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Watkins Glen Debrief: Racing In The Rain

Watkins Glen was another bucket list track for me to check off the list. I was excited to run at such a historic track, especially knowing our teammates in the No. 14 fared well here last year almost winning an overall. Our pace was strong at Laguna Seca and I knew we should be strong at the Glen as well, so I was anticipating a strong result going into the weekend.

We had our first practice session late Thursday which was surprisingly dry given the forecast given showed rain. I went out first in the car to run a few laps and find my feet around Watkins Glen with Steve Doherty running a handful of laps after until the session was unfortunately red flagged. Ending the session short was a bit of a bummer since I was supposed to get back in to run some laps. Therefore, I had no real data to compare and see where I needed to find time on track.

I went out for practice two on Friday and put in some quicker lap times to find a reasonable pace, but I still wasn’t as happy with my times as I would’ve liked. Steve Doherty appeared to be meshing well with the car and track putting us P4 in the session, proving the car’s capabilities. I now had some good data head back to the truck and see what areas I needed to improve on.

As the season has been, I was lined up to be the starting driver in the car which meant I would be qualifying that Friday afternoon. I poured over data and onboard footage knowing I needed to find some time in order to put in a strong qualifying result. A good starting position would be very important at Watkins Glen given the torrential downpour forecasted for Saturday’s race.

I went out for qualifying and took a couple laps to getting up to speed while I tried a couple new lines and braking points that could find me some needed time. I was able to find a gap on lap three and put in a reasonable time for P7 at the moment. My fourth flying lap was probably my strongest, but I was unfortunately catching a slower car that would end up interrupting the last couple corners of the lap. I made a pass on the slower car in the last corner knowing there was a good gap in front of him. I pushed to try and make my last flying lap count, yet staying smooth not to upset the car or wear the tires too much since I would be starting on them for the race. All seemed to fall into place this lap as I would cross the line for P4. I was pleased with my run since this was my strongest qualifying result of the season.

Saturday morning came around and lo and behold, the rain was coming down at an aggressive rate. This didn’t worry me too much as I don’t mind racing in the rain. It can actually be quite a fun challenge and really level the playing field. I was a little hesitant as to how the race would go, especially since I had never driven this track or car in the rain. The tricky part about racing in the rain at Watkins Glen would be avoiding all of the asphalt sealer and concrete patches from years of repairs to the track surface.

As the race began I took the initial laps behind the safety car to find how much grip there was around the outside of each corner. It was important to avoid the concrete patches as they were very slick with all of this rain. We took the start and visibility was near to none. I was just focused on having a clean first corner and avoiding any incidents. It wasn’t worth trying to push too hard for position during the first couple laps. What was more important was keeping the car on track and dialing in the rain racing lines as well as braking points.

After a few laps I felt somewhat comfortable with the car in the wet and settled into a pace while still trying to find where I could be quicker. I seemed to pull a comfortable gap between myself and the group of cars behind me. I believe I was sitting around 6th at this point but still finding more speed as the laps went by. Soon enough, a full course caution ensued bunching everyone up again.

As we went green again I tried to get the best run I could down the start straight. I struggled in the drag race as the green dropped when two Mustangs sitting behind powered around me without much effort. I was stuck in a Mustang sandwich going into the first corner and was slowed by one of the BMW’s directly in front of me into the braking area. I lost a couple much needed spots on the restart in order to stay with the lead pack. From here I basically kept my position while trying to run down one of the Mustangs that got around me.

It looked like I was going to be able to pressure the Mustang in front of me and make up another position. That was until my windshield started to fog heavily causing visibility issues. I fell off pace from the Mustang until I was able to squeegee the driver’s side window. I picked up my pace and started to run the Mustang down again. Unfortunately, the window fogged up completely this time within a few laps and my pace dropped considerably. I tried to squeegee the windshield again but it had no effect.

I tried to run my stint as clean as possibly and stay out of trouble. All I could hope was that when I pitted the Doran Racing crew would be able to wipe down the window and give Steve a clear view for the rest of the race.

Luck wasn’t on our side because Steve ran into the same issue I had with a fully fogged windshield soon after he got in the car. We were off pace facing an issue we couldn’t seem to fix. As everyone knows, you have to see to drive!

Steve Doherty made a couple pit stops to try and cure the issue and give us some sort of fighting chance. Nothing would do the trick. We went on to keep the car out of trouble and finish the race nonetheless.

We weren’t able to finish as strong as I believed we would, but that’s racing. Sometimes you run into issues you can’t control but you push through them as best you can. A big thank you to Nissan and Doran Racing for giving us a competitive car, it’s just a shame we couldn’t capitalize on it at the Glen.

On to Mosport!

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