Two of Grand-Am's Stars Test for GM in the Heart of Stock Car Country By Travis Braun Seventeen-year-old Colin Braun and two-time Champ Car World Series race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay were both selected to join 14 other drivers at a one day driver...
Two of Grand-Am's Stars Test for GM in the Heart of Stock Car Country
By Travis Braun
Seventeen-year-old Colin Braun and two-time Champ Car World Series race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay were both selected to join 14 other drivers at a one day driver development test for General Motors. The test - the first of three parts - took place on September 12, 2006 at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, North Carolina, where the drivers rotated through two Richard Childress Racing (RCR) NASCAR Busch Series cars.
The drivers were not competing for any particular honor, but instead got the opportunity to drive in front of people like NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, Ron Hornaday Jr., Kevin Harvick's Busch crew chief, Pat Smith, and all the other GM representatives.
As well as impressive résumés, both Hunter-Reay and Braun spent the major portion of 2006 turning heads in the Grand-Am series. Hunter-Reay competed in five Grand Touring (GT) races this year where he scored two podiums. He also drove in the final race at Miller Motorsports Park in the SunTrust Racing Daytona Prototype (DP). Braun ran the full Grand-Am schedule this year driving the Krohn Racing #76 DP, where he claimed two victories.
Despite their level of experience, the two drivers had very little time in a stock car heading into the event.
"I went and did a couple of laps in a late model," Hunter-Reay said. "Then I went and did a school Busch car in Kansas, but that was all way before [the test], and a school car relates nothing to a race car."
Nevertheless, the two drivers happily spent Monday at the RCR Busch shop, looking over the cars and seeing how they fit.
Braun said, "We went to the Busch shop, and the cars there are immaculately prepared. Everyone looks like they know exactly what they are doing."
That confidence was maintained by the team, because on Tuesday morning GM and RCR wasted no time getting the drivers into the cars. They originally planned to split the group of sixteen drivers up over two days of running, but with rain in the forecast, the event was squeezed entirely into Tuesday. Consequently, some drivers would be running into the night.
Two of those drivers - Hunter-Reay and Braun - observed most of the day's activities to try and learn from the other drivers' runs.
Hunter-Reay said, "...it was good to watch the first five or six guys go, but then once it got to another six guys, you start over-thinking the difficulty of what you're going to go do."
Instead, the two passed the time socializing with some of the other drivers and comparing the different series that they came from.
"They [the other drivers] all thought the Grand-Am series was very technically advanced compared to what they do," Braun said. "They all think it's a pretty neat series."
Also, it appeared, Braun's and Hunter-Reay's fire suits were technically advanced. "We got a lot of crap for our suits having the cuffs on them on the bottom where the legs are," Hunter-Reay said. "The NASCAR drivers have like pants."
Eventually, GM worked through to the 13th driver, and Braun was ushered into the car for his run under the lights. Unlike a Grand-Am car, the Busch car has no headlights, so Braun would be aided only by the lights stationed around the .455-mile Caraway Speedway.
Each driver got one 20-minute session to adjust to the car and track, speak to any of the GM and RCR experts, and make any changes to the setup. Then the drivers would begin two 20-lap evaluation runs.
Braun took his time to get used to the car in the first session.
"It doesn't stop like you expect it to, and it doesn't corner like you expect it to," Braun said. "It's just a very heavy, big car, where [something like] the GT car is much more precise and much more quick and nimble. You know, I never thought I'd say that about a GT car, but it's more nimble than the stock car."
During his final two runs, Braun focused on consistent lap times and steady lines. However, while adapting to the car, Braun did have one "moment".
"I had a spin once," Braun said. "We were just working on braking deeper into the corner, and the crew chief got on the radio and said, 'O.K., brake this much deeper, brake that much deeper. Woops! That was too deep.' It was no big deal. It was a lot of fun, though."
No matter how much fun he was having, he did have to stop to let the next driver, Hunter-Reay, take to the circuit.
As Hunter-Reay worked on adapting to the car, he referred back to his experience in the Grand-Am series.
"It was good I actually drove the Porsche [GT car] this year, because it backed all the reference points up a little bit," Hunter-Reay said. "It kind of taught me to be patient with the car rather than what I was used to in the Champ Car."
When it came time for his evaluation runs, Hunter-Reay took a slightly different approach than Braun.
"[If] I was going into a race, I would not have driven the car exactly like that," he said of his run. "I would have saved the tires a little bit more. I think I pissed the tires off a little bit by driving it pretty hard for a few laps, but I was happy despite that, because I was still consistent."
Both of the drivers were satisfied with their efforts, but was GM?
"GM seemed very happy," Braun said. "They seemed very impressed, and that's all you can ask for."
Hunter-Reay said, "I couldn't ask for the whole thing to go much better right now. That said, we still have another two tests."
The second test will be at North Georgia Speedway, a three-eighth-mile dirt track oval in Chatsworth, Georgia, on September 19 and 20. Both drivers are hoping to have a strong performance there, as some drivers will be cut before the final test at Nashville Superspeedway on October 10th and 11th.
Sure, these two drivers are going in circles, but they haven't forgotten how to turn right.
Braun said, "You pretty much have to draw a line in between both of them [DP and Busch car] and know, 'O.K. this is how to drive a DP car, and this is how to drive a stock car."
Both drivers definitely know how to drive a DP car. Only time will tell if they can translate that to the world of stock cars.
-credit: travis braun