The ominous weather that had occurred on Monday came back almost in full on Tuesday, with dreary, gray and overcast conditions. It didn't help, either, that a steady and misty morning rain helped to dampen the track and delayed the on-track sessions from getting going.
Haywood showed everyone the ropes for a few introductory laps, with each taking the wheel of one of the school's Carrera Cup cars to familiarize themselves with the circuit. The GT3 Cup car for later in the day had ABS and a sequential gearbox, with the tires (they weren't switched to wets as the track did dry out later in the day) able to provide better forward bite and lateral grip.
“The key is consistency,” Haywood said. “You don't go out here to set the world on fire.” Fellow school instructor Andrew Davis, one of the Brumos Porsche drivers in Grand-Am Rolex GT, added: “Think of these as practice days for the Rolex 24 with your counterparts as your co-drivers. Don't be the guy that screws it up for your teammates.”
Johnston said after one of his runs he could feel the intensity going up, but like the others, he remained calm and collected throughout the process. Marcelli said it only took a couple laps to get up to speed.
“Nobody pushed too hard or had any spins, but we still needed them to find their sweet spots,” related Walther. “In looking at all their backgrounds, it was very impressive.”
“Spencer was impressive with this being his first time in a professional environment. His lap times dropped hugely in the first session, and in the second, he was constant and right at the edge of where he needed to be. Cooper had very fast lap times; he's in the process of balancing his racing time with school. The others – Sean and Kyle – you knew racing was their primary task, and you could see this in the lap times. All four drivers had very consistent lap times despite the difficult track conditions.”
Since this academy took place in October, Porsche has named two new Junior drivers for 2013 (Connor De Phillippi, one of Pigot's American open-wheel ladder system contemporaries, and Alex Riberas Bou). But that has not limited these four's options with Porsche for next season.
Originally, the plan at Barber was to see if just one driver would emerge from the pack and earn a test for Porsche's Supercup championship in Germany. As the process evolved, it became apparent that picking just one winner wouldn't do justice to the performance of the group as a whole.
Walther and Long met with the quartet at Petit Le Mans, with Marcelli, MacNeil and Johnston (in what was his ALMS debut) all in the race and Pigot on hand to spectate.
“Our objective was to give them all something they could carry away as a backpack for the next career steps,” Walther said. “We were able to give each a recommendation for the next step.”
For Marcelli, that would be the previously discussed Supercup test in Europe, and as Walther suggested, it was important for him at this stage in his career to gain more international exposure.
Pigot has the option of taking up an IMSA scholarship to compete in the GT3 Challenge next year, if his open-wheel prospects fall through. He's also weighing moving up to Star Mazda as a natural next step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder.
MacNeil is all but set for a similar program for 2013, with a new co-driver likely to partner him in ALMS GTC, and possible additional races in Grand-Am beyond the Rolex 24.
Johnston's the wild card. Walther and other Porsche officials discussed what could be a good next step for him, and concluded he may be best served in an apprenticeship role in Germany to learn the fabric of his team, the German culture and more about the company, but with continuing support from 2012 partner Tom Driscoll.
The likelihood is at least three of the four will continue in some capacity with Porsche next season. It was all but guaranteed, however, that Porsche will be continuing with this academy come 2013.
“We started off not knowing what we were going to be getting ourselves into,” Walther surmised. “We had a clear objective to screen a couple of drivers because we know there is a lot of talent in the U.S., but it's not really structured. It's a big country and very fragmented motorsports environment. But now, this could be the first step where they could enter a career as a factory driver. It's a thrill to give these drivers a bit of our experience and our recommendations.”
• Click here for video from Barber's sessions.