Editor’s Note: Peter Portante joins the SCCA Pro Racing Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich Tires for their 2015 season racing for Atlanta Motorsports Group (AMG). Peter has graciously agreed to provide for us his thoughts after each round of this season’s championship. This is his first piece for FBC recalling the two opening races at the Sebring International Raceway this past week. You can follow Peter’s racing exploits by bookmarking his website, http://www.peterportante.com/, liking his Facebook Page, and following him on Twitter, @portante24. His next event is on April 10th at NOLA Motorsports Park.
A new year will always bring new challenges, for me the challenges would be far more unique then in years past. I would swap my formula car racing to go sportscar racing. My girl this year would be a bit more clothed and also a minor 2000 pounds heavier. Once you get inside, you realize you have a lot more to do to just make her go. The high-tech sequential gearbox’s I had come accustom to were now a 6-speed H pattern. That pesky pedal all the way to the left went from leave and spin pedal to the reason racing drivers have 3 feet as the drive.
One of the most glaring differences was comfort. Being fairly big for a driver, sitting in an open-wheel car was a mixture of positions found difficult by a Russian contortionist with the added bonus of your back being the fundamental compression point of the car. The Mazda MX-5 in contrast could easily be compared to lounging in you favorite leather couch, at 120 mph. which I must say does seem massively appealing, but then add the part where you must sit in this couch with your best winter jacket and boots in 120 degrees for 45 minutes, and it does ruin the utopia of comfort in a race car.
The next glaring difference came from the paddock of sports car racing. No longer filled by 18 year old silver spooned children who wouldn’t last a day with only my yearly earnings in their pocket. It was filled with character, laughter and chatter. I now was part of a paddock that consisted of Gallahger who alter ego is Dale, Drake Kemper who has a mustache that creates downforce, John Dean who has the pork chop sides burns that made the women sweat more than insane Sebring hot sun, Dean Copeland rocking his sleeveless team attire. All of these guys are class acts, maybe not the generic driver that has been beaten into to young drivers since they first sit in a go kart but it makes them no less of a driver then your clean shaven, painfully uninteresting generic drivers that have poisoned our sport.
The first impressions of the car at Sebring was absolutely fantastic. I lead practice session and never found myself outside of the top 4 at any time. Qualifying was as disappointing as your first experience trying safe to eat cookie dough. Long story short my group which has 3 of 4 fastest cars in it would be out first and as the next group would go out (filled with 28 cars, don’t even ask!) the track would pick up a second and myself with the likes of all others in my group would find ourselves stuck in the bottom of the top 10. Frustration can’t even describe my though process although I should have called the Sebring Popo because of how inappropriately our group was handled in qualifying, but it is what it is.
I would start Race 1 and 2 in position 7. Race would consist of really nothing, after four laps and getting to 4th position and running down the leaders my 3rd gear did its best Houdini impression and disappeared. Thankfully, only almost every corner at Sebring bar one, Turn 17, is 3rd gear…
Race two would be slightly more eventful. I would hang out in the mid pack for most of the race planning my attack for the end of the race. As the 10 minute left mark came, I began my attack to front soon finding myself in the four-car battle for the lead. With two laps to go I would get under P3 on the exit of the hairpin. I was in the best position to win, I was in the perfect position to draft past P1 and P2 but it was not made to be as I hit the gate as I shifted to 3rd gear. That would be to much to overcome as I was swallowed by the cars behind, I would only have enough time to reclaim 6th at the checker. I was and am still gutted but the gates of success are tough to enter, but as you guys know I’m banging on them and fully expect to be let in three weeks as we head to NOLA and the GP of Louisiana.