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Understanding Daytona International Speedway – from inside a cockpit

January 24, 2015
Owen Trinkler is calm before we take our ride around the 3.56-mile circuit

Owen Trinkler is calm before we take our ride around the 3.56-mile circuit

Daytona International Speedway’s 3.56-mile road course is a daunting track, one that has scuttled dreams and taken its good ol’ time to reward those that dare to challenge it.

After all, it took Michael Shank Racing, the 2015 pole position team 10 years to conquer this circuit during the 50th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona. When they accomplished that feat it was a matter of luck as much as talent and preparation, which the team – heck, any team racing the Prototype class in IMSA’s TUDOR United Sports Car Championship – has to have. Even AJ Allmendinger, one of the drivers on that winning team confirmed that luck played a huge part in the No. 60’s success.

I bring up these facts about the pole winners and the need for racing’s good luck, because I was fortunate to be able to take a “hot lap” in one of the Bondurant or Porsche Experience cars that are at DIS to show just how difficult this track can be. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to sign up for a ride and hope their name is called. (I’ve been working in this business for XX years and this is the first time I’ve been able to experience this program at the track)

The 2nd rider takes off with Trinkler

The 2nd rider takes off with Trinkler

I was first in line to ride in the Porsche GT3, dressed in white as Porsche prefers. There was so much going on Friday at the track – even without the TUDOR cars on track for more than an hour – so I wanted to get my ride, enjoy the exhilaration and get back to work. I ran to the head of the line, jumped in the car and introduced myself to Owen Trinkler. Then we sat and chatted for about five minutes as the track got a nice sweeping (this was just before the BMW Performance 200 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge) before we were allowed to go.

The engine was nicely warmed but Owen and the car had been sitting all that time so tires cooled, brakes were cold and I was looking forward to a somewhat more on-the-edge ride than those behind me would get. “No fear,” I told Trinkler and off we went, bounding over the curbs into the infield course and getting a wee bit crossed up (thank you!) out of the horseshoe turn. Out on the oval we flew and yes, you really do feel the G forces at work on the banking. There was some maintenance work being done in the Bus Stop turn so we tip-toed through, then back on the banking and down into the pits.

It was over too fast – always is – but a heck of a lot of fun and I realized that Trinkler was someone I needed to pay attention to. So I did. He was racing in the BMW Performance 200 but had a tough row to hoe with his driving partner, Sarah Cattaneo. Their No. 44 Cruise America/Thor Motorcoach Honda Civic Si, dressed in a distinctive black and hot pink livery, had an oil leak issue earlier in the race meeting and had been unable to qualify, but the mechanics solved the problem without having to do an engine change. This difficulty rendered them a lovely position at the rear of the field and forcing Cattaneo, who started the race to bully her way forward.

By the time the duo finished the 68-lap contest, they’d gone from 51st and last to 30th overall, three laps down. I thought that was mighty impressive on such a short track, and you might too. Both Cattaneo and Trinkler were pleased with their progress and look forward to the second round at Sebring International Raceway the third weekend of March.

As for me, I’m still glowing with the memory of an all-too-quick ride around the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road/oval course and looking forward to watching the 24-hour race today and tomorrow. How about you?

Words and photos By Anne Proffit

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