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Race Report for Viking Racing, Formula Car Challenge - Race 5/6. June 11/12th, 2011

June 11/12th was the weekend of the Formula Car Challenge Race 5/6 taking place at Infineon Raceway. After I skipped race 1/2 due to severe rain and was torpedoed in race 4 even before the green flag I was eager to come back in the seat. The preparation had not been as good as I had hoped as I had to cancel 3 planned test days due to rain. That basically meant that I would go in to this race weekend with only 3 days of track time on this track from when I was completely new in the car and not really up to any kind of speed that would even remotely approach race speeds. On top of that we had to run the IRL (Indy Car) track configuration, which was new to me.

For those of you that are interested in capturing the race weekend on video, you can find a boil down of the action including exclusive commentary from my biggest fans in the video section. Infineon Raceway  is a very technical track and it is not an easy track to become really fast/competitive on but as usual I had teamed up with the best crew in the business so I was confident I would walk away a better driver. We started Friday with 4 x 45 minutes practice sessions. Although I continued to improve I was struggling to put down competitive lap times. I was not really comfortable/confident in the car and was far from quick enough through some of the high speed off camber turns. We studied data and worked through the track corner by corner. By the end of Friday I was 3-4 seconds off the fastest.

We found a calibration error in a camber gauge meaning that the car had too much camber, so we fixed that going in to Saturday’s warmup. After fixing that I felt a bit more comfortable in the car and put down a time that was only 1.5 second off the fastest and only 0.8 off top 3.

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After intensive data analysis I determined to go out and improve my time in qualifying. Unfortunately I did not really manage to get a lot of open laps (due to slower traffic) and not only did I not improve my time I was a second off my warmup time and qualified 9th. Not what I had hoped for but also not a disaster considering this was my only second race ever in any car.

Once again we spent significant time analyzing data to indentify the low hanging fruit. Although the car survived the start this time, the start was terrible. There was an error with my radio meaning I could not hear the call for green and typically Murphy’s law the car just in front of me had engine problems and did not take off. I realized there was a race going on when I was passed left and right even by cars from a slower class!  I started to settle in to a rhythm focusing on improving my driving and passing first the slower cars and then the cars in my own class. After a great race with many passes and battles I ended up in 7th.

Still not comfortable with the car, my race engineer decided to make a more significant change to the car to give me more confidence in the high speed corners. That really helped and I put down 5th fastest time in Sunday’s morning warmup within a second of top 3. We studied data again before going out to qualifying and agreed my driving coach would be on the radio reminding me through qualifying where I needed to improve. As such I had a really good qualifying and qualified 5th. I got my best two laps ruined by slower traffic but my data proved that I would have been in top 3 had I not had to lift off the throttle to pass slower drivers. At this point I do not care too much about positions but rather on my driving so I was happy with my 5th.

Starting inside on Infineon Raceway is not necessarily an advantage as you will be on the outside of turn 2, which is uphill off camber and sure enough I got passed going in to turn 2. I quickly settled in and had no problems following the cars in front of me. After a crash between two other cars we had a full course yellow and after following the safety car for a few laps we had a restart. I got on the side of 5th going up to turn 2, but eventually backed off not to end up in the grass/wall. As I have to think about the financial side I backed off. Not the most heroic but definitely the smartest because soon thereafter 4th and 5th tangled and I passed both on the inside of turn 7 and was now in 4th place having 3rd place in sight. 

After the tangle between the two cars, one of them could not continue and once again we got the safety car on track. After spending significant time behind the safety car again the race was almost over and I was told on the radio the we would get the green for a restart, white flag and then checkered so I had 2 laps to make my move for 3rd. The good news was that I was able to put pressure on 3rd place and was very close to making a pass a few times. The bad news was that I ran out of time and did not get it done in the 2 remaining laps and finished 4th.

Starting Friday with being 6 seconds after the fastest and ending Sunday’s race 4th place only 0.2 seconds off 3rd place was a victory, however. Every other competitor in the field has years of formula car or other car racing experience and some have even done pro racing so being able to be competitive moving directly from a go kart to a formula car in my only second race weekend was great. Getting there was definitely a team effort of tuning the car, data analysis, radio coaching a reliable car etc. and as such I would like to thank my mechanic, engineer and driving coach for a great car and a great job. I still have a lot speed to gain and a lot of things to learn, but this was definitely a major step in the right direction.

Once again I would like to thank my sponsors for making this season possible.