Before even getting into the weekend, Saito Motorsports Group owes a big thank you to Platt financial for being the first sponsor of our team, Jonathan Applegate and Scott Kaluza with Mazda Motorsport, Vic Gibson with Rebuild Rex, Mickey Carter with Carter racing, Andreas and the whole gang at Flis Performance for all the help with the car repairs. Without help, it would have been very hard to be on track at VIR and, finally, a special thank you must go to Michael Carter for the leadership he offered throughout the event. Clearly this was a transformational weekend for the team.
Friday 8/25 saw the beginning of on track activities. Practice 1 was nothing more than a car system check after repairs from Watkins Glen and an opportunity to get Michael to get comfortable and confident in the car. Michael was satisfied with the car, posted a 2.08.280 with traffic and the time was enough for P 12.
Practice 2 was in the hottest portion of the day on a low grip track. This resulted in generally slower practice times for most of the field. Micheal’s time was 0.6 tenths slower than practice 1. Valuable track time for Michael and the team, confidence was growing in the car’s potential for the weekend.
Saturday 8/26 Qualifying saw Michael steadily improve his times. His two best laps were slowed by traffic and didn’t allow us to show the true car potential. Michael improved his practice 2 times by a huge 0.9 of a second but the traffic cost us. Car #19 would start race 1 in a respectable P10 and an even better provisional P7 start for the next race.
8/26 Race 1. The team was fully confident in Michael’s race craft and ready for a top 5 finish on a challenging track. The beginning of the race saw Michael making a good start, then losing a couple of spots and later making measured but steady progress through the field. Once he reached P6 and attempted to pass for P5, there was a small off-track excursion through the dirt and grass. Rejoining the track offline, caused us to pick up rubber marbles on hot tires. By the time the tires were cleaned and performing well again, the lead pack had gotten enough of a margin to negate the draft benefit.
Putting his head down, Michael set a series of fast laps which were good enough to stay ahead of the chasing pack but, without a yellow to merge the car groups, he was unable to rejoin the leading cars. At the end Michael still managed to finish P8, less than 4 seconds away from P1. So, all in all a very good finish that could have been even better. Michael was disappointed, blaming himself for the missed opportunity and apologetic. The team was supportive, rallied around him and ultimately everyone was confident that the next day was full of promise, and we were due a good result.
8/27 Race 2. A great day for the team, our first P1! (sort of) and celebration in victory lane. Michael started P9, once again, showed great race craft making a measured but steady progress through the field and positioned himself for a strong race finish. We know that the history books will show us finishing in a lower position but, still nevertheless, we did finish 1st, it was a great race, a great podium, and a lot of fun even though we had to return the check and the trophy… we still got to hold them for about 40 minutes and, next time, odds are pretty good that we will get to keep them.
So, here’s our victory toast: “Fun weekend, great job to everyone in the team, thank you Max for joining us, Thank you Daisy with Platt Financial for the much welcome sponsorship. Thank you, Cory, Logan, Niki, and most importantly thank you Michael for being a winner. It was a pleasure to work with you, let’s focus on the next event, and we can’t wait to have you back in the car.