Warning Long Post!
GTD Racing Sebring NYE 2018 Race Report
Day 1- We got to roll off 3rd thanks to the random draw, Justin was in the car first. He kept the car in the top 10 (and set the fastest time for our team a 2.37) until the caution flew at the 1hr mark. We decided to pit for fuel only and he rejoined the race in 25th. For the next 45 minutes he worked his way back to 11th, until he was black flagged for apparently passing under yellow, though the official could not say where. At that point, Joe(me) got in and rejoined the race back at 24th place, and drove up to 20th consistently running in the 2:42’s until fatigue began to set in due to the heat. So when the caution flew 1hr and 20 minutes into the stint it was time to exit the car. Next up was Cameron, new to the car and team. He did good work turning some quick laps and keeping the car clean while getting acclimated to it and the track. After 19 laps and driving the car up to 17th he too succumbed to the heat and wisely brought the car in. We were now in the heat of the day. Unfortunately a few of us sorely underestimated the warmer than average temps and left our cool shirts at home. Big Mistake. On the other hand there was absolutely no drama with the car. It was tougher than we were Saturday, and after some pesky gremlins the last 3 races I was sure glad for that. It just ran and ran..
Next up was Choray rejoining the race in 21st position. The interior temp in the car must have been at it’s peak by then because within 10 laps Cho was calling to come in due to the heat. He brought the car in after 12 laps and took an ice bucket challenge in the car (I literally dumped the whole cooler down his suit much to his delight) and went back out for another 8 laps and managed to lay down some quick 2:40 laps before once again succumbing to the heat and bringing the car back to pit road. At this point we were in 16th place with a little over 1 and a half hours to go. All day we had never run the car on a stint that long and we were not sure if it would go that long on fuel so it was a bit of a conservation run to the finish when Justin (with cool shirt) returned to the race in 19th position. Regardless he drove the car at quite a pace to bring it home 16th overall, even enduring a flat right front inside the final 15 laps. He did a great job to bring the car back to the pits from the far side of the course without destroying the wheel or fender. We ended the day 3rd in D-class which was a new best for the team, and quite an achievement(if I do say so myself) considering the strength of the D class field. After a nice cold beer and some high-fives, we set about doing our inspection and repairs in preparation for another 7 hours on day 2. The car needed very little work, just brake pads and a couple additional brackets on the diffuser. Our rear wing popped a couple of rivers, but that’s all. It stood up incredibly well to the roughest circuit in the country..
Keeping with the driver rotation, I was first in the car for day 2. Because of the previous day’s random draw the starting order was inverted so we started almost last. I was glad for that because I was a little nervous about managing/dodging traffic at the start. After some painfully slow, nerve racking, stop and go pace laps, the race finally started. I was on the back stretch at the time and due to a comm problem I missed the “Green, Green, Green” call. I got passed up a bit due to that so I really did start last. I quickly caught up to the pack and started to pick my way through. I must say that the driving on display there was fantastic! We were racing inches apart 2 and 3 wide at times and there was no contact that I could see. This gave me a huge boost of confidence not only in myself but also in the other drivers around me. It was intense, exhilarating and I was having a blast! We started somewhere around 50th and by 12 laps in we were up to 30th. That’s when disaster struck. ..
Clear of the pack, I was running pretty much alone and I could see the #19 infinity running in a pack of cars less than a straightaway ahead. Considering my poor start this made me feel pretty good about my progress. I knew if we could keep pace with them that we would be in the hunt for a repeat D-class podium. Crossing the start/finish line I had just laid down my fastest lap of the stint to that point and I was really starting to get “cozy” in the car. Hauling the mail down the front stretch shifting into 5th just before start finish,under the bridge, braking and downshifting just before the end of the pit wall, I turn down into turn 1, I roll back on the gas looking for the apex and I let the car start to drift/slide towards track out, when suddenly stopped dead sideways direct on the racing line is the #864 Porsche 944. I had less than a quarter second to react. Based on my RPM I’d say my corner exit speed was in the range of 75-80 mph. As soon as I saw him (turn 1 is very fast blind left hand corner for those of you who do not know Sebring) I knew I was very likely going to hit him,it was just a matter of where. I also knew I did not want to hit him direct in the door (which was exactly where I was headed). Furthermore I knew that if I even touched the brake at that moment the back end of the car would step out and I would for sure lose any chance I had to try and avoid the collision. So right or wrong I felt (after 0.250 second’s deliberation) that my best chance was to roll out of the throttle and try to steer back towards the inside wall. Unfortunately I came up about 24 inches short and I ended up plowing into the LF of the Porsche with the RF of my car. Sitting there in the quiet after the engine stalled was a scary feeling, I could hear other cars coming, and I knew by the sound that they (apparently like me) had not seen the waving corner yellow. One car came by at speed and barely missed us, locked up brakes and all. The next car, the Haz-Mat 66 Mustang managed to miss us but spun and smacked the inside wall just to my left. How he didn’t hit me is a miracle. I guess at that point they decided to throw the red flag which was certainly the right call. The safety crew came, allowed me to exit the car have a brief look at the damage before entering the ambulance where they checked me out for a sore neck. I declined a trip to the hospital, signed some papers and they sent me on my way. 24+ hours later I’m ok, just sore and stiff. I think the other driver was ok too but he’ll have to speak for himself. As for the car, definitely not OK. Champcar may have seen the last of the “Hustler”. This was the 9th race for this car (in it’s various iterations) and unfortunately the 2nd with damage. The right front frame rail is bent inward at a 90 degree angle, and the right strut tower has been moved over about 6 inches. But we managed to get the motor started and the power train seems to be mostly ok. Luckily it actually rolled into the trailer for the ride back to Chattanooga. I’ll take it to the frame shop next week for the final verdict but I think “Linus” is finished. I’ll keep you all posted. Congrats to the winners, and to all the driver’s for what was overall really a clean race weekend. Thanks to Champcar for providing us an opportunity to race on these legendary tracks.