DeNino Finishes Jetta TDI Cup Season Strong at Road Atlanta The final round of the 2008 Jetta TDI Cup took place at Road Atlanta as part of the 11th annual Petit Le Mans. The atmosphere of the event was powerful, with helicopters flying in and...
DeNino Finishes Jetta TDI Cup Season Strong at Road Atlanta
The final round of the 2008 Jetta TDI Cup took place at Road Atlanta as part of the 11th annual Petit Le Mans. The atmosphere of the event was powerful, with helicopters flying in and out of the track, cars on track from sunrise to sunset and over 113,000 fans in attendance.
Road Atlanta has a long history as one of the premier road racing facilities in North America, being as enjoyable for spectators as it is for the drivers. This track most certainly did not disappoint. Having never driven on the circuit I was extremely anxious for our first practice session Friday morning. The session went very well for me, as I posted the 3rd fastest time. The session was marred with offs and crashes, with three drivers crashing their vehicles in the free practice. While practice took place early in the morning, our qualifying would not begin until 6:30pm. This gave me plenty of time to review my strategy for qualifying as well as stop by and visit some familiar faces in the paddock.
Throughout the 30 minute qualifying session I pushed the limits of my Jetta until about 10 minutes remained in the session, when I pulled into the pits to cool off my tires. I did not know it at the time, but at this point in qualifying I was on pole. I set back onto the circuit with a few minutes left in the session. Giving it everything I had I was able to slightly improve my time, but my competitors also stepped up their performance. When the session ended, I had posted the 3rd fastest time. I was thrilled; this was a great place to start the race and having improved my qualifying performance over the last several races I was feeling confident.
Our race was on Saturday morning immediately before the start of the ALMS Petit Le Mans, a 10 hour endurance race and the main event of the weekend. Starting 3rd on the grid, I got a great launch and bumped the first place car to move along the inside of second place going into turn one. Heading up the hill towards turn two we battled for position, touching wheels and also touching mirrors, pushing my left mirror inwards, rendering it useless for the remainder of the race. Successful in making the pass, I sat in second place for then next few laps. A couple of laps later I got anxious and decided to pass the lead car going into the chicane, turn 10a on the circuit. Having lost momentum, I was passed by two cars a few turns later. From there it was a battle for position until the end of the race, with positions swapping regularly among the cars in the lead pack. In fifth place on the last lap, I passed for fourth position two turns before the back straight but ran wide on the exit dropping two wheels off the track. I was able to regain control but my tires were dirty as I entered the turn heading onto the back straight, causing me to run wide. I bounced through the dirt trying not to lose too much speed. The car I had just passed easily took back his position, and three other cars now had a run on me. With one car to my left and two cars to my right we raced four wide down the back straight. Our door handles were touching and it was a drag race down to the chicane. As the other cars started to creep past me, I got a huge boost from being in the draft and got the most amazing run of my life. Heading down to the chicane the motor was tapped out; the shift lights turned to red. I broke extremely late, turned in, and amazingly did not lose any positions. I would finish fifth in what was the most extraordinary race of the season!
The race at Road Atlanta was a fabulous end to a great season. I learned a tremendous amount this year, not only about driving but about many of the other aspects of racing as well. I am extremely grateful for the support of all of the people who have helped me this season as well as the people who have helped me to reach this point in my life. It has truly been a wild journey. I could never have dreamt that I would meet so many wonderful people through my participation in the Jetta TDI Cup this season. My fellow drivers, event coordinators, media team, technical team, driver coaches, and the film crew who documented every step of this season have all played a special part in making the first season of the Jetta TDI Cup spectacular. Thank you.
I finished the season 7th in the championship points standings. At the awards banquet I was deeply honored to be recognized as the "Most Dedicated Driver". Mark Miller, Ryan Arciero and Jan Heylen presented me with the award and a beautiful Oakley watch. I was deeply honored to receive this award, especially being recognized by Mark, Ryan and Jan as they are all extremely hard working and devoted individuals. The watch has quickly become my most prized possession as it represents all of the energy and devotion I have put into my life and towards my career as a driver. I look forward with great anticipation to competing in the Jetta TDI Cup in 2009.