Saturday morning arrived not a moment too soon and my work began in earnest. As soon as I arrived at the facility, we grabbed some food and headed to the track for our “walk around.” As we were getting acquainted with the track, I noticed how smooth the new pavement was. Some of the curbs were re-profiled as well. I stored these observations in my head so that I might try taking some curbs during the practice session.
Once the track walk was finished, we had our normal driver’s meeting. After that, we headed to our cars and out onto the track for our practice session. With the tires temperatures just right, I attempted to use the curbs, and the car responded quite well to them. Well, sort of…….except for the inside curb in Turn 2. As I touched the curb, the impact caused the car to jump up on two wheels, Joie Chitwood style! (That should provide some great TV viewing!) From then on, I decided to take it easy in practice. While creating good camera footage, I also noticed that my Jetta TDI had a significant amount understeer. The good news, however, was that this was to be the first race whereby drivers were actually allowed to make air pressure adjustments. So, I made mental notes of what changes I wanted to make and pulled into the pits. When the times were finally posted, I was at the top of the time sheets. I was both thrilled and disappointed all at the same time. Why? Well, I would rather have been second on the time sheets because the fastest driver of the session has to share his/her data with the rest of the Cup drivers. The data allowed the other drivers to see exactly where I was making up time: braking points, throttle position, etc. This is not the information you want other drivers to know when you’ve posted the quickest times, especially in a spec series.
“Think only positive thoughts, Josh” I kept saying to myself. Time for qualifying! With the tire pressures adjusted to my liking, I was ready to go for pole position. The car felt much better after the changes despite a slight push coming onto the front strait. That little push was the least of my concerns. Traffic was a much bigger issue. Portland is so much of a shorter track than our previous rounds. As a result, trying to find a clean lap was next to impossible. After a fair amount of laps, it was quite apparent that I was never going to get a clean lap. I decided to save my tires the race and headed for the pits. Turns out, Mark Pombo and I had been swapping the pole the whole session. Pombo, who had a great setup and did a great job with traffic, was rewarded with P1. For me, starting on the front row with the second quickest time wasn’t so terrible, considering my streak of consecutive front row starts stayed in tack.
Before the race, the main topic of conversation amongst all the TDI Cup drivers was tires. The series allows the drivers to bring two used tires from the previous race weekend. We are also given four new tires for the weekend. With the ability to use the tires as we see fit, it certainly allowed for a variety of strategies as well as combinations. My strategy was a bit of a tradeoff. I put the old tires in the rear and the new ones up front for both practice and qualifying. This helped me to gain a good grid position but caused a lack of grip in the race. This setup usually works well for me. However, the track at Portland wore the tires more than previous rounds. The setup and strategy combined with the high tire wear at Portland allowed for a more equal footing for everyone. So much for trying to get an edge up on the competition with strategizing. Despite what appeared to be a backfiring strategy, I was still confident I could keep the Gunther Volkswagen of Coconut Creek/Easykart TDI up front.
As the late afternoon rolled around, I suited up for Round Three of the Jetta TDI Cup. So there I was….having just finished the parade lap and sitting on the grid in the front row….with the now traditional heart palpitations. BaBUMP…BaBUMP…..BaBUMP!!! “Breathe Josh, breath.” The lights went off and so did the field of 30 Jetta TDIs. Pombo had a poor start, and I was able to get right by him. I thought for sure I was going to be able to lead the field into Turn One. Just then, I realized those thoughts of leading were simply delusions of grandeur. Car number 18 of Jimmy Underhill went by me like I was standing still! He was one of those drivers starting on fresh tires, and the extra grip really helped on the launch.
A few laps later, I had fallen back. It was part of my plan to take it easy. I knew the tires wouldn’t last if I pushed them for the whole race. So I let the leaders fight amongst themselves. I managed to maintain a position somewhere between third and fifth, just taking care of the tires. Pombo was always in my mirrors but made no effort to pass. This meant only one thing: we were on the same page with the same strategy. In order to save tires, we opted not to battle one another. Slowly, the race started to come around to us. First, Jimmy Underhill went off at the high speed chicane. Then number 37 and 35 got together with the 37 falling back. I was now sitting in second place. I decided to try to take the lead from Liam Kenney hoping that his tires had fallen away enough to allow me to pull away. After just a few laps though, he was able to get back by me going into Turn One.
Once again it was time for conservation mode. “Just apply enough pace to make Liam push but don’t hurt your tires,” I kept reassuring myself. Finally, with about 4 minutes left in the race, I decided it was time. If I could put Liam between Pombo and myself, I might be able to hold on to the lead. I laid back in the chicane in order to get a better run down the long front straight and into Turn One, the best passing zone on the track. I got an awesome run out of the final turn and was able to pick up a great draft off of Liam’s car. I waited until the last second, popped out from behind Liam and dove past him to the apex of Turn One. Now it was time to go. “Push it, Josh. Come on. PUSH!” I was also hoping that Pombo would try to get by Liam which would certainly slow them both down. I pushed and was able to open a gap just enough to keep Liam out of passing range.
Two laps later, I looked in the rear view mirror and realized that I still had a decent gap. I braked and turned in for Turn One. Just before I reached the apex………. BANG! I fought to control the car. I gathered it back up and, surprisingly, I still in the lead. Pombo had gotten behind Liam, and was caught off guard by where Liam braked and had no choice but to bring the car inside of Liam. Unfortunately, he had nowhere to go and he got into my right side door. I looked in the mirror and he and Liam were going at it. I could still win this. I pushed hard. Coming onto the back stretch I looked in the mirror again and saw……well….no one. I had a HUGE gap over second. Something had happened. The next lap I saw Pombo’s car sitting on the straight between turns 3 and 4. Yellow flags were waving, so I slowed up a little bit going through the area. In fact I slowed up a lot on the last two laps, as the gap was large enough that I could afford to bleed time and not risk the car. On the 20th lap, I came onto the front straight for the final time. The checkered flag was out, and it as out for ME! I was screaming inside the car. Absolute elation is the only way to describe the feeling. I was so happy. I’m not gonna lie. I was close to tears. Alright, maybe there was one or two. Thanks to Gunther Volkswagen of Coconut Creek, Easykart Americas, and a ton of friends, I was able to stand on top of the podium in a professional auto race. Years of effort and training finally resulted in a victory.
After the podium ceremony and signing autographs for some fans, I calculated the points. The win and DNFs for Pombo and Underhill moved me up to second in the points standings, well within striking distance of David Jurca. Liam Kenney is really close in third place. With this added momentum, I’m really looking forward to the halfway point and the newly renovated Lime Rock Park on August 15-16. With the help of Easykart and Gunther Volkswagen of Coconut Creek, the championship is definitely now within the realm of possibilities. But for now it’s off to work in the Koni Challenge Series as engineer for Fountain Motorsports. Race drivers can’t stay away from the track for very long. Thanks to everyone for coming along for the ride.
Good Clean Fun Part 1
Good Clean Fun Part 2
Good Clean Fun Part 3
Good Clean Fun Part 4
Good Clean Fun Part 5
VW TDI Cup