After learning about Wexford-based up-and-comer Kris Wright, I've decided to work on an extended series covering the racer in and out of his iHeartRadio branded car. Catch up on the series here.
Kris Wright lined up to race at Road Atlanta needing only to actually start the race to take home the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Prototype Challenge (LMP3) championship.
The problem? He didn't know that.
Wright prepared for Friday's Road Atlanta, the series finale, needing to finish in the top 13 to win it all. Because of that, knowing that a single second, a single lapse in concentration or judgement could be the difference between being the best and being anything else, Wright couldn't sleep for the first time heading into a race.
"I didn't sleep very well the night before because someone could screw up or I could screw up," Wright told me about his Thursday night, just a week ago. "It takes one little thing to just shatter your whole season. It didn't have to be my fault. Someone else could have ended our season."
And this not sleeping before a race ... is that the norm, or was this an anomaly?
"I sleep like a rock before a race. I don't think I've ever had a tough time sleeping before a race, ever. Even for my first one. Just knowing how hard I've worked and my whole team has worked to get right where we are. The very next day can either be the best ever or shattered with just one hiccup. This race was really special."
Yeah, it was special. Wright not only started the race to secure the championship, but he found himself standing on the podium once again, a second place finish, and he knew this season — and the rest of the pack — was behind him.
The thing that's really wild about this type of racing is that there isn't a ton of in car work that can be done to prepare for the track in advance. There isn't a simulator to race on, he doesn't get to visit the track repetitively. He gets to go down a week in advance and then again a few days before the race.
The 24-year-old who just competed, completed — and won — his first full season of IMSA LMP3 competition felt that he, "as a veteran" could get "up to speed" during the race and put enough work in that he could get the win ... even though he's only been to this particular track twice before.
"It takes a while to learn it when you're not very experienced," Wright said. "Even if I would have never tested there the week before, I would have been on pace within five or six laps. That's one way you can determine the rookies from the veterans. Not who is the fastest, but who can get up to speed the fastest."
That mentality: Believing in himself, considering himself a veteran — those are the traits that allowed Wright to place on the podium in each of the IMSA Prototype Challenge's races this season.
So, how could the worst case scenario, not starting the race and therefore not winning the championship, have happened? Well, Wright could have totaled his vehicle on the track during practice, but he didn't. By the sound of things, the engineering crew could have had the quarter-of-a-million-dollar car back to race ready even if he had been in any type of pre-race accident, but that's not an ideal lead-up to the race, of course.
A wreck in the race itself would mean something entirely different, though. Avoiding one meant everything.
"Coming into this past week, we had it 99% there and just couldn't screw up," Wright said. "We looked at who was going to be starting the race near me, because the first corner is where all the big wrecks are. So we looked at that and figured it out."
"iHeartRadio probably likes when you finish a race with the logo intact," I joked with Wright. He agreed with a laugh, and I'm sure the sponsors would concur as well.
If you read the first piece introducing Wright and his life as a driver, you'll remember that he doesn't have an exact idea of what will be happening next season, or the exact type of car he'll control the wheel to.
Now that he's a champion, I was curious if that changed.
"I have this whole month off," Wright told me. "My manager (Nic Jonsson) said, 'I'll call you in a month. Go enjoy yourself.' But when this month is up, I'm going to be testing a couple different cars and we'll see where I want to be, where I can gain the most knowledge, where I can learn the most."
"We're in a very good position where we can pick where we want to go with the sponsors that we have. Basically, we have two months to figure out what's going to be the best for me."
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