It was a great start to race day; all morning was sunny, nothing could possibly go wrong with such beautiful weather, right?? Well, as we know from our experiences in life, oh how quickly things can change, just like the weather.
It started after lunch really, just a few at first, but as time went on, more and more team members and drivers were wandering around looking at the sky in the distant west.
Memories from last year came tumbling back; 2007 gave us a rain-delayed start by over an hour because of horrendous rain. The race was run on a drying track still laced with big puddles, not really bad conditions but a little tricky.
The radar started the whole thing: rain for Sebring area by 4pm, the weather guys were saying. The rain set ups on our cars are quite different to the dry set ups, hence the worried looks. Do we change the cars or do we not? Will it rain or will it not?
Driving in the rain on most tracks is not too bad but Sebring is very, very tough when it gets really wet. The old runways have very little drainage and aquaplaning in standing water is both easy to do and almost impossible to deal with once it happens. The puddles can reach hundreds of feet in length in certain places, especially at the end of the back straight and the whole length of the front straight.
So, after all that - you are not going to believe this - we make it all the way to the one minute to go board and no rain, dark sky to the west but no rain.
Then!, 30 seconds to go before we start rolling on the pace lap, rain drops falling on the windshield. Great!!
So now we have a dry set-up and dry tires on the car and we are rolling. My crew chief tells me the weather people are expecting this to be a short, five-to-10 minute shower.
Now. I’m no weather man, but five to 10 minutes is not what the clouds were showing me. But I go with the chief and stay out. We end up doing another pace lap instead of the World Challenge signature standing start and the officials put us in single file due to the deteriorating conditions.
We get the green flag and all heck breaks lose. The track is getting very wet and we are all on dry tires that have a chance of working in damp conditions, but really, very little chance in any standing water.
It is so slippery at this point, and before we have completed a second lap the full course yellow comes out as Eric Curran aquaplanes almost a quarter mile at 140 mph and hits an 8,000lb concrete wall virtually destroying his Whelan Corvette. Eric was unhurt and in good spirits when I spoke to him after the race.
I had moved up to 3rd from my 4th place starting spot at this point. We were sitting behind the pace car for quite a while as the wall where Eric had hit was being moved back into place.
During this yellow caution we made the decision to change to wet tires because it was obvious this five-to-10 minute shower was growing bigger by the minute. It was unbelievable to me that only about a third of the field came in for wet tires during this yellow. The conditions were terrible even for the wet tires. Dry tires were going to be impossible, I felt.
I was now in 23rd place after the tire change, right behind Randy Pobst who also changed his tires on the same lap as we did. The next green lap saw me progress to 17th in about a lap before another car hit a wall due to the impossible conditions.
After the next green lap I ended up moving to 11th place and the next one saw me move to third, and now we had only about seven minutes to go, or two laps.
The final green saw us get about three full laps in and I got by James Safronas as he spun around in front of me. James had done an amazing job to make it as long as he did on his dry tires but finally got caught out approaching turn number 10 when he hit a huge puddle of standing water. I was so lucky not to hit him and he actually came up afterwards to thank me for not getting into him during the whole incident. I’m just happy I was able to miss him.
Now I was in second place behind Randy Pobst who had been running ahead of me all this time, and his teammate, Michael Galati was right behind in third. We raced hard for another two laps, holding position, just trying not to crash. It was impossible even to run down the straights due to aquaplaning - we were all over the place, I had so many near misses with the car going straight when I wanted it to turn and trying to spin out when I wanted it to go straight.
I said it out loud when I finished the race to all the fans standing around. This was no fun at all, not even a little bit, I was happy this one was over.
Now having said that, one hour after the race, when I was back at the trailer and the high of surviving the race was starting to sink in, I found myself smiling. Second is a pretty good start to the year, our new sponsor Remington was happy and the word from Cadillac was all good.
I still had a sickly grin on my face as I drove the two hours home long after the race. The feeling now seemed to be, that I had really dodged so many bullets out there today. Now if the in-car camera has worked in all that rain, I highly recommend you guys watch on SPEED TV this coming Friday noon e.t. It should be a good one for the entertainment meter.
I’m looking forward to the next race in Long Beach, and I now have a couple of weeks away from racing. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll end up doing but right now I think I’ll go and check the long range weather forecast for Long Beach. Take care all.