As I write this blog entry, it's now Sunday, May 31, 2009. It's been an intense month for the No. 61 ROUSH/Valvoline Mustang team. We've had three races in May; at Thunderbolt Raceway (New Jersey), Laguna Seca (California), and Lime Rock (Connecticut). Unlike our Roush Fenway Racing NASCAR teams, we only have one car, and to get it prepped for races on consecutive weekends makes the timing extremely tight. Normally, we have time to go to the shop between races, but in the days between Laguna Seca and Lime Rock, our hauler went straight from one racetrack to the next, and the maintenance on the car had to be done at the track. Luckily we had no real damage coming from Laguna Seca, but many teams were not so lucky.
We've had some good runs over this period. I brought the car into the pits while running in first at New Jersey. At Laguna Seca and Lime Rock, we were as high as third in the field. At each of these, though, we've had a number of problems that have hurt our finishes; the emergency brake actuator on the left rear somehow got ratcheted down at New Jersey (slowing the car down late in the race), a strut broke on us at California, and contact with another car at Lime Rock took us from third to tenth place. I guess it's been pretty typical of what can happen at the track. Some things go well, while a few hard-to-control factors can screw things up quickly. However, we've still managed to get Top-10 finishes in our class in all three of these events, and we now are tied for third in points.
At Lime Rock, we got a sixth place finish after qualifying fourth on the grid. We went into the race feeling pretty good. The car had been strong in practice, despite the fact that Mustangs don't typically do extremely well at this course. The challenge for us at Lime Rock is that it's such a small and tight track that the horsepower advantage of the Mustang can't overcome the size and weight advantage of the Porsches and BMWs. Last weekend, we seemed to be making headway on this challenge. However, in the end, the Turner BMWs were very fast here, and it seemed pretty much impossible given our current rules to compete effectively with them there. Still, our finish was not bad. On the final lap we were in fifth (and the first Mustang in the field). With a series of burbles that came in the last half lap (due to our gas running out), the car lost speed, and the No. 59 Mustang just barely got by us at the finish line.
As a side story, some of you may know that at Lime Rock, auto racing of any kind (and even starting engines on the race cars) is not allowed due to a lawsuit that was won by the neighboring church when the track was still quite new (this was about 50 years ago). As a result, for the events where the race is on Monday, the Sundays before are a day that many teams take to rest. At our event this year, there was a 5k charity running race on Sunday called the Mutt Strut. For years, I've been doing a good amount of running to stay in shape, but I've never run in a race before. So I thought that I'd give it a try. There were a lot of intense runners there. I finished tenth overall and first in my age group. It was definitely fun to take part in this, and something that I would like to try again.
Looking ahead, we have two events in June and I expect for us to do well at the upcoming Watkins Glen race. With its 3.4-miles of road and 11 turns, it's a huge course, and with our part of the weekend only being two days (Friday and Saturday), there really isn't time to get up to speed from scratch at the track.
To add to the challenge here is that many of the turns are either higher or lower speed than you would expect going into them. I personally find Turns 1 and 9 (in the boot configuration) to be the most challenging here. Turn 1 is an off-camber turn that's very easy to take either too fast or too slow, and Turn 9 is blind and lacks any solid references mid-turn. As a result of all of this, memorizing this course is absolutely critical. To help me be fast at this track, I've been practicing the track in iRacing.com every day since I got back from Lime Rock. Each day, I've been making progress on my best times, and I expect that by this weekend, I'll have a good handle on the trickier corners of this track. In just a few days, we'll be on the track and testing out this practice.