Hello and welcome to my first column here on Sportscar365. As you may know it was recently announced that I would be joining Team TGM for the remainder of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season to co-drive with Ted Giovanis in the No. 64 Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport.
I haven’t raced in Continental Tire Challenge for many years now but spent much of my early professional career racing in the series, so it’s nice to be back. I’ve always enjoyed the great racing it provides.
In addition to co-driving with Ted, I will also be working as his driving coach and been tasked with leading the way for the development of the cars, and helping bring the entire program to the next level. Now we are talking… A program I can really sink my teeth into!
Road America was a great weekend with a fantastic result, but it certainly was a whirlwind.
Upon my arrival I was greeted with an incredibly warm welcome from the crew. As a newcomer to a race team, you never want to walk in and turn the place upside-down, but we all agreed there was no time to waste and we had the same goal in mind – improve and perform. So turn the place upside-down I did!
We hit the ground running on Thursday and made a ton of changes to the car during the first practice session. Between Thursday night and Friday I worked the TGM crew to the absolute bone. They were remarkable – happy to have my input, eager to collaborate and we were certainly making progress.
But that progress began to slow in the final practice session as we were all stumped trying to find a resolve to a handling problem we had.
Out of time and ideas, we slapped on a new set of Continental Tires and sent Ted out for qualifying. He said the car felt pretty good and Ted had posted his best lap times of the weekend, qualifying 8th.
After qualifying we took some time to relax, shoot the breeze and actually get to know each other better. We reflected on all the changes we had made thus far and as a result, we showed up the next morning with a plan and made 2 more changes to the car.
This is it – time to just race whatever you have!
The green flag dropped and Ted got a great start. There were quite a few BIG crashes during the first half of the race but thankfully no one was hurt.
Ted avoided all the drama & ran a solid first stint. He didn’t get a lot of ‘green’ racing with all the incidents but that kept everyone grouped together. We pitted at the 45-minute mark for fuel, tires and a driver change. Out came the green flag on the restart and I was off!
To my delight the car was handling significantly better than it had all weekend. Now I had something I could really work with.
After the restart I was able to start moving forward through the field. I had great battles with each pass I made and a really nice, clean battle with my buddy Billy Johnson for the lead. Once I got in front, I started pulling away and opened up a solid lead over the rest of the field.
Another yellow came out and strategy was a big question. It was too soon to pit and make it to the end of the race on fuel (without another yellow) so we stayed out and took our chances, but everyone behind me pitted. In hindsight, this was our mistake.
On the restart, I stretched out my lead again since I was clearly not saving fuel. When we pitted we took on a full set of tires as well.
For sure it would provide me with an advantage to have fresh rubber, but the length of the pit stop certainly hurt us. I left pit lane down one lap and over one minute behind the leader. However, they were all going to have to stop for a splash of fuel so there was still hope.
One by one they pitted and we were back in the mix. Now in 3rd place I was closing on Jeroen Bleekemolen at a serious pace. With two laps remaining I caught him and that’s when something must have broke in his steering.
Suddenly his car started zig-zagging across the track, all the way down the straights, off-line in the braking zones, dropping wheels at the exit of the corners and oddly enough, his car just managed to move everywhere I was trying to move. I’m sure it was scary for him to not have any control over the car like that.
…Oh right, he was just blocking…
Despite my frustration with his blatant disregard for Beaux Barfield’s hour-long dissertation in the drivers meeting I raced Mr. Bleekemolen hard and clean.
It was two laps of chaos that I’m sure was entertaining to watch but definitely will not end the same way in the future. We crossed the line side-by-side at the checkered flag, taking home 3rd place.
It wasn’t the result I had in mind after the dominant performance we put in but none the less a great result for us – especially being the first time we were working together. Ted and I stood on the podium and sprayed champagne. Not bad at all.
TGM is comprised of a wonderful group of people that are very passionate about their team.
Although I’m a fire-ball that came in and stirring things up, we’re already having a great time together and clearly showing we will be contending for wins. I’m looking forward to our continued development and getting to the next round at VIR.
And you, Mr. Bleekemolen… I hope you get that steering problem fixed.