Not many could have scripted the story that’s unfolded in the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup this year, with Al Carter and Cameron Lawrence heading into this weekend’s title-deciding Petit Le Mans in the GT Daytona class championship lead.
The Riley Motorsports pairing, which have teamed for class victories at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, hold a seven-point lead in the NAEC standings, after what’s been a dream run for the No. 93 Viper GT3-R this year.
“When you do all the work and planning at the start of November of what we’re going to do, you put it all together and hope for the best,” Carter told Sportscar365.
“It’s been one of those racing seasons where we haven’t really made any mistakes.”
Carter, Lawrence, Kuno Wittmer, Dominik Farnbacher and Ben Keating claimed a monumental victory at Daytona to kick off their NAEC campaign.
It marked the 49-year-old’s first career IMSA victory after multiple seasons of Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge competition, as well as taking part in his first full year of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in 2014.
“For me, personally, that was a big deal,” Carter said. “I had only been racing for the last couple of years, so to win our biggest race was almost indescribable and quite gratifying.
“We really came together as a team and gelled. The crew, the strategy, all the drivers, it was a dream race. We went out there, ran consistent and well.
“It was rewarding for me. I did 6.5 hours in the car, and none of it was in the light. It was really solid.”
At Sebring, the No. 93 car, with Marc Goossens joining Carter, Lawrence and Keating, settled for a fourth place class finish due to a late-race pit lane infraction that took them out of a podium result.
However, three months later, they were back in victory lane, this time in the rain-soaked enduro at Watkins Glen, which saw them extend their NAEC lead.
For Carter, his 2015 campaign has been one of the most gratifying after being faced first-hand with the challenges the sport can present.
“I feel very fortunate to have 50 races under my belt in a variety of series,” he said. “I know how hard it is to win. I know how hard it is to do well.
“No matter how good you are, there’s just so many factors that go into performing on the race track. It’s tough.”
With Goossens rejoining he and Lawrence in the No. 93 Viper this weekend, the Bill Riley-led team has set clear targets for the driving trio, in what could be one of their toughest challenges yet.
NAEC points are awarded not only at the finish of the race but also at the four and eight-hour marks, making the ten-hour race a strategic effort for the Viper squad.
“We’ll pretty much do what we’ve done all season. We’ll go out there and our goal is to podium but we have three races [within the race],” Carter said.
“That’s the great thing about the NAEC. We have the four-hour, the eight-hour and the [finish].
“For the 93 car, our first race ends at the four-hour mark. Our goal is to be in the money.
“If we can score early, that takes nearly all the pressure off winning the championship, so we can then go and win the race.”
With a seven-point lead over Scuderia Corsa’s Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler, Carter is hopeful of bringing home the title to help keep the momentum building in 2016 for the hard working Bronze-rated driver.
“There’s a lot of things in the works,” he said. “It’s nice to have a couple of wins on your resume from the year before and hopefully a NAEC title as well.
“You will not find a more appreciative or honored driver to be in this position. For me, it’s been really rewarding professionally.”