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I had upped my qualifying time yesterday to 3:00.113 and although I was the eighth-place iRated driver, I would be starting fourth. I was very surprised to be starting so far up the grid, but knew with have no chance of winning (unless everybody ahead made more mistakes than me), I’d be lucky just to hold my starting position.

I recognised all the names ahead of me and knew that each of them were probably around two-seconds faster around the daunting three-minute marathon that is VIR Grand East. So, settling into my seat at the start of the race, I tried to psyche myself into deep concentration…

As the flag dropped I worked hard and tried to stay as clean as possible, but as the second and third-place cars made contact infront, I had to lift off, this let the man who had started fifth past and I found myself just trying to hold that position from the man behind through the next few turns.

I began to stretch the gap to the man in sixth and half way around the lap saw the guys in third and fourth tangle through the esses at the back of the circuit. (I found out after the race that the man who entered turn-one in fourth had damage and that’s what caused the tangle). I had to brake and slow very much and was lucky that the guy behind did this also. At the end of the lap I took fourth-place back as one of the cars had damaged suspension and had to pit.

I now settled into my groove and ran incident free over the next couple of laps. I was watching the live timing screen (F3) closely and saw that the man who’d pitted was closing-in fast, losing concentration I ran off the circuit and hit my nose in the barrier…

Reversing away from the barrier and then moving towards the circuit, I saw that the man who had pitted was now right behind me, so I delayed pulling back onto the circuit to let him through safely… To my great surprise he spun where I’d gone wide and I rejoined ahead of him while he got his car turned around.

Now driving with a damaged front-end, I pushed hard but felt terribly inconsistent in every turn. The Skip Barber 2000 is a low downforce car anyway, but losing that front made it very hard to judge entry and exit speeds… It wasn’t long before he was back on my tail again! Still struggling to cope with my cars new handling capabilities, I completely screwed up the entry to the final turn and this allowed him to easily slip by down the main straight, so I was now in fifth-place on lap six of ten.

I kept as close as I could after he had passed me and knew that if something were to happen I needed to keep myself in a position to take advantage of it. Lucky for me, on the back end of the circuit, he spun once again and I was able to drive past him once again and was now in a solid fourth-place.

On the next lap, the man who had been running in second-place suffered a disconnection and although he returned to the race track, he had lost so much time that he wasn’t a factor anymore. This moved me up to third-place and, knowing how highly skilled this field was, put me in a position I really didn’t want to lose. I pushed hard and set my fastest lap on lap eight, but continued to run off the track a little where I simply couldn’t get the car to turn…

With him now back on my tail, I kept pushing as hard as I could and suddenly found myself closing in on the man in second-place! I noticed as I got closer that he was trying to limp back to the pits as in certain turns his car got way out of shape… I knew that there was a chance that if he lost it at the wrong time I could find myself getting in an accident, but also knew that if I didn’t pass him quickly, the guy behind would pass the both of us…

I continued to run in second-place onto the final lap and found myself under pressure from both the man I’ve been talking about the entire race, and the one who had just limped to the pits and fixed his damage. I told myself not to screw it up but in doing that, I lost concentration… I messed up the entry to turn two and consequently braked too late for the following turn, losing two positions as I spun lazily across the grass.

I got the car righted again and continued to lap, finishing the race in fourth-place and in a field with an average iRating of 2213, had finished well above where my iRating of 1312 has predicted. So, I think I am getting faster, and I think my gains in iRating (55 points in this race alone) are a good indication of that. I’ve had a few pole positions just lately too (on both the roadcourses and ovals), so I think if I can bump up my consistency a little, that first win can’t be too far away…

I lost nine incident points during the race, so had no license gains (or losses). I went off track five times, one of those times hitting the barrier and another time spinning the car. My fastest lap was on lap eight, was with damage, and was a 3:00.711.

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British-born U.S. Resident, Tim Wheatley, works for Image Space Inc., a developer of driver-in-the-loop simulation technology. He lives in Illinois with his wife and children.
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