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.
The common goal among athletes is to rise to the top — to be a champion.
Lifting the Stanley Cup, showering in champagne with ski goggles on in the clubhouse, receiving Olympic gold with the sound of your country in the background.
Kris Wright was able to take the top podium spot in his first full year of racing when he won the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Prototype Challenge (LMP3). But, there are other podiums to populate, other classes to conquer and there are new achievements to be had.
For Wright, one of those achievements is furthering his case that he belongs on the same pavement as some of the best names in racing, and he gets a chance to share the road with a few of them in late January when he takes the road for the Rolex 24 at Daytona -- a 24 hour endurance race where he'll compete in a new class, a new car and with a new team. It will be the fourth time Wright races at Daytona.
Wright will be racing in the Performance Tech Racing Oreca (LMP2), a step up and a step faster than the Prototype 3 he raced to the title in 2018, and he'll share the No. 38 cockpit with three additional teammates, each required to drive a minimum of four hours during the 24 hour race.
It isn't necessarily the 24 hour nature or unique challenge of an endurance race that's most enticing to Wright, though.
"The LMP2 is faster, I probably top out around 180 mph on most tracks, but it's the feel of the car at those speeds that actually makes it easier to drive," Wright told me of his new class.
Wright spent time testing the LMP2 car when it was time to make plans for 2019's race scene, but it wasn't until the Roar Before the Rolex 24 -- a practice event for the endurance race -- that he got to really get a feel for the car. Even then, Wright feels he still has another "10 to 15 percent" to grow in the car as he told IMSA.com.
Part of the 10 to 15 percent Wright was talking about is relentlessly studying the manual to the car. During the race, Wright will be taking his turns behind the wheel, getting a quick massage and then trying to rest and sleep where he can in the middle of an adrenaline-driven event. It sounds either obvious or a bit comical, but knowing the manual is key for surviving the long stints behind the wheel, if only for making sure that drinking water by way of a button press is second nature.
Of course, there are far more difficult tasks than managing hydration behind the wheel such as managing the multiple fuel delivery systems in a million dollar race car.
Despite being new in the LMP2 car and not feeling up to 100 percent in it, Wright has improved his time with every try, posting the best time in the night time practice during the Roar. And it wasn't just his own times that he outpaced at the Roar. More on that in a minute.
The most exciting part of the Rolex 24 for Wright will be sharing the road with not just drivers he has looked up to as a fan, but ones he can actually compete with or beat. There are three names in particular he expressed extra interest in.
One of those names is Fernando Alonso, a driver who has been regarded as one of Formula One's all-time greats. He's a two time champion of Formula One and he'll be sharing the track with Wright. He's a driver Wright has always believed gets the most from his car despite not always being behind the wheel of the fastest Formula One vehicle.
Another name on the track will be Alex Zanardi, another driver with Formula One experience, who sports one of the most interesting stories of any racer. Zanardi lost his legs in a racing accident when they were crushed, and he races now with prosthetic legs and hand paddles which have helped him adapt to remain a competitive driver -- including winning a gold medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.
Lastly, but certainly not least, is Pastor Maldonado, a driver who has finished at the top of a Formula One podium. Wright outpaced Maldonado during the Roar and is excited to get back onto the course with him.
"The Roar was just a practice event, but I was faster than a guy who has a Formula One win," Wright told me of Maldonado who will be at Daytona in an LMP2 car. "There are faster drivers than him there, but that's pretty cool."
Wright gets his chance at Maldonado and the rest of the LMP2 field when the Rolex 24 at Daytona takes place Jan. 24-26. From there, he can set his sites at the rest of 2019.
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