourself down, and your team down, but now I had let my teammate down too.

That was a whole new level of guilt, and unlike the little girl who used to race at the indoor kart track, and thought it was funny when she was placed in the sin-bin for over-aggressive driving, as an adult I was very unimpressed with myself when I handed the car over.

Thankfully the Prestige Performance and Wayne Taylor Racing crew are racers, and they get it. Even more thankfully for me personally, Dion is also a racer, and he got it too.

He would have had every right to have been mad at me, but I think he decided I was mad enough at myself for both of us, and he reminded me that as sports car teammates, we really do win, or lose, as a team together, in way that bonds you as drivers and friends so much more than ever happens in open wheel.

So that was my second chapter of my new adventure this season running in the Super Trofeo.

I have so many positive to take away, but right now I don’t know yet whether there will be a Chapter 3. Just as my penalty in Race 2 was part of racing, sadly this is part of racing too.

For now I’m hopeful that I will get to continue on this journey, but whatever happens next, I am so grateful for the opportunity I have had already this year, and to all of the people who have made it possible.

I’m loving the opportunity to remember how to road race one race weekend at a time, and I’m so thankful that this weekend was another race weekend where there was a race car with my name on it.

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