Klaus Graf shares the Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03a with Lucas Luhr in the American Le Mans Series.
It felt good to get back into Victory Circle at Virginia International Raceway with Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, and we couldn't have done it in a better way than with the perfect weekend that we had.
We tested at VIR with our Muscle Milk HPD ARX-03a back in June during the Le Mans break and we had a really good test session, so we were very confident coming into the race weekend.
The layout of the circuit is great. It has a little bit of everything from elevation changes, quick corners, long straights and technical sections that make it very fun to drive. It really offers a great variety.
Coming into the event at VIR we were focused on having a trouble-free weekend. If a lot can happen in a two-hour race like in Baltimore, imagine a four-hour one! With the championship battle still very tight it was of the utmost importance to have a strong weekend.
We initially were going to skip the Thursday promoter test session but once we got to the track we thought it best to do a systems check and run a few laps. We ended up doing 11 laps and registering the fastest lap of the day. So, it was definitely a good, encouraging start to the weekend.
On Friday, everything continued to progress well. After leading the two practice sessions I set an all-time track record in qualifying with a lap of 1:35.434. We could have likely made it into the high 34s though. I was on a lap that was about half a second quicker but I was slowed by a P2 car on what was my final lap of that stint in qualifying.
It can be frustrating on a three-plus mile circuit with so little cars on track to catch up to traffic during qualifying but everyone is searching for the right gap and as we saw many times this year, you can come up on a car pretty quickly.
While we could have gone faster, it was very rewarding to set a lap record and get what was my fifth pole position in as many attempts this year. However, the team's focus remained the race, because at the end of the day, that is what counts. You don't score any points for pole.
To be honest, I was expecting a wild and crazy race and it was much ‘tamer' than I had anticipated. Just in practice it was so difficult getting around the cars from the other classes. I think the main issue was that the GT and GTC drivers had no clue exactly how fast we were coming up on them.
In practice on Friday, I was trying to get around one of them and I could see that he had seen me in his mirrors but in no time I was next to him and he didn't see me and to avoid him I went a little too wide and went off into the grass. Fortunately, it was without damage.
Additionally, VIR is pretty much a one-lane track that makes running through traffic a little bit more challenging than it can be elsewhere. While starting on pole in a four-hour race can mean very little, it was definitely an advantage at VIR where track position is very important.
The race itself wasn't easy to manage because of that traffic. There were certain places around the track where, without too much risk, you just couldn't get around another car, with some classes being more difficult to get around than others.
I was pushing hard, but at the same time I was conservative with the moves I made in traffic. There's some hard fighting going on in some of the classes and you need to remember that and be careful because they might not give you the room you need to get by them that they normally would if they were not immediately fighting another car.
While dealing with the traffic was maybe a little harder than usual, we still had a clean, trouble-free race, which is exactly what we wanted and needed. After the last couple of races, where we had some issues and were not able to fight back for a win like we did at Lime Rock – although we were really close at Road America - this one felt really good and it was a great confidence booster heading into Petit Le Mans next month.
The car ran flawlessly and the guys did great on the pit stops. It was a great team effort and it meant a lot to everyone to get back on the top step of the podium. It really was a perfect weekend.
Now, we have one last round to go and it will all come down to that final battle at what is our second longest race of the year, 10 hours or 1000 miles, whichever comes first, and we're ready and looking forward to it.
Thanks for reading!
Follow Klaus on Twitter at @klaus_graf, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing at @MuscleMilkRace and Honda Performance Development at @HondaRacing_HPD.