Three years making a name for himself on the West Coast had Alessandro Sensoli thinking of greener pastures. Not that the challenges of competing in NASA Time Trial and other time attack series hadn’t kept him busy — it’s not that. It’s just that Alessandro is a true Type A, an ex-rugby player, and the kind of guy who has to add a few extra reps to every gym visit or he’ll feel a little guilty. Someone for whom the words “potential” and “transformation” are frequently used in conversation and social media posts. For that stripe of person, the aim must be pretty grand to satisfy them — and they have to seriously commit to the cause.
His second year of Time Trial started off with grand visions of moving up into NASA TT2, but COVID put an end to that. After a frustrating semi-season marked by a big crash at Sonoma, he wasn’t exactly deflated, but seriously disappointed.
Returning With Gusto
This year, the car wasn’t much different than it had been before, but he was more confident and capable and happy to compete in it. There’s a certain sort of tranquility that emanates from a driver’s body language after they’ve proven themselves, as Alessandro had that year with a strong showing, several wins, and regular trips to the podium.
Alessandro Sensoli made numerous adjustments to his car during the 2021 NASA Championships to take the TT2 national title.
Though the thought of attending the NASA Championships at the start of this season had crossed his mind, he hadn’t given it much consideration until halfway through the season when he’d attained some impressive results, though the first innocuous questions to friends about attending the Championships didn’t leave him feeling too confident.
“Don’t expect too much, but go ahead and try. It’d be a great experience for you,” some would say in a slightly patronizing tone. For Alessandro, a guy who had already set his sights on a top-10 finish at the Championships, this wasn’t the sort of support he wanted. Thankfully, NASA Time Trial Director Greg Greenbaum sensed that a respectable result was possible and urged him along.
“It was a little concerning. The money was big and the time frame was short, but I kinda had to do it,” Alessandro reflected. “Honestly, I wasn’t nervous — more like eager. I was excited to learn from the best, and to finally shake the hands of some people I’d only known online.”
Preparation Makes Perfect
There aren’t a huge number of people willing to take on such a task, let alone strive to win it, but Alessandro doesn’t do many things without complete dedication. With the help of some more experienced friends, a few modifications to the car, and a new workout regimen, he managed to do much more than any normal first-timer at the most challenging Time Trial event in the country.
Knowing he’d be up against faster competition at Daytona, he left no stone unturned in his preparation.
Along with this, he began studying the course. Daily sessions with Assetto Corsa in a comparable Mustang helped lay a foundation. Building upon that were the course guides from Racers360 as well as one of its webinars. This hour-long session with Ricky Taylor and Dion Von Moltke revealed some of the tricks that one can use to find those last few tenths there.
A rigorous exercise regimen put him in the positive mindset to take on this huge task, but it started with a simple, comical realization. After questioning whether it was prudent to spend $2,200 on a carbon hood that’d save him about 12 pounds, he declared, “Screw it. I’ll just lose the weight!”
That put him out in the sun and sweating away in 100° Fahrenheit weather. Focusing more on a grueling cardio regimen over weight training, he dropped 17 pounds in a few months. Though he didn’t know it at the time, that exercise would be essential to performing in Florida’s awful heat and humidity.
The heat affected more than just his physical performance. One of the long-standing issues with his 2018 Mustang GT PP1 was the 10-speed gearbox’s tendency to overheat, so he added a Setrab 934 transmission cooler. Along with that came some radiator ducting, an aluminum pan, and a water spray system to chill the coolers and the radiator.
Along with all the cooling modifications, there are Cortex-tuned JRi coilovers, his own splitter, stiffer bushings, Hawk DTC70 pads at the front axle, an APR 250 rear wing, Race Louvers vents galore, and APEX wheels wrapped in Hoosier A7’s.
With a tune for E85, the motor makes 485 horsepower at the rear wheels — a respectable amount of power for a 3,820-pound car. But that horsepower wouldn’t be sufficient if he couldn’t adjust the aero to suit Daytona’s flat-out sections.
That started by trimming out the rear, removing the gurney and adjusting the wing from 7° to 0°. Along with that, he removed the containing fences at the edges of his splitter, and covered the wheels with spats. With so much time spent at higher speeds, drag was the enemy.
The other addition to help the Mustang stretch its legs was a set of LTH headers. While these didn’t help bump the horsepower much, it brought the torque from 410 to 436. With more shove and a slippery shape to pierce the air, he would go on to snag the highest-ever top speed for a TT2 car at Daytona.
A Warm Reception
Upon landing in Daytona, Alessandro found his car delivered without so much as a scratch, courtesy of WRTeknica. Relieved, he checked in with Kohr Motorsport, the hospitable group hosting him for his foray at Daytona. Not only had they given him a comfortable landing pad, but they were happy to loan tools and even some of their talent.
Alessandro Sensoli pitted with Kohr Motorsports, which helped him with setup and manpower.
But warmer than the Florida heat was the ambiance at the paddock on Wednesday. Rob Edwards, a friend whom Alessandro had helped with his back problems showed up to lend his expertise. Rob is a tire specialist who’s worked in IMSA and other sanctioning bodies for years and provided his assistance free of charge. They started their partnership by filling the Hoosiers with nitrogen to maintain more consistent pressures over the course of a session.
His happy family grew when Dan Apalanek and Frank Pacheco, two friends and drivers from the Muscle Cup, arrived. These two crossed the country on their own dime just to wrench for Alessandro. Having experienced friends helping meant Alessandro could dedicate all of his energy to driving while they wrenched away.
Two friends flew across the country using their own money to help Alessandro. “That meant a lot to me. If they believed in me, shouldn’t I?” asked Alessandro.
Thunder and Lightning
On Thursday, the first day of testing, Alessandro woke with a giddiness that most 40-somethings don’t have. This was a necessity, since this day was the most disappointing. During the second session, the splitter folded under the weight of the downforce. Thankfully, he’d packed a second splitter, which, though a pound or two heavier, was sturdier. Along with that, the x-pipe broke, so it wasn’t the most encouraging of starts.
Friday rolled along and things were looking up. The car ran without issue, but weather stalled them. As the regulations state, on-track events must be postponed when lightning is striking, so they pushed their schedule back two hours. This meant the two run groups went out together. Miatas running beside 800-horsepower Corvettes. The traffic was a distraction, but Alessandro navigated around them and landed himself in P2.
Alessandro Sensoli faced some serious competition in TT2 from Dylan Brown in his GT350 Mustang and Ben Grambau in his C5 Z06.
Finally, Alessandro had a little confidence to help soothe him, so he returned to the hotel early, put down a gallon of water, some brain chain amino acids, a little melatonin, then whisked himself off to bed early.
The following morning, he learned that the starting order was reversed for Saturday, forcing Alessandro to start 13th for the first session.
By the second session, he was looking at breaking the 2-minute mark. Alessandro accepted that he’d have to hustle the car a little harder through the high-speed braking zones. Now with the rear wing set at 0°, the Mustang was quite edgy and a little too happy to rotate. In slow corners, that’s all right, but big-braking sections like the Bus Stop took some chutzpah. Some gutsiness and a willingness to destroy a set of Hoosiers helped him move into P2 by the second session with a 1:57 lap. The only car ahead of him was a GT350 driven by Dylan Brown.
Then the weather forecast came: heavy rain and lightning for Sunday. With that disappointing news, Alessandro accepted second gleefully. After all, for someone aiming for a top-10 finish, he exceeded his expectations. He’d proven his polite doubters wrong, got away with a few scary snaps, and completed this adventure with a few new friends and no vehicular damage.
But the following morning, the clouds parted to reveal blue skies. He had another chance. This time, he knew that finding the last few tenths to pip the leader required him to go flat through Turn 4. For a car trimmed to be as slippery as possible, that wasn’t a pleasant prospect.
Here’s a look at Alessandro Sensoli’s Championship-winning laps, which put him .096 seconds ahead of second-place Dylan Brown.
But he’d come this far, and he had to try, so he slapped on a set of new Hoosiers and held his breath. He cleared the corner without lifting, but it’s clear to see from the 125-mph snap that it wasn’t comfortable.
And with that, he’d checked out the delta. Five tenths up before the Bus Stop. “In sliding through the Bus Stop, I lost most the gap, but thanks to the straight-line speeds I was able to cross the line less than a tenth of a second (0.096) in front of Dylan!”
Alessandro coasted on clouds that afternoon. Back at the hotel, he napped and then met up with some friends — people he’d been driving against the last few days — and gorged at the nearest Italian restaurant like he was about to hibernate.
True, his talent and preparation played a large part in his success, but it could be said that it was the supportive atmosphere of TT2, a broad social network, and complete dedication were what carried Alessandro across the country and to the top of the podium. Such a massive undertaking is, at the very least, a worrying proposition, even for a Type A. However, the moral and mechanical support he received from friends, colleagues, and competitors made it possible.
“I’d started with a realistic goal, but with every time I stepped up, I recognized that I could achieve more than I’d originally thought, Alessandro said. “All of a sudden, you’re at the front. With the right people around you and the right preparation, you can exceed your expectations.”
Treks of this caliber are usually met with reservation, even from strong-willed people. It looks like a steep, craggy, cliff-lined path that looks too intimidating to try, let alone master. However, if Alessandro’s bold journey has proven anything, it’s that with good friends lending a hand and some emotional support, that rocky path will be a little smoother.