The opportunity to race in the Pirelli World Challenge in 2016 is huge for a young driver like myself, especially in the environment I have at K-PAX Racing. The competition this year is by far the best it’s ever been in the series and I have two great experienced teammates to learn from and push me every event. Even with all the right ingredients, racing is just one of those sports that knocks you down when you least expect it. Round 1 and 2 of the season were just that for me and the No. 6 crew.
I qualified 14th for the first race. I didn’t put in a good lap and I did not show the same pace that I had in practice. I was frustrated because I knew there was more in the car as well as myself. It was unfortunate, but I knew I had the pace to be in the top 10 and our car seemed to come more alive in race conditions.
Being the first race of the season, everyone was anxious, and at the drop of the green chaos ensued. Cars were weaving back and forth 5-6 wide heading up the wide front stretch toward turn one. I made up 3 spots by the time we reached the back stretch on the first lap. As good of a car that the McLaren 650S GT3 is, it has an inherent weak spot in a straight line compared to the rest of the competition. The three spots that I made up, all went roaring past me down the straightaway. This was a bit disheartening. I maintained my position from there as a pack of about 8 of us tried to work through some GTA traffic. We were all congested when one of the Bentley’s behind me misjudged their braking and rammed into the back of me. It was a pretty big hit and caused quite a bit of damage to the rear end of my car. This damage made the car extremely loose to drive. After this I went into damage-control and just focused on bringing the car home in one piece. The next 40 minutes with this damage were very physical. I was sideways on the edge of control in almost every corner of the 3.4 mile course. We ended a respectable 12th given the circumstances. The only good thing about a bad Race 1 is that there is a Race 2 the next day!
Sunday presented me with a new opportunity to end the weekend with a positive result. We started 13th for the second race. Before even reaching the first turn, there was a massive crash involving one of the leaders. I had to check up for the carnage and lost several spots. We went full course yellow and lined back up for the restart. I lost a few more spots on the lead up to turn 1 down the straight during the restart. I maintained my position several laps after the restart and set my sights on the end of the race as I took care of my tires and watched my competitors begin to slide around.
My strategy began to show its strength, as the pack of cars in front slowly started coming back to me and it was about time to start making my move forward. But just as it seemed to be starting to go my way, I received a penalty from race control for getting out of line during the restart, and I had to serve a drive through penalty. This was of course very frustrating for me and my team, but also very confusing since we felt that I had not violated any rules on the restart.
Regardless, I went about my race as I had before I came in for the penalty. I drove hard for the last half of the race. From that point on, I clicked off laps as quick as the leading cars. I was proud of this, and it was our positive take from Race two. I made up a few spots before the checkers, but nothing to make up the deficit lost by the penalty.
We later learned after the race that the penalty was not actually for the restart but for the initial start. On the warm up lap, the car that was starting one spot in front of me lost control and never returned to their position. As we approached the start-finish line, I filled the gap left by the absent car, moving up a position, and that is what the penalty was for, being in the wrong grid spot before the drop of the green.
Hot and frustrated, I’ve reflected quite a lot on my races; as well as the weekend. I’ve pulled several positives away and tried to outweigh the negatives with them. One positive being, that almost all the negatives were out of our control. The exception was qualifying. I dropped the
ball there, and that could have shifted the outcome of my weekend. It proved to be a very crucial aspect of the races given our straightline disadvantage.
The biggest positive I have to take away from the races is my race pace. Our race pace was as good, if not, better than the leaders. If we are able to start up front, we could stay there. I learned a lot during the weekend and that will only improve as the year goes on. St. Pete is my favorite street course, and I can’t wait to go back racing there. Luckily for me, it’s only a few days away! I am determined to bounce back from COTA. I have total confidence that we can. I really enjoy working with the K-PAX Racing, Flying Lizard, and McLaren GT boys. I think we have already gelled nicely as a group and I hope to see us as a force to be reckoned with in the future.