With 33 drivers of varying ages (17-51) from all over the North America (and Ecuador) attending the Skip Barber IndyCar Academy, it's no surprise there's a variety of perspectives on the three-day exercise
"How fast am I going? How wide is my smile?” beamed 20-year-old Michai Stephens (in the middle, above), who works in the construction industry in Chicago.
How wide is Stephens' smile? Pretty wide, considering he was P1 or P2 in all three sessions today for Group 4 of the shootout.
“I love automobiles but this is only my second time in a racecar, the first being in a three-day Skip Barber school at Road Atlanta,” he said. “I don't have the experience that some of these guys have, but I am having so much fun and learning so much.”
51-year-old Alan Baker wasn't smiling . . . at least for a few moments. That's because he had an “off” in the morning that saw him make light contact with the wall and bend A-arm. The resulting automatic 35-point deduction in his score for the shootout more or less eliminated him from any chance of winning the prize – the fully paid ride in a Skip Barber Summer Series. The Vancouver-ite rebounded emotionally quite quickly, however.
“This just means I change my outlook a bit,” he said. “My new focus is getting better each session and not making any mistakes.
“Let's say that it's unlikely that I'm going to get to IndyCars even if I has won the shootout,” he smiled. “My plan all along was to use what I learned here to help me as I get going in club racing with an eye on getting to the point where I can do a reasonable job as the third or fourth driver on a sports car team.
Tyler Clary undoubtedly has the most unique take on the shootout and its potential impact on his career. The 20 year old from Riverside, Calif., has “other priorities” for the next few years, mainly continuing the pursuit of his swimming career, a career that already netted him a gold medal in the 200 meter backstroke competition in the 2012 Summer Olympics.
“I'm going to work on getting back to the Olympics in 2016,” he explains. “After that I'll focus on racing, most likely sports cars. I'm committed to making professional racing my post-swimming career.”
• Yesterday it was Townsend Bell offering the shootout participants his take on the eternal quest for sponsorship backing in racing. Today, IndyCar team owner Bryan Herta (and Sebring 12 Hours winner) was on hand to help with the instructors' critiques on the shootout drivers in preparation for tomorrow's talk with the students on what race team owners are looking for in prospective race drivers.
“The Skip Barber Racing School is how I got started in racing,” says Herta, the 1991 Barber Saab champion. “It's the foundation of my career. They asked me to participate in the shootout and I was happy to come.”
Herta received a very special memento of his participation in the shootout, when he was presented with a 1990s vintage Barber Saab jersey, still in its plastic wrapper (LEFT).
• The Skip Barber IndyCar Academy is utilizing one of Sebring's several short courses, including the traditional start/finish straight and Turn 1, then making a double 90 right onto the Flying Fortress Straight, through the Gendebien Bend to Le Mans Curve and onto the Ulmann Straight. At the end of the Ulmann Straight, rather than negotiating the fast – and bumpy – Sunset Bend, the drivers make a sharp right (marked by cones) and then accelerate hard through the second part of Sunset Bend back on to the start/finish straight.
It's a testing course, one that features the daunting fourth-gear Turn 1, the tight double right at Turns 2 and 3, the medium-speed corners leading to the Ulmann Straight and a very heavy braking zone – and thus overtaking spot – at the end of the UImann Straight.
• Day Two of the shootout and the driver who is most adept at negotiating that two- mile circuit quickly remains Andre Gomes. The New Hampshire-ite blistered the circuit with a best lap of 1:20.240 this morning and, perhaps even more impressively, completed the session with an average lap time of 1:20.917 on a day when nobody else turned so much as a lap in the 1:20s.