With the 2019 season coming to a close, my final race weekend would take place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS) back with the Andretti Autosport crew in the GT4 America SprintX Championship. I missed the previous round at Road America due to prior commitments with the Danville d’Elegance Foundation. Unfortunately, during that race weekend, the team had an unfortunate wreck that ended up totaling the chassis.
We came into the final race with a brand new car and lots of unknowns regarding the track. This was the first time SRO would be visiting LVMS with a new configuration for the weekend. I was extremely skeptical, especially hearing that we would be running on the apron and not the banking to keep some tire issues under control. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the series had a grip on most everything. Aside from some start/finish procedures which required further review, the officials did their best to utilize driver insight to make some more changes.
Our practice sessions went smoothly as we focused on making sure the car ran without any major problems. Once that was sorted, we made some minor adjustments to the setup to get it where it needed to be for qualifying.
I qualified the #36 car first, as I would be starting race 1. After banking a good lap on my first time by, I was ready to push for the second timed lap. I didn’t expect another car to be stopped right on the driving line on the exit of one of the fastest corners on the track, so I had to back off and try again. I matched my best time, but couldn’t improve as the tires had passed their maximum potential. Luckily, my first lap was enough to put me second on the grid for Race 1. Unfortunately, when Jarett went out on the track, he felt a strong vibration which caused him to qualify ninth for Race 2. We later discovered that a severely bent rim was the root of the issue. My time in the first qualifying session would have put me fourth in Jarett’s, so we were confident that we had a good car come race day.
I started Race 1, quickly settling into the second-place spot behind the leader. With hotter ambient temperatures, we knew that tire management would be a key factor in the long run. I let the leader push, burning off his tires in the process. I steadily increased my gap to third before handing the car over to Jarett at around the 30-minute mark. We were one of the earlier teams to pit, helping us avoid later traffic. This gave us the opportunity to undercut the leader and jump to first. With Jarett now pushing for some good out laps, the leader’s pace declined from the tires fading. When they pitted, we were in a perfect spot to take the lead.
Jarett held an eight-second gap to second place, managing fuel and tires to the end. Everything was executed perfectly, so we were able to grab the overall win! It was amazing to finally bring home an overall SprintX victory for the Andretti team. It had been a rough year up to this point for their SprintX program, so I was happy to finally help them get there.
Our weekend wasn’t over yet, as we had Race 2 the following morning. The temperature was about 10-degrees cooler, which allowed tire management to be less of a factor than before. We knew we would have to push to get the #36 up-front early on since Jarett would be starting 8th (a grid penalty on the pole position car moved Jarett up from 9th). He drove an amazing opening stint, putting the McLaren all the way up to 4th by lap two. We pitted early again, with the hope that I would be able to undercut some of the faster cars up-front when they would catch traffic. It worked great as I came out in third. I had the pace to get by, putting the car into the lead. A full course yellow at the end gave us a bit of a scare, diminishing my 3-second lead. However, I built a gap on the restart and brought the car home for our second win of the weekend.
We definitely have had our fair share of trials and tribulations in both GT4 and TCR, so it was very special to wrap up the year with a sweep of the weekend. It was an amazing year overall. Having the opportunity to race with Jarett for the second half of the year was fantastic. I can’t thank everyone enough for helping make this happen.
We always seem to end each racing season with uncertainty moving to the next, and this year is no different. This year has opened many doors for 2020, I just need to find a way to get there. I will be working as hard as possible to make sure I’ll be back behind the wheel next year!