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Progress is Not Always Measured in Podiums

A Good Start

Friday’s practice started strong with me getting up to pace very fast and the car was on rails in only the second session. After running a successful qualifying and race simulation we decided as a team to stop running the car for the day. This was ultimately a costly mistake.

A Mysterious Noise

Towards the end of Friday’s practice session, I reported a vibration and grinding noise under hard load right-hand turns. Upon inspecting the car we didn’t find anything.

During Practice 1 I noticed that I was slower on the straights compared to everyone else. However, the car still drove fine in the corners despite the odd noise.

Wheel Bearing Failure

Entering Turn 2 the car began to pull hard left and there was smoke coming from the rear wheel. The wheel bearing had completely failed. As a result, I did not get in a single qualifying lap and would be starting Race 1 from P9.

A New Challenge

Starting from the back in P9, I had the fun challenge of overtaking as many cars as possible to get a good result. I nailed the start going from P9 to P6 in the first lap. Lap after lap I kept passing cars.

At the same time, I had to manage both the straight-line speed advantage of following other cars, and my car overheating from the cars in front creating a vacuum of air. Knowing that my car struggled for top speed I decided to stay behind my teammate Sam who was running second.

Too Optimistic

Going into the last lap I was running in 4th behind fellow competitors Christian Hoagland and my teammate Sam Spencer. With Sam and Christian just ahead I waited to pounce at the last moment. I made a bold move passing Christian for P3 in Turn 5.

Following Sam into Turn 9 I knew that I could get him on the exit running up to the finish line. However I carried in a tad too much speed and when I went from a slipstream to clean air near the apex of Turn 9, the front end of the car suddenly gained lots of grip. The rear stepped out and I entered a slide. I held the car for a long time before the wheel snapped out of my hands and I lost control.

Like Schumacher

I ended up flying off track at almost 100 mph and was too far off to re-enter the track. As a result, like Michael Schumacher at the British Grand Prix in 1998, I crossed the finish line in the pit lane. I ended up P5.

New Day, New Opportunity

After Saturday’s disappointment, I knew I could turn things around on Sunday. I finished Practice 2 P1 running a 1:35.885. That was faster than my previous race lap record of 1:35.938. I was feeling great going into the qualifying race.

Confusion At The Grid

The grid for Sunday’s qualifying race has always been determined by the fastest time you set during Race 1 on Saturday. Based on that, I should have started P2. However, I ended up starting P5 due to an error from race control.

A Wild Finish

I moved up to P3 pretty fast and stayed behind the two cars running ahead of me waiting for the right moment to take the lead. Going into the last lap I stayed right on the cars ahead of me as they battled for the win. I passed one car at the exit of Turn 9 to move up to P2 before having a drag race to the line with my teammate Sam for the win. He ended up beating me by 2 hundredths of a second!

A Sitting Duck

Starting Race 2 P2 I knew this was my best chance to win. Unfortunately, I over-slowed the entry into Turn 1 and fell back to P3. I stayed with the leaders taking advantage of the tow working to pull away from the rest of the field. Despite being able to stay with the leaders on pace, my car began to overheat and I had to drop back into clean air.

While I was able to cool off the engine, the gearbox continued to get hotter and hotter. A few laps later I struggled to get the car to shift from 5th to 4th going into Turn 1 and fell to 5th. I managed to get everything back under control but at this point, I was only up to 4th too far back from the top 3.

Abu Dhabi 2021 Restart

A couple of laps later the red flag came out due to a car in another class catching on fire. I expected the race to be cut short since there were only 4 minutes remaining.

The NASA rules require us to stop at the first visible marshall post waving a red flag. The first visible post was on the entry to Turn 2 just past the incident, however I had to stop just past it due to the fire and rescue vehicles being in front of the marshall post.

When we cleared to move again the cars exiting the Turn 1 marshall post passed me. Despite being held in the pitlane for another 10 minutes, the order from the previous lap was never reinstated. I was now going to start the last lap of the race out of order.

I finished P5. Following the race I went to the stewards to protest the result due to the wrong order. But my appeal was denied and my final classification would be 5th.

An End To A Frustrating Weekend

Despite showing some incredible pace, the stars did not align this weekend. The wheel-bearing failure ruined my qualifying, putting me at the back for Race 1. The car overheating put us out of contention for being competitive with Sunday’s hot conditions. And the grid error during the qualifying race and one-lap finale during Race 2 was the final nail in the coffin.

I expected this weekend to be a challenge, but this was way worse than expected. Weekends like this force you to perform at your absolute best and make you appreciate the good times. We have a couple of weeks off before the next round at Buttonwillow. Time to get to work and bounce back.

📸 Donna Wittlin Studio, Greg Lawless, Herb Lopez

May 23, 2024


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