Last weekend was absolutely incredible. It was the fourth race of the season in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge in the Mercedes-AMG for Riley Motorsports. This race was at one of the most historic tracks in the world - Watkins Glen International. It was a three day event starting last Thursday.
In both practices, we were one of the fastest cars on track. The car was handling really well. Our team showed up to the track ready with a fantastic car. This time, we had a three driver line up. Jim Cox started the four hour race, world champion -Jeroen Bleekemolen- did the middle two stints, and I finished off the final two stints.
Jim had a great qualifying run and turned one of his best laps at Watkins Glen to qualify 8th, only marginally behind the pole sitter.
The race didn’t start out how we wanted it to though. The first two hours were a real struggle for us. By the two hour mark, we had two flat tires at separate times. Part of our right front corner panel was missing and scraping on the right front tire. By that time we had three more stops than the next car. A couple of cautions caught us back up to the pack. When Jeroen was in the car, he worked his way through the field very quickly. Riley Motorsports made great pit stop strategy to get us all the way back up to 5th out of the 37 car field. Jeroen then moved his way up to 2nd place by the end of his stint, running the same times as the leader.
With an hour and a half to go, I got in the car to finish the race. Now knowing that we had a great chance to win, I pushed as hard as I could. Once we ran low on fuel, we came in to pit lane at the exact same time as the leader for tires and fuel under green flag conditions. Our team did a fantastic pit stop, and we beat the leader out of pit lane. Now, the lead was handed over to us. Not too much later, it almost instantaneously started to pour down rain on half the track, and still relatively dry on the other side. It was a debate as to whether we come in to pit lane to put rain tires on or not. We decided to stay out due to the rain cloud being very small. Some other teams came in to get rain tires. We went back to green flag, now with 20 minutes remaining. I brought the field to the restart. Since the track was still wet, the cars with rain tires were a lot faster and we dropped down to 3rd position, still the highest running car on slicks. With 9 minutes to go, the turning point was coming. Blue skies started to show and the sun was shining. That lap, I was a few hundredths of a second faster than the leader (with rain tires on). Each lap I got progressively faster and they got slower. Now with 3 to go, I was in 2nd and right behind the leader. I tried to make a pass going to the outside in the bus stop, and then a cross over to the inside of the carousel. I was just able to get around him. The lead was ours with two to go. We won the four hour race and I had the second fastest race lap, with the fastest average race lap!
I cannot thank Jim Cox enough for this incredible opportunity. He gave me my first chance one year ago, and had faith in me. Now to be able to have the chance to race for Bill Riley and Riley Motorsports is an absolute dream come true. This year is a great year for me and an excellent learning experience.
I am looking forward to the next race, which is next weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park! I will be doing double duty there again racing both the Mercedes-AMG for Riley Motorsports and the Ligier LMP3 for MLT Motorsports. My most recent race in both of those ended up with a first place trophy! We will see!
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