The Mid-Ohio Race course has unique characteristics. With one long straight; plenty of elevations; tight, twisty and flowing combined corners; it’s tricky for the drivers, the cars, and overtaking, but the flip-side is that guarantees action-packed races.
The start of the Mid Ohio race weekend didn’t go as planned, I had been to the track the previous week in an Indy Lights car, which went very well, but in a Mazda RX-8 GT car it was a different experience. The braking points were a lot earlier, the gears were different and the cornering speeds were lower. It was going to take some getting used to.
During testing I felt we were off the pace. We were around 8th fastest, but I really had to drive the car hard to get the times. I was also extremely busy behind the wheel which was unusual. We kept on making setup changes but nothing we did seemed to make much difference, and I didn’t have much confidence in the car. In the two practice sessions before qualifying on the Friday, we were still struggling. After pouring over the data and setup sheets we eventually decided to change a few final things before going into qualifying.
The fifteen minute qualifying period started at 5pm, and we waited in the pits to ensure I had clear track, which would help to get the best out the car. Those last minute changes had worked and it felt like a different vehicle; the whole car felt hooked up, I was braking so deep into the corners, yet able to stop it, turn and get out of the corner with no problems. Each lap I went faster and faster, and I was able to get into 5th place. Eventually I produced a lap of 1:24:35 seconds, securing 3rd and I then consolidated that with another lap one thousand of a second quicker. I was now within two-tenths of pole position, which meant we were the closest we had been to the right pace all weekend. Both my own and the team’s confidence was lifted and we felt good for the race on Saturday evening.
On race day there was a threat of rain in the afternoon, due to start just as the race was scheduled to begin. During the morning session we tried a few more things, but with testing at 8.40am and the race at 5pm the day was very long. Luckily we had a busy driver meet and autograph session with the fans coming in for the Mid-Ohio race which broke up our day.
By the time the race started there wasn’t much sign of the predicted rain and instead it remained very hot. The start of the race was scruffy. The first corner was always going to be tight, and I was hoping to get down the inside of the 94 BMW, but I couldn’t quite pull it off here. He was battling for the lead and seemed unstoppable – the amount of torque he was producing was huge, and it meant there was no way of keeping up with him in a straight line. The BMW wasn’t necessarily the fastest car around the corners, but once it was pointing in a straight line it was shifting pretty fast, and I wasn’t exactly hanging around on the straight either, reaching around 160+ mph.
Twenty minutes into the race there was a crash at turn one. Two of my competitors had made contact and one of them ended up in the wall, luckily walking away unhurt. During the safety car period we planned to pit to top up with fuel, change tyres and rejoin the race in good time, but things didn’t quite work out that way.
The car was lifted up on the air jacks, but the front right wheel didn’t go on fully. The SpeedSource crew ended up having to jump back over the wall to tighten it up, and to me it seemed like a lifetime waiting in the car. It was the 1st mistake the team had made in any pitstop all year.
The wheel was secured and I made my way to the end of the pit lane, but I had to wait for the safety car to come by again before I was released back onto the track. This also seemed to take forever. Despite it not being the quickest of stops, I think I was now roughly in 8th position. All I knew was I now had to pass as many cars as quickly aspossible. I found my way in 5th position before we had another safety car, but this time unfortunately it was for a crash between a car that had spun out in front of my SpeedSource teammates’ number 70 car, and the water and oil leaks the crash caused meant they had to retire them from the race.
The safety car altered things again, and the other teams changed their strategies. I was in 5th place battling my way forwards with two other Mazda RX-8s. It proved to be extremely tough overtake, and I made a contact trying to leverage my way into 3rd position.
The Mazdas proved to be the hardest to get past, as they share the same strengths and weaknesses of my own car. I attempted to overtake whilst defending against the 94 BMW – there was a bit of contact from behind as well as from the side, rubbing fenders with the other Mazda. It was a hard and fair fought battle, and while no one did anything unexpected or out of control, it provided me with one of the most exciting battles for position that I have ever been involved in.
Yet again there was another safety car. The two cars in front chose to pit but I carried on, now in the lead and behind the safety car. Just as the safety car was ready to come in a had quite a heavy hit from behind. The 94 BMW was pressuring me. I held my ground and kept the lead for a number of laps, and although he was able to get alongside me on the straights, I positioned myself in the right places, managing to keep the lead by out braking and defending for the lead. This was another amazingly hard-fought battle, and something I never really encountered while racing single seaters which tend to hold your position more.
The BMW eventually got by me on the straight, and now I found myself trying to keep up with his first place car while defending off the 3rd place contender. The power of the other manufacturers was tough for us to compete with; but we made up for that with the better cornering speeds. Yet again there was more contact, the rear of my car was taking quite a bit battering, but the race raged on. I eventually earned myself a bit of a gap, just enough to catch my breath, and by this time roughly 1 hour 15 had past. Still in second, it was looking good, before the safety car made its way out again due to another car getting stranded in the gravel.
While the safety crew cleaned the track, I made my way into the pits to hand the car over to John Edwards, my co-driver. We had a fast stop. We only lost a few positions, but there was still plenty of time until the end of the race. John made good progress and we were still in the top five.
Whilst John powered on, I was taken to the medical centre. The extreme high temperature inside the car had dehydrated me, despite having a two 2 litre drinks bottle with me. I was fine when I stepped out of the car and whilst my adrenalin was still pumping, it was only shortly after I started to not feel well.
Luckily I didn’t miss too much of the race. With an hour to go, and the safety car was out again, and John pitted for an extremely short stop. It put us in a position to just finish the race, and this strategy worked perfectly, as we were now in 3rd place. We knew the drivers in front were not going to make it on fuel, so with half a hour to go we were back in the lead.
The pressure was now on the 94 BMW who was in second place and slowly inching up. John drove amazingly well, and it was only until when of the prototype cars made a slow overtaking move on him that it allowed the 94 BMW to get up on the inside of Keyhole corner, nudging John and putting him off-position, giving the BMW the lead.
There were now just 15 minutes to go and the big question was would the BMWs fuel last. The last lap came; we were still in 2nd position, and that is where we finished.
For me the experience was a race to remember. The amount of action was fantastic. It was only afterwards that we discovered the BMW had to go onto reserve fuel for the final lap, meaning if there had been one more circuit to complete, we may well have won.
Either way, I was over the moon, and so was the SpeedSource Mazda crew. They had done a stunning job once again, and we were the top finishing Mazda, demonstrating once more that we have the speed, and pace to win more races and make it onto the podium.
I can’t wait for another action filled race like Mid-Ohio, but I’m looking to take one more step on the podium next time. The next race is on July 3rd at Daytona, Florida.
PALMETTO, Fla., June 16 — Adam Christodoulou received one of the perks he earned for winning the driver title in the 2009 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear when he tested one of Andersen Racing’s Firestone Indy Lights cars at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio last Thursday.
Christodoulou’s test was the result of a collaborative effort between Mazda, Performance Friction, the Star Mazda series and the Palmetto, Fla.-based team, which was the series’ top team in 2008, finished second in 2009 and is currently leading the 2010 team point standings. Andersen Racing will make its 75th consecutive Star Mazda start this Saturday at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa, where it hopes its four Star Mazda drivers (Mikael Grenier, Anders Krohn, Tristan Vautier and Nick Andries) will add a 17th pole position and an 18th race victory to the stats it has already accumulated in the series. It is the only team still actively participating in the series since the debut of the current generation of Star Mazda race car in 2004.
That kind of commitment and those achievements coupled with the team’s extensive driver development program that includes karting programs, a Firestone Indy Lights team and a Star Mazda team made Andersen Racing the perfect group to conduct the test for Mazda, the series and Performance Friction. The team has also been tabbed to conduct a similar test for the 2010 Star Mazda champion.
Performance Friction stepped up to sponsor the test because it is also devoted to supporting rising open-wheel talent. The company is the exclusive brake pad and disc supplier for the first two levels of the Indy Racing League’s Road to Indy program: the USF2000 National Championship presented by Cooper Tires and powered by Mazda, and the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. Its products are also used by nearly all the teams in Firestone Indy Lights, which is the final step on the official Road to Indy ladder prior to the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Christodoulou, who turned 21 the day after the test, completed 89 laps on Mid-Ohio’s 2.258-mile road course in Andersen Racing’s No. 4 Firestone Indy Lights car, which is normally driven by Carmen Jorda. It was a return to his open-wheel roots, as he also won the 2008 British Formula Renault Championship in addition to the 2009 Star Mazda title. The native of Litchfield, Staffordshire, England has been driving a Mazda RX-8 in the GT division of the Grand-Am Rolex Series this year with the 2008 Star Mazda champion, John Edwards, as Mazda continues its role as the car manufacturer most committed to supporting North America’s open-wheel development series. Both the USF2000 National Championship and Star Mazda are part of the MAZDASPEED driver development program in addition to the Indy Racing League’s Road to Indy program.
“I was very pleased with Adam’s test,” said Andersen Racing co-owner John Andersen. “He showed that with a little bit of seat time he was able to run with the best Firestone Indy Lights drivers.
“This was not Adam’s first test of a Firestone Indy Lights car, as he tested with Bryan Herta’s team last September,” Andersen added.
“We were the first team in North America to test Adam in a Star Mazda car back in early 2009, and we knew then what a talent he is,” added his brother and team co-owner, Dan Andersen. “It was a real delight to be able to provide our Firestone Indy Lights team and race car and see him perform so well once again. We would welcome an opportunity to have him on our Firestone Indy Lights team sometime in the future.”
“The test at Mid-Ohio in the Firestone Indy Lights car definitely put a huge smile on my face,” said Christodoulou. “This test was possible thanks to Performance Friction brakes, Mazda and Andersen Racing, and it was a pleasure to be back in a single-seater.
“At first it was quite strange getting back into a single-seater car, as I hadn’t been in one for at least eight months, and I had only been in a Firestone Indy Lights car once last year.
“The first thing I noticed was how quiet it seemed compared to the scream of the three-rotor Mazda RX-8 I have been racing all season,” he added. “I was also braking far too early for all the corners. The brakes felt unbelievably good, and I was over-slowing the car and wasn’t getting the best out the brakes until my second or third run. Then I was carrying a lot more speed and was a lot more efficient on the brakes.
“I got on really well with all the Andersen crew,” he continued. “It’s the first time I got to meet all the guys from the Firestone Indy Lights side of the team, and they did a great job with the car. Everything ran smoothly and we didn’t run into any problems.
“I had plenty of time in the car even though we were restricted on miles,” he said. “I completed roughly 80 laps, with my third-from-last lap being my quickest all day, even with worn tires. We made some very minor changes but I think the biggest time difference was just me adjusting to the car. I felt that each time I got in the car I picked up fractions of a second here and there.
“It would have been nice to have put on a new set of tires at the end of the day just to see how I compared to the other seasoned Firestone Indy Lights drivers, but overall it was a fun day and it was nice to be able to test against the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights drivers,” he concluded. “I have to say a big ‘Thank you!’ to all the people who put this deal together for me, especially Performance Friction brakes, MAZDASPEED Development and Andersen Racing. I look forward to hopping into a Firestone Indy Lights car again if the opportunity arises.”
It was a short turn around for the SpeedSource crew this week. After a dream start to the week at Lime Rock on Monday – we took the win – it was soon time for our next challenge, the 6 hours of Watkins Glen. This was going to be the longest endurance race I had ever participated in.
It was the first time I had driven the 3.4 mile track. Last year there had been an opportunity, but only to help another driver with some coaching, and I only managed to cycle around it on a bike. But at speed it is very different, especially through the uphill esses onto the straight. It’s a lot narrower and tighter, and by the end of the straight you can reach speeds of up to 160mph. The narrow track layout reminded me of a street course, but even so, it remains a very fast circuit.
We had two morning sessions before qualifying and then an evening session on Friday. One of the other changes for this weekend was the addition of an extra driver, Tom Long, who would be around to help with the extended distance.
I qualified the car on the Friday afternoon, completing the twelve-cornered-track in 1:50.917 seconds, averaging 110.35mph, and that got us a qualifying place of 5th. I also was lined up to be first team driver for the race.
On the grid, I discovered that I had been moved up into 4th position. One of my competitors had crashed during warm-up and was starting last. The nature of the Watkins Glen track means there isn’t such a thing as a small crash, and with all the high speed corners, if you do run off, it means damage. There were already a handful of cars retired from incidents incurred during testing.
My start wasn’t the best, I was stuck on the outside for the first corner which allowed one or two cars to slip past, and then another overtook on the main straight. Even though I was a little annoyed with myself for not keeping my position, I knew a six hour race wasn’t going to be won on the first lap. During this first stint, some of the cars in front were pushing hard to overtake and there was a lot of small-contact. The race was going to be a survival game, and things became interesting when it started raining on parts of the track. I ran wide at turn one, but made it back to the track without loosing position or much too much time. It was unbelievably greasy. I was on a set of slick tyres like everyone else, and they didn’t like the wet one bit. By the end of my stint we were in fifth position, and I handed the car over to my co-driver, John Edwards.
John’s stint was marked with rain as well. It was a tricky situation because we could have made a pitstop and changed to wet tyres. This would have made us been quicker in the slippy conditions, would have risked having to pit again once the track started to dry out. We opted to stay out on track, as did everyone else.
It all went smoothly after the rain subsided, and we were in a strong position. John handed the car over to Tom Long, and we were about 2 hours in now. 4 hours to go.
Tom’s stint encountered a safety car, and some cars pitted. Tom led the race for a few laps, but a handful of drivers squeezed past. With the limited amount of time Tom had in the car, he had tough stint, but he drove well and kept the car in one piece. Going into the corner at the end of the straight, two cars immediately in front of him crashed, and Tom narrowly avoided them as they blocked the track.
John got back in to drive the fourth stint, and were were at the halfway point of the race. The track remained dry and the weather didn’t change during this period. We were getting close to making a pit stop when suddenly the safety car reappeared, posing a problem for us as we were extremely low on fuel. Had come in during the safety car we would have had to have taken a drive through penalty, so we were forced to try and make another lap, running the risk of stopping dead. The car started to stutter as the engine neared empty, so it was a great relief when John appeared at the end of the pitlane.
It was now my final stint in the car. I had just exited the pits as the safety car indicated it was coming in. I went flat out to try and catch up the other cars, and just as I came around the last corner the safety car pulled in. Perfect timing, I caught up just as everyone went into the first corner, and while managing to overtake a few lapped cars, ended up in 4th position.
For the whole of this leg I was hunting down the 3rd place 70 Mazda RX-8, trying to get close enough to make a pass. Our cars were evenly matched and it was tough to make the move. Again the safety car came out with 10 minutes to go until the next driver change, and everyone came into the pits with an hour to go. We had another perfect pitstop from the SpeedSource crew, and changed driver, tyres while adding enough fuel to get us to the end of the race.
John was in the car for the last hour. We had such a good pitstop we had jumped from 4th to 3rd position, with a 9 second gap to 4th place. Everything was looking good. It was 7pm and the sun going down. The track had cooled down and all the cars had their headlights on. Not much changed for 30 minutes until one of the prototype cars encountered a problem in the engine bay and went up in flames. Luckily it was only three corners from the end of the lap, and managed to make it to the entrance of the pitlane, where the driver stopped the car and escaped from the drivers seat whilst the fire crew took care of the situation.
This brought out the safety car once more, bunching up all the cars. We lost our nine second advantage. John battled hard to defend his position, but after a few laps the 4th place car made a move into the bus stop corner which nudged John off-line and allowed another car to squeeze past too. It knocked us down to 5th place. John now found himself on the end of another nudge from behind, and that moved us down to 6th place. With just a few minutes to spare, one of the cars in front suffered a puncture, and we moved back into fifth place; the position which we held until the chequered flag.
It was a tough race. We were quick, but struggled as the track cooled down towards the end of the day. I need to say well done to all the crew. Our pitstops, refueling, driver changes and tyre changes were faultless; they even managed to make some setup changes during the race without loosing any time. We came away with a 5th place finish from 19 cars in our class, and had completed our first 6 hour event.
The next race is in two weeks time, June 19th at Mid Ohio Raceway.
In only their fourth race, SpeedSource’s Adam Christodoulou and John Edwards scored top honours in the Rolex GT Seris at Lime Rock. The Mazda development driver graduates led a 1-2-3-4 finish for the RX-8s in another convincing performance for the Japanese brand.
A strategic pit call put the No. 07 Corvette in the early lead, but Christodoulou took over the point on lap 39. From that point on, Christodoulou and Edwards were unstoppable. While the No. 30 Mazda also briefly led thanks to quick pit work by his Racers Edge crew, the No. 68 SpeedSource machine was the car to beat all race.
“I think the last ten minutes were probably the longest ten minutes of my life!” Edwards said. “They were certainly the longest since my last race last year that I had to go through the same thing with pressure from behind and trying to stay ahead and not make any mistakes.”
The pair of open-wheel turned sports car drivers shined thanks in part to their brand-new SpeedSource-built Mazda. Only finishing building the car days before heading to Lime Rock, the new RX-8, which replaced the older-spec machine borrowed from Jack Smith owner of Yellow Dragon Racing, completed its first laps on track this morning, just hours before taking it to victory.
“I’m just thrilled, the heat today was unbelievable. but apart from that, it’s been an awsome day, the car handled beautifully, It didn’t have any faults to it. The SpeedSource team put it together in the last month, and the first test we had was this morning. First, second and third today for Mazda on the podium – you can’t beat that,” smiled Adam Christodoulou.
While Edwards and Christodoulou didn’t have the seat time nor car developments of their teammates in the opening three races, it all came together today.
“Every time we hop in the car, I know we learn something,” Christodoulou said. “Just from the experience of those three races in the older spec car its helped hugely, without the other car, we would have been on the side watching the start of the GRAND-AM series. I know the race experience and the development of the car have brought it all together.”
Edwards added: “There’s no one change they made to the new car. There’s an endless list of very small changes that have made a difference to the car. That’s just part of development and part of Mazda learning of what works with the car and what works with the tires. Every time SpeedSource makes a new car, it’s the best car they built because they learn as they go. That showed here today with the very first day of the car and we came in P1.”
It marked the fourth victory in five races for SpeedSource entries, which has placed all three of its cars at the top of the podium this season.
“Every one of the SpeedSource cars has won a race this year, and that speeds volumes for the effort we put in at the shop,” said team owner Tremblay. “The No. 68 was a brand-new car – today was the first time it’s been on the track – and it’s a credit to the Mazda ladder program to give us two young drivers with this kind of talent.”
There’s no rest for Rolex Series competitors, as the Six Hours of The Glen is up next on June 5.