After a wonderful race in rural Virginia where Luis Rodriguez Jr. and I took our Rennsport One Porsche Cayman to our third ST win of the season, the traveling circus that is IMSA headed off to COTA for last weekend’s Lone Star Le Mans weekend. The contrasts between the two tracks couldn’t have been bigger, but Luis and I were gunning for the same result.
The weekend started off in downtown Austin where I met Luis Jr. and his father Luis Sr. for dinner. If you’ve never been to Austin, put it on your list. The people are a mix of old West cowboys, UT college hipsters, foodies, college football fans, and of course musicians. This world class city in the middle of the Texas plains. Pro tip: bring an extra liver.
Another great feature of Austin is the abundance of vegan food options. I haven’t eaten meat in 12 years and I have been vegan for the last five. I typically don’t have a lot of options but I took the Rodriguezs to a hot dog bar where I had a chili cheese dog and an Italian sausage, all vegan of course. It was going to be a good weekend.
At the track things got interesting in the first practice session. Our car was good and I was happy about how things were going but I got called for a track limit violation in Turn 10. I then got called again in Turn 20. What was going on?
Unlike tracks of the past, COTA has been designed to the latest FIA specs. Instead of paving a track in a field of grass they pave an area the size of a parking lot and paint two lines somewhere in the middle and call that the track.
As a result there is no deterrent for swinging a little wide at the exit of a corner. In fact, it’s an advantage. Even if a driver has every intention of trying to stay within the limits, a slight slide can put the car very close to going out of bounds. In the first session I believe every single car on the track was called at least once, many multiple times. We didn’t have this problem at VIR.
Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and the IMSA officials gave everyone the OK to use as much run off as they wanted at the corner exits. Despite a lot of discussion from fans, track limits were a non-issue for the rest of the weekend.
On race day we felt pretty confident in our car but it was clear that the Mazdas had a lot of speed as well. Our Porsche Cayman and the Mazda are pretty competitive with each other but we get around the track a little differently.
The Cayman has an advantage at the end of long straightaways but is 500 pounds heavier negating the advantage on short straights. The 500 pound lighter Mazda can corner better, especially at a place like COTA, and it is easier on its tires over a stint.
Luis did his usually stellar job at the start. He went from ninth to fifth in a matter of laps and passed some strong cars.
I got in in fifth and worked my way past some other Caymans and a Honda to find myself on the bumper of Stevan McAleer in his CJ Wilson Mazda. I knew I need to attack right away for the lead and then try to build a gap because he advantage would be his as the tires wore.
I was able to get by and take the lead but the get away part of my plan wasn’t working. Stevan was right on my bumper for the final 30 minutes of the race. I knew I could expect a challenge before the race was over.
Coming to take the white the Mazda used all the extra runoff at the exit of Turn 19 to get a good run inside me into Turn 20. I used the outside lane to give him racing room and thanks to the extra runoff there I was able to carry more speed onto the front stretch.
On the final lap Stevan was able to stick right on my bumper through the esses and set up a late brake pass into Turn 11. Seeing him coming I stayed wide, gave him the lead briefly, and tucked inside to get him back on the exit. Having a little extra speed onto the long straight meant I was able to keep him behind me until we got fast enough for our top end advantage to show up.
I had him beat into the autocross section where the track is so tight everyone runs single file and knew that Turn 20 would be his last chance. He took another good look inside me but again our Rennsport One Cayman was able to run the wide line fast enough to hold off the challenge.
It was another great win for us after a great battle. I’m so glad it wasn’t decided by the officials because one of us had a slide that led to a track limit violation.
Even though we are out of the title hunt, the season will be one I will remember for a long time thanks to great clean racing with great drivers like Eric Foss, Andrew Carbonell, Adam Isman, Remo Ruscitti, and Stevan McAleer.