2013 was an amazing, frustrating, embarrassing at times, enthralling and above all a magical season. From being in contention to win races, to desperately trying to keep up with the pack to schoolboy errors and finding I could drive well in nasty weather, 2013 had it all.
- JANUARY -
It started just after the New Year. The first quarter of 2013 would be all about professional racing as my first 3 encounters would be with Compass 360 Racing in their Honda Civic Si ‘ST’ car competing in the Grand-Am Continental Tire Series Sportscar Challenge (CTSCC).
For a lover of all things racing, especially British and American racing, it started in glorious fashion. The “Roar Before The 24” was a chance for me to race, well practice, at Daytona, to drive 150mph+ and to partner with Andrew Jordan, the then 2012 British Touring Car Independent Champion now 2013 British Touring Car overall Champion. It was a fantastic experience, and this was just practice! Jordan was amazing, setting many of the fastest session times. I wasn’t as fast but progressively getting quicker at Daytona meant we would be up for a chance to do well at the race later in January.
By the time the race weekend of the 24 Hours Of Daytona came around, the CTSCC race being the opening warm up act, we were looking good. Despite my first actual run in the car being qualifying, due to some mechanical gremlins, I qualified 19th which, in the circumstances could have been better. When the green flag fell on race day, I found myself in the top 10 at times, finally handing the car over to Andrew Jordan mid-pack allowing him to take us home in 7th. Not a bad start and one of the most memorable races of my year. To cap it all, we were raising money for Team Seattle and our efforts generated $100k for Seattle Children’s Hospital as we carried the ‘Buy a Heart. Save a Life’ caricatures with us for the entire race.
- APRIL -
After moving from Seattle to New York, April was the first time I had time to get back behind the wheel and again I was with Compass 360. This time, it was at Road Atlanta, a track that I’d practiced ad-nauseam on my XBOX and I couldn’t wait to try it out for real.
Practice day, I came off and spun at the top of the hill leading onto the front straight. Quite frightening but no harm done, except some pride issues. Had a 4 laps in the rain on the qualifying day and after actual qualifying was suspended, due to rain, I started in 24th due to my finish at Daytona we had some points that bumped us up the list. The race was a bit of a non-event. Sad really as we had a chance of doing quite well I felt. My co-driver Dan Martinson (another, new to CTSCC driver) was fast and I felt I could maintain a good opening run. As luck would have it the radiator needed burping on the out lap and after started a lap down in the pits I found back to gain my lap back on some drivers only to find that after an hour, a known weakness in the gearbox (4th gear) gave in and our race was over.
- EARLY ICSCC SEASON (APRIL & MAY) -
Later in April was the 1st race of the PRO3 season at Portland International Raceway. I’d started working with Hank Moore and I was confident for a good run at this race. Didn’t really have much done to my car, feeling like it would be competitive and we entered the first race weekend of the year. Cody Smith was my in the sister car to mine at Advanced Auto Fabrication (AAF, Hank and Sam Moore’s company) and after qualifying 2nd for the race I knew I was going to have fun. The race was interesting and it soon became apparent that my car’s powertrain just wasn’t as strong as some of my co-drivers and I ended up finishing 3rd. Cody won the race with Chuck Hurley 2nd and this proved to be a prelude to a year these two drivers went back and forth finishing in the top 2 of the championship.
In early May we were racing in Seattle and Pacific Raceways out in Auburn. I have a love hate relationship with this track. I’m fast enough to be a top 5 driver here but I just haven’t been able to convert into anything meaningful in relation to podium finishes for 2 years now. The early May weekend was no different and having a small coming together with Dan Rogers (mostly my fault but he could have given a little more room!) I ended up struggling in a race where FCY would prevent me from gaining back lost positions and in the end I finished 6th. The race was won by Bruce Humberstone who demonstrated great race craft at this race. This was Bruce’s first podium and what a podium finish it was!
In late May we headed to Oregon Raceway Park where we’d be hosting our annual PROs vs. JOEs race. I was positioned as a PRO for the weekend and partnered up with Bob Mearns in his wonderful PRO3 car. This weekend was, for the first two days, absolutely fantastic! In the PvJ race, I had an amazing time racing in Bob’s car, setting fast times that were quicker than my own car and I ended up bringing the car home in 1st place, handing over to Bob who brought the car home in a superb 4th. In the 1st of two PRO3 races, I had an amazing run and after qualifying 2nd I dropped a couple of spots to 4th but fought back to 2nd and narrowly missed 1st place but for the want of time to catch Dan Gavrila in his ailing car (tires had gone).
The 3rd of a three-day weekend was not a good one. After qualifying 2nd on the grid for race 2, again in rainy conditions, I felt great that this was going to be a race that I could WIN! How wrong was I? Trying to get a great start for the race, I’d warmed my brakes using my left foot. It worked, I got a great jump but when I went to change gear, I had my foot on the brake pedal still and for a split second, I broke instead of using the clutch and broke HARD! This gave no chance to a charging John Parker behind me who tagged my rear quarter panel and I was done. Unfortunately so was John and to this day I feel bad for what happened. The very next race we put as much right as we could but it was embarrassing and not only cost me my chance of a race but a very costly repair bill for both John and myself! Only silver lining was a brand new paint job that looked, I have to say, fantastic.
- MID ICSCC SEASON (JUNE TO AUGUST) -
The second of our races at Portland International Raceway and the first of the chicane races was upon us in early June. I’d managed to qualify 2nd in the dry and with a rain session on the way I felt confident. On the start I managed to make my way to first and lead a PRO3 race for the first time ever. Very exciting. The problem was that my competition was Dan Gavrila who is amazing in the rain. Despite a backwards and forwards with Dan, I lost out to his mastery of the brake pedal in the rain and finished 2nd. Qualified 2nd and finished 2nd and also finished 2nd in the mini-enduro series with John Parker. A good weekend overall.
It was back to Seattle after that and a race where I vowed to find my form at this track that has become a sort of Achilles heel. In a relatively dry weekend it was clear that high horsepower was going to make it difficult but I’d give it a go. I qualified 7th which I wasn’t happy about but it was acceptable as those ahead were 20hp up on me and with one of the longest straights on our calendar it was going to be hard to compete. I knew I could race hard and in a 100% green flag race, I managed to finish 5th. 1st and 2nd was out of the question with Chuck and Dan Gavrila going hammer and tongs at each other. Rick Edwards had some contact at the beginning and when Bruce drove himself off track, I picked up a couple of spots. 4th was on the cards for this weekend but some issues with not so clean driving left me in 5th overall. Not bad but still not great.
The final championship race at Portland International Raceway was next and the Dorenbecher Dash. Portland had been good to me this year so far with 2 podiums so I was high with confidence for the race. Qualifying wasn’t great, I managed 5th and some questions started to get asked about some other cars and drivers finding amazing speed between races in Portland this season. Regardless, the race itself wasn’t a good one and after a pretty good start, I got held up behind what can only be described as a “worse than chump car piece of shit being driven by a novice” who subsequently cut me off, held me up and gave John Parker the chance to go for 4th spot. As he tried to take the spot, the same “piece of shit” spun in the chicane and I had no option but to take the emergency road. I was last at this point. I had some fun fighting back through the field but a small part on the car that connected the gear shifter to the transmission failed and I was out of the race. My 2nd DNF of the year and my racing in PRO3. Very disappointing but it happens!
- SEPTEMBER -
September gets it’s own call out as it involved a bit more pro racing. One of the Bimmerworld drivers (in Car No.80) couldn’t make their next race and they were looking for a substitute. I was it and in early September I headed off to Laguna Seca to race on one of the most famous racetracks there is.
This was my first chance to race in a RWD car in CTSCC and I relished the chance to drive a BMW in race trim. The cars were so nice to drive but very hard to drive really fast. Just like the Honda, the power steering was hard to adjust too as there was less feeling in the car when you were under-steering (over-steer was still very obvious). Laguna was a slippery track and with 2 of the 4 practice sessions seeing the car out of action for various reasons I was still finding my feet when we went to qualify.
Qualifying wasn’t great and the race wasn’t that much better either. My co-driver, Connor Bloum also couldn’t find the time also which led me to believe that it just wasn’t our weekend but it held tremendous value for me in learning a new track, meeting new teams (the Bimmerworld guys are fantastic) and just learning more about racing. We finished 22nd.
So, the final race weekend of the season was upon us. The PRO3 championship was going to go down to the wire with Chuck and Cody fighting it out for 1st. My job was to help Cody win, fairly of course, and to have a good time. What we didn’t factor in was the weather. It was torrential for 3 straight days. The forecasters said these were the wettest days ever recorded in the Pacific Northwest and we were out in our racecars trying to tame both The Ridge Motorsports Park track and the weather.
Interestingly, my car was whistler tested for compression between the last race at PIR and The Ridge to demonstrate that there may be some issues going on with engines that are making them super fast. During this test we found that my car was over the legal limit [blowing 9.3 when only 9.2 is allowed], which is within a margin of error, but I wanted to have it addressed. This meant I lost some power for The Ridge race but it did allow me to post a comment on Facebook about my compression and how others should get their cars tested.
They do say that rain levels the field and in qualifying I managed to set the 4th fastest time in my car. Cody and I then took my car and finished 1st in the 1-hour enduro in torrential rain conditions so despite being wet and miserable we felt pretty good for the race. My car was working very well in wet conditions but not very well in deluge conditions. The front was just too stiff when there were excessive amounts of standing water. The hope would be that it wasn’t too bad for the actual race.
When the race started I maintained 4th. Then, after watching Olivier spin off in T1, I was in 3rd. I had a good scrap with Chuck Hurley and after 10mins he managed to eek past me in Turn 8a, one lap later, however, he spun taking too much speed into T2 and I was in 3rd and comfortable. Cody had managed to make his way up to 4th and with JP Nardella, Chuck Hurley behind we were a train looking to finish in this order. With 5mins to go I hit a massive puddle of standing water and lost control, I gathered it back up but at the foot of a hill and all of a sudden I went from 3rd to 6th, freight traine by the 3 cars behind me. Positions then normalized again and I finished in 6th. Cody won the championship by 1 point and it was a great year for all. I would have liked a rain podium at the last race but I was happy(ish) with the weekend overall.
- ENDURO SEASON (OCT-DEC) -
The first 2 of three endurance races would be at Portland International Raceway on the non-chicane configuration. For this race weekend we used my PRO3 car and it was Cody, Hank and myself driving.
There really isn’t much to say about this weekend except for the fact that we dominated it. Cody and I took 1st place in the 2hour. This gave us 1st and 2nd place in the mini-enduro series and then adding Hank to our roster we took 1st in the 6 hour by some 6laps giving us 3rd overall in the actual race.
It was a great weekend and filled us with confidence for going to Thunderhill later in the year to compete in the famous 25-hour race.
Off to Northern California we went. The team was strong with seasoned endurance drivers in the roster (Rick Delmare, Michael Conatore, Richard Cabe) and then Hank, Cody and myself. We used Hank’s amazing AAF PRO3 car running in the E2 class and were looking at a good showing at the race.
I’ll remember many things from this race. The extreme cold, the great car, the amazing team and above all, Cody’s exceptional pace compared with many of us. We all drove well and only a small mechanical kept us from finishing the race 1st in class. We still believe our rival teams were playing silly buggers with fuelling under a full course yellow but if the officials weren’t interested then we had to believe it was a loophole that we hadn’t found.
2nd place in E2 at Thunderhill was a magical moment and a really good way to finish off the season. Now it’s 3 more months of looking ahead at the start of the 2014 season with an updated PRO3 car and maybe partial ownership in a 2nd ride (TBD!).