After such a strong run at Road America in my first weekend with Team TGM we had high hopes for VIR.
Like Road America, VIR is a true road course but with a very unique set of challenges compared to other tracks, given it’s variety of corners, curbing and those fast uphill esses!
But this weekend at VIR was a tricky one to say the least…
First and foremost it was HOT! Temperatures were in the mid-nineties and there was no sign of relief.
We hit the track late Thursday afternoon for the promoter test session and got to work, but quickly realized we were going to need some help in the cooling department.
The conditions brought an entirely new meaning to the word ‘sweat’ and it didn’t take long before we were all feeling pretty dehydrated.
Battling through the intense heat we set out on our plan to evaluate our Road America setup and start to adjust for the challenges of VIR. We were relatively quick compared to the competition and continually improved the handling throughout the two-hour session.
We finished the day with an idea of some changes to make over night and began to work on improving the airflow inside the cockpit of our Cayman GT4.
And yes, I finally broke down and bought a Cool Shirt, which for some reason I had been against for years. You know, because I’m a tough-guy… Boy are they nice!
Friday’s sessions showed continued improvement in our setup but the tire temperatures were getting too hot for the long run so additional changes were necessary, even though they might not have been ideal for the optimal handling of the car.
It’s always a balancing act between optimal handling and making sure the tires can survive the duration of a full stint of hard racing.
Qualifying time came around and we weren’t quite there yet, making big adjustments to the cars and continuing to work on a few other projects.
Given that, we opted out of the late 7 p.m. qualifying session to make all the necessary changes to the cars and to conserve the crew a bit.
With only eight cars in the GS field, it’s not a terrible situation. Think about the crew here; they work so hard all day in the heat, between sessions and then during the sessions – they never get any reprieve. You’ve got to take care of your crew and think about the long run.
We needed our guys well rested for race day and we had a heavy work load of changes to be made that night to put ourselves in the best position for the race.
The sun rose Saturday morning and we were prepared. The car was ready to roll and improvements were made in the ‘driver cooling’ department.
Ted would be starting from eighth on the grid and was feeling good. As we looked up in the sky we saw something we hadn’t seen all weekend – dark and ominous clouds in the distance.
That is something we had not prepared for! Looking as though it was far away it was easy to say, “Oh, that probably won’t hit us…” Well guess what? It was coming.
The green flag dropped and Ted was right in the mix. Conditions were still dry but just a few laps in it started to drizzle. Another few laps later it began to rain a bit more steadily on the back side of the course and then it happened – the white squall!
It absolutely dumped rain like it had never rained before. Cars were sliding off the track everywhere but Ted had it all under control and held position.
Given the intensity of the rain IMSA went full-course yellow and shortly thereafter brought the cars into pit lane for a red flag. Talk about flooding… the rain was intense.
After about an hour it had settled down enough for us to get racing again and the cars set out for a full-course yellow lap that would go straight into pit stop procedures.
Having been practicing their pit stops the TGM crew nailed it on our stop and gained us two positions as we left pit lane. Great stuff by the guys and much appreciated…
Armed with a fresh set of rains and having never driven this car in the wet before, it was full-on reconnaissance mode as we ran behind the pace car waiting for the green flag – time to find all those puddles, patches of pavement changes, streams, etc.
“Green Green Green!” was the call and off we went. Slipping, sliding and splashing through the puddles I had a great scrap going with Pierre Kleinubing and Charles Espenlaub for a few laps, but it was apparent that our setup direction over the weekend was not really the best setup for the rain.
Our car was stiff, loose and struggled for the grip and balance that my competitors seemed to have. We were definitely not expecting any rain and wound up on the other spectrum from a rain setup.
Sadly I was losing time and soon lost position to both of them. Worse yet, I just couldn’t keep up and slowly watched some really great battles in front of me drive off into the distance.
I just couldn’t match the lap times of the group and despite trying different lines and driving techniques I was relegated to hanging on and bringing the car home in one piece.
I even pulled a Danny Sullivan-style spin out of Turn 3 and never broke stride, slowing the spin strategically, releasing the brake at the right time and getting the car pointed in the right direction without breaking stride at all – but didn’t mange the full ‘Spin and Win’ like Danny Sullivan did… Oh well, it probably looked good, as far as spins go!
A sixth-place finish in an unexpected rain race and zero damage to the car was ultimately a not-so-terrible day and we can now take everything we learned – in both the wet and the dry – and plan accordingly for our next race at COTA in two weeks.
Hopefully I’ll have a more exciting debrief next time that includes a little champagne.