Well, I have my first two SRT Viper Cup races under my belt.
This was the first time I drove my new SRT Viper ACR-X in competition, and the experience was "interesting."
My stomach was turning Thursday night because I was concerned about how things would go. Road Atlanta is a track I've never felt comfortable at, and really never had much success on. But I had to overcome my concerns and get the job done...my first priority was not balling the car up. #2 was to not embarrass myself, and #3 was to get faster.
Friday morning we put the car on the track for the first of 4 1/2 hour test sessions. I was using old Michelin slicks of undetermined age. But the tires worked pretty well. My times were slow, best of this session was a 1:30 "something." But I wasn't out to lunch and actually pretty close to everyone else in the class. The next two sessions we kept working on the car and working on the driver. Eventually I carded a 27.9 on the same old tires, so we felt pretty good that we were in the same area code of "competitive."
Saturday started the official event, and that's when you start seeig what most everyone else has to offer. The first session for the SRT Viper Cup was a warm-up, so we went out and just "warmed the car up." Novel idea. The qualifying session would have us gridded based on our times in this session. I was 7th I think (no, not in the video...someone HAS to know what I am referring to...LOL).
Qualifying went only OK. My fast lap was botched a bit as I was right on the tail of another ACRX coming out of turn 10B and had to lift. Data later showed that it cost me 1/2 second. I pull into the pits after 5 laps and Matt Miller of Kryderacing, Inc., my crew chief, says, "Good job. I think you're second." I asked what my best time was and he said a 28.2. There was no way I was second with that time. It turned out we were both right...I was second, and a 28.2 wasn't getting me there, but a 27.2 did. The botched lap didn't cost me anything in starting position, only some bragging rights.
So I get to experience my first standing start of a road race. 25 years ago I used to race NHRA, so I felt like I'd be OK with doing this. Turned out, OK is about what I am, and not any better. At the start I got out "Ok" (there's that word again). I felt the third place car creeping up on the inside of me, so I slightly moved to the right to crowd him a bit. We never touched, but I certainly wasn't going to give him room to drive a semi through.
The race was a white-wash. Ben Keating checked out; after three laps I realized all I could do was learn some things about driving this car (I started the race with 348 miles on the car, so not a great deal of seat time). My rear view mirror was empty as well as my windshield for most of the race. The only excite came towards the end when Bill Goldberg and Eric Galern touched exiting Turn 5 causing a wreck. The yellow flag came out and Ben got behind someone who just didn't want to speed up. So he's watching his mirrors as I'm starting to bear down on him. He had to be yelling at the driver in front of him, "Speed up, PULEEZE!!!" I never did catch him.
So the first SRT Viper Cup race for me ended in a second place finish. Not bad, but I wasn't happy with my performance. Later that night we attended a NARRA banquet, and a number of people came up and congratulated me on my performance. I told each and every one of them I wasn't too pleased with how I drove. Well, one of my crew pulled me aside and said that people were giving me a funky look after I would say this. The advice given to me was, "Say 'thank you' and shut up." Good guidance.
Sunday's race would have us start in an inverted order of our Saturday race finish. Ben was 10th, I was 9th, and there were four drivers behind us who didn't finish 75% of the race laps. I was looking forward to working my way through traffic. I always felt comfortable around other cars on the track. And my first lap confirmed my thoughts. I went from 9th to 5th in Lap One. I smiled to myself thinking that's pretty good.
Because of the longer race length on Sunday (40 minutes vs 25 on Saturday), SRT planned on a 3-lap Full Course Yellow at the mid-point. Just before we reached that, Ben Keating was on my bumper. Going into Turn 10A he tried outbraking me, but failed. He ended up going into, and through, the sand trap at the end of the back straight. He was fortunate, as if he didn't get through he'd be stuck big time. He also avoided damaging the car; good for him, not good for me. He eventually caught me and passed me for second (behind Eric Galerne). The FCY was then thrown.
At the restart poor Eric was a dead duck. Ben got inside of him going into Turn One, and I had a chance but backed off to avoid contact. This allowed Ben to get a decent gap on me as I passed Eric going into Turn 10A. So I had 8-10 laps to chase Ben down, which never did happen. I did have to fend off Loius Montour for a few laps, but he ended behind me by a few seconds at the checked flag.
So, two races, and two second place finishes. I guess I didn't embarrass myself, but I realize I've got work to do. The biggest issue I have it getting used to the higher grip levels the Michelin slicks have compared to the DOT-based tires I've been racing on for the last 8 years. I'll get there...
I did leave the weekend with the points lead, however. Ben was penalized for avoidable contact with the Trevor Nelson. Ben, being the gentlemen he is, when viewing the incident from another competitor's in-car, 'fessed up and agreed to pay for the damaged. He was awarded 7th place points versus 1st, so that gives me a 5 point advantage exiting Road Atlanta.
Now we're off to a track I feel a bit better about: Road America. I still have work to do, but we're going to one of my "homes away from home."
These ACR-Xs are really fantastic race cars. Docile as heck, but boy do they go fast.