VIR was supposed to be a nice, relaxing weekend at home. It turned out to be one of the busiest, most stressful weekends of my career.
The Prototype class was not scheduled to go to VIR this year, but I got a call the week before the race asking if I was available to fill in for Lawson Aschenbach (who was racing in Sonoma that weekend with World Challenge) at CKS Autosport in their Camaro Z/28.R, joining Eric Curran.
My main concern for the weekend was getting up to speed quickly in the car and adjusting my driving style from a high downforce prototype, to a big, heavy Camaro. Pratt & Miller has done a lot of work on this new Z/28.R, and I can say I was happily surprised when I got in it for the first time.
Thursday. We were quick right out of the box, being in the top-5 in all three sessions that we did on the test day. Coming from the DP which is usually quite solid through the high speed stuff with all the downforce, it was fun to get back in one of these cars and go bouncing across the curbs in the uphill esses.
Friday. Qualifying was almost canceled due to rain. We really wanted to qualify, we knew we had a good car capable of getting the pole, and if the grid was set my points, we would have been starting 8th or 9th. It dried up, and thankfully I didn’t mess it up, and we were able to get the pole quite comfortably.
Saturday morning. I get three text messages within about five minutes from Doug Fehan asking me to come down to their truck. When I walked in I saw the 3 car being torn apart by the crew, and a massive amount of damage to the left side.
At the time, we didn’t know all the details on Jan’s condition, just that he took a pretty good hit on the head. I was told to be ready just in case Jan wasn’t cleared to race.
Now for the Continental race. I didn’t really know what to expect. These races usually look pretty rough with guys bouncing off of each other. I was able to get a clean start and lead a few laps, but Lally was pushing pretty hard and got by early on. I wasn’t too concerned at that point; I was saving a bit of fuel and saving the tires in case it was a long green flag run.
We stayed out on the first yellow when a few other guys pitted. When we did pit, we didn’t think the other guys would be able to make it on just one more stop. Somehow the race went green the rest of the way, and we were cycled back to fifth by the end.
Not a bad result, but I think we had a winning car. Thanks to all CKS guys for having me for the weekend, I really enjoyed it.
As soon as our race finished I walked over to Corvette and they confirmed that I would be in the car for Sunday. I was absolutely gutted for Jan, as he would now be taken out of championship contention.
This was one of those situations that you see on TV and think that would be a crazy situation to be in, and now I was in it.
Thankfully I know all the guys really well, having been with them the past three years at Le Mans. I had at least driven the car before and knew all the controls.
To be completely honest, it was terrifying to hear. Having to get in the championship leading car, on race day, with no laps, in one of the most competitive GT classes in the world. No pressure.
There was a twenty minute warmup on Sunday morning for me to get it all figured out. Right before heading out, the guys told me they didn’t have any more spares after all the repairs, aka, don’t crash it.
The twenty minutes went by very fast. I was able to get a pretty good feel and had a clear final lap. I was happy to get a full clear lap at the end, so I would have a good lap of data to overlay with the other guys.
So that was it, now it was race time. I knew what my job was, stay in touch and get the car back to Antonio in one piece, so he can continue his fight for the championship.
I took it pretty easy on the start, that’s usually where the most can go wrong. I dropped back behind Gavin in the 4 car. Following him was a huge help, it sped up the learning process massively, and I was able to get right on the pace after following him. We went straight into fuel savings mode, and we were able to go 1-2 laps longer than most of the other guys.
When I got out, it was a big sense of relief. Unfortunately we didn’t have the pace to compete with the guys at the front, but Antonio was able to come home 7th and maintain his driver’s championship point’s lead.
The most amazing part of the weekend was during the autograph session. Corvette fans are truly something special.
They are so passionate about the program. So many of them thanked me for stepping up and helping the team when they were in need.
I was obviously happy to do it, but for them to show that level of appreciation really makes it a rewarding experience and makes you want to do a good job, for them.