by Wyatt Gooden on May 12th, 2010
After learning some good lessons the hard way at VIR, we had less than two weeks to prepare for Round Three of the 2010 VW Jetta TDI Cup at New Jersey Motorsports Park. For me that included finding some money to repair the damage to my car from a couple of incidents at VIR and also getting some seat time at NJMP in the Jetta at iRacing.com’s offices in Massachusetts. Although iRacing plans to release NJMP to its members next year, the software is not finished in the sense that none of the trees, buildings, billboards and other trackside visuals are finished. All that’s done is the road itself, but after a full day on “just” the road at iRacing, I felt pretty well prepared to face the real thing.
My time at iRacing turned out to be well spent. I felt at home on the track right away. That and the fact that I’d had ten days or so to go over the VIR weekend in my head, really put me in good shape. So good in fact, that I managed to qualify on the outside of the front row beside Juan Pablo Sierra Lendle.
One of the big things I had to work on after VIR was my starts. I lost four or five spots at the start of both VIR races because I screwed-up the launch control. This time I got a real good start and got about half a car length ahead of Juan Pablo by Turn One. However, I was on the left side of the road and the first three turns are right-handers.
I made it through Turn One and midway through Two before letting him through when I saw I could slot-in behind him. Sierra Lendle was going surprisingly slower than I thought he would on cold tires, so I was all over him the first lap and a half. I thought I could get comfortable behind him but all of a sudden I’m getting dive-bombed for second into this fast right hander to slow left corner sequence; then another guy goes with him, so there was really nowhere for me to go and I lost a ton of momentum. It seemed like I kept having to drive really defensively and it kept screwing-up my exits for the next corners. People were passing me on the straightway easier than I could pass them. Even when lapping cars, I was getting better runs onto the straightaway and still having a hard time getting along side of them into Turn One.
When comparing my qualifying lap data to the pole sitter’s, I could see I was faster through every part of the track, except for the flat-out, final three corners leading up to the front straightaway, where he closed the time gap on me and was about 1.5 mph faster at the start/finish line. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, because I think the instructors know this is the case. I just want to do the best I can.
Besides the fact that I had people all over me for the first part of the race, I feel like I was being more conservative with the tires than I needed; driving a little too cautiously. But I never went off track, and I started running my fastest times near the end of the race. Just like at VIR, I learned a good lesson about how the tires work and how hard you can run the car without overheating the fronts.
Anyways, things settled down and I was in eighth place. A few guys dropped out and I made a late braking pass into Turn One so I was sitting comfortably in fifth and would have likely finished there. I was maintaining the distance to the first three cars, and catching the fourth place guy. A few more laps and I would have been in his draft. But then a lapped car decided to turn-in on me in a nearly flat-out corner, so I had to drift the car and abruptly hit the brakes to avoid him. We must have been just inches apart; it was amazing to be driving that close without contact. But I lost a ton of momentum because of this kid who was probably completely oblivious to me being there. As a result, my fellow iRacers A.J. Nealey and J.D. Mobley caught my draft. Before this incident I was maintaining a distance and even slightly pulling them. I know they wouldn’t have caught me.
Now Nealey got by me easily on the straight and almost cleared my whole car by Turn One (Wow! I wish I could do that!) For the last lap I was all over him but he drove defensively and left me no room to pass. Still, it was great fun using tactics and being all over his mirrors because he started making mistakes . . . just not a big enough one for me to get past. So I ended-up right on Nealey’s bumper, just missing out on the top five.
I am by no means disappointed with the result. I have no reason to be. But, being as competitive as I am, I just guess I always want more, lol.
After feeling a little overwhelmed at times at VIR, it’s just amazing to finally feel totally comfortable driving the car on the limit. I felt like I could really use the same ability I have in the sim to be accurate and smooth enough with the real car to be fast. The speed is there for sure, I just have to work on being more aggressive at the beginning of the race. I know it’s only going to get better as I feel pretty confident in saying that I can qualify near the front in the next rounds. In these cars qualifying is just soooo important. So basically I come out of the New Jersey weekend with a good result, no damage yet getting some invaluable experience running with the fast guys . . . and even more knowledge which will help me be more prepared to be right there at the end of the next race at Miller Motorsports Park in June.
Photos courtesy of Scott Husted