VIRGINIA INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY REWIND
The rain has stopped and the ticker tape has finally been cleared away giving us time to reflect on a landmark victory for CJ Wilson Racing at Virginia International Raceway last weekend.
Marc Miller's run to to victory lane began at the final restart with a Turn 1 pass on Billy Johnson and his Multimatic Ford Mustang. The green flag fell with 46 minutes to go in the two and a half hour race. Prior to that, the majority of the event had been run under red flag conditions after an enormous rain storm pounded the track causing the stoppage just 15 minutes into the race.
Starting driver for the #33 ONE Capital/Motor Oil Matters Cayman was Danny Burkett and he was the first driver to encounter the extraordinarily heavy rain on track. "When you're a race car driver and rain starts streaming down your windshield, it's extremely unnerving. You never know what's going to happen as you go into the next corner as it could be the one where it's raining the most and the one where you go sliding off to end your race. As the starting driver, it's up to me to give the car to Marc, obviously if I can't do that, we don't have a shot to win."
As the conditions began to deteriorate, the team made the decision to pit for wet weather Continental Tires but even that was not enough to fully cope with a track that was now totally flooded. Even driving in a straight line was proving to be a challenge for Burkett. "The conditions were challenging to say the least, it was kind of like driving in a hurricane, it was all about survival. At one point, while on wets, on the front straight I hit a puddle aquaplaned and around we went. Luckily enough we didn’t hit anything but it was a total roller coaster of emotions because when that happened my heart sank."
Our team photographer, Halston Pitman (above), was in pit lane when the storm hit and within ten minutes the whole area was flooded. This was one of the many reasons why the race was red flagged. As lightening approached all TV crew had to be moved from their posts and corner workers were also relieved of their duties. The whole field was brought down pit lane and parked until the weather passed.
For over an hour we waited as the race clock continued to count down. With 1:14 to go, engines were re-fired and four minutes later the safety car was sent out to inspect the track. With just over an hour to go, the cars were once again released onto the track and the race conditions went from 'Red' to 'Full Course Yellow'. Danny was still at the wheel of the #33 CJWR car and as soon as the pits were officially opened, he came in for fuel and a driver change.
Once the GS and ST class cars had completed their pit stops, it was time to go back to racing. The green flag fell with 46 minutes left and if there were no more caution periods, fuel mileage was going to be a factor in the overall result.
Fuel was the furthest thing from Marc Miller's thoughts as he approached Turn 1 at the restart. On a drying but still extremely damp track the Michigan native took his opportunity to grab the initiative from the Factory Ford of Billy Johnson. "On the restart, when Billy went into the braking zone, it's not that I tried to out deep him at all, I just used less brake pressure and he left enough...well he didn't leave enough room but I kind of made just enough room to get by on the inside."
Over the next two laps, Johnson kept the pressure on Miller who was keenly aware that the Mustang's torque and straight line speed meant that P1 was not secure by any measure. "The one thing about the way our car was working was that it was very stable under braking and very good on power-down. It wasn't necessarily as good in the high speed transitions but as the rain started to go away and the dry line emerged we started to get the grip back that we needed and by that point I knew that Billy was struggling to get the power down and forward drive out of the corners in his Mustang. I then had a bit of breathing room on the straightaways which is normally where the Mustang is so strong but coming out of the tight corners we were so good that it just gave us that margin to be able to pad the gap."
Marc's focus was underlined by his silence on the radio over the last 30 minutes of the race. "I didn't say anything I just let the crew count down the laps and reserved my screaming until afterwards."
For #33 team partner the American Petroleum Institute, VIR was their home race and they were able to share the team's joy in pit lane and capture the moment of victory for social media.
Our friends at Porsche were also thrilled to see the team finally get Darth Cayman into Victory Lane.
So finally the amazing crew at CJ Wilson Racing gets the victory that it so clearly deserved and has worked so hard for all season. It's now on to our 'home' race at Circuit of the Americas and the chance to win back-to-back races and, more importantly keep the GS Class Championship race alive.