First One in the Books

April 22, 2011
La Rocca on dry tires in the pouring rain at VIR - where he finished second.

The first race weekend of the 2011 F2000 Championship is in the books, and what an amazing weekend it was!  I think going in as complete rookies to the series, we can definitely say that we had a successful debut.

We had our work cut out for us, and it was anything but easy. On Thursday we were tainted with an off set of tires. Even though we ran in the top 5 consistently, whenever we tried to improve the car, it just would not react. At the end of the day we agreed that the issue was the tires. We were all frustrated since we lost valuable track time.

The next day, we put on a new set of Hoosier tires, and it was night and day. The car reacted nicely to every change we made. We were happy with the set up by the end of the day, but we still had improvements to make.

Saturday comes along, and its time to qualify for race one. This was a chaotic session not only with the drizzling and the slippery track, but the traffic jam that we seemed to always find ourselves in was wild. Out of all the laps, I only got one fast lap, and it was not anything great. After the session was over, I was really annoyed at myself for not being capable of finding a decent gap in the field, and I frankly thought that we qualified mid pack.  When I got to impound, and got out of the car, I was informed I had qualified P2. Well, what a nice surprise that was, I guess a bit of beginners luck!

The HP-Tech team debuted at VIR

Now the waiting game started. It seemed forever for race time to finally come; the wait was brutal.  But, eventually, it did come, and unfortunately Kyle, the pole setter, was not able to get his car fixed after his heavy crash. That elevated us to the pole position. I was definitely nervous to start my first pro race on pole, but I tried to keep the butterflies to a minimum. What a race it would turn out to be though, and if I only knew what would happen…

After about half a lap, the double yellow came out, which was for the pile up in turn one. While we were behind the safety car, the heavens decided to open up and the rain came down. As time went on, it started to come down harder and harder. On the final lap of the safety car, the track was soaked, the car in front of me was creating a huge rooster tail and it was difficult to see.

Those final two laps, once the safety car finally went in, were the most stressful laps I have ever done in a racecar. Trying to keep that car on track, while getting pressured with guys coming up rapidly behind me on rain tires, and maintaining my cool was indescribable. I was so relieved when I finally crossed the start/finish, and it hit me that we finished second in our first race. My team’s decision to keep me out there on the dry tires was definitely the right decision, and they deserve all the credit for that.

Sunday comes along, and it’s a whole new day. It was nice and cool in the morning for our qualifying, and we were able to qualify P3. We were ecstatic to be able to follow up our podium finish with a good session. Unfortunately, conditions changed for the afternoon race, and our car just was not great, we lost the balance.

Again, I did not get the best start, and lost a couple positions. I was playing catch up the whole race, until the car in front of me made a mistake and I was able to get close to him. The final couple of laps were a ton of fun battling for the position. On the final lap, I was able to pass him going into 14, but I did not get a good exit from 17 and he passed me, beating me by .038sec. When I saw his nose pass the front of my car I was so disappointed.

Although we were not happy with the result for race 2, all in all we were very happy with the way everything came out, especially considering that the car is very new still and it will improve immensely in the coming races. I have to thank everyone on my team, Juan, Jorge, Robert “Coach”, Nico, and Gonzo, and also Ralph and Indy from RFR, for the incredible job that they did. To have two top 5 finishes for a new team to the series with a new car is extraordinary, and they deserve a ton of credit. I also need to thank my family for their tremendous support. Now onto Road Atlanta!

-Robert La Rocca

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