I had the best start I’ve ever had in the World Challenge series on Sunday at Miller Motorsports Park and remember, like Formula One, we do standing starts.
Coming from sixth on the grid, I had the best initial launch I’ve ever gotten in over four years of racing the Team Remington Cadillac CTS-V.
Eric Curran stalled his Corvette in front of me, but, thank goodness I’ve been lucky so far to not hit people that stall in front of me. I think this is the fourth or fifth time in my Cadillac era that somebody stalled in front of me. You have to react so quickly or else you’re going to be climbing right over the car in front of you. And if you just slam on the brakes, you’re risking the person behind you doing the same thing.
I was really happy to get by Eric safely. I also passed Cindi Lux who got a slow start due to some issues with her launch control and had a lot of wheelspin.
I didn’t want to be too stupid on the first lap and was trying to warm my tires up the best I could. We are all getting used to these new tires this year. As for the Cadillac it means we are a lot different in set up from any previous year running the car. I was not careful enough going into turn one on the second lap, however, and locked up my tires big-time. Luckily, I didn’t lock them up again thank goodness, but I was a bit worried. It turned out I’d flat-spotted one tire enough that I had a pretty bumpy ride for the rest of the race.
The revised 3.048-mile layout of the flat Miller track, which features a lot of 90-degree corners, seemed to favor the Dodge Vipers, so it wasn’t a surprise that Tommy Archer, Rich Marziale and Cindy Lux qualified 1-2-3. The Vipers were also the quickest cars during the race by a bunch.
After the three Vipers in qualifying came Eric Curran, Brandon Davis in a Mustang and myself. Then came James Sofronas in his Porsche 911 who did an amazing job of beating both the factory Porsches of Randy Pobst and Mike Galati.
By the end of lap one I was into fourth place and stayed there until lap four when Cindy Lux passed me at the end of the front straight. I inherited fourth place back a few laps later when Rich Marziale ran wide coming into turn 13.
Just as an aside, the attrition rate today was awful – one-third of the field was parked by race’s end. This is a very tricky track, loads of dust off line and very few reference points to help a driver be consistent.
I was actually following a car (whose make and driver shall remain nameless) in practice who obviously got distracted, maybe saw me in his mirrors and ran straight instead of turning right for the very fast turn 7. Normally when someone is running off track you will see brake lights and an attempt to turn but in this case the driver actually left the track going dead straight and up-shifted, even after leaving the track.
Now I must say that the car and driver were ok because at this point in the track there is loads of run-off area. But, I almost lost control of my car because I was laughing so hard and trying to look at this 120mph dust cloud to my left, disappearing off to grandma’s house.
Meanwhile, back at the race, Archer had 3.5 seconds advantage over Davis by lap six, and Randy Pobst had superbly climbed from 11th to 5th in his new improved for 2008 Porsche 911 GT3 after a few problems in qualifying.
I was working as hard as I could to stay ahead of Randy who was right on my tail, I had the advantage in some places and he in others, I was right on the knife edge and just could not afford to slide over it. As Randy and I were racing hard, we closed the gap on Archer to where I was only three seconds back in fourth place by lap nine.
Meanwhile, my teammate, Mike McCann, climbed up to ninth place from his 16th place start. Mike’s becoming much more comfortable with the Cadillac CTS-V very quickly and has moved up into the top ten in points after his best finish of the year in 10th.
I moved up to a potential podium finish position on lap 10 when Cindy made her big move of the race by trying to pass Brandon for second place. And she had it, too, right up to the point where she had so much momentum she slid right off the track and never did recover from that move. Once you go off here, you are on gravel, so that one very slight ‘off’ cost her huge and she was never a factor again. I have to say she did a great job on Sunday and was giving it 100%.
That left the running order Archer, Davis, Pilgrim and Pobst. From laps 11 to the end at lap 20, nothing changed except minor deviations in the interval between us. I got close to Brandon and Tommy after Tommy made a mistake late in the race but there was no way to try and pass at that point, my brakes were toast and I did not have the benefit of ABS, which SCCA have allowed back in this year for the Viper and Mustang.
When the checkered flag waved, Archer was 1.148 seconds ahead of Brandon, and 2.227 seconds ahead of yours truly. If the race had run more along the lines of qualifying, there was no way I could have finished 3rd. I feel very lucky to have this podium.
Brandon and Randy both lead me in the Drivers’ Championship points, and Cadillac closely trails Ford and Porsche for the Manufacturer’s Championship.
It is early in the season, however. The Touring class guys now go off to Lime Rock Park this weekend for a two-race weekend to make up for the fact they did not go west to Long Beach like those of us in the GT class.
You can catch me next on the June 6-8 weekend at one of my favorite haunts, Watkins Glen, where I’ll not only race the Cadillac, but will likely end up helping Leighton Reece’s Pontiac team in the Grand-Am Six-Hour on Saturday as I did last year.