Heading into the 2nd event on the PWC schedule, I was determined to rebound from the 1st event at Circuit of the Americas. St. Petersburg has always been one of my favorite street circuits, and the track suited the McLaren 650S GT3 much better with its tight, narrow, low grip turns. Initially the weekend started out a bit slow, with boost issues consuming our entire first practice session. The second practice went well, as we crammed in a sticker run and many different changes to improve the balance. We finished final practice in P7 in a very tight field. I left the track on Thursday happy with what we had come up with for qualifying and for the race. Because qualifying proved to be so crucial at COTA, it was my biggest focus for St. Pete.
Early Friday morning was qualifying, and where I would end up would be extremely crucial for the results on Saturday and Sunday. I pulled out on track, and got a good gap to the cars in front of me. I pushed hard to squeeze as much as I could out of the car. I put in a lap that was solid, I drove a bit too deep into T1, but with that being the only exception, I came in the pits and saved my tires for the race. My teammate Alvaro (Parente) and I were 1-2 for quite a while. My time was +0.08 off of his. In the closing minutes a few cars went back out for a flyer and bumped us both off. By the end of the session, we were P2 and P4, with less than 0.2 separating the top five! This was a great way to set up the two races and was a big confidence boost for me heading into the rest of the weekend.
At the drop of the green Alvaro and I did all we could to maintain our positions. Between being on the outside, and our straightline disadvantage, I fell back to P6. I settled in line and began conserving tires for the end of the race. The tricky part about our car is that it is not too strong down the straights, but it is good in the tight, technical portions of the track, and the tight technical portions rarely have passing zones in them. At St. Pete the only true passing zones are at the end of long straightaways. I figured my best shot at passing was to hope for a long green run and pass them later with better tires.
My plan hit a few bumps down the road due to traffic. The first issue came when the Nissan in front of me hit the wall in the last corner damaging his rear wing. Without the rear wing, he could not corner as well as before, and I was right on his heels wanting by, but whenever we’d make it to a straightaway, he would drive so far away from me it would make it very risky to overtake under braking. After 2 laps of this, I finally dove down the inside almost 20 car lengths away entering T1. This lost me a lot of time to the Cadillacs in front, who I had been trying to catch all race. The second issue in traffic was complications with the Porsche Cup cars. Their straightline speed is as good or better than ours, so it presents the same issue as the crippled Nissan. Without these complications, I think we had a shot at a podium finish. Our race pace was once again very strong and proved to be one of our strengths. Regardless, P5 is a very good finish, and something I look forward to building on.
Unfortunately Race 2 did not go as well as Race 1. After a lengthy yellow that took up the majority of the race, Alvaro,
the two Bentleys, and I were in a battle for position. A poorly placed Porsche Cup car complicated this battle and congested the group heading into T1. One of the Bentleys made a late, bold move on Alvaro, which resulted in the Bentley hitting him in the right side. Meanwhile, I was just completing a pass on the other Bentley. Alvaro spun to the middle of the track, and I went to the inside to avoid him. Right about the time I thought I was completely clear from the incident, I received a hard hit to the left rear, which threw me back across the track to the left into the outside wall. It was a big impact at a funny angle into the concrete barrier. The jolt knocked the wind out of me and caught me by surprise as I was not expecting such a hard impact. After watching the replay, the hit came from the Bentley I was passing. Initially he went to the outside to avoid the spin, but the further Alvaro slid up the track, the smaller that window of opportunity became. In a last minute decision, he swerved back all the away across the track just barely finding my bumper and clipping me, sending me into the wall.
The damage sustained in the crash ended my race, and will require some significant repair. Luckily we have a few weeks from now until our next event at Long Beach in April. I’ve never driven at Long Beach, but I’ve grown up watching the races from there and learning about the long history of the circuit. Our performance in St. Pete on the No. 6 was very strong, and will only get better as I keep improving and learning more about the car. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year will bring!