Matt Isbell in his No. 88 V1 Datsun 240Z started in P2 in the third split in Saturday’s Thunder race at Road Atlanta on March 9, just a tick behind teammate Reese Cox who qualified a mere .01 seconds quicker. The race within the race was with Cox and Isbell to see who took Turn 1 after the green flag dropped.
Knowing the two of them, NASA Southeast Regional Director Jim Pantas asked the two to play nicely and not wreck the entire field in the first turn. They both agreed, but going under the bridge and down through Turn 12 as they approached the start, they both seemed to forget the conversation with Pantas and the race was on. Isbell took Turn 1 from Cox at the start and never looked back.
He quickly radioed his crew after the first lap, asking what the gap was to the leader of the race. They replied that he was coming out of Turn 7 when the green flag fell on the third split. That’s about a one-mile lead. They did the math and said that without a double yellow it was doubtful he could catch him.
Isbell’s crew chief kept telling him to take it easy and preserve the car, that it was a long race and to pace himself. Isbell responded with, “What’s the current gap on me and the leader?”
Slicing his way through the field, Isbell finished the race in dramatic fashion, taking the white flag just several seconds behind the leader but finally catching and overtaking the No. 09 Porsche on the last lap going down the back straight to take the overall win in Thunder. Isbell also broke his own V1 lap record with a 1:30.30 time. Isbell commented after the race that he couldn’t remember the last time he raced for 45 minutes without a double yellow.
Not only did Isbell have to chase down the leader under green, he had to do it from the third split by driving through the entire American Iron field in the second split, then race through an entire Porsche Cayman GTSU field in the first split. It truly was one of the best drives to the front we’ve seen in the NASA Southeast region in quite some time.