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UDELL: VIR Debrief

Alec Udell files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: Porsche

Photo: Porsche

I’m not sure that I could think of any other sport that has higher highs followed almost instantaneously by the lowest lows than racing does.

This past weekend marked the beginning of the SprintX GT rounds for Pirelli World Challenge. I teamed up with Preston Calvert in the black and yellow No. 77 Calvert Dynamics Porsche 911 GT3 R for this portion of the PWC series.

A competitor of mine in the GT Cup category in previous seasons, Preston and I have developed a wonderful friendship through our shared love of motorsports, one that has lead us to sharing a car in PWC. I’m extremely grateful and excited to do so with him this year!

VIR is arguably one of the most beautiful tracks in North America. Situated right in the rolling hills of Virginia the track has every element a driver could want: slow technical sections, Turns 1-3 and Turn 12 famously known as “Oak Tree Turn” as well as the renowned high speed esses, Turns 6-8.

While I’ve played VIR on Forza and iRacing, I’ve not had the opportunity to drive the track until this weekend. Was I in for a treat!

My first few laps on the track were a little intimidating. I’ve heard in a GT3 car the Esses are flat. This may sound like a simple thing to do, but when you’re entering the bottom of the hill at 155 mph and making a turn your brain initially says otherwise! It took me about five laps to get a good feel for the track.

Since it is a two-driver format for the SprintX platform you’ve got to share the time you get in the car, something I’m not entirely used to, but had no issues with. Apart from several red flag issues that took track time away from all competitors, I was able to work with our engineer, Stefan Pfeiffer, and car chief, Nev Agass from GMG to get a setup we felt confident in.

The way that the race is formatted, there is a Pro-Pro class where, as you guessed it, both drivers are professional drivers. Then there’s Pro-Am, a professional and an “amateur,” the class Preston and I competed in, and then Am-Am, two amateurs.

The qualifying and race lineup is only pre-determined for the Pro-Am class. The Am driver is required to qualify the car and start Race 1, and from 25-35 minutes a pit window opens where the required 60-second pit stop/driver change happens where the Pro gets in and finishes the race.

The grid for Race 2 is set from fastest race times from Race 1. In Race 2 the lineup is then switched around and the Pro driver starts the race, then during the pit window the Am driver jumps in and finishes out.

Race 1 began fairly well with Preston quickly jumping into the top-10 in the Pro-Am class. A green run saw him bring the car into the pit for our driver change at the 25 minute mark where I took over. I came out on the lead lap in Pro-Am however; due to the nature of the rules we automatically lose 30-seconds in pit lane to the Pro-Pro class, as their required pit stop is 30-second while ours is 60-seconds.

We had made it up to fourth-place in Pro-Am, about 8 seconds back from the next car, when a caution flag came out. Because of where I ended up, sixth in line from the front of the grid, effectively a lap down, the car in front of me basically gained a lap up on us and our race for position became a stalemate.

At this point a bunch of the overall leaders got slapped with a drive-through penalty for short-stopping and I found myself running nose-to-tail with the overall leaders.

The battle for the lead raged on between Andrew Davis and Andrea Montermini ahead of me, I trailed the two to the finish, taking fourth in class and 14th overall, a successful debut for us in the SprintX category.

I wish I could say Race 2 went as smoothly as Race 1, but for those of you watching this weekend you know that wouldn’t be truthful.

It started out great. I gained four positions on the opening lap, up to 12th from 16th, where I started. I had a really great car and it kept getting faster, I was lapping quicker than the cars in front of me, and catching them every lap while gapping the cars behind me.

Contact in front of me saw a stack up in Oak Tree and I took a run down the back straight three wide with Jörg Bergmeister, Ricky Taylor and myself. Going into T14 I ended up on the short end of the three-wide ordeal and checked up a bit to fall back into line.

At this point the No. 44 Audi took an overly optimistic look to the inside of T16, the outside of T17, and made contact with my rear wheel which sent me for a ride down the hill into a tire wall causing major damage to our Calvert Dynamics Porsche. I’m frustrated to say our day ended there.

I can’t express my appreciation enough to Preston, everyone at Calvert Dynamics, as well as GMG for the hard work this weekend.

We showed greatly in Saturday’s race and it is only the tip of what is to come. The car is en route to Phoenix Performance for repairs to make it to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, thank you so much to the guys there for willing to take on the task. We’ll be ready and stronger in Canada.

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