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  • Writer's pictureRoger Maeda

StudioVRM.Racing Plays the Damage Limitation Game at Watkins Glen International

Photo Credit: Denise Conner, On Q Racing

September 17, 2023 (Watkins Glen, N.Y.) – Handicapped by 100 lbs of REWARDS weight from his early season wins and saddled with the lowest top speed of all cars in the USTCC East Series, touring car driver Roger Maeda expected an uphill battle for the team at the fast and flowing Watkins Glen International. And indeed, it would be a case of damage limitation for the team as they contended with the challenge of keeping faster cars behind them on a famously unforgiving track.

Saturday Race – Long Course

Despite being headquartered within a 4-hour drive from the Finger Lakes, this was the first time Roger Maeda or StudioVRM.Racing had ever put a wheel on Watkins Glen International’s historic 3.45-mile track. Fortunately, Roger had driven the track in the USTCC Winter Virtual Series and had an idea of what to expect as a result.

Building on that experience, Roger quickly ramped up his pace and put the StudioVRM Prelude 22nd on the grid out of 34 cars during Saturday’s race. Crucially, this meant that he was now going to start ahead of all of the other USTCC cars that were racing this weekend. All he had to do was defend that position for 25 minutes on the fastest track on the USTCC East Series calendar.

Roger executed a clean start to stay ahead of Andrew Conner’s On Q Racing E90 BMW 325i through The Glen’s steeply banked Turn 1. He then tucked in behind the huge rear wing of Patrick Fanning’s Factory Ford Mustang FR500S and waited patiently for an opportunity to improve his position over the next 15 minutes.

That plan would be suddenly derailed with the unexpected appearance of double yellow flags. An engine failure for A Sedan Mustang driver Jared Licklider caused a two-car crash into the guard rails along the high-speed back straight. The safety car emerged soon after, collecting the entire field and bringing them back to pit lane for an early end to Saturday’s race.

In the end, Roger would successfully defend his starting position, taking the checkered flag as the leading USTCC car in 21st overall.

Sunday Race – NASCAR Short Course

The USTCC ran Sunday’s Feature Race on the “boot-less” short course layout – a fast, flowing layout that rewards a bit of risk-taking by racers and teams. Thanks to the experience from the prior day, Roger managed to qualify ahead of Conner’s fire-red BMW and even start several places higher than he had on Saturday.

Unfortunately, it would all come undone at Turn 1. A freak mechanical issue pitched the B.R.A. Chevrolet Monza GT into a spin just two cars in front of the StudioVRM Prelude. Roger managed to weave his way through the turn 1 turmoil, but lost six places in the process – dropping him to dead last of the remaining cars in the leading pack.

An aggressive fightback ensued as we managed to retake 17th overall from a Mustang GT500 in pursuit of the other USTCC cars further up the field. We had just managed to get within sight of the On Q Racing BMW when the Prelude’s clutch started slipping out of nowhere. We originally suspected that our H22's rear main seal had failed. But when GFAB's Grant Labay assessed the damage afterwards, he discovered that the clutch pressure plate had exploded and punctured the transmission casing.

This wildly random failure would bring about an early end to our Sunday race. Roger brought the Prelude back to pit lane a few laps early with a small cloud of oil following in our green Honda’s wake.

Roger Maeda - #22 StudioVRM.Racing Honda Prelude Si VTEC

Saturday Race: 1st in Sportsman, 21st OverallFastest Lap: 2:18.357

Sunday Race: 1st in Sportsman, 22nd OverallFastest Lap: 1:29.839

“Our car has the lowest top speed of all USTCC East Series teams, so we knew this Watkins Glen round was going to be the toughest race weekend on the 2023 USTCC East calendar. Thanks to our high-downforce aero setup, rock solid FFC / Raybestos brakes, and our well-tuned suspension setup, we were able to defend our position by aggressively attacking the kerbs.

The big surprise this weekend was learning just how much we liked this track. I personally love how the high-grip surface, swooping banked turns, and rollercoaster elevation changes all add up to a track that encourages skilled risk-taking. The scenery is beautiful and even the people here are exceptionally nice. Watkins Glen International may have become my new favorite track.

Z (our race engineer) and I analyzed the data, and we already found a few places where we can  shave huge chunks off our lap time on both the long and short courses. Long story short, we can’t wait to come back.”


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