The FCP Euro motorsport team is in sunny Sonoma, California for rounds seven and eight of the TC America Championship. A new circuit for the FCP Euro crew, Sonoma Raceway provides breathtaking terrain and, of course, the associated challenges with an unfamiliar and unique circuit.
Saturday Morning: Breakfast, Preparation, and Qualifying
Same as the mornings prior, the team woke up to the smell of multiple pounds of bacon, eggs, and toast once again. Trevor Potter set his alarm bright and early before the rest of the team came to life just to make sure everyone was fed before the long day ahead. I can’t say enough about how much this is appreciated as he doesn’t get to sleep any earlier than us, and he’s up easily an hour earlier.
Saturday race day started off relatively stress-free as both of the cars were well-sorted the night before. Both the crew and the drivers were ready for qualifying from the moment they arrived at the track. In typical pre-qualifying fashion, Nate Vincent, driver of the #72, and Michael Hurczyn, driver of the #71 were both nervous and excited for their first qualifying at Sonoma Raceway.
Qualifying came and went without issues. Michael qualified P2 and Nate Qualified P4. Mason Filippi, with a bit of a home-court advantage, took P1. Michael had the fastest sector 2 and would have been on pace for P1 if a full lap could have been stitched together. Both of the TCRs returned to our paddock in one piece (mostly). When staging in Parc fermé, two cars behind Nate, the brakes on one of the TC Hondas weren't properly bled causing him to hit the car behind Nate, sending that one into the back of him. It was a domino collision. The damage was only cosmetic to the rear bumper, but still, less than ideal leading into the session.
The HRD crew didn’t have much to do before race 1, which is a complete anomaly on a race weekend. All that was needed was swapping out tires, a quick inspection, and making sure that the drivers Coolsuit systems were functioning properly.
Nate and Michael had an autograph session during the lunch break where they signed countless hero cards, hats, and even a few shirts.
Saturday Afternoon: Race 1
Michael Hurczyn started in 2nd position behind Mason Filippi in the Hyundai Veloster N TCR, and Nate Vincent started in 4th. With the temperature reaching a toasty 90-degrees, the drivers not only had to keep their cool mentally, but physically as well.
For the start of the race, Ethan Roy and I posted up at the top of turn two looking down into turn one. When the race went green, the cars came through T1 and crested T2 side-by-side, rocketing down toward T3 and T4. With such a technical track with so few passing opportunities, every position you can make up early on gives you the best opportunity of finishing on podium.
The first few laps carried on this same way, with Michael and Nate holding their positions. While they raced on the track, Ethan and I literally raced around the track on the outside to get the necessary shots for the upcoming episode of “The Paddock.”
About halfway through the race is where the action really started to heat up. Positions began exchanging, and this is about the point where I witnessed Michael come out of the Carousel in the lead. I don’t normally get into the sports to the point of cheering, but at this moment I was full-fledged yelling from the corner. A few cars behind Michael were Mason Filippi and Nate Vincent in a bumper-to-bumper all-out battle. Lap after lap, Nate tried making a move on the inside, on the outside, literally anywhere he could put a car. Mason guarded his position aggressively (some might argue too aggressively) making for an exciting race to watch. While Nate and Mason were battling, this allowed Gonzalez in the Honda to reel them in one corner after the next. Before long, Gonzalez was right on their bumpers.
A few more laps of this and Gonzalez was right there with Nate and Mason. Up ahead, Michael still had a massive gap between himself and them. Right about this point is when all hell broke loose. Over the radios, we heard that contact was made between Nate and Mason, but this was on the opposite end of the track that we couldn’t see. When they came back around, the Honda and even the Alfa, driven by James Walker, made it around them. With the contact under review by Race Control, the positions they were running in were all up in the air now. No one knew if a penalty would be served to either driver or any idea into the outcome of the contact. At this same time, Michael’s pace started to fall off from the laps he was running earlier on. According to both the drivers and the engineers, there was nothing left in their tires by the three-quarter point in the race. And this wasn’t just the case for Nate and Michael, as Filippi also reported his tires being dangerously far gone. Blame 150-degree track temperatures.
Gonzalez in the Honda was running much more conservative lap-times earlier in the race. Because of this, he still had tires left when the rest of the field was fighting theirs. He successfully picked up his pace, reeled the field in, and not too long after that, he caught (and passed) Michael with only a few laps remaining in the race. Nate fought hard a few positions back, almost catching up to Walker in the Alfa while holding off Filippi in the Veloster.
Michael and Nate crossed the line in P2 and P4; however, Race Control ordered Nate and Mason to go to race control about the incident earlier in the race. With there being a slight chance of a penalty being issued, we were unsure whether or not P4 would be his final finishing position (no penalties were issued, and P4 was his official finishing position).
The team, with the help of the guys at 034Motorsport packed up the booth in near record time. Nathan, Andrew, and Raul had everything organized and packed away while Gareth was repairing some body damage to Nate’s car after the battles of the race.
Tiv from HRD made plans for both teams to go out to dinner at a friend’s local restaurant, so we hurried to leave the track. Little did we know it was going to be one of the best dining experiences we’ve ever had. In the middle of the Napa Valley, surrounded by mountains and vineyards with some blues playing quietly in the background, we sat down at this remarkably cozy barbecue restaurant that was opened just for us. Entering the restaurant and walking straight through to the patio outside, we were speechless; it was like we were cut off from the outside world. The atmosphere here was the ideal end to a long day at the track. Beers in buckets, hot barbecue surrounded by friends. What could top that?
Although the barbecue was good, the story here was even better. The owner had sold this restaurant days earlier and is scheduled to move to Italy on Monday. We had the privilege of experiencing the last meal served there, by the owner and chef himself, all while he shared stories of his seventeen years of ownership—he dubbed this The “Last Supper." Regrettably, we returned to the Airbnb after never wanting to leave the barbecue restaurant to get prepped for our last day ahead.
Our one and only session today is race 2 at 1:45 PM, which gives our team, the HRD crew, and our the drivers plenty of time to prep for what’s to come. Nate and Michael are both competitive and want to improve on their finishing positions. We know we can run up at the front, it’s just a matter of keeping the tires under the car and driving a clean race. I for one am interested to see Nate and Mason’s exchange on track tomorrow if they’re going to pick up where they left off.
You can watch race 2 live at race.fcpeuro.com on Sunday at 1:45 PM PDT.
Writer/Editor at FCP Euro and owner of a daily R53 MINI Cooper, a track-built R53 MINI, and a 1997 Dakar Yellow E36 M3 Sedan. ••• Instagram: @evan.madore