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Nathan Byrd at Wisconsin's Road America.

BYRD: Mechanical Woes At Road America

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — To say this weekend didn’t go according to plan, is a severe understatement. 

I was excited to run at the historic and legendary track that is Road America. It was gearing up to be an awesome weekend with the potential to score a podium in all four of the races I planned to run — two races in the FRP F2000 series and two races in the NA F1000 series. However, we fell severely short of this goal due to some unforeseen mechanical issues and circumstances beyond our control.

The plan was to utilize the practice sessions on Friday to learn the track, dial in the cars and prepare for the qualifying sessions and races on Saturday and Sunday. The initial practice sessions went smoothly. However, things took a turn for the worse when my Global Racing Team F2000 car blew a head gasket and suffered overheating issues. As we were unable to obtain a spare engine, that ended our weekend in that division.

The mechanical woes did not end there, however. In the F1000 car’s second and final practice session, I started to experience an engine issue. We were working on taking the “carousel” corner full throttle with as little downforce as possible was the goal. I managed to do it a few times, but whenever I did the engine seemed to lose power on the exit. 

We figured out afterward that we were getting fuel-starved due to me pulling 2.5 Gs on the exit of the corner and sloshing the fuel away from the intake. Despite these troubles, the car felt better than I’ve ever felt before. I was probably the most comfortable in that car during that session than any other car this year. 

I turned the fastest lap of the weekend prior to experiencing the fuel issue.

Come race day Saturday I was feeling confident that we could qualify on the pole. Unfortunately, I only managed to qualify third due to our being a little too ambitious with our gearing. We under geared the car and started to hit the rev limiter way too early on the straights. This cost us a good chunk of time each lap and was something I just had to deal with and try to work past during that first qualifying session. 

That P3 position for the race didn’t last long when on the pace lap heading into the final corner I tried to downshift and felt that the shifter was completely loose and unresponsive. I was forced to pull into the pits and went two laps down before I could go back out with the issue resolved. A couple laps later, I got another issue where I couldn’t shift gears and it was because the car’s flat shifting system had taken a turn for the worse and was malfunctioning. We were forced to retire from the race.

I was determined to make Sunday a different story with a better qualifying performance and race result. However, during qualifying I only managed to get P4 because I struggled with maximizing the setup changes that we made to presumably raise the potential limit of the car. 

However, it only seemed to hinder me. We tried to adjust the setup one final time before the final race of the weekend. 

At the start of the race, I passed third place on the outside of turn one, but a couple laps later got run down and passed by the guy who started fifth. I wasn’t sure why I was struggling because the car’s setup did feel better, but I pushed on. 

As I was about to make the pass back for third, a full-course caution came out right and I gave the position back during the yellow. But for some reason, the guy who was behind both of us in fifth, passed us both under caution and refused to give the spots back. 

As a result, I restarted fifth and wasted a whole lap trying to get past him and when he came back to rechallenge me into turn one, he ended up spinning out in front of me. I barely avoided him and continued on. 

With only a couple laps left, I did my best to challenge for third. I closed down what was probably an eight-second gap to about two seconds over the course of two laps. I needed just one more lap to secure the pass for third, but we ran out of laps.

In the end, this weekend was a difficult pill to swallow. The vast disparity between possibility and reality is definitely rough. 

Despite all the setbacks and less-than-ideal circumstances I learned a lot and I feel like I have become a better driver. Luckily, no sting can be too painful when I have another race in a matter of days. Soon it will be all but forgotten.

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