Another successful event for the #68 MazdaSpeed Motorsport Development Mazda RX-8 and the team.
Heading into this weekend’s race I was feeling quietly confident that the tight and twisty configuration was going to suit our Mazda RX-8’s cars over the other manufacturers.
However, during testing things didn’t quite go as smoothly as planned. We stumbled into some minor problems during the second session, and it meant we missed the majority of the time available out on track, so it was lucky we had one final test scheduled on qualifying day.
For the second time this year I wasn’t going to be in charge of qualifying; instead my co-driver John Edwards was. It felt quite unusual watching the cars go out and not needing to be in my race suit. The next 15 minutes passed quickly, and John secured 5th position for the 2hr 45 minute race on Sunday.
The afternoon on raceday was hot, not far off 100F. We had opted for a double driver change strategy due to the heat. John started the race and handed the car over to me along with a good position – after the pit stop we were lying in 7th and the car felt really good. As other people were burning through their tyres, I was able to hold a consistent pace and started overtaking lapped cars and other cars in fights for position.
Everything was going to plan until I came across the #07 Corvette. He had been defending his position for a few laps, and I was finally able to take advantage as one of the Prototype cars overtook both of us. I followed into turn one where we ran side by all the way to turn two, he had a slightly better exit from turn one, just inching forward as we went into turn two. I was still on the inside but before I had chance to react he had turned the corner and come straight into the side of me. This was really frustrating and I knew it might cause problems, so I got straight on the radio to my crew to let them know what had happened. Unfortunately a few laps later I had to serve a drive-through penalty which dropped me back to 8th. It was the last thing I wanted, but that’s how these things sometimes go.
Once I was back on track all I could do was put my head down and push. I still needed to manage my tyre degradation but my pace was faster than the cars in front. By this time I had wrestled into 2nd position just as the safety car came out. Everyone else pitted but we chose to stay out on track, leaving me in the lead behind the safety car. This was great initially, but everyone else’s tyres were now fresh, and a few laps after the safety car pitted I started to lose positions. However, we decided to stick with our strategy.
I pitted with 30 minutes to go and handed the car over to John Edwards with new tyres and extra fuel. The safety car came out yet again and this played perfectly into our hands, as the whole grid was now packed together. A few teams chose to pit and it moved us up into 5th. A quarter of an hour left to go and we had climbed as far as 2nd position and chasing for the lead.
It was nail-bitingly close, and when the white flag came out for the last lap there was a single second between us. We were looking good, but as we moved onto the final corner of the lap, the #70 SpeedSource Mazda was held up and it gave us a run to the finish line. Unfortunately it still wasn’t quite enough to do it – we just missed out on the win by 0.17 hundreds of a second. It a truly great experience to be part of a photo-finish!
Mazda once again have proven they have the car to beat, finishing 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Even more personally satisfying was me and for the SpeedSource Mazda team, as we managed to fill the whole podium – 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
With the next round at Watkins Glen in three weekend’s time, and with only 3 rounds remaining, things are looking positive after scoring the most points in the last five races – I’m currently 7th in Championship and closing down on 6th.
This weekend I had the privilege of racing at the Historic Daytona international raceway, one of the world’s legendary race tracks, known as the “World Center of Racing”, and Venue for the Rolex Daytona 24 Hours; the first race held every year.
My first testing lap was good fun even though it was extremely wet. I couldn’t believe how steep the banking was as I entered onto the track, all I remember was looking up the tarmac then into the sky. Once up to speed and set at 30 degrees on the slope of the oval, the cars tear down the 2.5 mile-long track at 170mph before braking into turn one onto the infield sector.
It was raining, but there was a good chance of it drying out for qualifying at midday. This made it really hard to setup the car because we had no absolutely dry data to work from and all we could do was put on a set of slick tyres and work to our basic dry arrangement.
Qualifying started and it was first out of the pit lane. Taking it easy initially, I allowed two cars past just so I could get an idea of breaking points on the cars ahead. I left myself quite a gap before I started pushing. I was in 5th position which I was fairy happy about, and after two more clear laps I improved my time to 1:51.326, averaging a speed of 115.12 mph. It gave me 3rd position in qualifying. The team had done a great job and the baseline set up of the car felt really good. Getting a P3 for the race after just 6 laps on a track you’ve never raced is a great feeling.
Unfortunately the start of the race didn’t go as smoothly as planned. I went for a move into 2nd place but didn’t quite get the overtake. Before I knew it I found myself defending my position and slipped back to 5th as the other cars slipstreamed past me. I went for 4th position but things didn’t quite work out again – the 07 Corvette made contact with me – resulting in him spinning out in turn 3. Two laps later I was called in for a drive-through penalty, and this was made even more frustrating as I had managed to recapture 3rd place. I made my way flat out back onto the oval, but the pit speed limit of 45mph had dropped me down to last.
After many hard battles, I had made my way back up to near the front of the field. We had made a pit stop during a safety car period, put on new tyres, and fuelled up. The safety car packed the grid tightly allowing me to gain a few more positions, and at lap 30 there was another safety car by which time I was in 5th.
It was time to hand over to John. Our driver change pit stop put us in 8th, and John made good progress making his way back up to 5th. He was hunting down 4th place until 5 minutes before the end of the race when he made the move and ran side by side for over half the lap but couldn’t quite make it stick. He continued to push hard but the chequered flag came down and sealed our 5th place finish.
Daytona was an extremely tough race, but really enjoyable with the repeated challenges for position. With only a third of the championship remaining, we have now climbed up the tables from 8th to 7th.
The next race is at New Jersey on July 16th – 18th for Round 9.