Risk & Reward
VIRginia International Raceway
Saturday, August 24, 2019
It was a race for risk-takers.
Mother Nature, a force to be reckoned with all season long at the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge series, was once again throwing her weight around at VIRginia International Raceway. Practice sessions alternated between extreme heat and sudden rains – and qualifying had to be canceled at the last minute due to a lightning-racked thunderstorm.
With a damp track and potential showers in the forecast, the Legistics/Racing to End Alzheimer’s/FastMD/Speed Syndicate team was set to start the race in 8th position (based on season points standings). It wasn’t ideal, but the team was feeling good about their chances. The #23 Audi RS3 had been running fast and strong on the notoriously challenging VIR track (17 turns, 3.25 miles, lots of elevation changes and gnarly high-speed “esses” at turns 7,8,9 and 10) – rain, shine and everything in between.
Taking a chance
Once the green flag came down on Saturday’s race, driver Nick Galante didn’t stay where he’d been put for long, muscling up four spots before the threatened rain began to fall in earnest. With cars sliding off the track 30 minutes into the 2-hour race, a full-course caution was called, and every team on the track had a make-or-break decision to make: Tough it out on slicks or switch to wet tires.
With the radar showing only an isolated pocket of rain, the #23 team made a bold, calculated – and lonely – choice. When all of the other cars pitted to change tires, they kept “Violet” on the track, circling alone in the rain behind the pace car. When the race restarted, their risky strategy looked like a bad bet. With the rain still falling, it was like driving on black ice. Galante had to fight just to stay on course as the more sure-footed TCR class cars passed him by.
The purple Audi was back down to 8th position when the team’s luck shifted. The rain stopped, the track began to dry out – and Galante surged through the field to retake the lead just before the halfway point in the race. With a driver change and full service, the #23 had a 14-second lead until a drive-through penalty for wheel spin during the pit stop put them back into 2nd place.
Going the distance
Driver James Vance put his head down and brilliantly negotiated a second half littered with caution flags. When a car spun off the track late in the race, another full caution was called. At the restart, Vance was hot on the rear bumper of Jon Morley with just one lap to go. When Morley went into turn 11 a little too hot, Vance knew it was now or never. He seized the split-second opportunity, executing a clean swift pass underneath the lead car.
Violet roared out of the Oak Tree turn in the lead. Vance never looked back, delivering a scorching final 6 turns as a fierce three-car battle for second raged behind him. While Mother Nature and Lady Luck definitely played their part in this long-awaited victory, it was bold strategy and nerves of steel that ultimately won the day.
The Legistics/Racing to End Alzheimer’s/FastMD/Speed Syndicate team will head to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Salinas, California on Saturday, September 14 for the penultimate race of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge 2019 season.