Dateline: September 30/October 1, 2017

How You Get It Done

It took exactly ten laps, but finally we had caught back up to #264 and #228 and their battle for third and fourth place.  Coming around Turn 6, Rick came over the radio to forewarn that there was a lapped car ahead that would most likely play a factor as the three of us racing for the final podium spot approached Turn 8.  Charging down the Turn 7-8 straight, our #234 still wasn’t close enough to make a move for position, so (as the data would later reveal, honest!) I hit the brakes slightly early in an attempt to see how the three cars in front of us would sort this thing out.

And then it just played out badly.  And yes, the next paragraph is a thinly-veiled attempt to exonerate myself from some small part of what happened next.  But in the end, it’s on me whether I like it or not.

The lapped car went right, and #264 and #228 went left.  Perhaps because I was forced to go off line in the braking zone (blaming the lapped car), the car failed to slow down (blaming my car) as it had previously.  Instead of ~1.4 g of braking, the data would later show ~1.2 g of braking for the same brake pressure.  In English, the tires didn’t have as much grip (blaming the tires) on the new line (blaming the track surface), and the car simply went down into the turn too fast without scrubbing off quite enough speed (I am out of other things to blame at this point).

Normally this would not pose much of a problem, except there were three cars already three wide in the middle of the turn.  Without any place to go, I simply stood on the brake pedal as long as possible, but ultimately drove square into the driver’s-side door of #228.  While both cars were mechanically fine, the impact forced #228 to the right and allowed us to move up into 4th place.  But that’s clearly NOT how you’re supposed to get it done.

Once #228 was back up to speed behind us, I simply pulled over and let him back by in Turn 6 without fuss.  At this point the car was used up, I was used up, and I spent the final four laps in my lane without trying to execute any last-minute heroics.  Our fifth-place finish was enough to solidly maintain our third-place standing in the year-long championship points race, but it was a non-fairy-tale ending to what had been, up to that point, a near-fairy-tale rookie season.

Immediately following the checkered flag, I sought out the driver of #228 and let him know that it was never my intent to harpoon his car.  We talked through it, made peace, and wrapped up our brief chat with a hug (a big, sweaty, manly hug, not one of those little wimpy hugs).  I wished him the best of luck at the World Finals race in Italy, packed up my racing gear, and headed to the airport.

Live, learn, and come back to race another day.  Because that IS how you’re supposed to get it done.

The Damage Report

  • One right-rear wheel (not my fault)
  • One right-rear tire (not my fault)
  • One right-rear fender (not my fault)
  • One right-rear fender liner (not my fault)
  • One right-rear upper lateral link (not my fault)
  • One right-rear spring/shock assembly (not my fault)
  • One right-rear spring/shock mount (not my fault)
  • One right-side rocker panel (not my fault)
  • One underbody panel (not my fault)
  • One rear diffuser (not my fault)

Saturday’s Turn 8 carnage.  Not my fault.

But wait, there’s more!

  • One right-front fender (technically my fault)
  • One right-front radiator (technically my fault)
  • One front fascia (technically my fault, but likely salvageable)

Sunday’s Turn 8 carnage.  All my fault.

But wait, there’s more!

  • One driver’s ego (absolutely my fault)

Thankfully, everything listed above is repairable, but we are now beyond Hello Kitty’s ability to make things right.  This poor car needs some off-season TLC.

Press Rewind – Thursday Practice

Round 6 at Homestead was the final event of the North American Ferrari Challenge.  As you may recall from our Round 5 newsletter, we were sitting third in the overall season points race for the championship, 12 points out of first place and 7 points out of second place.  Because we were not planning to ship the car to Italy for the final race of the season, there was really no way to win the overall championship, but our goal was to leave Homestead in the points lead simply to claim the “stateside” championship.

The Risi team was out in full force as well.  All of the stops were pulled out, including the new-and-improved “hospitality area” set up for our legions of fans (my parents, my oldest son, and a few local friends).  I know this sounds crazy, but for the first time this season, Scott and the crew brought out…the potted plants.  That’s right.  We had (admittedly fake) foliage in the garage.

The luxury accommodations in the Risi paddock.

Having never been to Homestead (except virtually via a couple of minutes watching YouTube videos), a steep learning curve was anticipated.  Fortunately, the forecasted rain on Thursday held off completely, allowing the #234 to spend about five hours on track.  It was a great test session, and in typical fashion I turned in my fastest lap right at the very end of the day.  With the exception of a mildly sore neck from the continuous g-loading, everything was going to plan.

Friday Practice

Friday started out with the rain that was originally forecasted to arrive on Thursday.  The morning practice session was semi-dry and semi-wet, so instead of going out and burning up rain tires we elected to sit in the trailer and eat Nutter Butters.  On a variety of levels this was not perhaps the most glamorous decision, but don’t judge me.

Friday afternoon the skies opened up and it was full-on rain.  Perfect!  With the rain tires in place and the rear anti-roll bar disconnected, we pounded around the circuit for the better part of 50 minutes in the wet.  Being my first time in ANY racecar on REAL rain tires, it took me all of that 50 minutes to realize that OH MY GOSH REAL RAIN TIRES ARE AWESOME.  The first time you throw a car into a 1.2 g turn at over 100 mph in the wet is a semi-religious experience.  The right hemisphere of your brain is expecting certain death while the left hemisphere of your brain is…also expecting certain death.  And then the tires simply stick (how do they do THAT?) and all is good.

Amazing.  Bring the rain.

Saturday Qualifying

Cue the tape.  James just can’t qualify well.  Don’t know why this is, but for some reason (with the exception of the pole at Montreal) qualifying just hasn’t been a strong suit this season.  We qualified 7th in a field of about 16 cars, but had some small comfort knowing that #234 typically finds a way to the front during the race.  Being Homestead, however, there are virtually no good places to pass, so the newsletter-friendly charge-to-the-front technique was not necessarily going to be an asset on Saturday afternoon.

Saturday Race

In lieu of a detailed play-by-play, let it suffice to say that three laps into the race we were in a battle for third place with #264.  Yeah, we race better than we qualify.  For the next 17 laps we hounded #264, but never found a way by.  It was apparent that we were faster in the back section, but there simply wasn’t a good opportunity to get around him.  Until the last lap of the race.

Don’t mess with Texas!

Entering Turn 6, #264 bobbled a bit which allowed us to gain on the Turn 7-8 straight.  Approaching the tight 180 at the end of the straight, #264 took a defensive line in the middle of the track, but knowing that the podium was on the line, I dove to the inside and laid on the brakes hard.  As the turn approached we pulled ahead by about 10 feet, taking command of the inside line.  We were certainly going in hot, but sometimes that’s what’s required to make a pass.

And then he hit us.  Which wouldn’t have been so bad, except it was the same car that knocked us out of the lead at Montreal back in June.  Which really set me off and made me say things into the radio that I am still regretting.

The impact between his left-front wheel and our right-rear wheel broke the (long) list of parts described above.  In spite of this fact I gathered the car back up and limped it to the finish line in order to salvage a 5th place finish.  After crossing the stripe, the car was parked and hauled back to the pits on a flatbed for fear of doing even more damage.  It wasn’t pretty, but the points mattered more than the broken car.

After a lengthy official review by IMSA, #264 was penalized for the contact, and his 3rd place finishing position was revoked.  He was moved to 9th in the finishing order, which had the effect of moving us up to 4th place in the race.  This was a small consolation, but points are points.

This is not where you want your Ferrari to end up.

Because the points leader had a transmission failure on the first lap of the race, the rankings for Sunday tightened up incredibly.  While still in the overall championship lead, #228 was in 1st place with 113 points, we were in 2nd place with 112 points, and #264 was in 3rd place with 111 points.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Keoni and company did a remarkable job on Saturday night getting #234 back into race-ready condition.  With the exception of the dent in the fender and the cosmetic tire mark on the rocker panel, there was no way of knowing the extent of the damage when Sunday morning qualifying arrived.

Sunday Qualifying

Cue the tape.  James just can’t qualify well.  This is even more true when the rear diffuser falls off on Lap 2 of qualifying.

While Keoni and company did a remarkable job on Saturday night, hidden from view was the fact that the rear diffuser also took a blow during the Saturday race incident.  This became unhidden from view as the rear diffuser separated from the car, partially, in the middle of Turn 1 during the second lap of qualifying on Sunday morning.

It’s all fun and games until the rear diffuser falls off…

With about 11 minutes left in the qualifying session, the crew did a heroic job of (more or less) reattaching the diffuser (their job was made significantly harder given that as I drove the car back in for repair all of the mounting points on the diffuser were ground off the car).  Unfortunately, as I headed back to the track with about 5 minutes remaining in the session the red flags came out for a disabled car.  When the track cleared shortly thereafter, there was literally time for only one lap in which to put down a qualifying time.  On cold tires.  And with cold brakes.  And with a cold driver that doesn’t qualify particularly well.

In spite of these trials and tribulations, we knocked out a 1:28.6, our best time of the weekend.  Did I forget to mention that the diffuser again came off mid-lap?  It was only good for 6th on the grid, but hey, it was better than we qualified on Saturday before all the drama set in.  And I race better than I qualify.  Or something like that.

Sunday Race

As you may have gathered from the opening paragraphs, the race start on Sunday was not awesome.  Stuck behind #208 for the opening three laps gave the cars in front a small gap, but once clear of the obstruction, #234 came to life.  Lap by lap we slowly caught up to the race leaders, setting (at one point, anyhow) the fastest lap of the race.  Doing so was incredibly gratifying, and a testament to the hard work and effort put in by the entire Risi crew to get the car back on track after Saturday’s incident.

But, in the end, the fairy-tale ending eluded us, and for the first time all season we failed to reach the podium, but not for a lack of effort.  When all was said and done we fell four – four! – points shy of the points lead for the overall 2017 458 Challenge championship.

As I wrote back in the Round 1 newsletter in May, well, that’s racing.  It’s not always pretty.

So Now What?

After six rounds of racing, the stateside edition of the 2017 North American Ferrari Challenge has come to a close.  There is still this little matter of a World Finals race in Italy, but we decided long ago that wasn’t in our 2017 plans.  In hindsight perhaps, we should have given that a try, but there’s always next year.

In summary, our rookie season saw us compete in 10 separate races.  Of those, we landed on the podium five times.  While two wins, one pole position, and two fastest race laps will make for great talking points at this year’s Christmas parties, finishing third in the season-long 458 Challenge championship is really the biggest accomplishment for the whole Risi team.  This is even more impressive when you consider that we missed the two Mosport races completely back in July.  Not too bad for a guy best known (?) for racing $500 Saturns.

But, truthfully, nobody really celebrates finishing third.  Especially me.  So plans are already being formulated for next season.  Because we have unfinished business.  And we’re not done having fun.

Thanks for following along this season, and hope to see you at the track in 2018!