Coming into Mid-Ohio, we were hanging onto a narrow margin over Mazda and the No. 5 Cadillac. This year has seen limited car counts in DPi, but the level of the cars competing is incredibly high.
Any car can win on any given weekend. So, although last weekend’s round in Mid-Ohio had historically been a strong race for Acura, we knew it would be very difficult.
It was the first sprint weekend of the year and a good opportunity to set the tone for Filipe, WTR and me as far as how we would work together for the bulk of the season this year.
The weekend was limited to only two short practice sessions before qualifying.
The whole team worked great together and we made lots of progress through the sessions. It was even a good opportunity to get some practice for our new front tire changer, Graham.
Winning sprint races and winning endurance races take very different disciplines.
Qualifying becomes ultimately important in these short races and a primary focus is placed on track position and getting the smallest details right.
With how important qualifying was going to be this weekend, we knew Filipe would get the most out of the car to put the car at the front of the grid for the 2 hour and 40-minute sprint race.
Mid-Ohio has a very low grip track surface and qualifying can be so tricky to get the most out of the car at the right time.
As Filipe said, “In Europe qualifying is like one knockout punch, but in America it’s multiple rounds of big hits.” Meaning, instead of just having one big lap, in America the tire peak lasts a bit longer and qualifying takes multiple quick laps to get the most out of the car, to build the amount of temperature and pressure to reach the tire’s peak.
Filipe did an awesome job in qualifying, putting us second on the grid behind the No. 55 Mazda, our main championship rival. The margin was less than a tenth of a second and it really set the tone for how intense the race was going to be.
The Mazda looked the strongest on the outright pace, the No. 31 Cadillac looked strong on long runs, and we looked somewhere in the middle. It was going to be an intense fight.
Filipe’s practice starts in morning warm up paid off. He overcame an early jump at the start to hold the second spot in Turn 1.
The Mazda checked out early, but it was a major fight for second through fifth. Filipe held off some cars on new tires for the first stint and pulled a little gap on his second stint.
However, the 31 went off strategy stopped early to get in some clear track and came out ahead. We just needed to stay within ten seconds to beat them out of the pits on the last stop.
So the run down was the No. 55 Mazda followed by the 31 Cadillac with us about 11 seconds behind.
About five or six laps after Filipe handed the car over to me, a GTD car was stuck in the traffic coming out of the final corner.
The 31 car snuck into pit lane just before the yellow, but the pits closed before we could get in. All of the cars needed to pit which meant the 31 would cycle to the lead with just a splash under the yellow.
During the stop, it was only a 12-or-so second fill and we opted to take rear tires only.
The guys did an amazing job to beat the Mazda out of pit lane to put us back up to P2. Our new tire changer, Graham had to change the outside rear which we hadn’t gotten to practice either!
Following the restart, Nasr in the 31 was really struggling with pickup on the tires and we were able to capitalize at the end of the back straight and take the lead.
But now the work would start and all of the leaders instantly had to go into a fuel saving mode to make it to the end.
The difficult part about leading and saving fuel is that your competitors can attack you when they choose to and they can determine when they want to save, while you are a bit at their mercy.
This made life pretty stressful, in that we could not build too big of a gap before getting to traffic. Once getting to traffic, he was always full attack and it was quite a dogfight.
Once we started getting closer to the end, the main variable was whether we would have to do an extra lap or not, which would mean saving even more fuel or slowing down six more seconds and backing right into the 31 car.
We ended up doing the extra lap… by five seconds which put a lot of people in trouble on fuel.
With three laps to go, Nasr put in a big attack. When he got to me I was still saving fuel and I was a bit vulnerable trying to make it on fuel. The fuel reserve light came on with three laps to go!
On the final lap, we caught the LMP3 leader and a GTD car, he made one last effort to overtake but we managed to hold on!
It was a fantastic win for the team. Every team member executed brilliantly and made all of the right decisions.
For Filipe and I we are working together great and have set a great tone for the rest of our season together.
Next up is Belle Isle, a very tough and bumpy street course.