I usually try to write up race weekends a few days after getting home, but NASA’s East Coast Championships left me exhausted both physically and mentally, and I’m only now finding some time to review the week of debauchery.
The event ran from Thursday to Sunday, but I left Tuesday morning as Sebring, Florida is nearly 900 miles from home. My first stop was in Charleston, South Carolina to see some friends on Tuesday evening. Bill and Tyler offered up their spare bedroom for the night, and took me out to a delicious BBQ restaurant, followed by a bar that served only desserts and adult milkshakes.
I pointed the Range Rover south on Wednesday morning and made it to Sebring around 4 PM, after many hours on the road. We were let into the paddock at 5:00 sharp and I got unloaded. Dinner was with Jack and Gil, two Corvette friends who compete in Time Trial with NASA Mid-Atlantic.
Thursday was a practice day, which I spent on my now very used up set of “backup” tires. The goal was to learn the track, work on my line, and improve a bit. Mission accomplished. The track’s layout seemed fun, though 100% flat. All the bumps I was warned about were not nearly as bad in person, with only a couple big enough to unsettle the car. The 30-heat-cycle R1’s didn’t have enough grip to worry about gaining much speed, but I figured I’d pick it up a bit the rest of the week.
Friday and Saturday were “qualifying days.” Each day, we had a warm-up, a qualifying session, and a qualifying race. The qualifying session was run as normal, i.e. best lap time determines your starting order for that day’s race. The “qualifying race” results were used to determine the starting order for the championship race on Sunday.
Our field lost a car due to engine failure on Friday, so we were down to five racers in GTS2 instead of the initial six.
My qualifying days went well, and I secured a pretty solid 4th place finish each day while also shaving my lap times down from the high 2:30s to consistent 2:33-2:34’s.
Due to a fellow racer being disqualified for blowing the dyno on Saturday, I started Sunday’s race in 3rd place. We took the green flag and about halfway through our first lap, the “typical Florida rain” reached Sebring International Raceway. A few sprinkles at first, then a torrent by the next turn. Trying to drive my car at any real speed felt like watching a baby deer learn to walk – each wheel wanted to go somehwere on its own. The entire field slowed down, and pretty quickly, the race was black-flagged for safety reasons.
My passenger-side windshield wiper gave out somewhere during this mess. I was glad to still have the driver’s side working, although either way, I couldn’t see too far past the hood of the car.
I pulled in to grid in third place, and we sat for five minutes or so as the rain cleared. The race was restarted, single-file, and on the pace lap, I could tell the water would not drain quickly. I’ve had bad experiences in the past with rain driving, and elected to focus on simply finishing the race with the car intact. I did just that and came in fifth.
After 360 miles of laps on Sebring’s historic concrete, my friend Mark and I loaded up and headed back toward Virginia Sunday night, in a caravan with fellow competitor Scott and his wife Elizabeth.
The biggest goal I set for myself with this year’s Championships was “be clean, and have fun.” I met that goal handily. The car came home looking the same as when it left, and the only contact I had was a small “racing incident” type of bump from a Mustang, that didn’t even scuff the paint on either car.
With my first season of GTS2 racing finally at a close, I am already planning what I can do to better both myself and the car for the 2018 season. I’ve made some huge strides throughout 2017, and cannot wait to get even closer to the pointy end of the field next year.