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Race Recap: 2018 SCCA Hazel Harrell Memorial @ Road Atlanta

July always marks the return to Road Atlanta of the Sports Car Club of America for the South Atlantic Road Racing Championship (SARRC) series. I would have a chance to take a break from the usual endurance racing and run a double sprint race weekend in the same Mazda MX-5 that I race in the World Racing League and the American Endurance Racing series. While I am passionate about endurance racing, sprint racing is always a fun challenge. Instead of driving with conservation in mind, I have thirty minutes to drive flat out!

Saturday morning was our qualifying session. With Road Atlanta being home and us just racing there two weeks ago the goal was to just turn a few fast laps on the tires we had to see where it put us. We decided to run on twenty-session old BFG DOT race tires. While they wouldn't be as fast as a new set of BFGs they were still good enough.

Qualifying started off with an immediate black flag for the entire field meaning we all had to return to the pit lane as there was a car stalled in a dangerous spot and they needed to move it. The benefit was at that time I was the fastest car on track so all of my partners got some great announcer time over the PA system! Once things finally got cleared they gave us ten minutes to qualify. I immediately left the pits on a mission to get past some of the slower class cars to have a clean track. I managed to pass most on the out lap and started a series of qualifying laps. I was able to get down to a 1:45 which was good enough for 3rd overall. We were racing in the T3 class which is not usually the fast class in the group, so it was a little surprising to qualify so far up the grid.

Race one was Saturday afternoon and things were looking good. It wasn’t too hot in the day being shortly after lunch, so the track would still be in decent condition. The exciting bit was on the grid when the third-place qualifier didn’t show in time to the grid so had to start in the back. This put me into starting second overall. We started our pace lap and I worked to get the tires cleaned off and up to temperature. My goal for the race was to race hard and push the entire race.

The green flag flew and I had a good start. The pole sitter was a much faster Mazda Miata running in the Super Touring Limited class so it had a lot of engine work done to it. I tried to run him hard into turn one but he kept the lead. I managed to hold second though and we were quickly pulling away from the jumble of cars third place back. I tried to hang with the lead STL car but after a couple of laps he had a larger gap and without a mistake I wouldn’t be able to catch him from raw pace.

It wasn’t long into the race that we started to catch slower traffic. I could keep the leader in sight but even through traffic I couldn’t make up ground. He was a good driver and had a much faster car, though that was to be expected with him not even being in the same class as me. I did push hard enough to drop my lap times to a 1:44 which was faster than qualifying.

After twenty-minutes or so the checkered flag flew and I crossed the line first in T3 and second overall! Second overall was very exciting considering we were in a T3 car.

Race two came Sunday after lunch and it was a little longer at thirty-minutes or fifteen laps whichever came first. Our starting positions were dictated by our fastest lap in Saturday’s race. I was the third fastest car on the track. The Mazda Miata that won Saturday’s race had second place and a small Super Production race car had pole position after he worked his way through the field on Saturday.

The green flag flew Sunday and once again I tried hard to stay with the top two and actually made a pass for second place on the first lap going into the famous esses. I was able to hold onto second for a few laps but the power of the small Super Production car (fastest class on track in our group) was too much and I had nothing for him on the long back straight. After that pass I could see fourth place in my mirror but was able to maintain a fast pace that kept him at bay. Once we started to work through traffic my gap to fourth was even longer. I credit the endurance racing for my confidence in working through traffic!

The checkered flag flew on Sunday and we crossed the line first in T3 and third overall. Another overall podium position for our T3 Mazda MX-5! It was a very successful weekend of sprint racing and more importantly ensured the car was setup well for our next World Racing League race next month at the gorgeous Barber Motorsports Park outside of Birmingham, AL.

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