PJ Groenke: COTA Recap
The 2015 Pirelli World Challenge Series season is officially underway and the first weekend at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) has come to a close. During the off-season I made some major changes to my race program switching from a Honda Fit to a MINI Cooper reuniting a partnership with Alain Lauziere of Team Octane, and my former crew chief and dear friend Sean Asselin. Having raced the Verax.ca, Tundra, Mulligan Gold MINI Cooper a few times in 2012 the car was not new to me, but I knew that it would take some time to become reacquainted with the car and learn the back half of COTA since we raced on the short track in 2013.
The weather in Austin, TX was surprisingly cold on Friday and not having any scrubbed tires or the Racekeeper system set up as of yet, we decided to skip Friday’s practice session. Qualifying went well with no issues, but I was 6.507 seconds off the ultimate fastest lap time and qualified in 11th place. Race 1 took place Saturday morning under much warmer conditions and I was much happier with the results moving up to finish 7th place dropping 2.920 seconds off my qualifying lap time. I was definitely looking forward to the second race and continuing my move forward through the field. I started Race 2 in 9th place and managed to finish in 7th place only 0.987 seconds out of 5th place. The best part of Race 2 was that I set the 5th fastest lap time, which was great and welcomed news, and put us in an excellent starting position for Race 3 on Sunday.
Rain welcomed us Sunday morning and it began to rain heavily before the start of our race on Sunday. I absolutely love racing in the rain, but it is worrisome at the same time as there is usually a lot of carnage. We took a very safe approach with the setup of the Verax.ca, Tundra, Mulligan Gold MINI Cooper and this paid dividends at the start of the race as I was able to pace the leaders. However, a slower Touring Class car got between me and the 4th place TCB car allowing him to break away and the cars behind to catch up. And as the track began to dry midway through the race our cautious setup caused the Verax.ca, Tundra, MINI Cooper to develop a push through Turns 5-10 dropping me back to 10th place. Determined to regain lost positions, I managed to battle back to 8th place in the final laps closing out the weekend.
Overall we had a good start to the season with solid results. The Verax.ca, Tundra, Mulligan Gold MINI Cooper is back home safe and sound without a mark on it. Next up is Mosport (Canadian Tire Motorsports Park), my home track, and the results will definitely be different!