In many ways, racing a teammate or good friend can be easier than an unknown; but the consequences for contact can go much higher.
As three MX-5s battled toward the finish of the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, two from Freedom Autosport and one from Alara Racing (CJ Wilson Racing’s MX-5 was in fifth), the finish was shaping up to be a good one. Andrew Carbonell was on a charge in the No. 26 Freedom Autosport that Liam Dwyer had started. He had already made his way past the Alara Racing MX-5 of Justin Piscitell and Christian Szymczak and only needed to get by Tom Long, finishing the No. 25 Freedom Autosport MX-5 started by Britt Casey Jr.
“Fortunately we were able to run a clean race,” says Carbonell. “All of the MX-5s were extremely strong at the end. Towards the end it came down to three of us. Christian Szymczak definitely gave me a run for my money. We were back and forth, bumping fenders, closing mirrors on each other. It was an incredible battle and it just came down to who was going to keep it on track. Unfortunately he had a little off at the exit of [Turn] 5 that gave me the run up to 6. From that point forward, it was put my head down and chase after the 25.
The resulting pass happened in grand style in the penultimate corner on the final lap. It was a thrilling finish that resulted in a storybook ending for Carbonell and Marine Staff Sgt. Dwyer; but it could also have gone very wrong, taking out the whole Freedom Autosport contingent and ruining a Mazda one-two-three.
That would have left some people rather upset. It’s an unwritten edict in motorsports at the professional level: contact will happen, but don’t hit your teammate. Ever.
That may not be a consideration in club racing, where it’s more typically every man for himself. But that doesn’t mean the guy or girl you’re racing isn’t a friend. In fact, that’s more than likely given the camaraderie in the amateur racing paddock. Contact might make for an uncomfortable dinner that night. But that camaraderie can also go a long way to making racing more safe, more fun and perhaps even give you an advantage. Do it well and there will be great racing to relive at the end of the day.
“There’s a certain amount of trust you have with most of the competitors that you race with, at least the ones you race on a week-in, week-out basis,” says Long. “At Mazda Raceway, we were racing all MX-5s, so I did know the other drivers. With Andrew, Andrew and I have a special history in co-driving before, dating back to 2008. So I feel like I know what he’s thinking and I have good understanding of his mindset. So there’s a trust there that you can run two by two through Turn 10 and not worry that as the track goes from banking to flattening out on the exit, you’re going to get knocked out into the sand.”
That trust makes sticking your nose in less of an issue. If you know someone is going to respect your racing room, you don’t have to worry about them turning in on you. You can challenge more with fewer consequences.
“Tom Long and I have raced together for a long time, so we have plenty of experience racing wheel to wheel together an there’s just a bunch of respect,” says Carbonell. “It’s a little easier knowing you’re racing your buddy vs. racing against somebody from another team when you don’t really know what his intentions are. Then, you can only hope you’re thinking the same way.”When you know you’re thinking the same way, however, you can use it to your advantage, which may have been the key to Carbonell getting by – or it could just be that the guy who has won four out of the last five races at Mazda Raceway knows the track really, really well. Either way, he
made the pass stick. It may have been that the only way Long could have kept Carbonell from getting by was with contact, but Long wasn’t going to take out his teammate intentionally, and knowing what to expect from him may have been key to avoiding accidental contact.
A clean, last lap pass for victory that results in a great story over dinner? That’s how you race your teammate and friend.