MOORESVILLE, N.C. — The month of May is here and it’s a great time to be a race car driver, no matter what form of racing I’m competing in.
May is when the weather heats up and so does the racing schedule. It’s when fans get out and travel and there is no better destination to watch a race than Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
It’s “America’s National Park of Racing.”
On May 6-8, it was time to race the BMW M4 in the GTO class for Hammer Motorsports in my third WRL race of the season. Also, I drove the NP01 Prototype in the GTU class for MLT Motorsports.
Friday’s practice was important for my teammates and I to get plenty of seat time to prepare for Sunday’s eight-hour race.
Most drivers don’t run “double duty” when you drive two different cars in the same endurance race, but when you have the option, why not make the most of the race weekend opportunity? We’re all about seat time at Byrd Racing and endurance racing is one of the best ways of getting high-quality, high-value seat time.
Friday involved practice in both cars to get comfortable in each one and familiarize myself with the track. I had not been to Road America since I had my first race in an F1000 car there early last year. Although I know the course, it was a matter of learning how to drive two different cars at Road America.
I ran the fastest lap of the weekend in the NP01 during Friday’s final practice session.
Too bad I didn’t run that same lap in qualifying because it would have been fast enough for the pole. Instead, we started fourth out of eight teams in the GTU class and 14th out of 33 cars in the GTO class.
I was the second driver in the M4 and the fourth in the NP01. That worked for me because it meant I’d be able to have a rest and debrief between driving each car. The plan went kind of swimmingly for the M4. I got in the car in 13th place and during my first fuel stint, I worked my way up to seventh.
My left-rear tire was punctured, which forced me to an earlier pitstop than planned and that’s when I got out of the car in seventh place.
When it came time for the NP01 stint, a large number of red flags meant only one fuel stint in the car, forcing me to save fuel in order to make it to the end of the race.
I didn’t realize until toward the end of the race that I had lost radio communication because my radio cable became unplugged. I started getting moments of fuel starving to the engine in the high G-force right handers before I made the executive decision to come into the pits for some more fuel.
When I committed to the pit lane, I saw the white flag waving indicating that it was the final lap. I pitted anyway because I didn’t know if we would’ve even made it for another lap, let alone for the cool down checkered-flag lap as well. I went back out and took the checkered flag in fourth place.
We changed the plan for Sunday’s race when my crew chief for the M4, Tim Myers, decided to have me start Sunday’s race. That gave me a triple stint in the NP01 to finish the race.
That was great for me because I’m all about more seat time.
I started the M4 in 13th place and was up to eighth by the end of one lap. By the end of my double stint, I was up to third. I had the fastest lap for the car in Sunday’s race — 2:28.555, a very solid lap time.
We finished fourth in the race despite some mechanical issues after we had to swap out rear tires that started to chunk.
The NP01 had some mechanical issues that came up while I was in the M4 and that put us about 20 laps down. By the time I got in the car, there were two hours left in the race and not much opportunity to improve from our fourth-place position in class.
I didn’t have to save fuel and pushed the car to its limits to see what kind of pace I could get. Unfortunately, the fuel pump/intake began to fail. After numerous pit stops to address the problem, we ran the car for long enough to guarantee our fourth-place finish and then parked for the last hour of the race.
It wasn’t the best way to end the weekend, but a fourth-place finish with the Hammer M4 was a strong sign for the team.
I learned a lot from the weekend, as a driver, teammate and leader. I’m thankful for the opportunities that I have, to be able to do what no other driver is doing and I look forward to my continued progress and success in future events with fantastic veteran teams like Hammer Motorsports and series newcomers such as MLT Motorsports.
On to the next weekend, where I’ll be looking to fulfill what was cut short by weather last time — my dirt-racing debut at California’s Ventura Raceway.