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Doing the Double: How CORE autosport Conquered Two Races in One Day

June 11, 2017

The two drivers who got the most air over Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park at last weekend’s Red Bull Global Rallycross New England weren’t Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross teammates Tanner Foust and Scott Speed. Nor were they Subaru Rally Team USA fan favorites Patrik Sandell and Chris Atkinson. In fact, they weren’t Supercar drivers at all.

That honor went to CORE autosport teammates Colin Braun and Jon Bennett, and even if the helicopter that brought them to the track may not have made it a fair fight, it certainly made for an intriguing show. Braun, Bennett, and two of their engineers were arriving from Detroit, where they had just earned their best IMSA finish of the season, via nearby Worcester Regional Airport.

“I didn’t mean to create a dramatic entry,” Bennett joked after the event. “But after bringing all of our gear and people, the relatively small investment to get us here on time using a helicopter was fun. We made yesterday special.”

“It was a lot of fun getting the chance to race two different places,” added Braun, who admitted the process was a throwback to similar experiences in his stock car racing days. “GRC was really accommodating to help make the whole thing work for us, which was great. We love coming here and racing, it’s a lot of fun. We didn’t want to miss it.”

The itinerary: after waking up in Detroit and racing 100 minutes in their Porsche 911 GT3 R, where they would take an eighth place finish in GT Daytona, the drivers would rush to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. After landing in Worcester, MA, roughly half an hour from the track by air, they would board a helicopter—which, Bennett noted, “had the blades already spinning waiting for us”—and land behind TSMP in time to take two sight laps and race the 10-lap final.

“All of this happened over a conversation at the GRC office during the last event (in Louisville),” admitted team manager Brian Colangelo. “There wasn’t much planning at all. It all came together in about a week.”

“I said it was a shame that we couldn’t do both events and Colin said, well, they are not exactly at the same time,” Bennett added. “We looked at the schedules and sure enough, there was a little bit of offset to the events. With a little bit of help from the GRC series, we were able to make it work.”

The biggest issue coming into the weekend: in order to retain eligibility for Bennett and Braun to run Saturday’s final under a driver swap, CORE’s two cars would still need to compete in preliminary heats. For Braun, the replacement choice was simple: spotter Eric Holmes, a three-time K&N Pro Series West champion, would step into his car.

“Eric is a great guy—he’s accomplished and experienced and really has a good feel for what racing is about,” Braun explained. “He was able to jump in there and give us feedback about the car and in car video. When he’s not doing that, he’s on the spotter stand seeing what’s going on. But he’s more than just a spotter: he’s good at looking at the lines, looking at what other people are doing, looking at what the dirt is doing and how they are grooming it, those kind of things.

“That’s more important than a spotter who just says ‘clear’ or ‘not clear.’ He’s in all our debrief meetings about our car and what works and what doesn’t. He’s a big asset to our team for sure.”

“It was interesting because on Colin’s car, there was a misfire and it was really hard to diagnose on the data,” added Colangelo. “Eric did a good job to realize that there was a misfire. We were able to see it before Colin got here, and that was really important.”

As for Bennett’s replacement driver, the reins came down to… Colangelo himself. After exploring a handful of other options, including a Supercar driver, the team manager stepped up to do the job.

“I think this definitely increased my awareness and level of respect for what the drivers do,” he admitted. “It’s easy to be on the outside of the car and think that they have an easy job. They don’t just have a fun job and leave—it’s stressful, especially if you aren’t on pace. You’re worried about people in front, back, around you, and the walls. You just don’t want to be in anyone’s way and ruin their day.”

Meanwhile, en route to the second race of the day, Bennett, Braun, and their engineers broke down all the information they had from Connecticut. A combination of notes and on-board footage from Holmes and Colangelo helped prepare the drivers for a unique layout.

“The good news, is the engine is in the rear on both cars,” Bennett explained. “But other than that, it’s completely different. I guess I would compare it to skiing: Saturday at Detroit was high speed, downhill skiing, then you put on a new set of skis and go mobile skiing the next day, and that was GRC. It’s still driving a car, but it’s completely different techniques.

“The curveball is we haven’t been to this track before. It’s like walking through a dark, haunted house. You don’t know what you’ll get next, but it adds to the interest.”

“We were decompressing after Detroit,” Braun continued. “Honestly, we were just sitting there for a couple of minutes and remembering what the inside of the car looks like, remembering we are using a sequential shift with a stick, hand brake, and how all the systems work in the cars. There are so many things that are so different.”

All things considered, the weekend was a success for the team. Braun earned his third consecutive fourth place finish on Saturday, and cracked the podium for the first time this year with a runner-up result on Sunday in the rain.

“When I knew the rain was going to come for the final, I thought ‘this is great!’” he exclaimed. “It was only my second time driving the car in the rain, actually. I was just trying to figure out how this car works in the wet and I learned a lot.

“We’ve had some really good finishes, and it’s been consistent. We’ve been knocking off fourth place finishes. I need to find a little extra to contend the wins, but we keep preaching the mantra that if we continue to fight, we’ll be right in it.”

Despite all the successes of the event, though, Colangelo did have to make one important move at the close of the weekend.

“It was a difficult decision,” he smirked, “but I’ve decided to fire myself as a driver due to lack of performance.”

Photo credit: Louis Yio

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