This weekend started off my first season as a Pirelli World Challenge GT class driver racing a GT3-spec Porsche, and what a way to begin.
PWC has truly become a destination for the fastest drivers, teams, and manufacturers in the world. After testing last week for the first time in the Euroworld Motorsports/GMG Porsche 911 GT3 R, I was very excited to come to the streets of St. Pete.
This course and I have had a rocky past, I’ve gotten caught up in my fair share of incidents – both inside and out of my control – so I came in extra-prepared for the weekend knowing that this could be the year to break my “curse.”
Thursday morning we got to see the track during the track walk, which my Crew Chief Nev Agass and I did together. When you run a street circuit these walks are a crucial.
Every year something is different: barriers are sticking out differently, new cracks in the pavement or, in this case, brand new pavement on the front straightaway from Turns 2-4 and Turns 5-10.
I was pretty excited because new pavement generally means a smoother surface and quicker lap times… boy, were we in for a surprise!
When I got out for practice, I had my first scare. The crown of the road in Turn 3 had been magnified because of the new pavement. What used to be a low drama nearly flat-out turn had changed to be a jump followed by a large unsettling bump at the exit.
I went through it on lap 3 and found myself completely airborne. I landed, bottomed out, and then proceeded to hit the second bump and skirt inches from the wall.
It got my heart racing to say the least. By the second practice I had managed to find a way through the turn and still keep my car grounded. A few other drivers were not so fortunate.
By Friday morning, right in the middle of Turn 3, a curb had been placed to make the corner a sharper 70-degree curve to slow cars down. A safe move, but I was a little annoyed by the change because it happened after our last practice session.
We wouldn’t have a chance to learn the new section until we were in the heat of qualifying. It’s all part of being a race car driver though, you’ve got to be able to adapt.
We qualified on the pole position for GTA, so we adapted well.
I had more nerves before Saturday’s race than I’ve had in a long time. Looking around me on the grid I was surrounded by big names.
Add to that the few incidents I’ve had in the past here and I was ready to get through Turn 1!
Once the green flag dropped I picked up a couple of spots in Turn 1 and maintained a close gap with Michael Cooper for the first part of the race.
Near the midpoint, I was running ninth overall and leading in GTA, fighting hard with Peter Kox. I had him covered everywhere except the final corner.
I had to get good launches out of there so I was driving the car in deep, getting it rotated and getting back to power. Still, he was able to sneak inside me. The rest of the race went pretty smoothly.
I had a bit of pressure from Jon Fogarty behind me in another 911 GT3 R, but I knew I just had to keep my head on straight and not make any mistakes.
With a bit of drama up ahead of me on the last lap I picked up one more position to take ninth overall and the GTA victory. What a way to get back to racing.
As the green flag flew on Race 2, I saw the inside lane bunch up so I opted for the middle. At this point we were five or six cars across going down the airstrip to a turn where only three wide can fit.
Somehow we made it through Turn 1 unscathed. I had a tremendous start and came out in fourth-place. Alvaro Parente, last year’s GT Champion, was right on my bumper hounding me for a few laps, he was able to squeeze by me in Turn 14.
I had a hard fight with Cooper for a good 20 minutes until I was a little anxious getting to power coming out of Turn 8 and he was there to take advantage.
We came out side-by-side and went through Turn 11 two wide. Unfortunately, I jumped the curb and got two wheels off on the outside. As I was gathering it up, three cars were able to get by.
Just like that I went from fifth to ninth. One mistake but it was costly. I knew I needed to get back on the tail of these guys.
I started fiddling around with the TC and ABS settings to get the car handling more how I needed at this stage of the race. I managed to get a little more out of it and laid down the fourth fastest lap-time of all the GT cars! Great improvement from the day before.
A late caution bunched us all back up together and a crazy re-start saw me gain back two positions. I finished in seventh overall and won GTA. A post race penalty would move me up to sixth-place.
This weekend could not have gone better. I gained a lot of valuable information about my new Euroworld Motorsports/GMG Porsche 911 GT3 R, got some great experience against some of the best in the world, and kicked my St. Pete blues from years past.