St. Pete marks the second round of the 2016 Pirelli World-Challenge and the first of two street circuits we will be doing this year.
Because this round is back to back with the previous round at COTA, there was no time to go home and I landed in St. Pete on Monday with the team.
Tuesday we had completely off as truck load-in wasn’t until Wednesday morning.
What seemed like a one time deal in Texas, has now turned into a bit of team tradition: shooting guns.
While my lead mechanic suggested we go skydiving, I thought it would be better to hedge my bets before race week and suggested we go indoor karting and to the gun range.
Indoor karting with people involved in motorsport is never the following: friendly or relaxed.
As soon as we arrived everyone started asking the employees which kart was fastest and offered bribes to get that kart.
The workers were quick to tell us that they were the best racers around and not to hesitate for any advice on how to drive.
This column is no place to celebrate, however, I did win and end up with fast lap despite many mechanics and engineers frustration.
Now logically, when one finishes karting and has shaking arms and adrenaline, they should head to the gun range.
Bentley Team Absolute is most likely one of the most culturally diverse teams in PWC. With my engineer from Portugal, data engineer from England, mechanics from the USA, France, China, and Thailand, many of them had not fully taken advantage of 2nd Amendment rights.
Now I am one of the first to advocate for gun control and higher security standards.
However, going to a gun range is one of the easiest ways to have instant fun. Almost all mechanics had never shot a gun so it was an enlightening afternoon.
Wednesday marked the first day of business, however, I had come down with a pretty bad illness.
During truck load in I only briefly visited the track in order to go over a few things with my engineer, but spent most of the day making sure I would be ready for track action on Thursday.
Thursday kicked off with a morning track walk. One reason I love St. Pete is that it is also the opening round of the Verizon Indy Car Series. A lot of my good friends drive in that series so the morning track walk was filled with nice high fives as they drove past on their Taylor Dunns while I walked.
I find it much easier to gather the necessary information by walking and really examining every reference and bump instead of riding on a cart where you may miss a few things.
Thursday afternoon had two free practice sessions for PWC. The first session was extremely dusty and low grip as we were the first series to enter the track since last year.
After working through a few set up changes we ended the session in sixth knowing how to improve the car for the second session which was in a short 45 minutes after the first.
However, as soon as we got back we realized we had a braking issue. We tried to change it in time for the next session, however, we decided to skip the session and properly prepare the car for qualifying.
Qualifying on Friday did not go our way. On my best lap I found that it was a bit hard to find extra room and that walls don’t like to move for you. The car was fine but my exit onto the front straight was slowed by my mistake. We ended the session P9.
Race 1 was surprisingly calm. If I were a betting man, I would have put a lot of money on having at least one caution during the race, however, we instead got 40 laps of green. We didn’t nail tire pressures and ended up slowing near the end.
That said, looking at peoples response on Twitter, fans seemed to really enjoy the battle I had with Ryan Eversley. We gave each other room but raced hard.
Race 2 was a bit of the opposite. We saw limited green flag running, but the changes we made to the car overnight made it come alive. We went from P14 to P7 in a few laps of racing and earned the Hard Charger award for most positions gained of any car.
My Bentley Continental GT3 was hooked up and I wish we could have had some more laps to try and get on the podium.
Ultimately we salvaged a weekend and kept the cars together. There has been a lot of turmoil at the front and we have consistently finished inside the top 10 so I think we are actually looking alright in terms of the championship.
Now I have two days off before hopping in a kart for the Florida Winter Tour. If there is an opportunity to be racing something, I’ll be in it!