Each season, Red Bull Global Rallycross drivers help fans experience the sport through new lenses by completing a series of blog posts about everything from their training routines to their on-track experiences. Throughout the 2017 campaign, Red Bull GRC and NESN Fuel will bring you insights from Cabot Bigham, Supercar rookie for Bryan Herta Rallysport and Weston, Mass., native.
Round 1 of the 2017 Global Rallycross season has already come and gone in the blink of an eye. I learned so much during the course of our five-day stay in Tennessee. Making my debut in the Supercar field with talents like Scott Speed, Tanner Foust, Steve Arpin, the whole Honda crew, Subaru and more was slightly overwhelming. I had anticipated some anxiety coming into the weekend and developed a mental program to curb some of it. This allowed me to stay focused during our practice sessions and into qualifying.
Out of the gate, I struggled to find the pace. It was a number of things, mostly having to do with lack of experience in the car and on ovals. Having experienced drivers come out and learn the track quickly set me back a few tenths. After a few sessions that gap was between 1 and 2 seconds.
Nonetheless the Bryan Herta Rally Sport crew kept me positive and in the perfect mind set for the entire weekend. This didn’t surprise me, because during out test everybody was supportive of my learning curve struggles. Bryan Herta gave me some fantastic advice coming into my debut weekend, and that was to just finish every lap. Don’t go and stress yourself out over a position or two because at the end of the day nobody remembers how Fernando Alonso finished his first race. Take that with a grain of salt and you will see the true experience and wisdom beaming from Bryan. I am so fortunate to be working with this organization; they will surely expedite my learning curve each day we work together.
Adjusting to the car was a challenging task. I have very little oval experience as a driver, let alone with an all-wheel-drive rallycross platform. It seemed like my competition was adapting to the track faster than I was, which lead to the aforementioned 1 to 2-second time gap. Despite the gap, I kept my head up and continued to work with my team. I knew that winning our first race together would be extremely challenging, so I decided to shift my mentality.
Memphis was going to be the weekend that I observed my competitors, developed the car and learned how to drive and all-wheel-drive vehicle on a NASCAR oval. There was a lot to learn in just car setup alone. My engineer didn’t even break a sweat analyzing what the car needed and what I needed to change in my driving. It was at this moment that I truly believed in the collective talent that my team has.
We spent most of practice working on adapting my driving style to the needs of the car. This meant that I needed to roll less mid-corner speed and treat corners more like a “diamond.” The car has lots of horsepower and torque to pull out of a slower corner, and trying to roll speed like the Lites car just wasn’t working well.
The final event was going very well until the third corner. I had a nice start on the outside of Row 2 and finally slotted into P6 come Turn 2. There was a train of Hondas in front of me and I did not anticipate how fast they would start braking for Turn 3. By the time I got to the brakes I hit the rear bumper of the Honda directly in front. This hit was just enough to puncture the intercooler of our vehicle, which cools the turbo to a degree. A few seconds after the incident there was a red flag and we restarted.
I radioed to the team that the car was not accelerating and that we had some mechanical damage. As we approached the pits my team jumped into action, like a flash of lightening they assessed the issue and told me the bad news: “Your intercooler is punctured, so we are going to put the car in ‘road mode’ and send you out to make laps and get points.”
This was not the news I wanted to hear on my first ever supercar final, but the mental preparation I had done kept me cool and focused. I proceeded to finish the event with no boost from the turbo, but did not give up despite our astoundingly slow pace. We eventually started to pass some Hondas towards the end and finished P6. Not a bad place to be at the end of the day. I learned one major thing from that wreck and it was to balance aggression on the first lap because truly anything can happen in rallycross.
My experience in the Supercar has been limited to five days now, compared to even the rookies in the field this is minimal. Despite excuses, I know we can be on the podium before Round 4 this year. If I learn to adapt quickly to the track layouts, and pinpoint what the car needs to work within its “window,” than we can be a serious force. I am very excited to be coming into Round 2 with more seat time. I now have a lot of questions answered, which helps me manage stress before the event. With these answers I know the team and I can put this car up front, especially with the way we are working currently.
All photos via Louis Yio/Red Bull GRC