Trevor Hopwood-Daytona Rear View Mirror

Driver’s Blog: Trevor Hopwood –
By Trevor Hopwood

GRAND-AM 101 Welcome to the first installment of my blog – it should be a great racing season for Kia and we got off to a fantastic start at Daytona. It was a great weekend for the team that was full of promise, speed, reliability, and results.

But first—you might be wondering, “wait, isn’t it just NASCAR that races at Daytona?” and “what exactly is GRAND-AM racing all about?”

The GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge is a series that features two classes of cars: GS (Grand Sports) featuring BMW M3, Chevrolet Camaro, Porsche 911 and Ford Mustang; and the ST (Street Tuner) class showcasing the likes of Volkswagen GTI, Honda Civic, Mazda 3 and our Infinity Audio Kia Forte Koups. The races are 2.5 hours long and each car must have at least two drivers.

A driver change will take place along with normal pit stop items such as tire changes and a refueling of Sunoco race fuel. We have 10 races at tracks across the U.S. from the season opener in Daytona Beach to Laguna Seca in Northern California in July and then we end the season at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in September. The cars are modified slightly to increase speed, reliability and safety. Any unnecessary items from the interior are stripped out to lighten the chassis. No passenger seats, linings or sound proofing is left. All the required safety gear is put into place: roll cage bars, racing seat, 6-point harness seat belts, and fire extinguishers. Some minor motor modifications are allowed and some suspension bits are put into place, the Continental race tires are fitted … and voila, there’s our race car folks! Cars are kept at a competitive level through weight and horsepower, and the consistently close finishes of the races are a great demonstration of that. Less powerful cars are lighter and more powerful cars are heavier, and GRAND-AM has the right to make competition adjustments throughout the year so as not to have a dominant make.

Weight is of course the biggest thing because it affects everything the car does–acceleration, braking, and steering. Over the winter we were allowed to take 50 lbs. out of the car. The boys at Kinetic Motorsports did an excellent job stripping the cars down and putting them on a serious diet and then rebuilding them before the first race of the season. A big part of racing is all about the people you bring together to try and attain the goals of race wins and a championship, and Kinetic Motorsports has assembled an all-star crew of engineers and mechanics for the Kia program and it is an honor to work with these men.

We came into Daytona, the same place we scored KIA’s first-ever race finish last year, cautiously optimistic. Straight-line speed was not our strong suit last season, but we knew we had made some gains in the motor department and that losing the weight would certainly help. So the high banks and long straight-aways suddenly didn’t look as intimidating as it was last year during our debut race. Based on 2010 we know we are strong in the corners and in the brake zones and Daytona has one of the longest braking zones of the season going into turn 1 at 150 mph and slowing the car all the way down to 60, so that was making us feel good going into the weekend. The first practice session went off without a hitch. Systems checks and getting reacquainted with the #12 car were on order. This is the first year that Adam and I have returned to the same team from the year before.

So we knew the car, knew the team and could get right down to business instead of just trying to learn everyone’s name and where our helmets are kept in the trailer! Even though we weren’t initially as stable handling-wise as we wanted to be, the car was still in the top 10 so that was a very promising start in the field of 45 cars. That first drive of the season is probably the most enjoyable of the year. Waking your senses up from the winter hibernation (or in my case just a break from Snowmaggedon…) is the best feeling in the world. Sights, sounds and smells as my dad calls it. Practice 2 was the defining moment of the weekend. Adam put the car strongly in the top 10 again. I hopped in again briefly for the end of the session to brush up before qualifying. On my 3rd lap out of the pits I was turning in to the International Horseshoe when a car lost its brakes and clobbered me in the right rear. I nursed my injured steed back to the pits and parked it in the garage.

There was smoke pouring out the back, and I was pretty sick with disappointment. There was extensive cosmetic damage and my guys Lee Webb, Joey Kim and Chris Thurman busted their butts to get the rear end back together before qualifying. They had about one hour to do the repair work and then prep the car for qualifications. They never stopped working until I rolled out of the garage two minutes before qualifying. Halfway through my out lap I’m climbing through the gears on the back straightaway and then the motor shut off. No electronics whatsoever– no dash, and no radio. I tried cycling the master key and nothing, everything was still dead. When I finally made it back to the garage after a flat tow from turn three on the oval, we found the culprit. When I was hit, the battery was jarred loose and one of the nodes was resting on the metal bracket for the battery which then fried it completely. As a result, I got to do one of my favorite things, start last. Yes, it puts you at a disadvantage because you are so far behind, but remember these races are 2.5 hours long and you have plenty of time to make up ground. It’s always fun carving through traffic as well. My strategy from the 43rd position was simple, get as far up the order as I could with a clean car for Adam so he could finish the job.

For the first lap of the race I wanted to get to the outside of every corner. And that I did. A friend of mine told me I passed nine cars on the infield section alone. I was enduring a trouble free run all the way to 8th place with a clean car in the first hour when another gremlin from that hit we took in the 2nd practice bit us again. Turning in to the second hairpin the right side of my seat snapped. We suspect it was a sheared bolt that was damaged during the hit. My seat leaned up in the air to the left about 4 inches every time I turned right. I knew then the charge to the front was done. I hustled back to the pits but the seat needed to be fixed before it stressed the left side bolts enough to break, which would then turn me into a PBR bull rider trying to hang on! Even though the guys worked quickly, we lost five laps in the repair as Adam climbed in the car.

We thought we would just be circulating for points, but instead we were a part of Kia history. After a yellow flag with about 45 minutes left Adam was positioned behind the sister #10 car which was in 6th place. The next 45 minutes proved to everyone that motor racing is a team sport and Kinetic is a team that is going to make some noise this year. At Daytona the draft is very important. Continental drivers talk about having a drafting buddy at Daytona as much as the NASCAR drivers do. Adam hooked up with Nic Jönsson in the #10 Forte Koup and shoved him to the front where Nic made the move for 2nd place on the final lap and give Kia its first-ever professional racing podium. It was a great moment to be a part of. Everyone on the team has worked so hard to get this initial podium placing. Even though we weren’t on the podium, it felt like we were because both cars ran together for the last 45 minutes corner by corner working together to attain goals. It was a great way to start the season and I’m sure there will be more podiums and hopefully a win or two to report back on. Meanwhile, stay tuned for my race report following the next race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, March 3-5.

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