I maintained a points lead throughout the season, but only just. Newcomer to the series (but drives like a veteran) Tazio Ottis entered Formula Car Challenge this year with EFM Racing , who dominated the 2013 points championship. This formula for a team maintained a strong contender for the points championship right from the start. Another driver who is no stranger to racing this car in this series also decided to shake up the points battle; Stew Tabak in his purple and yellow "Barney" car represented the wiser and more experienced crowd in an attempt to whip us kids into shape.
It could be seen right from the start of the season that this year's championship would be a close one, and each of us delivered the whole way. Stew won a whole slew of races, Tazio collected a solid roundup of podiums, and I had strong successes interrupted by a few weekends of mechanical issues. With as much work as we each put into doing our best, we still managed to enter the final race of the season with a 4 point separation for the top three positions in the points championship. To say that I was feeling a bit under pressure would be a massive understatement.
Thankfully, Sonoma Raceway has been very good to me in recent years, with our last visit being the season opener race where I took home a double win. This season finale started off a little shaky on the official test day, with a heim joint deciding to break apart as soon I started braking in the downhill entry into turn 4. This fun adventure immediately broke the tie rod and brake line, leaving me with the ability to only steer with one wheel and brake with the back wheels. As I held to the wheel, pretending I actually had control of the car, I eventually found myself stopped a couple hundred feet away from the track surface without hitting a thing. Thank goodness. Even better, it turns out the damage was minimal and repairable for the next day's events! Just $89 later, and I was back on the road.
In order to win the points championship, I had to get at least second place finishes with my main competitors behind me. Famous Bill Weaver or, "The General," graced us with his presence this weekend to shake things up a bit as well, but he was not a points leader contender in this race. So The General qualified with the fastest time, I can deal with that since I'm not racing against him, what I need is second. So where did I end up in qualifying? Third. By a tenth of a second. I pulled out of qualifying early, in hopes of conserving my tire life for the remainder of the weekend. But of course, that's when Tazio rips a fast lap and sets himself up to start ahead of me for race one.
My entire weekend of races can largely be summed up by saying that I had some great starts. In the first race, I managed an excellently timed stomp on the gas pedal when the green flag waved, and got myself into second position before turn 2. To our surprise at the top of the hill of turn 2, there was a car spun sideways, splitting up the field as we all continued racing each other. Tazio wasn't ready to give up the position and got beside me once we were past the incident, but I lucked out with the inside line as we entered turn 3. I worked on cranking out some fast laps to get a good starting position for race two, and then worked on pacing myself just a little bit, in order to once again save my tires for the upcoming two races that really counted.
Thanks to some fast laps, I set myself up to start off-pole in the first points race. You don't hear racers say this often but... this race was a boring one and I am grateful for it! I started second, and carried second place all the ways to the checkered flag, just what I needed to better position myself for the points lead! I once again set a decent lap time, starting me in second place again for the final race start. Between me, Stew, and Tazio, whichever one of us finishes ahead of the other two takes the series points championship at this point. All I need to do at this point is bring the car home without losing a position, and no need to gain one, either.
Now I'm back into second place, Stew is knocking on my door, but I can taste that points championship just a few laps away. As I realize that I'm actually keeping up with the Formula-Mazda-famous, untouchable driver Bill Weaver, I start dialing in on him thinking I could actually win this race. My lap times start coming down, and I manage to lose sight of Stew as I gain on Bill. With only a few minutes left, I get right on Bill's tail, and even start positioning myself for some pass attempts. But the realization hits that I'm sitting in the points lead, that I can just as quickly lose if I find myself crashing out or even losing a single finishing position. I still want to win this race, but I pursue with caution. But before I know it, the white flag is waved, then the checkered, and it's all over.
So I brought home a string of second place finishes in the NASA West Coast Championships. I'll take it, that's nothing at all to complain about. But what really brings a smile and a giant sigh of relief is what my dad and I finally earned over the course of the 2014 season. A lot of work, a lot of headaches, and a lot of laps brought us to bring home the 2014 Formula Car Challenge points championship trophy. I had won my first championship in this series back in 2010, and I can assure you that the second one is every bit as sweet as the first.