He’s three races into he Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand and I wanted to give you all an update on Spike Kohlbecker’s progress. You’ll recall that I had Spike on our podcast a few weeks ago, he’s a young driver from St. Louis and we couldn’t be more excited for his journey in racing.
Spike offered us an overview of his race weekend at Hampton Downs and you can read his thoughts and progress as well as development as a young driver amongst some very seasoned drivers. What is he learning and how is he approaching the race weekend? You’ll find out below.
What’s been great is to see Spike’s progress moving inside the field, learning to qualify well and he’s facing a very competitive and seasoned field so there’s no better place to hone his race craft. The incident at Hampton Downs was a racing incident but it is a lesson learned and Spike handled it very well.
We’re excited for Spike and a keen-eyed TPF listener might spot a certain logo on Spike’s car. ;)
You can watch Spike’s latest race here:
Track: Hampton Downs
Location: Waikato, New Zealand [North Island, approx. 1 hour north of Auckland]
Dates: Thursday, Jan 30 thru Sunday, Feb 2, 2020
Thursday: Unofficial practice day.
I got stronger and faster every single lap out. I was able to give better feedback to my mechanic and engineer as I get to know the car better. There is a lot to learn in a very short period of time. I keep trusting the car more and more. I could push the car harder every session and my lap times continued to improve.
Friday: Official practice day.
I continued to get stronger and faster every single lap out. I had the opportunity to practice at this track, but in a different car … actually last year’s model an FT50 which turns out was very different to this brand new FT60. I came over to New Zealand on a quick test trip that my dad and I made a couple of weeks prior to this trip so at least I was familiar with the track. We get a lot of track/practice time on Fridays:  30-minute session plus 2 official practice starts allowed.
I had a solid qualifying effort at P11 so very near my Top 10 goal. After qualifying I was just .154 behind the 2 cars in front of me and .496 off the leaders so I closed the gap to the leaders from practice to qualifying so that was encouraging. To give you an idea how close all the cars and drivers are to the front the times are just .774 of a second from the 1st car to the last car so pretty remarkably close and this gap got even smaller as the races went on.
I had a great start but unfortunately just after the start I had contact from behind which sent me into the car in front of me and then flying offline. I was able to get my car turned around and back on track but I had some front wing damage, so I was called into the pits by my engineer where they did an impressive “F1-like” front wing change. In fact, it was so impressive how quickly they did the change that people were coming up to the team afterwards and congratulating them. After such a great pit stop it put me back out on track still on the lead lap but at that point I was just playing catch up. I was very happy to be able to go on and finish the race however I finished near last I believe. However, after TRS issued a few penalties to other drivers it bettered my finishing spot to P14 so staying clean and penalty free yourself is good.
Race 2 Your starting spot is determined by your Race 1 finishing spot so unfortunately in this case that wasn’t great in P14. I knew it could get messy back there so I just had to focus on the task at hand and get through this race as best I could. Unfortunately, I got shuffled out wide and had to work hard to make my way back up to P15. With Race 2 behind me with some good learnings along the way it was time to turn my focus to Race 3.
Race 3 For Race 3 you re-qualify and I did well re-qualifying and ended up P12 so I was pumped. I had another great start and began making my way up the field. My race pace was good and I felt really strong on track. I had fought my way up to P7, the cars were all settling in nicely, and at that point I was .10 second faster than the 2 cars in front of me and was in an ideal spot behind them to be able to [attempt] to get around them with plenty of time left on the clock to make that happen.
These FT60 cars you can’t run nose to tail like you can in a F1600 car because these cars have tremendous aero wash that really unsettles the car, but the top 7 cars were running in a train and getting away from the pack when all of sudden Liam Lawson’s [this year’s defending champion and hometown Kiwi hero] car slows drastically. Unfortunately, Lawson didn’t get off of the racing line just as I reached the crest of a blind, hairpin, off camber turn and had nowhere to go but directly into Liam. Of course, this ended my day and although there was crash damage to our cars this could have been a MUCH, MUCH worse crash so everyone was very grateful that we walked away, and the cars are easily fixable. But positives on Race 3 are: I had P5 race pace, I was catching the leaders and I was within 5 car lengths to the pack with a nice gap behind me. I knew from all my data downloads and coaching I had made great improvements and considering how little experience I have in these amazing new cars compared to my competitors I was happy with my progress.
Despite my racing bad luck this weekend my engineer, Tim, and the team owners, Garry and Teena, were extremely pleased with my progress as well. They have high expectations of all their drivers and despite the lows of the weekend they felt I made good/measurable progress. In racing you have to put any disappoints out of your mind, focus on what you learned, and move forward.
The races are all recorded on motorsport.tv so if you didn’t have a chance to watch but would like to you can replay them there.
Thank you so much to each of you for all of your interest and for supporting me, as I continue to follow my dream of becoming a professional race car driver.