Nathan Byrd was behind the wheel of the No. 68 Porsche 911 GT3 at Sebring. (Byrd Racing photo)
MOORESVILLE, NC — It was off to Sebring (Fla.) Int’l Raceway on Feb. 24-27 and this weekend was an absolute blast.
Getting to race a Porsche 911 GT3 for the first time was a tremendous learning experience. Driving a high-performance sports car on an unforgiving track such as Sebring is a demanding experience.
That’s an expensive ride, so the last thing a young driver wants to do is make a mistake that would cause damage. Plus, a young driver such as I can’t afford to lose out on critical track time.
On the first day of practice on Feb. 24, I got 12 laps on the track to learn the car and determine what it liked and didn’t like. With qualifying the following day, I had to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible.
The biggest challenge was learning how hard to brake and how to maximize the car’s braking efficiency. That way, if the car doesn’t slow down soon enough, it would only cost time on entry and exit. One way is to back up my braking points to make up for the lost time, but that wasn’t going to do any good in the long-term on lap times. That is why determining how to slow the car in a quick and efficient manner is so important.
Qualifying was quite a ride by experiencing the grip of the sport car with the new, slick racing tires. That amount of grip and the confidence in that grip that I could feel behind the wheel was insane.
The interesting thing is the feeling of losing a significant amount of time in each corner, although I was running some of my fastest laps for the entire weekend.
In an effort to not tear up the tires during qualifying, I ran three flying laps. My third lap was my quickest time of the weekend, a 2:07.03.
That boosted the confidence level to think a mid to high 2:05 lap was definitely possible and that a high 2:04 was probably the theoretical limit.
My time in the first qualifying segment was good enough for first in class. That was before Stephen Hamman, my TLM Racing teammate, upped my speed by a few hundredths of a second during the second qualifying segment.
Also, my co-driver and the car owner David Tuaty, got held up by traffic on what would’ve been an easy mid 2:06 lap.
When qualifications ended, we were P2 for Sprint Race 1.
It was my first sports car Sprint Race. After starting second, I lost a couple of positions while taking a cautious approach into the first turn.
Pushing the limits of the car to determine its capabilities, led to making some small mistakes that allowed my competitors ahead to open a gap. It also gave the challengers behind a chance to close and take away second by outbraking my car into turn seven.
The position was regained a few laps later and it was time to be more consistent and make fewer mistakes.
I was challenging for fourth overall at the checkered flag, but finished second in my class.
The one-hour enduro race on Sunday concluded the weekend.
Tuaty started the race before an early caution came out, but it was another driver, Mark Mathys, who took advantage of a very confusing rule.
In this type of racing, the cars may be the same, but the driver classifications are different. There is a Gentleman’s class that includes car owners and other slower drivers. Then, there is the Pro class that includes faster drivers.
Tuaty and Mathys are both considered in the Gentleman’s class.
Mathys was considered a “Gentleman Driver” as the car owner and the car owner has to start the race. Mathys made the early pit stop and Tuaty was not allowed because I’m considered a Pro Driver. That meant we had to swap drivers after the first 20 minutes because of the rules.
Anyone entered in the Gentleman class driving by themselves as a single driver doesn’t have to make a driver swap but has to make the five-minute pit stop. They can do the five-minute stop whenever they want. For the drivers that want to compete in the Pro class, they are limited to when to make the mandatory five-minute pit stop.
Generally in these races, it’s a Gentleman driver and a Pro driver, which means the mandatory stop is after the first 20 minutes. For a driver swap under caution, it has to be after the first 20 minutes.
The reason for this rule it to equalize the slower drivers in the Gentleman’s class against the much faster Pro class.
Although this strategy may be confusing, we were forced to pit under green. That allowed Mathys to create an insurmountable lead by the time we got our five-minute pit stop and driver change completed under green-flag conditions.
When I eventually passed Hamman during my stint because his car had a mechanical issue, I thought we were in first place. But it turned out by the end of the race that I had actually finished second to Mathys.
We had three second-place finishes for the weekend between Tuaty and I. Next time around I’ll be even more competitive and will be able to secure a couple of wins for the TLM Racing crew.
The winds of March started blowing as we entered our third month of this ambitious racing adventure. That’s where we’ll pick up the story next week.