We arrived at the track on a beautiful Friday February 2nd, 2018 to get the car re-teched for the 2018 season. With that business quickly out of the way, Friday was an open test day to shake out any problems and get the drivers familiar with the track layout. Several of us had raced this track before but there were a few that needed to get the layout. We were able to setup our Pitt area beside Inactiv Motorsports and enjoyed having them beside us lending a hand and just having a good all around time at the race for the weekend. The pitt area all setup and ready to go against the cold that was setting in for the weekend and with several practice laps completed for everyone, we closed up shop to return early Saturday morning to begin the long day.
The start to Saturday was bitterly cold somewhere around upper 30’s and the wind blowing. Road Atlanta was a fourteen hour endurance race. Up until this point the team had only completed the ten hour Sebring Race, so we weren’t certain how the car, tires, or drivers would do. Ken was our lead off driver again for this race. He has proven each race that his calmness and steadiness have been valuable assests, especially when there are so many cars fighting for position at the drop of the first green flag. This race would be no different with 97 cars scheduled to take the green flag that morning. Ken quickly set himself in the comfort zone and ticked off some of the fastest times of all our drivers for the day, earning himself the unofficial MVP of the race. Not only did he turn some of the best lap times, he also helped perform a complete brake pad change on the front of the car late in the race in under fifteen minutes. Normally we have all of our technology in order with no issues, but for some reason that day not one second of Ken’s time in the car was recorded. But we promise, he had two very well run stints in the car that day.
Our driver changes are scheduled for around an hour twenty minutes, because that’s when the fuel starts getting low. We figured we might as well make use of the mandatory five minutes for the fueling pitt stop and swap in a fresh driver at the same time to maximize our efforts and avoid any extra downtime, it’s all about ticking off those laps. After Ken’s stint in the car it was time for Patrick Donovan to take the wheel. Ken had done a great job of moving us up in the pack from a start in the upper 60′ out of 97 and Patrick continued to improve upon our position. He continued to carve his way through the traffic for the next hour and twenty minutes or so, turning great lap times.
The next driver change put Gary in the seat. By this time we are getting to be smooth with fuel ups and driver changes. Everyone knows their position, we have all tools and gas jugs ready and we make sure the driver entering the car is safe and secure and all comms are checked before sending them on the way. Gary has also taken on the role of team camera man and makes sure that all cameras are charged, running and memory cards ready to go. We have great footage of this race that he put together, so be sure to take a few minutes to watch the video.
Other than the amount of traffic on the course, the race has been relatively smooth. The car is performing fantastic and has not caused us any setbacks. There have been a few minor spins and “shortcuts” but overall the race has been going great.
The next driver change puts Ernie is the hot seat. Out of all of our drivers, Ernie appears to be the most calm and collected while on the track. It’s almost as if he’s out for a Sunday drive. But don’t let the appearance fool you, he put down some fast lap times as well while threading through traffic. At this point we’ve moved up to around 31st out of 97 and it’s getting to be mid afternoon.
Raymond was next up of the five drivers and last in the car for the first rotation. This was the first “real” race for him since missing the Sebring Race at the end of the previous season and the first race at AMP didn’t truly count because of the weather. The traffic being a bit overwhelming at first he soon settled in and started turning respectable lap times. About mid way through his stint he was bumped going into turn 7 and the car was spun and shutoff in the middle of the track. Thank goodness no one slammed into the car as it sat stalled in the middle of turn 7 and refused to crank. Luckily there was a wrecker crew available right off track directly in front of the incident. While precious time and laps were being lost, the wrecker finally got him back to the trailer area for the team to see what was wrong. The car wouldn’t jump start and we weren’t sure if it was a battery or starter issue. Ernie decided that we should push it and pop the clutch, the car roared to life as the rest of the team screamed at him to get back on the track. The rest of Raymond’s stint was thankfully uneventful and he brought it back in ready to start the rotation over again.
For the second half of the race we followed the same order, Ken up first, then Patrick, but before Gary went out Ken helped perform and supervise a complete front brake change in less than fifteen minutes. That put Gary out next with it beginning to get dark on a fresh set of brakes. Everyone was doing a great job of picking up laps and slowly moving our way back up in the rankings.
Ernie was next, and now it was full dark and still quite a lot of traffic on track. Ernie did an excellent job of turning lap times as fast or faster at night as he did during his day stint. At one point while we were all huddled around the propane heater in the enclosed tent on pitt lane, we watched on our monitor as Ernie went a little off in a corner, we radioed to make sure everything was alright. Ernie just laughed in response, chill as ever! He brought the car in at close to 8:40PM with Raymond set to go out next to finish the race. The race would end at 10:00PM. The last night stint went smoothly but around 9:30PM there were two large smashups that caused a full course yellow. We wondered if the race may conclude under yellow. Raymond was third in line behind the pace-car when they went green again with less than ten minutes left in the race. It was an all out war to the end of the race and the checkered flag. But we held our own and ultimately we finished our first 14 hour race, the car and everyone was in one piece and we felt like everyone did a great job.
We also give a great amount of thanks to Steven! He was with us every step of the way helping with anything and everything. From helping with fuel ups, to brake pad changes, setting up and take down our setup at pitt lane, to basically anything that is asked of him. He has been a tremendous asset to the team.