Written by DAVE DOOLITTLE
It was a perfect weekend for Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy USA driver Will Hardeman.
The 33-year-old from Austin, Texas, swept both races in his WPD/Moorespeed Porsche 911 at Circuit of The Americas, winning the first race by almost 35 seconds and taking the second victory Sunday in rainy conditions.
What’s more impressive is that Hardeman has only been driving racecars for about seven months and was competing for the first time at Circuit of The Americas.
“The thing is I’ve been watching people race here enough, and I know the right guys to talk to that know the track, that have turned more laps than anyone and the pros that have run the fastest times,” Hardeman said Sunday afternoon.
“This is my first race at COTA but I’m from Austin, I’m no stranger to the track.”
Hardeman comes from an automotive family and continues to work full-time at Continental Automotive Group (Austin Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz of Austin, First Texas Honda, Austin Subaru, Continental Collision and WPD “Wholesale Parts Direct”.
He started to consider becoming a race driver after driving Circuit of The Americas during a charity event in April. Team principal David Moore rode a few laps with Hardeman then and was impressed with what he saw.
“David said, ‘You’re not driving the right line or anything, but I can tell you like to drive fast and there might be something here,’ ” Hardeman said of those first laps. “He kept on bugging me about it, saying, ‘We should probably look at going racing, you might have something.’ He kept on bugging me about it until finally we broke down and said, ‘OK, we’ll let’s try this.’
Once the decision was made to go racing, Hardeman bought a used 911 GT3 and went to work. Moore said he started with education, sending Hardeman to the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving outside of Phoenix. From there it moved on to track time and advice from professional racers like Darren Law and Andy Lally.
Hardeman’s first experience at Circuit of the Americas was in August, and it was clear he had a lot to learn. “The first time we were at COTA I think Andy and I made him crash because we were pushing him so hard,” Moore said. “I came off the track and tapped the wall,” Hardeman said. “That was my first experience with COTA.”
The coming months saw more track time and race experience, including competing in Historic Racing Series races in Daytona and Sebring in November and December, scoring victories and podiums along the way. “Frankly he had a lot more competition that weekend than he did this weekend,” Moore said of the Daytona event. “There were a lot of pro teams that were there getting ready for the 24 Hours of Daytona.”
In between, Hardeman was testing at tracks around the United States, getting more and more comfortable with pushing the car beyond his comfort zone.
“Part of this whole education is the lingo of how to communicate back and forth between the driver and the engineers on what the car’s doing,” Moore said. “We did a test back in December at MSR Houston for two days and that’s all we did: We would make a change, Will would go into the car and then we had Darren Law go into the car right behind him. But they wouldn’t talk to each other — they would write notes on what the car did and then we would compare notes: Sway bars, wings, ride height, all those types of changes.
“That was probably the turning point in his driving abilities,” Moore said. “To be able to convey what the car was doing and understand that you just don’t get in a car and drive fast.”
Hardeman said this weekend was the first time he truly felt comfortable in a racecar, even under wet conditions Sunday.
“What’s funny is my lap times back then in August were what I was running in the rain today, and I thought I was fast and out of control at a 2-and-a-half minute lap back in August,” Hardeman said. “I just focused on learning the wet lines, staying in the marbles and really avoiding the paint at all costs. The way I was driving it was a little bit smoother in the rain and conservative, but it was still good enough to take home a win, and that’s all that counts.”
Hardeman will be racing this season in IMSA’s Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA, starting in Sebring from March 18 to 20.
“I have a lot to learn and a lot of work to do, but I’m coming in with good momentum and a positive attitude,” Hardeman said. “IMSA is kind of the end of the road. If I can dominate there, we’ll see where it goes when we get there.”
Check out Dave Doolittle’s Blogs at Circuit of the Americas http://circuitoftheamericas.com/blog