HINDMAN: March Madness

 It’s funny, following the monsoon and sailing regatta that broke out in Daytona, I figured there was no possible way we could experience anything worse.

Well, fast forward three months and surprise, we needed to break out the paddles once again. At least this time it was race-able.

For me personally, the Twelve Hours of Sebring was the last of a five-week stint on the road, with only three days total at home between it all.

Those days at home involved laundry, sleep, and some more laundry. Adulting sucks, but traveling around the U.S. getting to drive some bad-fast race cars for a living does not suck. It’s a fair trade.

Throwing it back to one of the first events of this recent stint, Alan Brynjolfsson, the Park Place Motorsports team, and I were at a cold and mostly damp COTA for the first round of Pirelli GT4 America SprintX competition.

On that weekend, we were able to bring home a second place finish overall in Race 1, following a recovery from a nice shove Alan received in turn 1, and a win overall in Race 2.

This was the first victory for Alan as the closing driver, first win for Park Place Motorsports at their home racetrack, and the first win for all of us together with a new car on a new team. Pretty neat stuff and certainly a nice confidence booster heading off to St. Petersburg (Alan ran solo in GT4 competition there) and ultimately Sebring.

Before we even arrived in Sebring, the whole event had a much different feel to it mostly due to the fact that the WEC would be running on the weekend as well.

At least from my perspective, there were a few questions; scheduling (balancing both Pilot Challenge and WeatherTech would be different than 2018), but the main one being track conditions.

How would all of the additional Michelin rubber effect performance throughout each day compared to year’s past?

Sebring is pretty well known to have some massive changes in grip level between morning, afternoon, and evening, and judging by our track walk on Tuesday afternoon, it was bound to be a much wider spectrum than previous races.

The sheer amount of rubber buildup on track was something that I really haven’t seen since my karting days, so preparing for what was to come became a lot more difficult with that in mind.

Luckily enough I’d have ample opportunity to see these ever-changing track conditions, as the first morning of official practice alone had two Pilot Challenge sessions split by the first WeatherTech practice, all back to back.

There was some level of concern following Pilot Challenge Practice 1, where Alan and I ended as the quickest Cayman down in P10 and a little less than a second off. Since it was the first run of the weekend, we figured we would continue improving from there but, alas, this was not the case.

It’s always a very challenging situation when you have a car that feels great to drive and is well balanced, but the speed just isn’t showing up. It’s one where you can really throw your engineer and your team for a loop, but we were all in the same boat in this case.

Even through qualifying, Alan’s comments on the car were positive and he was really doing a great job behind the wheel, yet we still found ourselves pretty deep in the pack, which was unexpected to say the least.

Prior to the Pilot Challenge race on Friday afternoon, there was night practice on Thursday evening, my first real runs in the MSR Acura NSX GT3 of the weekend, then Practice 4 and qualifying on Friday morning.

Night practice always ends up being a little bit of a wake up call since, well, it’s Sebring and it’s dark. Very dark.

You get used to it pretty quickly though, and to be honest, it’s one of the more important sessions of the weekend as you get an idea as to what your end of race conditions will potentially be.

At the end of WeatherTech Practice 4 on Friday morning, some debating on the pit box about what direction we should go with the car, extremely fast work by the No. 86 crew, and a decent gamble with our set up saw us finish qualifying with pole position for the Twelve Hours of Sebring!

We ended up as the only GTD car to go sub 2:00.00 all weekend, which was neat.

I was just lucky enough to be the guy behind the wheel at the time, but in reality it was a nice way to repay a very deserving team for their efforts.

For me, there was arguably more running than driving this past weekend since as soon as GTD qualifying concluded, it was off to the races (literally and figuratively) to get back with the Park Place Motorsports team and prepare for our two hour Pilot Challenge race.

Alan and I were both confident in our team. We have some excellent knowledge sitting on our pit box in the form of Mike Johnson and Chris Andrews, and our crew had been strong with practice pitstops all weekend long.

The pace in the car may not have been what we wanted, but we had all of the other ingredients needed to produce a strong result.

It’s a real shame to me that we didn’t even get the opportunity to put our pit work and strategy into play.

A flat right rear tire and badly blistered left rear tire forced us to make an additional, unscheduled pit stop. That alone in such a short, competitive race is a death sentence and we finished pretty deep in the field.

Maximizing bad days like that are often the determining factor behind who is or isn’t a champion at the end of the year, and we’re thinking championship.

With the weather forecast for Saturday looking bleak, as the rain starting falling late Friday night, I knew we were in for something exciting come race day.

I love racing in the rain at Sebring, but that doesn’t make it any less treacherous or chaotic.

…and chaotic it was, at least for the first full green flag stint of the race!

Luckily, starting from pole position gives you the biggest advantage of them all in a rain race – a clear windshield.

hat’s exactly where the Acura NSX GT3 loves to be whether it’s wet or dry conditions.

The No. 86 MSR team lead our fair share of laps; my co-drivers Mario Farnbacher and Justin Marks both did a hell of a job. We were leading with roughly two hours to go when it all unraveled with a drive through penalty for a pit infraction.

Nobody’s fault, just some horrible, horrible luck in the way it happened.

Unfortunately that sort of penalty with under two hours to go just kills you, and there’s no way you come back from something like that in a category as competitive as GTD. Everybody is just too damn good.

Such a wild month of racing cannot be done by yourself, so thank you to my extended families between Meyer Shank Racing and Park Place Motorsports, to my teammates Alan Brynjolfsson, Mario, and Justin, and those who support us at Acura, HPD, Porsche Motorsport North America, Trim-Tex, and VOLT Lighting.

I’ll admit, I’m a pretty sore loser. I don’t enjoy watching other people win a race I feel we had a real shot in, but it’s impossible to not respect those folks.

I think it gives us just that much more fuel to get the job done at Mid-Ohio.