I was absolutely ready for the 2016 racing season. I felt as though 2015 ended as a low in my career with certain plans dissolving before my eyes and feeling stuck. So I spent my off-season mentally preparing myself for the 2016 season. I took time away from self-marketing and from the never ending search for sponsorship to really focus in on my racing career. I felt mentally and emotionally exhausted by the last six months of 2015. It all culminated when I lost a great friend to a stroke in October. I still loved racing, but I felt like I was stuck in a rut and was devastated in the loss of my friend, James Swain.
I took all of these emotions and used them to work hard to really kick start my 2016 season. Let's just say the hard work paid off. The race weekend was extremely successful as a whole. It was my first race on the new Hoosier race tires so I had a small hurdle to get over to be fast for the race. Luckily I was collecting data for the team when some of our customers were racing on the new Hoosiers earlier in the year. We had the car setup very well for the tires and we had a great range of data for the tire pressures. All that had to be completed was my understanding of how hard I can push the car. It did not take long to realize how great the tires really handled.
The first session of the race weekend was practice/qualifying. It was only 20 minutes long, which meant I needed to learn the new tires; and fast. I split the session in half, I pushed hard for the first half then I made a quick pit stop to check pressures; and back out I went. I didn't quite qualify as well as I wanted and I was left feeling like I could get a lot more out of the car and the tires. (which I definitely could). Matter-of-fact I didn't just drop a few tenths off my lap times in the race, I dropped seconds.
I started outside on row one (starting second overall and class pole position) behind the Spec Racer Ford Gen 3 of Grant/De La Torriente. It didn't take long after the start for Mitch Grant and I to take off from the rest of the field and battle among ourselves. By the sixth lap we managed to pull a decent gap between us and third place overall. I was all over the back of Grant's SRFG3 for quite a few laps until I managed to slip by him in turn four and continued to pull a gap while managing lapped traffic. After a while I couldn't see Grant in the mirrors anymore indicating one of a few possibilities, he either pitted behind me and started his mandatory pit stop or he had an off. The Spec Racer Ford Gen 3 is about four or five seconds a lap faster than my Spec Racer Ford Gen 2. Most of the difference is the overall improved balance and lighter weight of the Gen 3 coupled with the additional thirty horsepower.
Leading an entire field was a great feeling, especially to the tune of leading a faster car and leading in class. I spent another thirty minutes or so cutting and forcing my way through lapped traffic. I saw the Grant/De La Torriente Spec Racer Ford G3 one more time for a few laps before I opened up another gap on the car. A few laps later I made my five minute mandatory pit-stop.
While I was in the pits, Hector De La Torriente regained the lead. Knowing he was in a faster car and back on the lead lap, I really needed to push hard to finish remotely close to him. I managed to work my way back to second overall and stayed there until the end of the race. I officially finished first in class (SRFG2) and second overall behind the Spec Racer Ford Gen 3 of Mitch/De La Torriente. I finished on the lead lap a mere one minute behind De La Torriente. We managed fifty-six laps without a full course caution and opened a gap of one complete lap on third overall. It was an amazing and extremely enjoyable race. I am looking forward to our next race at Daytona in six weeks time.