Road America marked the seventh round of the 2019 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge for the #52 L.A. Honda World Racing Civic TCR. The track conditions during our race proved to be treacherous, rewarding those who took risks on strategy.
We started off our Thursday test session with an odd issue. On my out-lap, I realized that our car had two 5th gears and no 4th gear. When the team sent the transmission for a rebuild, Xtrac put in the wrong ratio for 4th gear. They have been great to work with this year and took immediate responsibility for the problem, though it did mean the end of our practice day. The team worked tirelessly to pull the front end apart and got the issue sorted for Practice 1 and 2 on Friday.
Heading into practice, we wanted to try some new setup changes to the car. The front geometry was completely different than what we had run before, so I’m glad we were able to get a good read on it. The change wasn’t in the direction we had hoped for, as we ran significantly off where we had been in the time charts early this year. However, we had a good read on what our teammate in the #37 car had liked. We put on their setup for Practice 3 and qualifying the next day. We noticed that the #52 was down on straight-line speed in practice to the #37, so I knew I would need a large draft in qualifying to compensate.
I ended up qualifying and starting the race this weekend. We wanted to run up front early and work our way through the GS traffic. Practice 3 gave me a good chance to feel out the changes we made overnight. It seemed to be positive, so we kept it going into qualifying. I followed our teammate Shelby out on track as we tried to find a gap with traffic. I got a good lap my second time by, unfortunately hitting traffic on my following lap when the tires were past their prime. I ended up starting 5th, only a tenth and a half off of second.
Right before the start of the race, we went from looking at clear skies and perfect temperatures to rain in a matter of minutes. It poured for about an hour. Lightning in the area made for a delay to the start of the race as well. Because of this, IMSA shortened the race to 75 minutes. When we got the signal to start, the track was still wet, but we didn’t see any rain for at least another hour. We made a decision as a team to start on slicks instead of rain tires; only two other cars did the same, one being our teammate.
At the green flag, I didn’t know how much I could push the car in the conditions, so I took it easy for the first couple of laps. The cars on rain tires built a gap to us early on, but within another five laps, I was charging through the field, up to third place easily. When our teammate, Shelby, pitted from the lead for an early driver change, I took second place right behind the HART Civic TCR. We had an excellent battle for the lead, going back and forth between traffic. I came into the pits at the last possible minute for the minimum drive time, putting Max in the car with about 30 minutes left.
Unfortunately, right as we pitted, it started to rain harder. We sent Max on slicks, and he came out in second, 15 seconds ahead of our sister car and 40 seconds to fourth. A caution came out, which bunched up the field with 20 minutes left. Other cars pitted for rain tires under green, and now had an advantage going to the end of the race. As it rained harder, the cars with rain tires had more pace, pushing Max back to 6th.
Overall, it was a tricky weekend for sure, but I was happy with my performance on the track. It was definitely a learning experience out in the mixed conditions! I had a great time racing for the lead, so I’m looking forward to our next race at VIR in under two weeks now!