Castrol Toyota Racing Series graduate and US driver Spike Kohlbecker is currently competing in the Formula 4 US Championship with Kiwi Motorsport and team mate Ronan Murphy. Spike gives us his thoughts on the second round held over the weekend at the Virginia International Raceway.
I’m really pleased with our efforts this year here in the US. My team Kiwi Motorsport, my engineer Tim Neff, my mechanic Ryan Yardley and I are maybe even ahead of where we thought we would be going into the season. We’re just back from Virginia International Raceway (VIR) and it was another successful outing.
I knew coming into this season that some drivers had done a massive amount of testing or had raced the series before – that’s not my program this year.
My goal is to show up at tracks I’d never seen before and be on pace right away. That’s what I told my sponsors and supporters was my objective.
We knew that I would be disadvantaged never having raced on any of the US tracks, but we agreed that a better gauge of progress would be how quickly I could adapt to new tracks in a new car. So far, the season has been a success as we’ve been at the pointy end of the grid and have been one of the cars to beat in every race.
This weekend at VIR was a good example of our progress as we were P1 in Free Practice 1, and P2 in FP2. This is exactly what we wanted to accomplish … get in the car and be on pace right away.
I came to VIR probably as fit as I’ve ever been, after intense sessions with my trainer and running long distances in 38-degree Celsius weather leading up to the race to prepare my body for the heat in Virginia which ended up being intensely hot and over 54 degrees Celsius in the cockpit of my car. I’m super impressed with the Kiwi Motorsport team and the hard work and endless hours that Ryan and Tim Neff put in to make me as quick as possible on track. I think we have turned a few heads as a result of our dedication and performance.
In Mid-Ohio we ended up P4 in the first points race of the season after an unusual weekend where we had to start P6 in a race that was ran under protest. We didn’t have enough green flag laps to really show our pace, but I learned about the ins and outs of running in a 30+ car field, it’s a different strategy altogether.
You must go hard right away in qualifying as you only have one shot at a good lap or two and in the shorter races in big fields you need to make your move to the front quickly.
That’s different than my TRS experience where I’d have a second run at a flier after a few cool down laps in qualifying and different than my Formula Ford experience where the race is almost like a long chess match. All in all, a good experience though.
At Virginia International Raceway the long straights and the high-speed technical stuff made for some close racing and some drafting opportunities. Qualifying went well and we narrowly missed putting it on the pole by .06 of a second. We started P2 and we finished the race in P2 – a solid run for our first outing at the track.
For race 2 we decided to make changes to the car that ended up creating too much understeer but even then, we were in the hunt and given a few more green flag laps we may have had a shot.
The race ended under yellow flag conditions. Despite finishing in P4 I was glad the team wasn’t afraid to make changes for the race. I race to win and that’s exactly what we were trying to accomplish with the changes. There was some close racing and good drafting in this race – I was in a group of 3-4 cars battling for the 3rd position and had a good run on the 3rd place car but unfortunately made contact with the back of that car.
There was no change to the race positions and no damage but I later found out that I was cited for driving standards resulting in a DNS for the final race of the day where I would have started P2 again. I have to put that penalty out of my mind and move on.
On to Barber Motorsports Park for a 4-race weekend. I’ve never seen Barber but I hear it’s tricky. Yet again I’ll have to get up to speed quickly with only three practice sessions before I have to qualify. That’s a challenge but like one of my sponsors told me, “If you want to be a race car driver you need to show up at any track, in any car and be fast”. You can bet that’s what I plan to do!