My last weekend at Virginia International Raceway was eventful, to say the least. NASA Mid-Atlantic’s annual HyperFest saw record crowds, I turned faster laps than ever, and my friend Tom substantially reshaped his Subaru WRX. I was eager to get back to “Heaven on Earth” despite the predicted high temperature of 96° both days.
Saturday morning saw a very quick practice, followed by a qualifying session that, last year, would have had me ecstatic. I qualified with a 2:13.6, which was alright given traffic, but I had run a few 2:10.x laps in May and was trying to break the sub-2:10 barrier.
I figured I’d get that chance in Saturday afternoon’s race, but my efforts were thwarted. Thunderstorms rolled in out of nowhere as we were sitting on grid with just minutes until the pace car rolled out. NASA requires we shut down for 30 minutes following a lightning strike within 7 miles of the track, and we were shut down for about an hour as a result.
We were told that we had time to swap to rain tires, and the rain was so intense that we were guaranteed a wet race – so I went back to my trailer and threw my “rain tires” on the car. Rain fell sideways as my friend Taylor and I hustled to get the old Toyo RA1 tires on the car. Six or seven minutes later, we were done and completely soaked through.
As the green flag fell, my rain tires helped but only just. My “rains” are Toyo RA1’s that I paid $100 for about three years ago. They were old then, and are basically plastic now. Hard rubber is totally useless, and I need to step up my rain tire game so I can hang with my competitors. Two of them were on Hoosier H20 “wets” and were able to run very fast laps given the conditions. Meanwhile, I had a great spin as the track dried out – thankfully nobody was around and I didn’t hit anything.
Sunday stayed dry, and I had a very fun Beast of the East qualifying race. The “Beast of the East” format involves all Thunder-grouped cars, spanning multiple classes, organized by Saturday’s best lap time. It’s fun in that you get to honestly race cars and drivers who run similar lap times to you, but come from many different classes. My Best of the East race saw me battling three SN95 Ford Mustangs and a fellow GTS2 competitor, Jeremy.
I did nearly break the 2:10 barrier during that race – I was set to run several 2:09.xx laps but got slowed by one of the Mustangs on each attempt. Time to focus on racecraft! Regardless, I finished the Beast of the East race in 2nd place and was super happy to see myself start to break below the 2:10 mark. The prior 2:10’s were difficult, this time the 2:09s came more naturally.
Sunday’s afternoon “points race” with just GTS2 cars was equally exciting, even with just four competitors. After a great start, Jeremy edged me out to hold 3rd place. I kept him in my sights and focused on remaining consistent. Finally, on the last lap, he pushed a little wide exiting Turn 1 and went off into the dirt for the most brief of seconds. I slipped past on the asphalt, kept the hammer down all the way up the Climbing Esses, and set a big enough gap that ensured he couldn’t catch back up, taking the checkered flag in third place.
My race suit and Cool Shirt are already washed and ready for a (more temperate) Oktoberfast, back at VIR!