Ricardo Soares was fighting his nerves as he watched the last session of Time Trial at the 2023 NASA National Championships from a hillside at Pittsburgh International Race Complex.
Soares is usually out on the track and in the mix, but a broken differential made him park his Honda S2000. Soares was in first place in Time Trial 5 and could only watch as drivers tried to topple his 1:55.924 lap time.
“I couldn’t do anything but watch,” said Soares, who was competing in his first NASA Championships. “I had to watch to see if fate was going to hold or not. Luckily, everybody was slower.”
Soares won his first National Championship by .137 seconds over second-place finisher Samed Rizvi. It’s fitting that it came at PittRace. Over the summer, Soares set the track record in TT5 and reset it again during the 2023 NASA Championships at the western Pennsylvania track.
“Car development throughout the year has been great,” Soares said. “I started setting a lot of records or a lot of new personal bests, depending on the track. I knew the car was set up right. Everything was good. I felt harmony, if that makes sense. I knew that going to PittRace I was bringing something that was maximized. I figured it was going to be faster, but I didn’t know how much faster.”
Soares was the driver to beat in TT5 in 2023. The NASA Mid-Atlantic region driver won every event he entered in 2023. He did that while working as an instructor during NASA track events. Soares thinks working with the students has made him a better driver.
“You actually get a better observation of the track from a different perspective, a slower pace, and a different seat,” he said.
Larry Aiello met Soares in 2016, and they both run Time Trial and instruct in NASA together. Both drivers own Honda S2000 cars — red and yellow — which they refer to as “ketchup and mustard.” Aiello said Soares has a good connection with his students.
“When you’re on track the first day (as a student), you think that track is like a magical unicorn surface when it’s just asphalt,” Aiello said. “Ricardo makes it asphalt again and the student feels comfortable.”Soares, who lives in Silver Springs, Md., started autocrossing in 2009 in the Washington, D.C., area with a Honda S2000, a car he dreamed of owning as a teenager. The Honda was his daily driver until 2015 when Soares made it his track car, though it’s still street legal.
Soares started doing track days with various organizations, and NASA member Rizvi convinced him to join NASA in 2019. By running Time Trial instead of racing it, Soares saves wear on his car and loves the challenge of running a perfect lap.
For most Time Trial participants, the perfect lap time usually happens on laps 2, 3 or 4 before the tires become too hot and chasing a better lap time is futile. Soares knows what time to expect, setting six track records this season at Mid-Ohio, Watkins Glen, New Jersey Motorsports Park, Summit Point, Road Atlanta and PittRace.
“It’s trying to maximize everything in that one lap — the braking, the turning points, the exit, everything,” Soares said. “I want the most I can get out of this car within this class.”
Soares likes to arrive a day early at the track to get his car set up. He’ll review his videos and data prior to the event, but generally avoids it at the track while competing.
“I don’t want to get stressed out,” Soares said. “A lot of guys who are very competitive, they’re always examining the data, changing something on the car, and going back and forth. If I do that, I get lost, I get confused. I just stay away from it. I literally just go drive, look at my timer and figure out what I did wrong.”
Soares is an Audi Master Guild Certified Technician, so his S2000 is well prepped before it arrives at the track. Other than the differential giving out at the 2023 Championships, Soares spends more time working on other competitor’s cars than his own in the paddock.
At PittRace, Soares was busy helping fix a transmission problem in Rizvi’s car, and when TT5 third-place finisher David Graver wrecked on Saturday, it was Soares helping fix the car. The group replaced the tie rod, fixed the panel, and got the car aligned, keeping Graver from leaving early.
Aiello tells a similar story after hitting a tire wall at New York Safety Track and damaging the driver’s side. Soares got the Honda S2000 running, and in the next session the oil pan gave out. Soares helped Aiello into the night with the swap.
“If I didn’t have him, I’d be going home,” Aiello said. “That’s just who he is.”
NASA friends have encouraged Soares to move over to wheel-to-wheel racing, and he’s considered it. Soares said any move would require a different car and would cost more to race than Time Trial. He and some friends are looking at buying a car, but nothing has been firmed up.
“I enjoy it as a hobby and I get enough of the adrenaline and the rush from TT,” Soares said. “I would probably have more (adrenaline) with wheel-to-wheel, but I’m content.”
Winning a 2023 NASA Championship is personal for the 36-year-old Soares. He was born extremely nearsighted and has worn glasses or contacts most of his life. Four years ago, Soares had cataract surgery on both eyes, and then had a random retina detachment on his left eye.
The reattachment failed after the first surgery and if the second surgery wasn’t successful, it would have had serious implications for work and racing. The procedure was successful, but Soares lost about 30 percent of the vision in his left eye. Think of a clock face, where 3 to 6 o’clock is blacked out, and that’s what Soares deals with on a daily basis.
Soares doesn’t share the story to elicit sympathy, but rather to offer inspiration to other racers facing challenges.
“Everybody has their issues. Everybody has something wrong. It doesn’t matter. Don’t let it beat you. You can come out of it,” Soares said. “That’s pretty much what happened to me. It’s an issue, but it’s OK. You just deal with it, and you keep on moving.”
|Silver Spring, Md.
|Audi Master Guild Technician
|Favorite TV show:
|“The Ranch” on Netflix
|“Guardians of the Galaxy” series
|S2000, since I was 13 years old