I have been living in Miami now for 10 years, so I always get very excited for the annual race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. My first-ever race was in a go-kart at the Homestead kart track, which is essentially in the parking lot of the main track. I'd never driven on a wet track, and just before the race that day, the skies opened up and it absolutely poured! Little did I know that seven years later I would be taking our APR Audi R8 out for its first race ever in wet conditions, but now inside the speedway! I was hoping I would have a few less spins during this race than in my first karting race and definitely expected a much better finish!
After a race where we didn't finish as well as we ran at Barber Motorsports Park (the car ran as high as second in the GT class before finishing 11th, -Ed.) we came to Homestead with some new developments to try for setup. We also added some new driver aid items, such as a drink system and a cool suit. During the first two rounds of the championship we didn't have any chances to drive and test our car in the wet, so when we checked the weather reports ahead of this weekend, a few nerves about the unknown snuck in.
There are certain questions you ask every time you drive a new car in wet conditions: How will the traction be? The visibility? The brakes? Will the brakes be consistent in the wet or will I have to change the brake bias often? How good are the tires?
So I was extremely pleased when we the skies opened up for Friday practice and we would be able to have at least one practice session in the wet. We didn't change much on the setup and the car felt great out of the box – we actually ended up third fastest in GT. My co-driver Dr. Jim Norman went out after me and got comfortable with the conditions right away, so all of a sudden we found ourselves hoping for a wet race.
On Saturday, I hopped into one of APR's VW Jettas for the Continental Tire Challenge race, right after qualifying for the Rolex Series – I would qualify the Audi. All morning it had poured in an almost hurricane-like rainstorm, and just before I was about to jump into the R8, we got word that the conditions were too bad to run in and qualifying had been canceled. We would start by our season points position, which meant a 12th place start on Sunday – not ideal, but we felt good for the race. Now I had just a few hours to turn my focus from a 500hp, rear-wheel-drive, mid-engine, paddle-shift GT car to driving a 200hp, front-wheel-drive, front engine, stick-shift Jetta in a 70-car field. No biggie, right?
My co-driver, Venezuelan Juan Carlos Alvarez, did a great job giving me a car on the lead lap and in good shape, which I raced hard for just about two hours. We were looking great for a solid finish but with two laps to go I had contact with a Mini, and that dropped us to 19th. I'm thankful to APR for the opportunity to contribute to the team in a different area, and I'd love to be back later in the year to help develop that car.
We started in some horrendous conditions, with monsoon-like rain pelting down the entire race. It became apparent right away that visibility would be pretty much close to zero.
We started the race with a lap under caution (a good plan by Grand-Am, I thought), and following the green flag I moved my way up the field and found myself locked in a battle with one of the Dempsey Mazdas and the eventual race-winning Ferrari. I had to rely on my spotter to tell me how far in front the cars were because if I was anywhere from 5 to 50 feet off the back in the car in front, I could see absolutely nothing but the incredible spray that the Continental wet tires were throwing up off the track.
Eventually, after 35 minutes of racing and now in seventh place, in nearly blind conditions with deep standing water all over the track, the officials decided to go full course caution and let the conditions calm down a little. We chose this time to pit for our first driver change – Dr. Jim would be able to find where the best lines around the track were while we were under safety car speed. We came in and had a bit of an unfortunate prolonged pit stop that dropped us back to 12th again, but we felt in a great position to again move forward in the race.
Then the rain gremlins struck again, like a lightning bolt right out of the soggy darkness of Homestead-Miami Speedway! Right after we went back to green flag racing we started having electrical problems that would significantly slow the car down – putting it in “limp mode.” We couldn't stop to fix this issue because we did not want to go down a lap – the only way to temporarily fix the problem was to shut the car off and back on again, basically “recycling” while driving.
Dr. Jim had to go through this procedure on virtually every single lap, so you can imagine how much this slowed us down. The problem mostly happened on the banked turn on the oval that leads onto the main straight, which is obviously where the cars are running at their highest speeds. So killing the engine at this point on the track was not a great performance enhancer! Dr. Jim drove strongly in these conditions but eventually we lost a lap before the full-course caution we were waiting for came – another bit of bad luck.
Additionally, our windscreen wipers gave up, as they had never really been put to the test. We pitted for a driver change and to fix the problems – I then hopped into the car ready to get back to racing and hopefully get back on the lead lap and start a charge back to the front. But unfortunately our plans came to an early end when the officials decided to end the race due to the miserable conditions.
We were all disappointed with our 17th-place finish, because again we know we should have had a much stronger result. There's a week and a half until our next round at New Jersey, and prepping with two-a-day gym sessions and simulator work to get ready. Thanks for reading!
Grand-Am Rolex Series driver Dion von Moltke drives the APR Motorsport No. 51 Parathyroid.com / PR Newswire / South African Airways Audi R8. To learn more about Dion, go to www.dionvm.com and on Twitter at @DionvmRacing.
A video of Dion's exploits in the wet is below: