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BYRD: Weekend Bonus at The Glen

WATKINS GLEN, NY – Given that it was my first time competing in the legendary Watkins Glen Int’l, my goals were high, but my expectations were uncertain.

The weekend exceeded all expectations with three wins, second place and fifth place.

Not too shabby for The Glen’s first timer.

I raced a Porsche 911 GT3 (991.2) Cup 4.0 from TLM Racing’s Enhanced Car and arrived at Pro Mazda from Drive Motorsports as part of the Sports Vintage Racing Ass’n Weekend.

It started last Wednesday, when I had two wet training sessions with a Porsche. I love to drive a race car in wet areas because it’s a great opportunity to get to know the racetrack while also learning about the rain streak. I had the fastest lap between both laps.

The next day, I shared driving duties with car owner David Tuaty and that was the plan for the rest of the weekend.

Porsche ran in the first qualifying session and Touati drove it in the second. Unfortunately, since I wasn’t a registered tire owner, the chain rules dictated that only the owner’s qualifying effort counts in the starting position for the first race and enduro.

I went out during the mixed playoffs and came out fast again. I was less than Mark Mathis, with whom I competed in the class, by only a few tenths.

Later that day, I went out at Pro Mazda for the first time for the weekend in conditions that were basically mixed. The tough conditions combined with the apparent lack of grip in the car didn’t make me a happy camper. It was complicated by the fact that the car lost its power on the fifth lap.

I gave some important feedback to the Arrive Drive team of Dustin Hodges and Liam Huffman that enabled them to make some setup changes that greatly improved the car. On Friday at Pro Mazda I had my first drying session and did a spin in 1:57,211 – 10 fast overall for Group 9 cars, but a fast fifth overall for Group 9 “F3” rated cars.

Bird also got a chance to drive a professional Mazda for Arrive Drive Motorsports. (Bird Racing photo)

I climbed into the TLM Porsche in the first race of the weekend.

The night before, I spoke to my old driving instructor from the days of the Lucas Oil Formula car racing series. He told me with my skill set, that I should be able to get competitive lap times in about four to five laps. I was also nervous because I didn’t want to face one of my faster TLM teammates who was going to start racing next to me.

At first I went to take an inside step to cover any attempts in an indoor driveway, but a slow car a few rows away caused me to back up. That got me to ninth by the time I crossed the start and finish line.

However, I recovered by sticking to the inside pass of the car in front of me which when all was said and done enabled me to get out of Turn 1 in 5th. The words of my old coach, Gerardo Bonilla, occurred to me, because he was absolutely correct in his assessment of the time I would wake up quickly.

Later in the race I made my transfers to both the class leader and the general as I exited the core as I blocked traffic Mark Mathis.

I passed him from the inside in the straight direction to the bus stop. There were a few close calls with some of the other slower class Porsches, but I survived those two laps and took the checkered flag with the overall and class win.

It felt great to take my first win in a sports car and I was grateful to have been able to get the job done for Team TLM.

After that, it was my last session of the day, and Pro Mazda qualified.

The combination of new, sloppy attempts and front wing changes resulted in more grip. I could go six seconds faster than my practice time, with a lap of 1:51.230. That was eighth in the sprint group and fourth in the class – a massive improvement.

The fourth day of racing on Saturday came with ups and downs.

I couldn’t go any faster during the second Pro Mazda qualifying session.

My next session was at Porsche where I was going to tackle the Enduro for an hour myself, as Tuaty had already left for the weekend for another commitment. I started in sixth place and by the time I stirred up the articles, I was in fourth. She climbed to third on the next lap.

I started chasing Mathis in first place. When we started getting into traffic, I navigated through it better than Mathys and closed the gap.

At the 20-minute mark, he hit the mandatory five-minute pit stop to hand the car over to Mike Skene, an extremely fast sports car driver and prototype who basically sets track records for fun.

I was about to start before I had to dig for the mandatory five minutes. Once I finished this course, I was 4th overall and 2nd in the class after Mark Matisse/Mike Skene. In the end, I finished second in its class for a car that had some competitive advantages over me, even though I was in the same class.

This was still a very satisfying result and I once again proved to myself that I belong to the top players.

My last session of the day was the first race for a Pro Mazda and it was a tough race.

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Bird took the podium lead in the second race of Group Nine, as well as the one-hour enduro. (Bird Racing photo)

I started the race in 10th overall and was able to make a few passes to get out of the first turn. However, the cars I ran into were faster cars, Swift 016s, which are faster than me on the roads, in corners and under brakes.

I finished 10th and 5th in the class. The hardest part of the race was driving the car. I was able to get my fastest lap weekend by lap, 1:50.767, but at a huge physical cost.

Maximizing stability on the Pro Mazda was the most physically demanding thing I’ve done in a race car on a road track. Aerobic and downforce improvements combined with the grip in the tires and the nature of the Watkins Glen as a high-endurance, low-comfort track made getting everything I could get out of the car strained my strength and energy in just eight laps.

I was frankly amazed by the reality of Pro Mazda and then came to the cynical conclusion that if I was going to run a lap in 1:49sec or high 1:48sec, which I certainly think is possible with the car in the right conditions, which I would probably use as It’s up to 25 percent of my physical ability to do that. Only for one course.

I think the combination of Pro Mazda and Watkins Glen is a great physical training ground or sunflower test for any advanced race car driver. It definitely exposed one of my weaknesses as a racer.

The last day of the competition proved to be a great day. Primarily because it was supposed to rain all day and that meant that both the second race and enduro at Pro Mazda would be in wet condition.

This was great news for me for two reasons. You don’t have to worry about the physical abilities issue you dealt with in the race. Also, because my skill in the rain will enable me to have what looks like a chance to win in set 9.

Oddly enough, Group 9 doesn’t have separate podiums for each class, so I had to beat a ton of cars that were way faster than me.

In dry mode, this is practically impossible assuming my competition isn’t helplessly slow. However, in the wet it becomes a little more even and the skill gap between drivers becomes more pronounced as power and downforce becomes less of a factor while in wet weather comfort becomes exponentially more important.

Almost all cars from every Group 9 race on Saturday, pulled out of the race on Sunday morning when they saw it was going to rain all day. It meant less competition, but it also meant I got the win in the second race of the ninth group as well as the enduro.

That’s because only other Formula cars with downforce like me have a chance to compete against me in a multi-car enduro.

I can’t do anything about the guys leaving early, so I took advantage of the opportunity to run and gain experience in the wet weather.

I won the second race after cutting the entire field in just six or seven laps.

Unfortunately, the one-hour enduro story was a sadder one as only three cars showed up, shortening the race. As a result, another car pulled out and the two of us carried the green flag.

I focused on making the best show as good as I could for the viewers who were still watching. I went as hard as I could in 14 laps, hoping to improve my best two-time race time in the wet.

I slowly improved my fastest lap all the way during the last lap of the race, where despite a turn error, I still improved on the lap before, achieving my fastest wet lap of the weekend, 2:03,813.

I felt good.

Returning to a Porsche after not driving since February and seeing success in all conditions was a huge confidence booster and testament to my development as a driver. But I was able to develop the Pro Mazda to the point that I started to really enjoy it.

This has definitely been one of the best racing weekends of the year so far, and it makes me even more excited about the future and what it holds.

#BYRD #Weekend #Bonus #Glen

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