I flew to Sonoma Raceway last week, where I had a unique coaching opportunity at the Champ Car (formerly known as Chump Car) championship event. Why is there a championship happening in February? Because all of the 2019 race winners get invited out to a venue at the beginning of each year for a national championship event. This year, that venue was Sonoma Raceway.
I was there coaching a local Virginia team that I’ve worked with in the past. The goal was to coach the eight drivers (four drivers for each of the team’s two cars) to help them learn Sonoma, since none of them had ever been there before. The team’s prep started well before arriving. We circulated a lot of track-related info, videos and diagrams to help get the drivers familiar with the layout.
Upon arrival at the circuit, though, all of the drivers were amazed at the elevation changes, which just don’t show up in the photos and videos. They were in for a real treat, and fortunately we had a test day to get the cars and drivers dialed in.
Because it was an open test day, our plan was to shake down the cars to confirm everything was ready to go for the day. We made car setup tweaks as we went along, but the real goal was to get all of the drivers as much seat time as possible.
After setting baseline reference laps in both cars, I was able to utilize that data and in-car video as tools to help each driver as they came off of the track from their practice run. Two drivers would be on track driving while I worked with the two previous drivers, reviewing data and setting goals for their next session. We rotated through all eight drivers that way, so it was a busy day but also an extremely productive one. The lap time improvements were phenomenal!
With twin eight-hour races on Saturday and Sunday, the drivers felt as prepared as possible and had some confidence going into the first race.
By Sunday afternoon, once everything was wrapped up, the average of the finishes from each race gave one of the team cars the national championship!! I’m proud to have been a part of their effort and I’m thrilled about their accomplishment. It’s pretty impressive to go from no experience at a track to winning a championship in the span of three days.