Watkins Glen is our second and final four-hour long race of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season, the other being Daytona at the start of the season. We knew into the weekend that the L.A. Honda World team with LAP Motorsports would be great on strategy, as they have won the past two years with the MINI JCW Team. Last year, I was one of those race winners, pulling off a victory with my co-driver Mark Pombo.
This year, we had less testing time to figure out our setup and learn the track, only having two full practice sessions before qualifying. However, we were quick right out of the gate. We were constantly running in the front of the time boards, making improvements for each session. My co-driver Max Faulkner and I decided to switch our driving order for this weekend, so I would start instead of finishing. Our goal was for me to qualify and run up front, then to hand Max a car in the top 5 for the end.
I began the 15-minute long practice three with some more changes to the setup but thought we needed a little more going into the qualifying session. We made a change that turned out to be in the wrong direction for the balance of the car, putting us 6th for the start of the race. Regardless, times were extremely close throughout positions 2-8, so it was shaping up to be an exciting race.
I got a good jump on the start, moving from sixth to third in class, passing some slower GS cars along the way which would prove to help build a little gap to the rest of the TCRs. Our group of TCRs quickly made work of a few GS cars up the esses, while I made a move around the outside of the bus stop on another GS car through the carousel.
Traffic would be our main issue, with GS cars holding up the line of lead TCRs charging through the field. I battled with the #98 Hyundai for 3rd for a while, going back and forth for a few laps. I did my best to just slot into place, staying up front and looking after my tires.
Unfortunately, things started to go wrong at around the 25-minute mark. I suffered a right-front tire failure on entry into the bus stop, which has an extremely high-speed entry. Luckily, there was enough run-off area so I was able to get the car slowed down and limp back to pit lane. The team was ready as soon as I got back, and we were out on track in no time. I pitted when the pits were closed for emergency service, so I had to come back in for a drive-through penalty as soon as we went green again.
As I was running by myself, I tried to keep my driving at 90-95%, just to conserve tires. My pace was about 1.5 seconds off what we were doing in practice, but it wasn’t enough. I had another tire failure, this time on the left front that would end my day for good. Exiting the carousel, the left front went down at 100 mph. I couldn’t steer, and the car sent me straight into the wall, destroying the left side of the car. I was alright, and the AMR Safety Team was quick to the scene regardless.
Michelin was aware of an issue with the tires de-beading on the Honda TCRs and was working to find a solution. They made a public statement on Twitter, saying, Michelin technical director Ken Payne advises we have inspected tires from all TCR teams. Issues seem to be confined to the Honda entries. We have advised TCR teams to go up a few psi in pressures. We will continue working with the teams and monitoring the remainder of the race. Hondas were plagued with issues throughout the race, the HART TCR also crashed in the same corner I did as a result of a similar tire failure. Michelin has been great to work with so far, and I’m confident that we’ll come to a solution for the issue for the next race weekend.
It’s a shame to have ended our four-hour race in the first 40 minutes due to something out of our control. The entire L.A. Honda World Team worked tirelessly the entire weekend to get us into a solid position for the race, so it was disappointing to not deliver. However, I’m thrilled for our teammates, Mat and Mike, in the #73 car, who were able to bring home the win at the end of the race, making it three wins in a row at Watkins Glen for the LAP Motorsports crew. We race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park this coming weekend, so I’m looking forward to coming back stronger than ever!