Sebring holds a special place in my heart. It’s given me some great memories, and this time is no exception. This year I made my debut in the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Powered by Mazda series on March 17-20. The car is like nothing I have ever driven before. In years past I have driven the Mazda MX-5 Cup Car as well Skip Barber’s formula car, but nothing comparable to this.
The Car: An Elan DP-02 chassis powered by a highly modified Mazda 2.0 power plant, making 240HP and weighing in at just over 1400 pounds with the driver. With ginormous tunnels under the car, it generates around 700-800 pounds of downforce. Compared to the MX-5 I am used to driving, this thing is a rocket ship. With a few days of testing before the season I was able to get used to the beast and have some pace as well.
The Race: Race 1, I qualified on pole and led the race from green to checkered, building up a 7 second gap to the car behind before the caution flag came out due to a couple of cars crashing in turn 17. The race eventually ended under that same yellow. It was relatively drama free apart from a couple “oh crap” moments in turn 1. Race 2 was a bit of a different story. I had to start 9th as my second fastest lap in qualifying was hindered by a flat tire. I charged my way up to 3rd, but getting past second was a bit more difficult. I was able to make the pass going into turn 15, only to be re-passed shortly after. I eventually made the same pass stick and continued to chase down the leader. I finished 2nd and had fastest lap of the race by almost a full second. I did catch Clark Toppe (the leader), but was not able to get past him as the aero push I would get from following so close behind would hurt my exits onto the straights. It also didn’t help that I had worn off my left rear tire trying to get to him.
Lessons Learned: Number 1, having never driven a downforce car in traffic before, I have thought long and hard about how I could have driven around the aero push that occurs from being close behind. I don’t want to give away exactly what I learned, but I do know what I could have done differently to possibly have won the race. Number 2, I now know how hard I can push a set of tires and know what I need to do in order to make them last longer. The Cooper tires are a phenomenal, but it is a sprint tire so it doesn’t last as long.
What’s Next: NOLA is next up on the schedule and I am feeling nothing but good vibes. We had a series official test a few weeks prior to Sebring at that track where I showed a front running pace. I’m feeling stronger and smarter than I have ever been before, so I can’t wait!