TDI Cup Round 4: DNF @ Lime Rock

This weekend started out on a good note, but ended one a disasterous note. I headed out on Thursday afternoon. After a quick chat with my sponsor, Induktion, it was off to Connecticut. I headed out on the 6 hour journey alone with music, radar detector and gps. Good enough. After several hours of cruising and getting stuck in horrible Philly traffic, I encountered even worse traffic and torrential downpouring rain going from New Jersey to New York. Wow I hate the George Washington bridge. After the ridiculous traffic through Manhattan (and not to mention about $20 in tolls), I arrived in White Plains, NY. Earlier in the week, I had arranged to meet up with my buddy, Bobby Del Bello, from college. We decided to have some fun karting and headed to Grand Prix New York in Mount Kiscko. GPNY was such a stunning facility and by far, the best indoor karting center I’ve ever been to. You can easily tell a lot of investment was poured into the facility and it truly is top notch. We raced the ‘Downtown’ track and it really is a workout with how much G forces these karts can put out and how demanding the track is. I actually bruised my back from the hopping and bumping. After doing 2 rounds with Bobby and his friend, Ant, we grabbed some food then I had to head out. My hotel was another 2 hours away and it was already approaching 10pm. As I came back to my car, I noticed the rear right tire was completely flat. Great. I now realized what that ‘popping’ sound was when I was crossing the GW bridge. I tried filling it up with an air pump, but the car would constantly give me ‘low tire pressure’ warnings. As I was about 30 minutes from the hotel, I was getting dead tired and it was becoming dangerous. I stopped at a gas station, picked up some fix-a-flat and a Red Bull and headed on my way. I got to Torrington, CT around 1 a.m. and had to get to the track by 6:30. It was a historic hotel that I was staying in, built in 1891 and windows not properly sealed so I could hear all of main street’s traffic. I finally got some shut-eye.

Friday
Friday morning started good. I headed out on the 20 mile trek to the track, but since there were all single lane roads as well has heavy speed limits, it took around 35 minutes to get there. Through the rolling hills and mountainside of Connecticut, I arrived at the legendary Lime Rock Park. After just completing the repave a month or two before, we would not be running the terrible chicanes that the American Le Mans race had. I was excited to go and glad to see all my other teammates. We all popped into the golf carts and headed out to do the track walk. Lime Rock is a very fast track and we all used only 4th, 5th & 6th gear. We analyzed the track and came back in. We went over the cars with our techs and told them what we wanted for tires and pressures. Since Lime Rock is a right hand turn track (with only 1 left hander), I knew the rear left tire would be the most loaded, just like Portland. I opted to run the practice session first with the default pressures, then get the pressures checked. The default for these Michelins are 26psi F/35psi R and we can go +/-3psi. After an SCCA driver’s meeting, we hopped in the cars and headed out for practice sessions. Although the forecast said there would be rain, it was nice and dry in the morning. We headed out on free practice and I ran with scrubs up front and fresh slicks in the rear. My goal was to take it easy to save the slicks, as well as learning the track and just getting consistent times. I definitely kept it easy and got consistent times as I was hovering around 1:01 to 1:00’s. Apparently the repave makes the track around 2 seconds quicker, but around 1:00 is the time Grand-Am Koni Challenge GS cars used to run! I came back to see that I was about 14th fastest in free practice. It seemed that, the Michelin tires were chunking and they were chunking bad. A lot of drivers had issues with their tires. Although I was pushing the car hard, I didn’t experience any chunking and neither did some other drivers. What they would find out later was that the drivers who experienced it were the ones who were being overaggressive with the wheel. Just like we had seen at Portland, since Lime Rock was 1.54 miles, everyone was within a second or two of each other’s time. It definitely would make qualifying exciting, as well as challenging.

After eating lunch and going over with the techs about tire changes, we got into the cars. SCCA/VW told us beforehand they would run us for about 10-15 minutes, call a black flag so we could all come in, cool off our tires and not chunk them. Well, we all went out for the qualifying sessions and many of us waiting to push it hard in the 2nd part of the session. After I put in a decent lap, I came in to check tire pressures. After I went back out, they called the black flag, we all came in and sat around. After taking forever in the pits, I had a feeling they would just call the session quits. Yup, my suspicion was confirmed. Their (scca/vw) reasoning was that it was for the safety of the drivers that they didn’t want all the tires chunking and being put in a dangerous situation. The interesting part was that it was because of a few drivers who were overdriving and being overly aggressive with the steering that the tires were ripping apart. Nonetheless, many of us drivers were furious at the decision as we didn’t even get a chance to put in a true qualifying effort. Somehow, Michael DeNino popped out a 59.9 in the final lap before the black flag and got pole position! Many of us came into the debrief and were pissed off. I ended up with a qualifying effort of 11th, with a 1:00.434. Although I was 5th fastest at MoSport, the penalty made me qualify 13th, so my 11th spot at Lime Rock was technically my best qualifying effort yet. Full results from qualifying here.

Later that night, I went to dinner with David Richert. We have been developing a cool friendship race by race and at the dinner we really connected on a lot of things. We discussed funding issues, sponsorship, our backgrounds, the driving personalities, etc. He had some very interesting and smart points. While we were finishing up, we saw Kyle Novak come in. Kyle is the SCCA program director for the Jetta TDI cup. We chatted for a good while about our series, about Kyle’s former series that we worked with (Champ Car), track sponsorship, media, etc. It was getting a bit late and we decided to pack it up. When I got back to my hotel, I was so dead tired I ended passing out after watching Michael Phelps win his 7th gold medal by 1/100th of a second. Unbelievable. I was thinking, I wish I can be great in tomorrow’s race like he is.

Saturday
Saturday morning, I got to the track pretty early, as we had a media training session at 7:30 in the morning. We went over more about setting up our own press releases, how to approach journalists, how to answer technical questions we didn’t know, etc. After many of us drivers being pissed yesterday, I think we had all cooled off and were just ready to race that day. Later on, we had our driver’s meeting with SCCA informing us that the race would be the full 30 minutes, regardless of if some people started getting tires blistering or chunking. Afterward, Motorsport manager Clark Campbell introduced us to racing legend, Sam Posey. Mr. Posey lived right near the track and helped with the reconstruction/repave of Lime Rock. We had a Q&A session about the repave, the curbing and he talked about his days racing at Le Mans, in Formula 1 (he’s still a commentator on Speed for F1), racing at Daytona, Lime Rock, you name it. He was a very humble and reserved man, and I wish I had more time to sit down and talk with him that day.

After awhile, we all headed for the cars and we were informed we would get a 10 minute warm-up an hour before the race. Because of the tire issues from yesterday, Jan Heylen went out and tested different setups for the car. In the end, they found a setup that they though would work fine. They adjusted the rear swaybar, added some negative camber up front and they did not allow us to change tire pressures for the race (still at the default 26psi F/35psi R). After waiting about 15 minutes on grid, we headed out for our warm ups. I didn’t really push it that hard as I wanted to conserve my fresh slicks up front, but I got a feel for the car’s handling. To me, it felt like I had a tad bit more understeer than the previous setup. After we got out of the cars, Andy Lee commented on how he ran a faster time in the warm up than in qualifying. For most of us, we were running about a second or two off our qualifying time. After getting out of the cars, about 20 minutes later we had to get back in and get belted up. After sitting on the grid again, we headed out for our race. We did our parade lap around the track with the E60 BMW M5 pit car (seeing as how Lime Rock is heavily sponsored by BMW), then we all got lined up by SCCA on the starting grid. I was right behind Jimmy Underhill and Andy Lee was right behind me. I knew what I was gonna try to aim for off the start. After 5 seconds, the red staging lights came up, we all hit our launch control, lights went off, bam! We all shot off as we had the previous 3 rounds and I was chasing Underhill, trying to get a good spot into T1. I got right behind Underhill and Chris Holman was right on my left. We were all side by side for a few turns and coming out of 4, we were all so close Andy Lee gave me a ‘love tap’ coming up to the uphill. After going nose to tail with people, we came onto the front straightaway and went chasing for T1. It seemed like Andy had so many speed and was definitely on my tail the whole time. When we got into the braking zone for 1, I hear a loud WHAM and then I feel the car hop and get pushed out by Holman. “Sh*t!” I yell to myself. After he drove into my right door/fender, a few people pass by and I immediately try to get back in line. After struggling to get grip after getting hit, I am just trying to hold on for my position. In one of the next laps, I am right behind Gary Williams, Jr. After rollercoaster, we fly down the hill and I am reeling him in. After drafting him, I try to get out of his draft to attempt a pass, but he immediately pulls out, I go even closer to the inside, but he’s still right there. In a final attempt, with a few inches for me to spare, I dive in on the inside of him, when all of a sudden *CRASH*…Everything happens so instantly I didn’t even know who I hit. I see a black Oakley car behind me, but here I am, try to get on the power…nothing. No drive power at all. I sit there for what seems like forever. I saw the whole field pass me by atleast twice and only with a local yellow. Not too smart, considering I was a little bit on the track in one of the hottest braking zones. I have no clue how bad the damage is, but I don’t even care at this point. I am so pissed at myself for crashing out and not scoring any valuable points. I crashed out in the very early laps of the race. After getting towed back to pits with everyone taking pictures, one of the techs runs up and gets a car cover. He says, “hey can you help me cover this up?” I see a little bit of the damage but I helped cover the car up anyway. Later I find out, I had crashed in the 5th lap out of 25. How disappointing. To crash so early, when I was near the top 10 and about to get some much needed points. Near the end of the race, I see Andy Lee and Nick Mancuso roll in.

I am already changed into my street gear and I know I will be discussing what happened to about 30 different people. I see my sponsor, Ed with Induktion Motorsports, and I give him the bad news. He said he thought something happened when the whole pack rolled around and he didn’t see the Induktion vinyl. I also see my friend Bobby showed up just in time to see my carnage. Chris Castagna took the win, Mark Pombo took 2nd and Josh Hurley finished out the podium. Those guys did a helluva job, as I watched from the tech shed and they didn’t act stupid and try to challenge each other and risk their positions. They fought hard and did a great job. Full race results here. Derek Jones comes up to me and says, “thanks for taking me out”. Oh dammit, I didn’t realized I had taken out my friend Derek. I felt horrible and immediately apologized. Before that, Chris Holman came up to apologize for driving into me. I felt very terrible for Derek, but he is such a laid back person. He told me, “if it was anyone else, I’d kick their face in”. I spent the next hour or so discussing over what happened with a few drivers and going over the damage report with my tech, Travis. All the spectators were joking, “are you doing the insurance estimate?” Looks like I had wrecked my driver fender pretty good, the headlight was missing, bent the hood a little, the bumper was ripped off the mount on that side, the door wouldn’t open because of the fender and I had a nice donut on the side of my passenger door and fender from Holman. I didn’t have time to eat lunch because I was running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off. We all had a mandatory autograph session and that felt pretty cool. After talking with Andrew Cordeiro and Adam Love, it turned out that we were all autocrossers. We gave each other high 5’s and finished up the session as it started raining. As I was about to grab my bag from the lockers, Derek runs out and yells for me. I run back and he says, “SCCA is trying to penalize me for what you did”. I was in shock and we both ran to the technical trailer. As they showed their footage from their camera angle, it did indeed look like it could be partially Derek’s fault. Besides the accident, seeing the footage from the Speed cameras looked pretty cool I have to admit! But I immediately told the SCCA officials it was my fault, that I was racing Williams to the corner, and in the midst of that as we were carrying way too much speed, Derek was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I saw on video that I collected Derek’s rear quarter panel and didn’t touch Williams. So theoretically I made a clean pass on Williams, but unfortunately, Derek was there to take the hit. We talked about different incidents and other stuff that was important to bring up to the SCCA. They told Derek I had just saved his butt from getting penalized. It was the least I could do for him as I felt terrible for taking him out of valuable points as well. I had just had another difficult weekend and was ready to go hang out with my friends. I left Lime Rock feeling real down, but still with optimism. I told myself this is the halfway point of the season and i have about 1/10th the points that the top guys have right now. I need to really step it up for the next 4 races. I can’t afford to give up any more chances, I can’t afford to crash and I really need to place podium. We’ll find out in a month at Iowa.

Thanks again to Induktion Motorsports and Soldier Design for their support this season. I hope to get you guys in the spotlight soon!