Tim Paul: VIR Blog
Virginia has always been a track I have really loved to race at. Since my first season with the F2000 Championship Series, it has been one of the most exciting tracks to drive on the calendar. The long straights, the tight technical front section of turns 3 through 6b, The Esses, the legendary and photogenic Oak Tree coming onto the back stretch and the Rollercoaster-Hog-Pen section comprise one of the most engaging driving experiences I've ever been to. I love the elevation changes, the long straights make for great drafting and passing opportunities, as well as the big braking zones at the end of each. The field this year is the perhaps the tightest I've eve seen so far, in qualifying less than one half of a second separated fifth place through twelfth.
The weekend started a bit lackluster. I missed the first practice session on Thursday in the cold due to a car who is less of a morning person than I am. She was grouchy and was very sluggish to get started. The problem was a low battery, easily remedied. Second practice saw me fifth fastest, definitely encouraging after the long winter's rest. Through the day I slid down the time sheets, due to a combination of tires that were past their optimum amount of heat cycles and a focus on specific sections of the track rather than overall lap times. As they say, there is no prize for winning practice. I was not concerned, I knew that the car was very good out of the box and I told anyone who would listen just that. We had a top ten car and I had no reason to show anyone everything we had in the bank. Instead I just focused on getting my line sorted for Oak Tree, and settling in the car. Driving is a mighty mental game, and after an absence it can be taxing to shake the cobwebs off. Focus on that level, for that amount of uninterrupted time is a skill that rusts quickly even if you never completely lose it.
Practice on Friday was more of the same. In the first session I believe we were way down the field – again just settling in the car and letting the speed come to me. “Under-steer” was the buzz word all weekend. We fought it tooth and nail until Sunday, and most of the other teams were battling it as well. VIR can be a bit slick, especially in turn 1, so it was important to make changes and give the team useful feedback in getting the car to do what I needed it to out on the track. With the team of guys at GTP, it's very easy. As soon as I have time to sit and analyze what the car was doing, and where, it was a simple task of me letting those guys put their talents to work. It is amazing what a good team will let you accomplish out on track.
Saturday was good for us, an eleventh spot qualifying effort to open the season and an even better eighth place finishing position. My quick lap of 1:56.8 was done with the car out of fuel in the hog pen. As soon as I shifted into third the motor stumbled and continued to stumble all the way across the start/finish line, that lap should have been a bit faster. The race was a fairly standard affair. No cautions, and the field strung out a bit after lap one. All I had to do was put my head down and dig deep and pick guys off cleanly when I could catch them. It was a solid performance all around.
Sunday's race was a much livelier experience. We qualified sixth, where I believe we should have been to start race one if I hadn't run out of fuel in qualifying. The field stayed incredibly tight to the end, and it was as exciting as I've ever had a race. We were in a train of six cars nose to tail for the entirety of the race, which puts me in the position that not only do I have to work on getting around the guy in front of me, I have to work to keep the guy behind me from passing me. It is a real chess game, every single second has to be strategically planned from before to try to keep everyone where you want them to be.
It was a great weekend for SMR with two top ten finishes in two races, and I can not wait until Road Atlanta!