The first race of 2017 at Daytona went better than we had all anticipated. With the new race length being 4 hours rather than the normal 2.5 hours, there were a lot of unknowns pertaining to strategy as well as predictions for the outcome of the race.
Daytona in nature is not a track that caters to the Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5's strengths. Majority of the track is full throttle with two long straightaways that cover roughly 85% of the NASCAR oval. That being said, our Mazda MX-5's are absolutely dominant in all corners beginning with the initial brake application, all the way through the apex, and getting back to throttle. For a track that is focused around top end speed more than handling, we have struggled in the past at Daytona. However, this year's race was going to be different. This race was an hour and a half longer than previous races which meant more pit stops, more wear and tear, and more time to move up in the field.
For my co-driver, Robby Foley, this race was his IMSA Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge debut. Robby is familiar with the MX-5 platform as he is a highly experienced driver in the Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup Series. Robby did a great job getting familiarized with all of the procedures on the team and was able to acclimate quickly to the new car and the general driving characteristics of the IMSA CTSCC style MX-5 race car.
I was able to qualify the car in 13th for the start of the race. Working with my teammate Chad McCumbee in the #25 ModSpace car, we were able to break into the top 10 by using the draft to our benefit. This minimized the time lost on the straightaways since we were able to keep our speed relatively high but still slower than the other cars like the Porsche Cayman or BMW. It was a challenge but also enjoyable setting up passes by getting a good exit off of Turn 6 to stay close and in the draft of a competitor and waiting half a lap to actually initiate the pass into Turn 1 or Turn 3. Robby and I did our driver change at about the halfway mark of the race and in the closing minutes of the race during the final restart, all 3 cars stayed clean and crossed the line in 6th, 9th, and 10th.
We were all cheering after the checkered flag waved because everyone on the team knew we had done the best job possible given the track's unfriendliness towards our cars and having all three Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5's finish in the top ten was something that we had hoped could have happened going into the race but knew that the chances were slim.
Hats off to all of the Freedom Autosport crew guys who did a total of 10 flawless pitstops over the course of 240 minutes. It was extremely impressive watching them go to work. Also thank you to our spotter and strategist, Chris Long, who is always of great help to the drivers on the radio as well as his ability to call our race strategy quickly and to our benefit. We're already looking forward to Sebring on March 17th where our cars should shine after our humble but fantastic finish at Daytona.