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VEACH: Back into the Swing of Things

Zach Veach files his first Sportscar365 column of the year after Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS debut…

Photo: Racers Edge Motorsports

Well, Hello… It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

Until this weekend at Sonoma, the last laps I turned in a (proper race) was my closing double stint to finish 3rd at Petit Le Mans in 2021.

Since then, my job title has switched back and forth from many different roles in motorsports, doing whatever it took to stay near the racetrack.

After two years of instructing, spotting, spending countless hours on a manufacturer simulator and the occasional R&D test, I’m so incredibly thankful to say I’m finally writing a post-race event article again.

It’s unfair and untrue for me to say I didn’t enjoy doing those other things but ask any driver and he or she will tell you it’s the competing part of motor racing that they love the most. To be here again took a lot of work, and everything I’ve done over the last couple of years was inevitably a step closer to being back in the race car again.

The opportunity to join Racers Edge Motorsports this season started as a phone call out of the blue from a good friend of mine at Honda Racing Corporation US. He said there was the possibility of an opening in an Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 and that I should give Jon Mirachi a call.

Wasting no time, I made the phone call to Jon and quickly concluded that this little team has a very big heart. With motivation to go forward, plans started to form, and I received the news that Luca Mars would be joining as well.

As he is rated a Silver-rated driver, we slotted into the Pro class of the Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS series.

With no time for a pre-season test to get acclimated to the new car and knock off a couple years of acquired rust, I was relieved to see the schedule for the Sonoma race weekend. It was everything you could’ve hoped for with a new team and a new car.

At first glance it was three whole days of practice with two sessions each day leading up to qualifying and race one on Saturday. We arrived at the track Tuesday afternoon, poured a hefty seat insert for myself (there’s about a foot difference in height between Luca and I) and did the track walk.

During the walk, we couldn’t believe how nice it all looked since the repave. I’ve never seen Sonoma so smooth and with the potential of having such high grip. It’s always been a slick track with notorious tire degradation in the past that had the potential of driving you and your engineer mad trying to solve it.

With giddy excitement of what was to come, I left the track and headed back to the hotel ready for our first test day of 2024.

Photo: Fabian Lagunas/SRO

The morning started off without a hitch, in the first session I was able to get about 12 laps in the car and start getting accustomed to the Acura NSX GT3 Evo22. Looking over the data after, it was all typical things in driving a new car, brake a little deeper here and there, trust the car and carry a bit more speed through the high commitment corners.

We watched the on-board video and started planning for our next session. Since I started the first session, Luca was going to start the second one. He strapped in the car, fired it up with 30 seconds left before the green flag and then… No green flag. Confused, we were put on a “slight hold” due to a quick track inspection they wanted to do.

One minute turned to five, five to ten and eventually we were told that the session was going to be canceled due to some track repair. At first, we thought it might’ve been a simple wall repair from a car leaving the track. It wasn’t until the next morning we learned the actual issue.

Literal chunks of the racetrack were coming up in some of the most loaded corner and brake zones- about 5 corners in total needed attention. When we arrived back to the track Thursday morning and saw road construction equipment being brought in, we realized the severity of it all.

Our worry went from losing some track time to losing an entire race weekend, but those doubts quickly subsided when we saw how hard the crews were working.

Photo: John Dagys

Five corners were ground down and repaved in a matter of 30 hours. The overall work by the crews and the SRO America staff was impressive.

All in all, we lost our test and practice sessions for Thursday and Friday, but a new schedule was quickly set and my second practice session in the NSX was to also serve as qualifying.

Trying to take as much as I could from our 12 laps on Wednesday and another 15 in the session, I was able to put in a messy lap good enough for P6 amongst the other pros to start the grid on Sunday.

Luca did a great job in his run behind the wheel of the Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 to put us on the front row for Saturday’s race.

Race 1 started strong with Luca running most of his stint second in class and third overall with a majority of the Am drivers. Stopping roughly halfway for the driver change, I was in with about 45 minutes to go. Unfortunately, being slightly unfamiliar with the Acura machine, I accidentally double shifted the car into second gear leaving the box.

Unlike other series I’ve raced in, second gear bumps the pit lane speed cruise from 50 km/h to 80 km/h for a virtual safety car and I overstepped pit lane speed by 3 km/h.

I served our drive through and used the rest of the green flag race as more testing laps trying to catch the pack to finish 3rd in class.

Photo: Racers Edge Motorsports

With Race 2 being the reversal of Race 1, I took the green and Luca would jump in about 50 minutes in to take the checker. We had a clean start and settled in.

One issue I need to tackle is trying to revert back to the sports car method of driving after spending so much time on the IndyCar simulator these past two years. I keep having the mentality of being a bit too aggressive and upsetting the car, particularly in the high speed.

This was an early on mistake in the esses that led to losing a couple spots after a big snap. I finished my stint, handed the NSX over to Luca and watched him get to work.

He put in an incredible effort closing the 17-second gap to P2 in the closing laps by over 0.75 seconds a lap, we just ran out of time coming home P3.

All in all, the limited amount of track time didn’t help with getting back into the swing of things after two years away but, I know if we can compete like that on our back foot, when things click and we’re firing on all cylinders at Sebring, it’s going to be a great weekend.

Until then, we’ll be preparing! I want to personally thank everyone at Racers Edge Motorsports for all of the effort and the opportunity, Luca Mars for being great to work with and my friends at Social Spark Nashville and 3IEnterprises for being on this journey with me.

Thanks for reading!

Zach Veach is a former open-wheel ace turned sports car racing driver, competing in Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS in the No. 93 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 alongside Luca Mars.

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