Sebring, Fla. (March 11-14, 2014)
Sebring once again marked the beginning of the MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich. Robby was looking forward to the week, especially because of some off season tech changes within the Skip Barber Mazdaspeed Pro Challenge Series. There is now a set minimum weight, differing from last year where the cars were ballasted to 200 pound drivers. This new minimum weight is a change Robby was looking forward to, because for the first time he would be on equal weight with the rest of the field. The week began with a test day on Tuesday. The first session the car was tested by one of the Skip Barber testers to ensure it was on par with the rest of the field. The testing process done by Skip Barber is in an effort to make the cars as equal as possible. Robby’s car had a bit of an electrical issue during when it was being tested. Then Robby went out at the end of the session and the electrical bug turned out to be the positive battery cable being loose. This resulted in the car shutting off, freaking out the abs and thus sending Robby into a spin. There was no harm done, he was just stranded in the car with no electrical power and had to be towed in. The second test was a repeat of the first with the car being tested again because of the electrical problem. When Robby went back out he ran a few laps and made some changes with the setup. Following the second test session he was confident with the car and was looking forward to the rest of the week.
Wednesday would be a busy day with two official practice sessions and qualifying. The first practice was at 8 am. Robby went out and ran a few laps to build temperature in the tires then came in to make a few subtle setup changes. He then went back out and clicked of a few fast laps putting him P1 in the session by .7 sec. “The car felt really good,” said Foley. “It was really well balanced through turns 1 and 17, which is key for a quick lap around here.” The track conditions changed drastically for practice 2 with an enormous headwind and an increase in humidity. This caused times to slow down significantly, and with that in mind Robby never really ran hard, knowing that he could sit on his lap from practice 1. For qualifying Foley was lined up first in the Skippy class on the strength of his quick time from practice 1. In the opening laps of the Skip Barber qualifying Robby had to bed in new front pads and rotors while also scrubbing in new tires. Early on it was evident to Robby that the car tightened up on new tires, something he anticipated but opted not to adjust for. “I anticipated the car would tighten up a bit, but not to the extent that it did,” explained Foley. “I did relatively limited laps on the first set of tires, so I gambled and figured the car would behave similarly on the new set, and I was wrong. Robby also found it hard to get a clean lap. “With the qualifying format the way it is, the Skip Barber cars are held for 10 min while the Cup cars theoretically put down their fast times, so we are released often times into traffic making it difficult for a clean lap,” explained Robby. Because of that combination Robby was unable to match his speed from practice 1 and qualified 3rd for race 1, and 2nd for race 2.
Race one was scheduled early afternoon on Thursday. Robby was looking forward to the race knowing he had the speed to be out front. The beginning of the race proved to be a bit hectic, but Foley made the best of it capitalizing on a good start. Robby was P2 by turn one before he settled in behind leader Bryan Hixon, as the two passed some of the back of the cup field. By turn 10 Robby was P1, holding strong position. “It was a bit awkward passing for the lead, because I was fully alongside Bryan coming to the braking zone of turn 10 when a yellow flag came out. From my perspective I had completed the pass before the local yellow, and that turned out to be the case so I maintained my position.” In the following laps Foley and Drake Kemper traded the lead a few times. The two worked well together and were able to draft, pulling a substantial gap over P3. Then in the ensuing laps Robby put his head down to pull a 3 second gap over P2. Then a yellow fell which is exactly what Robby didn’t want to see. There was a big crash in turn 17 causing a lengthy yellow stacking the field back up. Going back to green Robby got a great start and passed a few more Cup cars giving him a good gap once again, but towards the end of the race it started to get a bit dicey. There was roughly 8 minutes left in the race and Robby was in a pack of Cup cars, driving smart and drafting to bring the car home, when he was hit in the hairpin. The driver popped late in the braking zone going into the hairpin (turn 7), and totally lost reference of where he was in the braking zone, and subsequently hit Robby in the right rear quarter panel spinning him. Robby was then sitting 90 degrees to traffic and was hit once again in the right rear by a driver who simply had no where to go. It was a big hit for Robby as he was sitting there, and the other driver was doing roughly 60 mph. The car was heavily damaged but surprisingly there was very little suspension damage. Once Robby got going again he was back to P7 and in the last two laps made a few passes to make it back up to P4, a good result for such terrible luck after dominating the race. In addition Robby also broke the track record, previously held by Kenton Koch by .4 sec, which was a positive he took from that race. “The car was absolutely hooked up,” explained Foley, “We really nailed the setup, and the car came in towards the middle of the race just as I planned. I was able to click off some good laps to build a gap, it’s just hugely unfortunate we got taken out, but that’s racing.”
After the huge disappointment in race 1 Foley was looking to get after it in Race 2. He didn’t get a good start not being able to see the lights. That combined with a missed shift sent Robby back to P6. From the drop of the green it was apparent the car was not quite right. Robby was driving the same car as the day before with the big damage and it was evident from the hit there was a bend in the right rear suspension so small that it was unclear to the eye. Subsequently the car was a handful particularly in the high speed sections. With many long cautions Robby had to settle for another P4, again not bad considering the contact in race 1.
Because Robby had led the most laps in Race 1, and led a single lap he earned two extra bonus points, giving him third place points, and on the strength of that, along with his P4 in race 2, Robby sits third in points.
“Overall it was a frustrating weekend, but I’m happy with the speed I showed and hopefully race 1 was a good indication of what I can do,” said Robby. “After the bad luck I just can’t wait to get after it at Mazda Raceway.”
Robby would like to personally thank, Skip Barber, Mazda, SCCA Pro Racing, BFG, and his parents for supporting him and making it all possible!