Posted to News by jakethompson on Sep.09, 2010
Well this is it, the grand finale, the final countdown, the last hurrah for all the marbles. As the 2010 TDI Cup prepares to crown it’s champion two weeks from now in Puebla, Mexico, we thought it was time to look back at all the excitement of the last 8 months that has led us to this point.
It all started in early February, as 50 or so hopefuls descended on Sin City in Las Vegas for Driver Selection. From the outset it was clear that 3 drivers were a cut above on this particular weekend, namely Andrew Cordeiro, AJ Nealey, and Jake Thompson. Sure there were other drivers competing as well, and they put forth a modest effort, but no one else showed these guy’s dedication towards being at the tables gambling during every single spare moment. Without fail, you could find Cordeiro sitting at the Roulette table, steadily building on his mountain of chips, while a few feet away Nealey and Thompson rode the emotional roller coaster that is craps. In the end, Cordeiro dominated like it was a rain race, taking the win and huge windfall home to Canada. Thompson was able to snatch second away from Nealey at the last possible moment, as he stopped by the table for one last roll of the dice, literally while walking out the door to catch a cab home. AJ was still an impressive 3rd considering it was his rookie gambling outing.
Two months later, the TDI Cup circus kicked the season off at it’s home track, Virginia International Raceway. 9 Veterans and 16 Rookies, descended upon the 3.2 mile circuit ready to compete for diesel sedan supremacy. The veterans definitely came to play, sweeping the top 6 in qualifying for both races, and locking out the podium each day as well. Ryan Ellis would take both wins, with Juan Pablo Sierra Lendle grabbing a pair of seconds. AJ Nealey, would thrill the thousands that make up his considerable fan club with a 3rd on Saturday, while Jake Thompson would grab the final podium spot on Sunday.
A couple weeks later the series would be back in action, this time at New Jersey Motorsports Park. The series vets arrived with a significant swagger after their dominant performance at VIR, but that would all come unglued. Collectively the veterans got together and decided for a risky tire strategy, running their old tires from VIR on the rear, to help rotate the notoriously under-steery cars. Brilliant this was not, as Broekemeier, Ellis, Nealey, Thompson, Cordeiro, Novich and Mobley would qualify 9th, 10th, 11th, 13th, 15th, 20th and 24th, as the VIR tires left the cars feeling like the rear end was on ice. The two Juan Pablo’s from Mexico would make a smarter tire choice and be left alone at the front of the field to fend off a hungry pack of rabid rookies. Sierra Lendle would grab the win from Arie Ouimet and Chris Wehrheim, while the rest of the vets were left shaking their heads at a missed opportunity to gain some points on the rookies early in the year.
Noteworthy from New Jersey was the 2nd place qualifying effort of “that video game guy” Wyatt Gooden, who had earned his seat by dominating the online world of Iracing. Going into the year most assumed Gooden would be a World of War Craft type, fat, overweight, bad haircut, and pale white skin having been protected from the sun by the confines of his parents basement. They were wrong. Here he was, at the front of the grid in only the 3rd race. But there were whispers that he had been training in Iracing on a “pre-release” version of NJMP that gave him the upper hand. Well then, no worries, Round 4 was at Miller Motorsports Park, which wasn’t on Iracing. Except, he qualified 2nd there too, crap, apparently he actually could drive.
At Miller, Gooden would share the front row with veteran Jake Thompson, who was looking to avenge a botched start from pole at the same track a year before. The race would see carnage early, as AJ Nealey spun after suffering the dreaded “TDI Cup wheel hop of death” and was collected by Chris Wehrheim. After a lengthy full course caution, Thompson would hang on for the win, with JD Mobley taking his first podium in 2nd and Gooden grabbing 3rd.
At Mid Ohio the rookies would strike a significant blow to the veterans in qualifying, sweeping the first four spots with Arie Ouimet, Gooden, Kevin Gleason and Jarvis Gennari, all outpacing top veteran JD Mobley in 5th. In the race, Gooden and Ouimet would continue to establish themselves as championship contenders grabbing 1st and 2nd, while Mobley maintained some honor for the beleaguered veterans by grabbing the final podium spot.
At the mid point of the season, Sierra Lendle would hold the championship lead, over Ouimet, Thompson, Mobley and Gooden. Heading to Autobahn in Chicago though, the momentum was squarely with Ouimet and Gooden, however it would be another rookie, Kevin Gleason grabbing his first pole in the series during Qualifying. Mobley would continue his championship push in 2nd, with Gooden 3rd. Thompson would hurt his chances in qualifying after a flat tire caused by “TDI Cup wheel hop of death”, with Ouimet and Sierra Lendle down in 13th and 14th. The race would prove wild as Mobley would fall back after contact, and Chris Wehrheim would be undone with a flat tire while racing for the win. Gooden would thrill interwebz racers worldwide with his 2nd straight victory, followed home by the impressive Jarvis Gennari who had charged from 9th to 2nd. Unknown at the time, he was really setting the tone for what was to come in the 2nd half of the season. Gleason would hang on for his first podium in 3rd, while Thompson and Nealey, staged an epic battle for 4th, with Thompson eventually ending up the top Veteran. Once again, the rookies had left their mark, with Gooden jumping all the way to the championship lead.
With the points race heating up, the series headed to historic Road America for a double header weekend. Dubbed the Talladega of TDI Cup due to it’s long straights and the massive draft effect, the 2009 event at Road America saw 4 caution flags, one car flip over a tire wall and several lead changes. So there was a good chance it would be an exciting weekend. It started out with an early morning practice session (The TDI’s being the perfect car to run at 7:20AM so as to not wake up any campers) on a damp track, in thick fog, with slick tires. Do you know how many cars got wrecked? Zero. This is still the single most amazing thing that has happened all year, even Novich didn’t crash (Just kidding Andrew, you know I got your back). Qualifying for Race 1 would see Chris Wehrheim, fast but massively unlucky all year, grab pole, with Mobley right behind in 2nd. JJ Tomlinson and Rafael Navarro IV would both show impressive speed to grab 3rd and 4th, with Thompson 5th.
Qualifying for Race 2, would go at 6:00 in the evening, again in an effort to keep the noise down so the campers could enjoy a quite dinner at the race track. Turns out what would be required for this session was an Arc, as a biblical storm hit about 4 minutes into the session. Tents blew over, rain fell sideways, Jetta’s spun, it was mayhem. The only people struggling harder than the drivers to get back to the pits, were the aforementioned campers, who were clinging to trees in an effort not to get washed into Lake Michigan. As it was, the grid was turned completely upside down, as some drivers got two laps, some only one, and those brave enough to charge full speed on their outlap were rewarded. Gooden grabbed pole, from Gleason, Ellis, Hogg and Wehrheim. The storm was so severe that the Driver’s debrief was canceled, and everyone was spared the wrath of chief instructor Jan Heylen, who had to wait until the follow morning, to calmly explain how stupid you must be to take it easy on our out lap when a storm was approaching. Apparently if your Belgian, when you arrive at the 120mph kink on your first lap and see rain hitting your windshield the obvious thing to do is keep your foot in it.
Saturday’s race would include all the action that was expected including a flip from Juan Pablo Delgado Soots (apparently being punished by the karma gods for being too nice of a guy) and the lead changing on almost every lap. Jarvis Gennari would storm from 10th on the grid to take the win, and in 30 minutes managed to immediately throw his hat into the championship ring. Wehrheim ended up 2nd, with Gleason scoring his 2nd straight podium in 3rd. The post race driver’s briefing was a highlight of the season, including the phrase “I just don’t get it” coming from Heylen at least half a dozen times, and easily the best rant in TDI Cup history from the always mild-mannered Sierra Lendle. After verbally unleashing a few months of frustration, he finished with a climactic “I cannot win in this car, period”. It made for outstanding TV, and Heylen summed it up best when he turned to the Documentary Crew and muttered “well that was good for you guys”.
As a completely side note, “I just don’t get it” is pretty much a catch phrase now for head instructor Jan Heylen. During the season the phrase has been used to reference: Bad driving lines, contact between cars, passing under yellow, not using data acquisition, running close together in qualifying, blocking, failure to use launch control, all inquiries about sport mode, braking points, lack of preparation, fitness, and showing up late to meetings. I think the truth is that he is generally bewildered every time the drivers screw up. Not only is it unintentionally hilarious, but it helps get the point across, as his incredulous response to any of the things mentioned above, makes the drivers believe that it’s easy to actually do it right, even though bad lines, constant contact, and the failure to hit a braking point might be ingrained in their DNA.
Anyway, back to the season. Heading into round 8, the championship was still completely up in the air between 6 drivers: Gooden, Gennari, Sierra Lendle, Thompson, Ouimet, and Mobley. Gooden was starting on pole with Sierra Lendle back in 22nd and everyone else in between. Gennari was back in 14th, but given his run from 10th to 1st a day earlier, everyone expected him to contend, and he did not disappoint. Gennari would go to the front with ease, scoring his 2nd straight win, letting the action take place behind him. Over the course of 12 laps, the championship contenders were all racing each other, with Thompson ending up 3rd behind Gennari and Wehrheim, Mobley 4th, and Sierra Lendle an amazing 5th from 22nd on the grid. As the dust settled, the points race is the tightest it has ever been heading heading to the final two rounds in Puebla, Mexico. Gennari leads by a slim 21 points over Gooden, with Thompson a further 4 back. Sierra Lendle has to be considered a strong contender as he is only 33 points behind and has the advantage of home track knowledge, while both Mobley and Ouimet are still within 50 points. No matter what, it promises to be an exciting final weekend.