A new year and everything is new again. Having the opportunity to join Acura Team Penske for the 2018 season has been an absolute dream come true for me.
Every driver dreams of doing two things: driving for Roger Penske and driving for a leading manufacturer.
This year I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot, and I have felt so lucky ever since getting the call up last year.
With that opportunity comes pressure because, in a situation where you are surrounded by the best engineers, mechanics, and team members in the business you are expected to perform.
There are no excuses in this game. We have all the tools and the expectation is to win every time out. This would be the first race weekend for Team Penske returning to sports car racing as well as the debut for the new Acura ARX-05 prototype.
Like usual, we showed up on Wednesday. After picking up my rental motorhome and getting parked at the track, I headed over to meet with the team and go over all our plans.
Normally that night is the last really good night of sleep we get so we all headed back to get some rest before the weekend got started. That was when things went south…
I woke up around midnight with chills and shivering all over, something was going wrong. I was going through my symptoms and thinking in my head that this could be the flu.
I texted the team at that point and emailed the IMSA docs to see if they could do anything for me. I went to the medical center as soon as they opened at 6:30 am Thursday morning and they confirmed to me that I got the flu and hooked me up with all of the medicine to get me better as quickly as possible.
The team told me not to come over and the goal from that point was to just get healthy in the next 48 hours to be ready to drive.
From that point on I didn’t leave the motorhome other than on Friday morning to do one lap, per the rules to be eligible for the race.
I was only able to text the guys about what was going on with the car and the progress they were making throughout practice. Then, qualifying came and it was a thriller.
After getting to drive with Helio through testing, I’ve learned a ton about him. One thing I have learned about him is there is only one speed, completely flat out and no lifting ever.
When it came to qualifying I knew I would be watching from the “quarantine motorhome” and he would be giving it a mammoth effort. I knew there would be zero left on the table on his lap.
Just after halfway through the session he did a mega lap and I thought he had the pole when he pitted with a few minutes to go.
I was an absolute shock when Renger van der Zande did a lap 0.007 seconds faster on his final flying lap as the session ended, leaving us in a second place spot to start the race.
Waking up on Saturday morning I felt great! I was ready to go, but I didn’t know if it was just excitement covering up my feelings or if I was really healthy. But it turned out, I was good to go and 100 percent healthy.
The only unknown from me was what the car actually felt like and getting the rhythm of the traffic and the race.
Helio started in the car and had a solid first stint running in the top 2 or 3 for his entire double stint. I followed Helio and right off the bat we lost a lap due to the door not latching correctly.
Graham got in the car and we fortunately got a yellow which led to us getting a lap back.
Over the next 16 hours we ran right up at the front and were legitimate contenders all night. The Acura was running like a Rolex watch, it was so much fun to drive that night, battling the whole time for the lead of the race.
The team was giving me a big rest to make sure I was 100 percent at the end of the race, so they ran Graham and Helio back and forth for almost nine hours that night. They were Ironmen!
I woke up after the best sleep I’d ever had in a Rolex 24, but sadly it was only to find out that we were 22 laps down due to an accident in the early hours of the morning with the 31 car.
From that point on we knew we didn’t have a shot to win the race but wanted to keep the pressure on to see if we could inherit some spots due to attrition.
We ran the final eight hours pushing hard and really ragging everything out of our brand new Acura and besides that one incident, the car itself never missed a beat and ran flawlessly for 24 hours.
That is an impressive debut and says so much about the preparation from Acura as well as all of the Team Penske guys. Everyone worked extremely hard getting us ready for this one.
Since November the guys have either been traveling to tests, building up the cars, building up spares, building pit equipment, working through pit stops, engineering tools and processes, and doing countless repetitions on other small details that have to be taken care of before one of these demanding events.
They never missed a step and were on point at every minute of the race. Thanks guys!
We finished up P9 and collected our points, but I think everyone felt like we had a true shot at a Rolex 24 win and it was a slightly missed opportunity.
In a driver or team member’s lifetime there are so few opportunities that you find yourself in the equipment capable of winning or where you find yourself fighting for the win at the end of the Rolex 24.
So when we have an event like this where we were contenders for so long and all of the pieces were in place, it’s a real shame that we didn’t come away with more because the guys really deserve it.
Next up we have the Sebring 12 hour, I think we are all very excited to get onto that one after the amazing potential shown by our new Acura ARX-05!!