Watts wins the pole in his first pro race. Velocity Motorsports parties! Winston-Salem, NC - November 12, 2002 - Who would have imagined that in his professional debut, Bryan Watts and the Velocity Motorsports team (www.velocitymotorsports.com)...
Watts wins the pole in his first pro race. Velocity Motorsports parties!
Winston-Salem, NC - November 12, 2002 - Who would have imagined that in his professional debut, Bryan Watts and the Velocity Motorsports team (www.velocitymotorsports.com) would win the pole in the final round of the 2002 Star Mazda North American Championship? The final race of the series was held at Road Atlanta in Braselton, GA the week of October 9-11. Watts surprised everyone including his team with his outstanding performance in the wet and rainy qualifying session.
A crash early in the week left Watts doubtful as to whether he would even be able to continue racing into the weekend. Watts commented, "Already committed to turn one, a Team Bucknum car spun just ahead of me. My first instinct was to simply drive off the track to the left, but, unfortunately, a car exiting the pits was in my way. I couldn't turn any harder to the right, so it was either drive into the car to my left and risk spinning both of us into the stopped car, or throw my car sideways and hope the hit didn't hurt too much!" The ensuing crash at well over 100 mph left both cars inoperable for the weekend. "It was just a product of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If that car had come out of the pits just a tenth of a second later, or if the Bucknum car had been another ten feet to the left on the track, it might have been just another close call," Watts said.
Team owner, Ken Erb, immediately offered his personal car to Watts. Watts struggled with whether or not to chance damaging yet another car, however his competitive nature eventually won out and a quick change in the timing computer placed Watts in the #19 Velocity car.
Thirty-seven cars rolled onto the grid Thursday for qualifying with a dry setup. A mist began as the cars left the grid and turned into a deluge before the first car made it through turn three. The entire field was left to limp around the track before ducking into the pits for a rain setup and grooved tires.
As the qualifying session continued many seasoned drivers had trouble feeling out the difficult rain line at Road Atlanta. Multiple black flags allowed the Velocity team time to make necessary changes to get the car just right for the rain soaked track. As the rain began to break and some puddles subsided, Doug Petersen and Watts traded the pole back and forth while the clock ran down. With time for only one more lap, team engineer, Fred Huscher, radioed Watts to duck in the pits and not risk tearing up the car. Just a bit behind Petersen, Watts had second place on the grid locked up, a truly amazing accomplishment for his first professional race.
Yet, Watts argued with the team on his way down the back straight, "I knew I had a good lap going. The lap before, I fought to get past Justin Pruskowski, only to be repassed entering turn 10A, forcing me to take a gamble and make a risky pass down the inside of turn 12. Once around Justin, I had a clear track ahead. I didn't really even push too hard, but I knew having a clear track would be good for at least a half second over my previous lap. When Fred told me to come into the pits, I argued all the way down the backstraight because I knew I had a good lap going. I almost ducked into the pits as I came under the bridge but at the last second, I rocketed down turn 12 and crossed the finish line a full half second faster than anyone else in the field." The gamble paid off, earning Watts not only his first professional pole, but his first career pole as well.
Watts' prayers for rain for Friday's race were not answered. The wreck during practice and the complications of sorting out a new car put Watts and Team Velocity behind on nailing down a good dry setup. After an interview with The Speed Channel, Watts led the 37 car field off the grid for two formation laps. When the green flag fell, the race was on and Watts fought valiantly, staying comfortably in the top 10 before a mid-race caution flag bunched the field up and allowed some of the victims of the wrecks during qualifying to make up lost time. Despite struggling with understeer, Watts drove to a 17th place finishing position, which, under any other circumstances would have exceeded his expectations. "Coming into the weekend, if you had told me I would finish 17th in my first pro race, I would have been excited. After proving I could drive with these guys in the wet, I'm going home just a bit disappointed that I'm not quite up to speed in the dry. Then again, with only 6 races in a Formula Mazda in my short 9 race career, I don't guess I can complain too much," commented Watts. For additional practice results and information, see the Star Mazda website: www.starmazda.com.
Velocity Motorsports will host a celebration party for Watts and the team this Saturday night, November 16th, at their shop in Prospect Hill, NC. The Velocity team will be in attendance, along with family and friends who have helped Bryan in his racing career to this point. Topping off the evening will be the TV broadcast of the race and Bryan's interview on The Speed Channel (www.speedtv.com) at 8:30 p.m.
Watts and the entire Velocity Motorsports team hope to use their recent success to attract a sponsor for 2003, with plans to run the entire Star Mazda North American and East Championships. Watts will graduate from Wake Forest University in December, and he is confident that he can put his education and marketing experience to work to tailor a sponsorship program to suit any sponsor's needs. If you would like to be a part of Velocity Motorsports' quest for the 2003 Championship, please contact Bryan Watts or Ken Erb to discuss your company's individual needs.