Taking the green flag at the 61st Rolex 24 was a significantly more intense experience than I envisioned during my six years trying to get there, but I’m also not sure anything could have prepared me for the pressure.
Just when I thought I was getting the hang of this thing called motorsports, all the sudden, I found myself hurled into the beautifully chaotic swarm of a shark pit on the 31-degree high banking of Daytona International Speedway, circling at 175 miles per hour with the world’s most talented drivers.
The ten days leading up to the race were a whirlwind of continuous media appearances, photo shoots, opportunities to meet the press, and autograph sessions, all to share the enthusiasm around the JG Wentworth Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 program with Katherine Legge and me, as well as Marc Miller and Mario Farnbacher for the 24.
Lest we forget, I was also tasked with learning the behaviors of an entirely new level of automotive machinery for me during the course of a few short days.
Fortunately, I had raced the sports car course layout at Daytona on three previous occasions and felt familiar with the track. Still, my experience in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge had always been competing in the faster class and piloting a car for two hours at most in a race.
Now, in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship with a staggering field of 61 cars, I was driving in the slowest of five classes and preparing for a longer individual minimum drive time than any race I had ever been in.
The intensity of constant overtaking traffic was undoubtedly the most challenging aspect of adapting to this higher-stakes environment, especially in the early sessions of the Roar, where I initially felt a bit like a minnow.
But it eventually turned out to be like any other new situation in life. Sometimes we must push ourselves into uncomfortable waters to realize we can confidently fend for ourselves.
The decision within Gradient Racing was that I would start the race, taking over my teammate’s qualifying position on the fourth row of the GT field.
It seemed gutsy because this meant I would make the run down to the first corner alongside the apex predators of the sport, but I also felt emboldened by the team’s confidence in me.
The build-up of the driver introductions and fan walk had me jittery, but when the time came, I put my helmet on and almost immediately went into a euphorically clear headspace.
In just one lap, I grasped the magnitude of the spectacular talent around me. Rather frustratingly, I was swallowed up amidst my competitor’s experience pushing aggressively on tires that weren’t up to pressure.
I quickly switched my focus towards settling in and protecting the car’s long-term “raceability” for my co-drivers to fight later in the race. The night was arduous and multiple double stints that stayed green began taking their toll on my previous injuries.
Regardless, there is nothing quite as exhilarating as being three-wide in the braking zone for the bus stop under the cloak of darkness and I’m so grateful to have finally felt this.
Every January, the most formidable sports car competitors descend on Florida, almost all of whom have migrated vast distances, looking to feed on the ambition of the racing ecosystem.
Every driver has their share of scars from years of dedication to battling for their craft and is looking to leave a mark on one of the most prestigious races in the world.
Respect each other’s prowess, coexist, stay predictable, and make calm yet calculated decisions to hunt for the ultimate prize at the end of 24 hours – a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona.