Story and photo by Vickie Miller
NASCAR may have â€œThe Chaseâ€ which is the last 10 races to determine the champion of the year, but with IMSA, the chase began January 23, 2014. The Petit LeMans held at Road Atlanta was the last race of the 2014 season and started on Thursday for me under the sun at HOTLANTA! Now I understand how it got that name.
The Prototype Lights series (with two classes L1 and L2) held two races (Round 13 and Round 14) each lasting 17 laps around the 2.54 mile Road Atlanta track. On Friday, Round 14 saw these cars racing in the rain! With the Mazda powered Ã‰lan DP02 cars being open cock-pit, I do not understand how these drivers were able to see and negotiate their way around the track in the rain and tire spray.
Christian Potolicchio didnâ€™t let a car fire stop him! After the 8Star Motorsports team fixed up the number 2 car, Christian raced to third place in Round 13. The next race was dadâ€™s turn with Enzo Potolicchio racing in the pouring rain to second place in Round 14.
The Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge (CTSC) was on the other side of the track, literally and figuratively! The CTSC paddock is on the opposite side of the front stretch from the TUDOR paddock. The Street Turner (ST) class saw Kyle Gimple drive his Honda Civic #75 C360R car like a crazy man to get his first pole! Kyleâ€™s fastest time was in lap two but he took one more lap just to be sure.
While I would not like to be the person who tries to figure out the daily schedule for a race weekend, I always find it interesting when a series qualifies at one time during the day and then races at a different time. For CTSC, the classes qualified on Thursday between 4:35pm and 5:20pm, with the drop of the green flag on Fridayâ€™s 2-1/2 hour race starting at 1:15pm under cooler temperatures. This poses the question, does the time of day matter to the setup of the car or maybe the way the driver races? Well, not if you are Kyle Gimple or Ryan Eversley, who got the pole and the win under each of the difference racing conditions. Big congratulations to the C360R team for following up the COTA win with another! I bet Kyle and Ryan wish the season wasnâ€™t over!
The Grand Sport (GS) class saw three Camaro Z/28R cars in the top four best qualifying times, with Robin Liddell; in the Stevenson Motorsports number 6 entry taking the pole with his best time in the first lap. On lap 65, the lead switched to the number 158 Mustang Boss driven by Ian James and Billy Johnson, who went onto win the race.
The TUDOR 10-hour race found only two teams competing with two drivers, with most teams fielding the car with three or four drivers. The only PC entry was team 52 PR1/Bayshore Racing sporting the Camp Boggy Creek heart with two drivers (Jeannette/Montecalvo). They qualified the ORECA FLM09 5th in class and celebrated with a podium finish third in class. The only Prototype two-driver entry team was the number 60 Michael Shank Racing with Ozz Negri Jr and John Pew. They qualified the Ford Riley EcoBoost sixth in class and finished also in the sixth spot.
Before the end of the first lap, Ozz took off like a Brazilian rocket, and was third by the time the cars came around to start/finish line to end lap one. I was standing at the fence on the inside of turn one watching him push it from the drop of the green flag. I was very happy to see the start be so clean with all the racing classes.
Yes, there are many impressive statistics which are reported for a ten-hour endurance race, but the number that humbles me the most is 54! There were only two teams which fielded a two-driver car for the 10-hour TUDOR race. What makes this impressive to me is the fact the average age of the two-driver PC team is 28, while the Ozz Negri and John Pew combination average age is 54. The true definition of IRONMEN!
Race fans witnessed excellent finishing results from the Whelen Engineering Chevy DP (Curran/Said/Papis) which qualified seventh and finished fifth in the P class. Also the Delta Wing (Meyrick/Legge/Chaves) qualified fifth in P class and finished fourth, just missing a podium slot.
Big Congratulations go out to Wayne Taylor Racing, for being the first winning all-American race team drivers.
Worth noting is the arm strength of Flying Lizard driver Spencer Pumpelly who raced while holding his door closed.
My heart broke for 8Star Motorsports ORECA FLM09 driver, Sean Rayhall. An early race spin left the car like a teeter-totter on top of a rumble strip, with team driver Tom Kimber-Smith painfully watching cars speed past and losing positions. The car battled back after several scraps to be leading when Rayhall was hit by the Krohn Racing Ferrari F458 driven by Tracy Krohn. Rayhall ended up airborne and I think, landed upside down.
Rayhall amazingly crawled out and walked away. I was in the paddock area when the car came back on the flatbed and it was in pieces. Open cockpit racing always makes me nervous and this car increased my level of fear. In the 10-hour race, the 8Star car had overcome many setbacks to be leading only to lose the lead with 16 minutes to go.
The weather report- Thursday heat was followed up by Friday rain clouds when the sun called in sick. One Porsche ventured out onto the track for morning practice but soon ended up spinning out at turn one. With the pouring rain, TUDOR qualifying was called off. As miserable as Thursday and Friday might have been, Saturday was perfect. It was cool and sunnyâ€¦perfect weather for a race.
Now a little about the track. Yes, itâ€™s old and old is okay in the sense of historic, but unfortunately old also applies to very few restrooms, poorly paved roads, and no concession stands in the paddock area. Sorry, you can check out the haulers but you canâ€™t buy a water. In years past, I remember seeing a small trailer parked in the paddock at the podium end which sold beverages only, but it was missing this year. I sure wish tracks could spend some money on upgrading. It is no longer cool to see the same big pothole on the middle hill path out of the paddock area. It has been there for years. Maybe the track considers it part of the historic charm. The golf carts or team Taylor Dunn carts still hit it or they are forced to leave the path to avoid. Parking is wherever you can find it and hope not to be towed, and the Car Corals get the best real estate, which had many empty spots.
Okay, letâ€™s get past all the old stuff and enjoy the racing. There is nothing like spectator hill watching the cars coming down the overly marketed â€œVisit Floridaâ€ esses section. I love sitting on that hill as the sun lowers and darkness creeps in to provide the driver a constant changing vision as they look directly into the sunset. On the walk from the paddock to spectator hill, you will see cars parked in random directions and a tent tucked backed in every little patch of grass amongst the trees, along with several RV areas. Oh, yea, the showers are old too! There are many great places to watch the racing action at this track (Turn 10A & 10B are awesome too) and a few big TV screens to follow the action.
I am sure the word â€œtrafficâ€ was mentioned a lot on television but if you think your commute to work is tricky, check out the traffic at Road Atlanta. What adds to the traffic confusions: 1) four different classes of cars racing at varying speeds; 2) drivers who havenâ€™t been in these cars at all or very little because some drivers only do the Patron Endurance (PE) race series and the last PE race was Watkins Glen; 3) drivers who are new to this track; and 4) vision challenges from the bright glare of sunshine into the dark of night. While there are a few track lights providing dim views, the cars must rely on headlights to navigate through the traffic at 150 mph in the dark. This is the first year the ex-GrandAm series has been at this traditionally ALMS event weekend.
Part of my fun at Petit LeMans was clouded by the fact that so many teams and drivers have not nailed down their 2015 plans. Every year there are rumors, teams losing or gaining sponsors, some changes in manufacturers, but this year is different. While I am very fortunate many teams and drivers are willing to talk to me and I am always humbled how much they trust me with news, good or bad, so I will keep that trust and not publish. However, this year brings more uncertainty and rumors than I can remember.
It is my understanding there is no IMSA formal testing in November or December which we have seen in past years. I am sure many teams will hold private test sessions, but for most of us, it will be the ROAR event before we see what 2015 will bring.
While walking around the paddock during the autograph session, I was stopped by a nice young man wearing an IMSA shirt and jacket, who thought he would ask this fan a few survey questions which would only take a minute of his time. He was wrong. After a few questions, he mentioned he had â€œheard of a fan who attend a lot of racesâ€. I think that meant me.
The simple survey quickly turned into an interview which lasted 30 minutes and resulted in three pages of recorded notes. I wonâ€™t go into all the details but will share a few highlights. The IMSA gentleman intently listened to my complaints regarding poor television coverage. The Continental Tire race at Lime Rock was a perfect example of not caring if fans see the race or not. The race was not television delayed and not online because there were no cameras at all!
While I quickly stopped him in comparing IMSA to NASCAR, I said the biggest difference is â€œdiversityâ€ which IMSA brings to the table and can be seen in race drivers, manufactures, cars, road courses not ovals, and engines. Also IMSA needs a face. Race fans readily recognize Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon in any television race spot or commercial without even the mention of their name. How many would recognize most of the IMSA drivers?
While I did not get his name, he did get my information and will contact me if IMSA wants additional comments. I will closely watch to see if IMSA adopts any of my suggestions. I appreciate IMSA making this effort.
This might be the last IMSA race on the schedule, but I am happy to say it wasnâ€™t my last race of the year. I will be at two more races this year. Watch where I go next! Thank you to everyone who took time to read my articles and saying hello at the track. Itâ€™s so cool to hear, â€œAre you Vickie Miller?â€ when walking around the track and putting a face to a Twitter or Facebook friend. I apologize if I donâ€™t remember your name. I am working on an exciting off-season project which will be ready in a couple of weeks so stay tuned!
While there are many â€œwritersâ€ who publish articles recapping the races, I attend all races and write from my own experience. I do not copy from others and ask that same consideration in regards to writing or photographs.
Thank you all for reading and I welcome your comments. I have no affiliation with IMSA, TUDOR, etc. just a fan. There are many blogs and websites where you will find statistics, results, and scoring from the race; this is â€œjust the way I see itâ€. Petit LeMans at Road Atlanta. Got a response? Follow and tweet me @viclovesracing