American Endurance Racing Round 1: Road Atlanta
I kicked off 2017 by acquiring my NASA Comp License at MRS Houston late January. With my sights set on wheel to wheel racing in 2017, I figured what better way to experience wheel to wheel racing than by driving full tank stints in a multi-class endurance race. While Road Atlanta was no stranger to me, the car I'd be driving, the #501 Radium Engineering BMW Spec E30, would be.
Spending the off season back home in Austin, Texas, I flew into Atlanta Thursday evening and headed straight to Solo Motorsports to get fitted in the car along with my co-driver, Jessica.
Friday, we had Practice & Qualifying. My co-drivers and I used the day to familiarize ourselves with the car. With widespread unfamiliarity on the team, we unfortunately did not qualify very well, ending up 44th overall and 8th in class to start the 9 hour race on Saturday morning.
With fresh tires and brakes we started the race off on Saturday morning, I drove the second stint. Saturday was a pretty uneventful day for Team Radium. I got a little bit shaky in my first stint down the back straight, but those nerves subsided rather quickly. Aside from having to take one extra pit stop due to running the factory fuel tank and our pit stops averaging 90 seconds too long, the day went off without any major complications. We finished the 9 hour race just shy of the podium, 4th in class, and 19th overall.
Sunday morning came with a light drizzle, but the track dried not long after the race went green. Because of the local sound ordinance, Road Atlanta is required to observe quiet hours from 10am to 12pm for local churches. So the race would only truly be 7 hours. We started 4th in class, but lost a few positions in traffic. About an hour into the first stint of the race, my co-driver began to complain about a jerk in the wheel under braking. Unfortunately, not long after they had a spin in turn 7 and made light contact with the wall. They were able to drive the car back into the pits, and we decided to send a 4th driver back out to finish the last thirty minute stint until the break. He was able to limp the car around without incident until the track went full course yellow and the race was halted for quiet hours. As per AER's rules, we were allowed to work on the car in the hot pits during the break. The team got to work, discovering a rear lower control arm bolt had backed out, causing the car to act unpredictably under weight transfer. Fortunately, the car only suffered minimal body damage from the wall tap, and once the bolt was replaced and secured, the car was ready to go.
I drove my first stint after the break, managing the get my lap times down into the low 53's consistently and gain us two positions with a few good class battles. We were doing much better with our average pit stop times and were able to figure out another few laps per stint in gas mileage. With a quick driver change and fueling, I swapped with co-driver, Michael, who gained another position during his stint, getting the #501 Radium Engineering BMW Spec E30 into 3rd place. Michael brought the car in, with the team in good spirits, and Tony jumped in to lay down some good laps and chase down 2nd place, who was two laps ahead of us. About an hour into his stint (with just over an hour left to checkered) Tony called in on the radio that the "p2 car was off track in turn 2". Sure enough, we saw the local yellow thrown at turn 1 and the tow truck leave pit lane moments later. Not long after, the p1 car suffered a bad spin and was unable to get the car to turn on after.
Sure enough we moved into 1st place only a few laps later. With the now p2 car penalized and returning to pitlane for too short of a pit stop, we nearly had 1st place secured with just under an hour left in the race. Tony decided to pit in for a driver change and allow Jessica to take the checkered since it was her birth day weekend! One of the disabled teams was able to fix the car and finish the race. As the seventh hour came to close and the white flag was thrown, we had a comfortable two lap lead. Jessica took the checkered and secured the win for Team Radium!
It was an awesome way to start off the 2017 season as well as my first weekend wheel to wheel racing! Thanks to my awesome co-drivers and the crew at Solo Motorsports!