RACE PREVIEW: CIRCUIT OF THE AMERICAS 120
The twenty one mile journey from the CJ Wilson Racing race shop in Austin to the Circuit of the Americas takes approximately twenty minutes. The fact that the team haulers can leave the shop on the same day that they are due to load-in at the Austin track adds additional days of preparation time for the team and crew who are now already in what feels like mid-season mode.
The team will continue its two-car title challenge in with Round three of the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge while team owner, CJ Wilson, will contest rounds five and six of the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge by Yokohama.
None of this is lost on CJWR Team Manager, Andris Laivins. "We love having a race each year at home, and this one's the best yet since IMSA moved it to the Spring. The crew guys will be suffering way less in the cooler temperatures. Being in Austin is a competitive advantage, much like it would be for a team in Daytona or Atlanta - while everyone else is on a plane or driving across the country, our guys are out in the shop doing pit stop practice. The other thing that is nice to have in your back pocket is a local shop to work on the car if anything bad goes down in practice."
Damien Faulkner is acutely aware that racing in Austin is a hugely important event for his Houston-based teammate in the #35 Car, Russell Ward. "For Russell and myself this is also our 'home' race as he is based just down the road in Houston. So our expectations are high, and with the strong start we've had to the season, we have a strong genuine belief that we can shoot for the stars here."
The Donegal resident has reason to be optimistic having already visited Victory Lane at Circuit of the Americas. "I always enjoy going to COTA as it possesses many challenges. I've also won the GTC race there a few seasons ago, which brings back good memories."
For Texas Tech Chemical Engineering student, Russell Ward, the challenge is to juggle his finals with a Continental Series Championship effort. Local knowledge of the 19 turn Grand Prix layout will allow the 25 year old to start the week from a position of some strength. "Testing there in April was a huge advantage as I was able to get acclimated to the car and track. This will allow me to focus on the small things and be faster overall. With the experience I have at CoTA, I'm looking for a competitive finish to maintain or improve our place in the Championship."
Circuit of the Americas was the venue of CJWR's breakthrough win in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge in 2013. Marc Miller's ST Class win, alongside Stevan McAleer (below), is never that far from his thoughts when the team competes at home.
"There has not been a time here where we were not in contention for a win and I hope we can maintain that level of competitiveness in a very tough GS class field."
The recent test session at the nineteen turn, 3.24 mile venue means the drivers of the #33 Cayman arrive in Texas full of confidence. "This is also one of the few tracks that Till has logged laps which typically means he progresses very quickly," explained Miller. This sentiment was echoed by his British teammate, Bechtolsheimer. "After a day of testing last month I'm really looking forward to CoTA. I'm hoping that with some laps under my belt I'll be able to get up to speed quickly and push for a good result."
For team owner, CJ Wilson, 'home field advantage' means higher expectations and more attention than normal. "It’s the biggest race of the year for us, it is at such an incredible facility that everyone wants to come out. We have a lot of business partners and a lot of fans who, like us, view this as their home race."
Despite the surge in local support this week, Wilson is keenly aware of the task in front of the team. "Really it’s just about the team continuing to make forward progress. After Sebring, we have some catching up to with the Mustangs and the McLarens which are at a different operating level to us. We will have to beat them as much with strategy and pit work as we cannot really match them on outright speed."
The third round of the 2017 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, the Circuit of the Americas 120, takes place on Friday, May 5th at 2:45 pm CST/3:45 pm EST. You can follow the race live on imsa.tv or via www.radiolemans.com. You can also get Lap-by-Lap updates by following the Official CJ Wilson Racing Twitter feed @cjwilsonracing.