Saturday August 3, 2019
Elkhart Lake, WI
From start to finish, there was nothing even remotely predictable about the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Road America on the first weekend in August.
Out of the blue
The weather during practice and qualifying sessions was ideal, with no hint of trouble in the forecast. The Legistics/Racing to End Alzheimer’s/FastMD/Speed Syndicate team was in fine fettle, with driver Nick Galante laying down some scorching laps during qualifying to take the 3rd spot on the grid.
Just before the 4:05pm start time for the race, a thunderstorm popped up on the radar. Coming in fast and seemingly out of nowhere, the storm unleashed on the track, peppering it with hail and soaking the teams as they waited out a full hour rain delay.
A decision was made to shorten the length of the race to 1.25 hours, with a drive time requirement of 25 minutes for each driver. Such significant last-minute changes wreaked havoc on carefully plotted strategies – this was going to be a very different race than any of the teams had anticipated.
Into the storm
With the rain still coming down, the #23 Audi RS3 crew exercised the option to switch to rain tires before the delayed start, as did most of the other teams. On the warm-up lap, when Galante tried to clear some of the rain from the windshield, the wipers failed to respond. While visibility would be an issue for every car in the rain-soaked race, driving without wipers would add another level of difficulty to an already challenging situation.
Adjusting to his blurred field of vision, Galante lost one position going into turn one but battled his way back into third position by turn three. Breaking late into turn five, he was able to pick off the two front-runners and take the lead. On a roll, Galante passed another four GS cars on the outside in turns 9 and 10 to cushion the team’s lead in the TCR class. With the rain letting up, the track began to dry and the #23’s soft rain tires began to overheat.
The team pulled a full pit stop at the halfway point in the race, changing drivers, fueling up and switching to dry tires. James Vance was off and running some of the fastest times of the race when the skies again opened up and the #23 was again running blind. After another pit stop and a switch back to rain tires, Vance fought his way back to fourth place with one lap to go. In an all-out attempt to make the podium, he dipped a tire into the wet grass on turn three and lost a couple of spots – for a decent 5th place finish in a truly tempestuous race.