The eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing team returned this weekend from a triumphant victory at VIR, their first since entering the IMSA Continental Sports Car Challenge TCR class earlier this year. The win comes off a series of heartbreaking defeats at Road America and Lime Rock Park. The team overcame immense challenges provided by the technical track, intense weather, and skilled competitors to renew the confidence needed to carry momentum on to Round 9 at Laguna Seca this September.
Team owner Matt Moran commented afterwards “Road America was the race we should have won, and this was the race we should have lost. I give all the credit to the drivers and crew that put in the extra work this weekend, mixed with some luck we were able to take home the W at the end, and that’s really special.”
eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing Gets Acquainted with VIR
The weekend started with testing on Thursday, which included nearly a full race distance of running to set the cars up for this notoriously difficult track. VIR is known for rolling hills, off camber turns, huge curbs, and speed. This mixture demanded a very precise setup to allow the drivers to maximize grip and control, and the drivers for the #10 and #12 were both able to make necessary adjustments.
However, suspension and wing settings were not what punctuated the Thursday testing. Instead, it was the mid-August Virginia heatwave, which subjected everyone in the paddock to temperatures well into the 90s, and humidity approaching the same. Staying hydrated was crucial to maintain concentration and energy, and the crew was definitely struggling with the heat.
At some point mid-day, the #10 car had a brush with the tire barrier, contributing to a few scuffs towards the back of the car. Ultimately Kieron finished the session about 15min early to replace a tie-rod that had play in it. Every time the car stops on pitlane in practice conditions, the crew goes to every wheel and gives it a good shake. With the tall ramp-like curbs at Virginia International Raceway, it was even more imperative to make sure the suspension was in good shape every single time the cars left the pit box.
After testing concluded, each car went up on the scales. The data learned in the test sessions was applied to dial in both cars to best suit the drivers, and the skilled eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing mechanics tended to the cars well after sundown. While other teams had already left for the day, eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing put in the extra time to make sure each car had been gone through. The scuffs on the #10 had fresh white vinyl applied, and the overpowering thick sweet smell of lilac flowed through the paddock as the evening closed (a stark contrast to the usual diesel generator fumes).
Friday – Practice and qualifying
The heat declined to relent on Friday for another series of practices, culminating into a very late qualifying session. The entire pit lane had a slight waft of burning dry grass from cars that had gone off track. Their brake ducts packed with lawn trimmings. As the sun sank into the Virginia hills, drivers Kieron O’Rourke and Tom O’Gorman headed out onto the slowly cooling track to begin the short 15 minute qualifying session.
Tom, a seasoned pro and SCCA Solo champion, knows how to stitch together a blistering lap, and for this session his time would once again stick for pole position. That would be his 3rd pole in as many race weekends, giving him the hat trick. The #10 car would qualify in 8th place, but was upgraded to 7th after a competing car was disqualified for a ride height violation.
Saturday – The Biscuitville Grand Prix
Saturday would have one session only, the race, starting at 2:05pm local time. With rain in the forecast, eEuroparts.com ROWE racing plotted out multiple strategies depending on how the precipitation would manifest throughout the 2hr long Biscuitville Grand Prix. As the drivers geared up in the early afternoon, the skies opened for the first taste of rain all weekend, in the form of a torrential downpour.
It wouldn’t last long, and the track would begin drying out for race start (boosting the humidity to nearly 100%). Starting drivers would be those who qualified, Tom out in front in the #12, and Kieron mid-pack in the #10. Memories of Road America hung in the air, and the team approached their final tasks with dignified solidarity while the drivers met with fans on the pre-race grid walk.
At 2pm the fan walk cleared and the cars were led out on track for their pace lap. Soon, the ambient sounds of the paddock elevated as the green flag flew. The cars roared past the pits while sizing up their competition going into turn 1. The team stood around the monitors, watching the cameras stationed on each corner. Turn 3, there we are. All good. Turn 4-5-6 complex, looking good. About a lap in, race control comes over the radio to announce a drive through penalty for number 12, too much gap between the TCR and GS field, which were split for the start. It took a moment for the crew to compose themselves after this news, and brought in Tom to serve the penalty from the lead. Around the same time, rain drops began falling on the northern side of the circuit.
During the start, Kieron managed to make up 3 positions in the melee, and found himself in 4th place at the end of lap one. He wouldn’t be able to make it stick, however, and on the next lap he would get re-taken by the #74 Compass car. By now the rain had started and the track was getting very slippery.
Suddenly the camera picks up a white Audi in the tire wall, with Tom coming in over the radio reporting a crash on his penalty outlap. The slick tires, after having cooled significantly from the pitlane drive through, struggled for grip on damp pavement and washed out from under him. Team owner Matt Moran calmly came on the radio and said “No problem, just put the car in reverse, back it out of the tires, and proceed on. Be careful about possible suspension damage”.
About the same time, Kieron radio’s in that he had also had a brush with the wall, reporting left side damage and that he was questionable to continue. His driver side mirror was unusable.
The crew staggered back from the screen, watching another race evaporate in front of their eyes.
However, that would not be the case. Tom would rejoin and quickly gain back position due to the equal struggles among the other teams. The track surface was greasy, and because of the isolated nature of the storms most teams stayed out on slick, tread-less tires. The pitlane was a flurry of activity as cars came in with minor damage, and radiator grilles full of grass. Tom’s voice came over the radio to report the car’s temperature was slowly rising, but the decision was made to keep him out while the coolant temp plateaued within a questionably acceptable range. For eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing engineering staff, that signaled a blocked radiator rather than a broken one. Both the #10 and the #12 would continue to nurse the damaged cars around while the team monitored all the data points available.
By lap 12, Tom made the pass on the #77 Compass Car, finding himself back in the lead, and Kieron held his position in front of the #11 RS Werks Audi. Cars were having incidents in every sector, and Tom climbed 4th place overall among a field of much faster GT4 spec GS class cars. The FWD Audi’s were fantastic in the wet, and many GS cars came in for wet tires, only to burn them out in drying conditions as the race wore on.
Scheduled pit stops began around midway through the race. On lap 21 the #10 came in to change Kieron O’Rourke for Lee Carpentier, and on lap 26 the #12 came in to swap out Tom and put in Kenton Koch. Both cars has nearly identical stops, and would take a set of new front tires and a full tank of fuel. Most importantly, the team was able to clear the grass and debris from the radiator grilles and front brake ducts, which flashed alight as the cars sat at a standstill.
Charlie worked quickly while flames from the burning debris licked the wheel spokes and his Nomex lined gloves. Dave assessed the bodywork damage and pulled off some of the loose carbon fiber, and then quickly removed as much grass and mud from the radiator grille as possible. The cars were quickly on the ground and back on their way to finish the race.
The crew tidied up the pit stall and gathered once again around the monitors, hoping for the best but prepared for the worst. The rain would pick up again, but only briefly. Both drivers were instructed to conserve fuel, as our stops were relatively early, in attempt to make up ground in the dry rather than in the wet. Around lap 35, the white #32 Rumcastle LLC VW GTI TCR had issues, bumping Lee up into 5th place in TCR class.
With about 31min remaining, after numerous laps in fuel conserve mode lifting and coasting, Kenton was given the go-ahead. “You are free to race”. Immediately he snapped into action, quickly tracking down the #77 Compass car. The crew gasped as they went side-by-side into a technical sector, and Kenton ended up in front. A small cheer rolled through the pit box as the crew realized they were now back in the lead. The battered #12 Audi RS 3 LMS would quickly open up a comfortable gap.
In the closing laps, the #11 RS Werks Audi had what was believed to be a brake failure, stuffing the car into the tire wall. Luckily the driver Michael Taylor was able to reverse out and drive around to find a break in the barrier to reverse the car behind. This was crucial as it allowed us to maintain our gaps in traffic. With only a short handful of laps to go, Lee came onto the radio announcing he was getting a low fuel pressure warning. In these direct injection cars, once you begin to get even the most minor fuel starvation, your time is short. The fuel crew quickly got ready, and Lee came in for a splash and go. Just enough fuel to get to the end of the race.
Even with a good deal of aero push due to the huge holes in the front bumper, Kenton was able to nurse the damaged car home in the number one position, for first place in TCR class. The last second fuel stop would unfortunately allow the #31 VW GTI TCR by, resulting in the eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing #10 Audi RS 3 LMS crossing the finish line in 6th position, still managing to get vital points for the championship.
Despite the massive trouble many teams had conserving pace and hardware in the wet, and numerous offs and crashes, this race had an astounding zero caution periods. We want to extend a huge thank you to all the competitors that were able to go wheel to wheel in these extremely difficult conditions and make it out OK. That really shows the maturity and speed of the IMSA Continental Sports Car Challenge field, and we are proud to be racing with these excellent teams.
The eEuroparts.com Racing crew tidied up as much as they could and quickly rushed to victory circle for the awards presentation and the spraying of champagne. It was a hard fought race that we didn’t think we could win. With the early race penalty, followed by the crash, it felt like another lost weekend. Yet, the crew stood at the podium in first place. At some point the eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing team manager was issued a challenge that he couldn’t find glasses in the same color as Tom O’Gorman’s signature blue wayfarers.
Always up for a challenge, he returned from a supply run earlier in the day with a handful of blue sunglasses, and of course doled them out to the team for the ceremony. While the color matched perfectly, the style was a…little off. The team was having fun, and for a few minutes they could take a breathe and enjoy the moment. No checking tire pressures, no jockeying nitrogen cylinders, no fuel transferring. Just celebration. Suddenly, however, it was over, and even though the team was exhausted both physically and mentally, overheated, and damp from sweat and rain, something about it felt easy.
eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing looks forward to Round 9 at Laguna Seca in sunny California, where they will attempt to continue this momentum into a drastically different atmosphere. Stay tuned for more action.