It’s been a busy week, and following a huge struggle with planes to America, I finally managed to reach the Virginia International Raceway in time for the race. It took a total of 36 hours to get to my destination; and required six trains, from Lichfield to London, then Brussels, then Amsterdam followed by two flights to Minneapolis and onto Raleigh/Durham to reach the track. It was set to be a 2 hour 45 minute race at Virginia International Raceway, not too far from New York.
After all the successes we have had in the Mazda RX8 this year, we had been given a weight ballast to be added the cars this week; an extra 70lb. I had already been to the track during the season last year, but a major difference now is that many of the corners had been made a lot harder. Virginia is extremely quick, with a lot of high speed flowing turns. From the tuned aerodynamics of last year, to a higher concentration on power and speed (but therefore less grip) this year, it proved to be tricky. There were parts of the track that I had never had to think about before, and now I was fighting with the steering to keep it going in the right direction.
Qualifying was tough. I scooped 6th on my second lap but then had a huge wheel lock-up and flat-spotted my front tyres. I couldn’t complete any more laps. Luckily my time was good enough to stay in 6th, but I was annoyed with myself as I knew I could have been quick enough to break into the top five.
I started the race. I was fighting for 5th the majority of the time, but even after I eventually made my way past the guy in front I had to take a pitstop for more fuel.
I was back in 6th, then dropped to 7th. It was getting close to the two hour mark, and my engineer was on the radio to me telling me to keep on pushing.
There were only a few minutes before our last pitstop, and suddenly the safety car was out. This changed a lot of things, but not in our favour. Everyone was bunched up; all the cars pitted for the final time and we made a driver change (I passed the car onto John Edwards). We made a tyre change and refuelled, but our pit stop wasn’t the quickest andwe lost a few more places. By this time we were now in 10th position.
During the last hour there were another three safety cars, and this didn’t help as it was using up our time to take those positions back. Five laps from the end we realised we couldn’t gain any more places, and then on the last corner on the last lap, John became snared up behind a slightly slower car, allowing the 11th place car to power past just before the finish line.
Had the safety car had been deployed 4 or 5 minutes after our pitstop it would have played beautifully in our favour, but that just wasn’t how this race was destined to play out. It was just a case of unfortunate timing.
We’re now off to Lime Rock for testing in preparation for the next race on May 31st, in around a month’s time.
Going into this weekend’s race at Barber Motorsports Park, I knew it was going to be a steep learning curve.
My driving partner John Edwards had only been here once before – and that was 6 years ago. The first test on Thursday proved to be a tough one. I was first in the car and we didn’t complete to many laps due to the limited amount of time we had to learn the track. The car was a little unbalanced, but we worked hard with the crew and through the weekend. After looking at data and working on setup changes, we had a 30 minute practice on Friday, and we could see we were making steps in the right direction.
Going into my first qualifying of the season, things didn’t quite work out as we had planned. During the previous session, one of the Daytona prototype drivers had made heavy contact with a safety barrier, which set back our qualifying. All the GT class cars were waiting in the pit lane. Just as one minute warning sounded (before qualifying starts), my engineer radioed to me that the session had been cut down to just 5 minutes and we wouldn’t get the full 15 minute qualifying.
The pressure was on. I knew where I needed to improve on the previous session, and I was confident we had made the right move with the setup changes. At an average of 1 min 30 sec per lap, it meant we wouldn’t get many laps done in the time. On my first circuit I worked on bringing the tyres up to temperature, my second I went for a flying lap, just to get a reasonable time, but I ended up held up by another car.
I made sure I had a decent gap in front of me for my last lap, at this point I still hadn’t produced a respectable time for qualifying. I only had one final chance for a fast lap. The start of the lap felt good but could have been better as the tyres were still coming up to temperature but the end of the lap the car felt as if it was on rails. This is the best the car had felt all weekend, it seemed to be on the edge, but comfortable at the same time. I came across the finish line in 5th and all I had to do now was wait for the other cars to complete their final laps. Jonathan Bomarito, my team mate in the number 70 Mazda SpeedSource, came in on pole position, nudging me into 6th place overall.
Saturday was race day, and the main event started at 12.30. It was becoming a hot day, and I was starting in the car because of my qualifying result.
The start was awesome. A rolling start, we approached the start line, all the cars lined up two by two. I had been promoted back up to fifth as one of the cars ahead of me had been disqualified. My other team mate was alongside me for the start in the 69 Mazda SpeedSource car.
Going into the first corner I held 5th, I went all the way round the outside of turn 2, 3, and 4 which gave me the opportunity for overtaking into turn 5 hairpin. The car next to me was squeezing me towards the corner but I kept my ground, then suddenly – bang! My car jumped in the air; we had made contact with our front wheels.
We overshot the corner a little bit but not enough to lose position, and I had the line for the next few corners. I had made my way into 4th place. As the race settled down I kept position, but roughly 30 minutes into the race the safety car was called out when one of the Daytona prototypes had engine problems and went up in smoke.
During the safety car a lot can happen. It’s normally a good time for pit stops, and my crew were on the radio to me, telling me to come in. We took the opportunity to make a stop, put tyres on the car and refuelled. It went well, but we lost a few positions during the time, but when we rejoined the procession, the safety car was still out.
Later there was another safety car, and I was able to stay out on track for this one. The race continued and we remained in a good position. Roughly at the half way stage we pitted for a driver change, and I handed the car over to my racing partner John Edwards. We had a successful switch (we practice each day) and at this point we were running in 9th place.
A few more cars came in for their pit stops and John started to make good progress on the track. We were now up and running in about 5th place, gaining on the cars ahead. With roughly one hour to go there was yet another safety car and some teams came in to pit, so we were actually leading the race for a short while. We needed to make one more pit stop towards the end for fuel, and rejoined in 6th position, but quickly caught up with the 5th place car and took the position. At the end of the race we were also chasing 4th place, but we ran out of time. Our 2 hours 45 minutes was up.
It was a long and tough race, but the SpeedSource crew did a great job, especially John. We experienced no faults during the race or the pit stops bar a few minor scuffs on the car. We had been aiming for a top five finish, and were really pleased to manage to grab 5th in just our second race.
Each time John and I practice in the car with the team, we learn something new, and all the time this helps us to consolidate our performance and improve ready for our next race. Virginia International Raceway is in two weekends time, and unlike Barber, we both know the track, and we’re really getting to grips with the car. As the team gels more and more, there is a definite feeling that we can now achieve our first podium.