Michael wrote up a great report for us on last weekends racing at Thunderbolt! It was a crazy race and to think that Volkswagen Motorsports called the shots on the slicks… Unfortunately DeNino couldn’t capitalize on the great weekend from Iowa.
Rounds six and seven of the Jetta TDI Cup took place September 26 – 28 at New Jersey Motorsports Park, the only double header weekend on the 2008 calendar. Friday was a full day for all of the drivers, with a practice session and two qualifying sessions. All three sessions would see different conditions.
The first practice session was run on slick tires in wet conditions. The track started to dry up within a few laps however, it started to rain shortly thereafter with the rain lasting a few minutes. The wet track conditions would turn out to be important practice for later in the weekend. The next session (qualifying for race one) was again run in wet conditions, with the skies opening up shortly before the practice session. The mechanics did an excellent job of changing all 31 of the cars from slicks to rain tires in only 20 minutes. The third session (qualifying for race two) took place under dry conditions on slick tires.
Qualifying for race one went well. It was again a very fun experience to drive on a competition wet tire as it provides a great amount of grip. In mildly wet conditions, it is not too different from driving on a dry track. I was able to manage the 11th fastest time, but I knew I would be able to improve my position in the first race.
By the time qualifying for race two rolled around the track had dried and we were back on slick tires. I had a hard time finding clear track and making a clean lap. I just wasn’t able to nail down the last sector of the track and paid for it dearly, posting a disappointing 17th fastest time. With qualifying over, I needed to move foreword and focus on Saturday morning’s race.
The track was dry for race one. Starting from 11th I got an excellent start, gaining a few positions on the first lap. From there I worked for the rest of the race to catch and pass a few more cars to finish fifth. Pleased with my finishing position, my attention now shifted to preparing for the next race where I would need to make up considerable ground to finish well.
Race two was early on Sunday morning. With a wet track from rain the night before, the decision was made to run the cars on slick tires in anticipation that the track would dry quickly. Due to the wet condition, we started the race in single file behind the safety car instead of the typical standing start procedure. There was a considerable amount of water on the track and although we were not aqua planing, the driver’s disparity in speeds and approaches to the conditions created additional challenges. I was able to pick up a few positions in the first lap and a half of the race, mainly from people going off track or crashing. About half way through the second green flag lap the double yellow was shown while entering one of the high speed corners. Seeing the double yellow and recognizing there were no cars off track in this section, I planned on gradually reducing my speed until I caught up with the safety car. I was caught way off guard when the driver in front of me significantly reduced his speed. Doing everything I could to avoid running up the back of him I had no choice but to brake abruptly in the middle of the corner. With the car sliding sideways as I tired to avoid him, I spun the car off track, did a complete 360 and continued. I lost a few positions but avoided damaging my car.
A few laps later the track went green. Again I was able to gain positions primarily from simply staying on the track. At one point in the race a few cars had hit each other and had gone off track in front of me. I could tell that one of the cars would slide back across the track, which left me with two choices. One choice would be to go for it and try to pass the car before it slides back across the track, the other would be to slow down and wait for the car to come across the track before I continued. I chose to go for it! As I was passing the car I could see it coming across the track in my peripheral vision. Bam! My car was hit and knocked sideways as it just grazed my rear bumper. I caught the slide and was able to continue without incident. As the car just grazed me, it slammed into the car following me, putting both cars out of the race. This, combined with a separate incident, brought out the safety car once more. The race would end behind the safety car; I would finish the race in 13th.
I felt like I did a great job in race one, but having spun in race two was frustrating as I could have finished much better than 13th position. Going into the season’s last race in Atlanta I am 8th in the championship points standings. I look to improve my overall ranking in the championship heading into the final race and finish off the season on a high note.
Check back at michaeldenino.com throughout the race weekend for live timing and scoring information, as well as updates after each track session.