iRacing’s Wyatt Gooden concluded a remarkable season of racing at Watkins Glen in October, taking his third and fourth wins in as many races in the SCCA F1600 Formula F Championship. Not bad for a guy who had never raced an open wheel car before this summer’s debut at Mid-Ohio . . . even if one of those wins at the Glen was blessed with a little racing luck – Ed.
The journey started well before the race weekend began. I flew down to Oklahoma City to meet with Quantum Racing Services’ Wendell and Slade Miller on Sunday (one week before the race). Oddly similar to the last trip before Mid-Ohio, I got to enjoy more delays because of weather . . . this time in Houston of all places! It was an absolute downpour the whole day. So much so that it backed-up flights leaving out of the city and it was a hell of a turbulent ride getting in. After literally three hours sitting on the runway waiting to take off, I left for my short flight from Houston to Oklahoma City.
Slade and I grabbed some food then headed back to the shop to load-up for Monday’s test at Hallett Motor Circuit. We opted to drive near the track Sunday night in order to be ready bright and early to get the most out of the day. Hallet being the closest track to Oklahoma City, it was about 2 hours northeast of Quantum’s shop. The rain never let up and I became a slightly disappointed about not getting any dry testing in; the forecast didn’t look too promising. Monday rolls around and the rain had slowed down a bit, but it was still damp and cold nonetheless. We figured we’d wait it out in hopes that it would clear up… otherwise the test would be pushed back to Tuesday which would mean we’d have to drive more hours each day to get to Watkins Glen!
By about mid-day on Monday there were signs of life. In the sky that is. Finally got to shake the cobwebs off and get comfortable back in my workplace which I hadn’t seen in a few months. After a couple sessions we were back to where we left off from the previous test, working on trying new things and getting what I wanted out of the car. By the end of the day we were FLYING. The car was hooked, and I felt back in my element out there. Pumped and ready to hit the road, we headed on our way to what would be a 1300 mile journey from Oklahoma City to Watkins Glen! I could have flown back to Cleveland, but figured I’d help with the duty of annoying the crew, and keeping the front seat warm for Wendell.
After more passing through more truck stop diners in the middle of nowhere than you could handle, old racing stories, gossip, college football talk, and playing through at least eight albums on the iPod we were making good progress. Our route even took us within like two miles of my house, which I thought was awesome considering we had no intentions of going by it. The crew decided to pull off Wednesday night about 60 miles out from WGI. It’s amazing how tired sitting in a car all day can make you!
Before heading-out for the first practice on Friday I went over reference points on the circuit in my head, and roughly which gears I should be in at certain corners. You obviously can’t map out your brake markers and shift points precisely until you’ve been on the circuit, so that was what I intended to pick up on every lap I was out there. The track was still very damp from the morning, so I was carefully cruising along as I couldn’t really feel out the limits of the circuit. Practice 2 later in the afternoon started about an hour after the rain had begun to come down heavily. I had mixed feelings about the rain, as I had never run these cars in full wet conditions. I felt like I didn’t know the track well enough in the dry, but at the same time it would be good preparation for the weekend which had a high possibility of rain.
“You had to treat the car like it had 500 horsepower and you were racing on dirt.”
The first laps of practice had me lost. I was slipping and sliding around. No brakes! No grip . . . how the hell am I supposed to control this thing!! It felt like driving on ice and I was sure I was going to put it into the wall/tires at ANY moment if I pushed any harder. I was fortunately passed by two quick guys within a lap and a half, David Clubine and Jim Goughary. Following David’s wet line and slowing everything down really helped. You had to treat the car like it had 500 horsepower and you were racing on dirt. I mean very very smooth throttle movement, and a lot less brake pressure but you still needed to be quick getting on them. Things tend to stick in my head once I’ve figured them out, and that’s exactly what happened this session. When it clicked, I was on it; eventually setting the fastest consecutive laps, with an overall time four seconds faster than the field. I was mostly just happy that I was not only quick but able to keep it under the limit and in control. That is always most important to me, and I think any car owner would agree! Driving in the rain . . . what an exhilarating experience. Feeling confident now, I relaxed about what the conditions would be like this weekend. I got the ‘driving in treacherous conditions’ fear out of the way, and I was now actually looking forward to some rain!
I woke up Saturday to bright sunny skies . . . admittedly a little disappointed inside! But again, having to re learn everything in a dry qualifying session was probably better than in the race. For the first four or so laps of the session, I stayed with Jeremy Grenier to try and pick up on how deep I could go into the corners. It was another accelerated learning experience. I picked up a TON of time and confidence in the track in a matter of about five laps, eventually passing Grenier and banking in my memory each lap exactly where I could go deeper and carry more speed. To my surprise I was a second quicker than the field when the session was over. I certainly felt like the laps were good, but I know a few of the others could have been closer.
Both races would ultimately be run on Sunday as there was a pile up coming out of Turn 1 through The Esses during a wet start to Race 1. I really wanted to try and win a wet race, but it wasn’t to be as Sunday the rain held off. Wind was a big factor though; every time we went out it was VERY gusty and the direction would change frequently. The first race got off to a good start. There were still one or two corners that I wasn’t maximizing in the first part of the race. I kept braking a little early in the Heel of The Boot, and not carrying as much momentum through the fast corner as I could have. The draft is absolutely enormous in these cars, and I couldn’t quite get enough of a gap from Ryan Leach, who seemed to have an epic ability to always pass me going into the Bus Stop chicane (aka Inner Loop). I think he had DRS! I got lucky as I made a pass on the outside going into the Boot, really just for the hell of it as I knew he was going to get me right back going into the Bus Stop like every other lap. To my surprise they waved the checkered early because of a car in the wall on the front straight! I’m glad I decided to pass. 😉
“I’m glad I decided to pass.” 😉
I went into Race 2 really just wanting to do what I know I was capable of. I had something to prove. I got off to a good start with pressure on the outside from Chris Keller; a great guy and a really-well known karting star from years back. He missed a shift slighty coming out of T1, which allowed me to inch past and take control into the Bus Stop. Chris was drafted-by on the straight, and I knew he was going to be pushing to try and keep in my draft. A lap later he spun on the exit of the Bus Stop trying to get second position back, which brought out a caution. After a killer restart and the guys behind me battling, I finally broke the draft. From then on I was not going to miss an apex. It felt great really having the track down fully, and running nearly the same lap every time. Over the radio Wendell kept telling me to back off . . . being in the position of paranoid crew chief, I could understand. I knew what I was doing and I wasn’t going to crash though. Pulling out to a nearly nine second lead by the finish and setting my fastest lap on the last lap sealed the deal on a weekend that simply couldn’t have gone better!