Seth Thomas Satisfied with First Rolex 24
GRAND-AM CTSCC Street Tuner ace looks back on fast, fun and educational Rolex 24 at Daytona.
2.2.04 -Cumming, GA - Last weekend's GRAND-AM Rolex 24 at Daytona International Raceway marked an important step in the career of Seth Thomas, as the Georgian completed his first race for BimmerWorld in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge series on Friday, and followed it up with his first GRAND-AM Rolex Series start on Saturday.
Thomas' drive from 27th to 2nd in the CTSCC race, with co-driver Bill Heumann, set the stage for a successful, but challenged-filled Rolex 24 debut with Autometrics Motorsports in the #14 Porsche GT3 Cup car.
"What an amazing weekend," Thomas said with his usual smile. "Racing is usually filled with highs and lows, and I came away from Daytona with a lot of positives and a lot of experience that will be helpful in the future."
Despite being new to the Rolex Series, Thomas was entrusted to start the race in the Children's Tumor Foundation sponsored Porsche in the daunting rain showers that enveloped the track. Under the circumstances, Thomas didn't mind stepping in to help a teammate.
"I was a last minute substitute for Cory Friedman at the start because his wife was about to go into labor! So the team put me in the car for the start and because we changed the nominated starting driver, we started from the back of the field. I had never driven the car in the rain, never driven Daytona in the rain, and never driven on the Pirelli tires in the rain-- I love driving in the rain, but didn't know what to expect. It was a great experience, though."
Once up to speed, Thomas kept tuning the car to produce faster and faster lap times.
"Overall it was a little too stiff but I softened the sway bars to help keep it planted. They double stinted me on the rain tires and towards the end of the stint I wasn't able to drive the car that fast because the wet tires were moving around too much with the amount of dry track. I was on high alert the whole time and had to avoid a couple of spinning GT and DP cars, but overall, I'd moved from 29th in class to 7th before handing the car over safely
Thomas was back behind the wheel for his first stint of night driving at Daytona from 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., enjoying a number of close battles with the fastest Rolex GT cars. His next stint, starting at 7 a.m., proved to be the most exciting and adventurous of the entire race.
"Having run perfect stints before this and with no contact with anyone out on track, my morning stint didn't end that way. There had been some contact with the other drivers and other cars so some of the body panels had been replaced overnight. I got in, got back in my rhythm and was consistently putting down similar lap times with the leaders in GT and chased down a couple of my competitors. The worst part of the stint was when I put the car in the wall. I had just turned my fastest lap when this happened. I came out of Turn 3, turned the car in for the kink and as soon as I went to the brakes, there was lock-up and the car was not slowing no matter what I would do. It wouldn't really respond to any input. My heart sank at that point because I knew the crash just added to the work for the crew. I had also let my co-drivers down."
The #14 Porsche met the wall at a medium rate of speed, causing enough damage to require a visit to the pits. Thomas was understandably upset with himself, but his crew was quick to point out the root of the crash.
"They found that the left front tire had punctured, causing the wheel to lock before I even hit the brakes. With the left front being flat I had no chance of making the turn. After that the car got back to the garage, the crew got to work repairing the damage. Luckily for the whole team it was only cosmetic damage and our crew did an amazing job getting it back together I then went back out in the car for the remainder of my stint "
Thomas' third stint also kept him on his toes when the Porsche began to suffer electrical issues, dropping the battery voltage well below the minimum level. Gaining experience during a perfect 24-hour run certainly has its value, but as Thomas found, learning to overcome adversity is equally important.
"We had an alternator issue with the car. The light on the dash would come on signaling a voltage issue. The Porsche has an electric water pump and power steering pump, so with the voltage dropping down below 13 volts, at times the power steering would go out. This is very exciting when you are entering the bus stop at well over 100mph, brake at your normal spot and then all of a sudden you can't turn the car! I had to do my Arnold Schwarzenegger impression to turn the car at that point The crew asked me if I could keep driving the car, and of course I said yes, but I told them I would have to reduce the pace because it made it really tough to keep the car pointed where I wanted it to go. We were going to make it to the finish no matter what."
The Autometrics Motorsports Porsche eventually finished 25th overall and 15th in class, and with all of the drama encountered over 24 hours of racing, the team was satisfied with the result. Thomas was also left with a number of highlights to build from.
"Seeing the car cross the start/finish line after 24 hours and with some big body damage was awesome. Starting the race in the wet and moving the car up to 12th place without ever having driven the car in the wet before was also pretty exciting. We had a lot of Children's Tumor Foundation kids in the garage before the race writing their names on the car. Seeing the kids smiling before the big race because they are becoming a part of the car just like the drivers and crew was a big inspiration. These kids, along with their friends, families, and other CTF/Racing4Research supporters raised an amazing $374,000 for this event. I even have some that added me as a friend on Facebook just because I was one of the nuts behind the wheel! "
Thomas also says he learned a lot that will help him when future Rolex Series racing opportunities are presented.
"I'd say that giving the car to your teammates in one piece is key to a solid result. That was my theme the whole weekend and I know it stuck out on Friday in the CTSCC race. In the Rolex Series it is so much more important. The GT cars a little bit more fragile than the DPs so it is really important to stay away from having contact with them. The on-track action gets real busy with two different classes running at the same time, so running your own race cleanly is crucial to a good finish."
Working with a new team, car, and drivers wasn't a concern for Thomas, as he found the entire Autometrics team to be at the top of their game. "Everybody on the team was awesome to work with. The whole crew did an amazing job all day and night long. They had some issues they had to get sorted out and they did it very quickly each time. I think they changed a complete front end and radiator on the car several times in less than 30 minutes each time. And every time when they were finished they had nothing but a smile on their face. Even when they had been up for over 24 hours straight and they had to put the car back together they still did it as fast and efficient as ever. And my co-drivers were also a joy to work with. Each driver had their own strengths that helped to make out team effort complete. It was a complete team effort for us to finish the race." For a driver accustomed to landing on the podium, Thomas had to be satisfied with how he and the team overcame adversity throughout the 24 hours. While a podium wasn't in the offering, he says the 2010 Rolex 24 confirmed he's on the right career path.
"I learned that I can run with the top drivers in Rolex GT, and I know that I can help to setup a car to be competitive in this series. I'm under no illusions that I have all of the experience I need to go toe-to-toe with the biggest names in the class, but I was pleased to show that I have the speed and potential to become a member of that 'club' one day. The good thing is, with a full-season of CTSCC ahead of me and by having experience with most of the tracks, I'll be ready to make the most of any Rolex GT opportunities that come my way."