The “New Jersey Nudge”
You know, I usually enjoy sitting down to write about my previous week’s happenings in our Neo Synthetic Oil, Horton Autosport Porsche GT3, but I’m having trouble extracting the joy out of my experience in New Jersey; It’s not what you’re thinking as I’m sure a few polluted thoughts come to mind. Thank you, MTV and the cast of Jersey Shore. Millville, New Jersey was a lovely place as was the race track, but sometimes you show up to a track and just can’t seem to get in front of yourself to execute a plan.
I found myself once again at a track I had never been to before which is normally fine; however, New Jersey Motorsports Park is a daunting track to the newcomer. It has the unique quality of having an incredibly fine line between on-line and off in the weeds. You’re either in the perfect spot at any given corner or you are scared for your life and mowing the grass with a high dollar, high speed mower (not that Porsche is in the business of landscaping, but if they ever so desired there is a bright future there… I can attest).
Getting to NJMP can be difficult. The race track is quite a ways from the big highways in the area that connect the densely populated East Coast cities to the lights and glamour of Atlantic City. Finding the track may be difficult, but if you are in search of a casino there were enough signs in Millville alone that Ray Charles could have found a way to put $100 on red. The Horton Autosport crew didn’t have a chance to tour AC; we were too busy figuring out Continental’s newest competition tire, the GT-R. Grand Am gave Rolex teams use of this improved competition tire, but there was still a learning curve and team principal/engineer John Horton is steep in the learning curve department. We threw a dozen different setups at our Porsche to find what we thought to be the best for the challenging Jersey track.
It was my job to qualify the car and I hadn’t been going very quickly all week as I was learning the track and more concerned with offering feedback on the handling of the chassis. That said, when I put on the helmet for Saturday’s qualifying session I was very determined to string a lap together with the goal of a top-five starting position. My first flyer started with a 3.5 second gap to an Audi R8…a gap that had completely disappeared by turn 4. With the lap blown and the magic of the sticker tires gone, I would have to dig pretty deep if I were to accomplish the goal of a top-five starting spot. I did manage a very good third lap after hanging back on the second to give the Audi room to wander around for a while. Unfortunately the lap was only good enough for 8th on the grid and we’d have our work cut out for us come Sunday.
As determined as I was to qualify well, I was even more determined to move up early in the race from our starting position of 8th. When the green flag flew, I managed to find some room to the outside of turns 1 and 2, but the gap closed abruptly when a Mazda RX8 needed to use my piece of real estate on the exit of Turn 2. The collision sent me for another landscaping adventure, after which I somehow gathered together and managed to get the car pointed into Turn 3 to not lose a spot. The trouble was I had a bent right front wheel and now an alignment problem with which we were going to have to drive around for the rest of the two hours, fourty-four minutes and thirty seconds of the race. I hung on for a while, but had to relinquish two more positions before it was time to jump out and let Eric take over.
I couldn’t help but be angry at the driver of that Mazda because now our race was being determined by someone else’s miscalculation. I knew that wasn’t the right attitude to have, but I couldn’t help myself. The days leading up to the race had been so difficult on the crew that I wanted badly to take home a strong finish. Now as I saw our goal slipping away, I looked to find blame in someone else’s mistake. Whatever the outcome, we will own our results. In this case a 12th place finish felt like last, but everyone on the team felt good about our improvements throughout the week, and we continue to build a strong foundation for the upcoming races.
We won’t have a chance to do any testing before our next race at Detroit’s Belle Isle. We will join Indy and our old series, World Challenge, the first weekend in June on the street circuit. Everyone on the Horton Autosport team is looking forward to Belle Isle because it levels the playing field for us – nobody has been there recently, so it will be a clean slate for all. At the risk of jinxing it, I won’t say that we usually do well in that type of situation. But we do. Do well.
As always, a massive thank you to Neo Synthetic Oils, Carbotech Brakes and Porsche Motorsport North America. We can’t wait ‘till we hit the ground in Motor City!