It was a typical August weekend in Willows, Calif., with 105-plus-degree temperatures, and a punishing sun. But there was nothing typical about the racing action on track with NASA’s new NP01 class making its first visit to the 3-mile-long circuit. Team Valkyrie was coming off an exhausting tow to Indiana and back, and a six-hour endurance race in Utah the weekend before. The team poured everything it had left in the tank at the event, and was rewarded with two wins in a row.
Taking over driving duties from car owner Mark White, who couldn’t make the event, Brian Lock piloted the No. 34 NP01 both days. Lock finished runner up to Team StopTech at his only other appearance in the series at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca a couple of months prior.
“I was drooling to get back in this car for another shot at a win after Laguna Seca,” Lock remarked. “We were confident with our progress on the setup of the car and couldn’t wait to take another shot at Andy Lee and the StopTech entry.”
Unfortunately with the busy schedule, Team Valkyrie was unable to test their car on Friday or turn in a qualifying time on Saturday. Having no qualifying time on the books, Valkyrie started race one at the back of the four NP01s in the field.
“I was super nervous. I had never turned a green flag lap in the NP01 at this track, and StopTech had been testing since Friday morning,” said Lock.
Luckily for Brian, NASA runs the NP01 series in mixed run groups, which allowed him to come to grips with the car for a few corners before they were able to turn clean, fast laps.
Quickly slotting into P2, the battle was on with StopTech for P1! Just two laps in, Lock timed traffic perfectly to get a run on StopTech exiting Turn 9, and executed a clean pass into Turn 10. The pressure was really on. The pace of the StopTech car was clearly faster, and the cars were locked nose to tail for another two laps. After going side by side in Turn 14 two laps in a row, each car taking a turn on the outside, something had to give.
“We were starting to catch more and more lapped traffic, and I was just hoping that my eight or more 25-hour races here, and hundreds and hundreds of passes on the outside of Turn 3 and 5 would pay off.”
And pay off it did. StopTech fell prey to dust and marbles on the outside of Turn 3, while Lock barely kept his NP01 on track.
“I was relieved to see a yellow spinning car in my mirror, but also kind of bummed because these cars are so amazing to race close quarters with,” joked Lock.
Lock was able to cruise home for the team’s first win in the NP01 class. Lee in the StopTech entry was second, with Jeremy Croiset in third and Chad Plavan in fourth.
Although confident his outright pace would be better on Sunday after getting a chance to run the car on track, Lock also knew that Andy Lee and StopTech would be hungry after Saturday’s race. With qualifying in the books, Team StopTech once again held the advantage, outpacing Lock by just over a second.
“I was really worried. I didn’t have a chance to stress about our pace on Saturday since we had no idea what it would be,” Lock said. “On Sunday that was not the case. I knew I couldn’t let Andy get away on the start. I needed to be aggressive and make a move early.”
The strategy worked. Again battling slower traffic, Lock was able to make a move stick around the outside of 5, and it was on again. The StopTech car was glued to the bumper of the Valkyrie car lap after lap, each car turning almost identical lap times.
“The cars are so evenly matched,” Lock said. “I found some more pace in the race and knew after a lap or two that it was my race to lose.”
Lock drove an error-free race, claimed fastest race lap, and once again slowly worked out a comfortable lead to take his second win in two days.
“Sunday was much sweeter a victory,” he said. “I felt like I got a little lucky on Saturday with Andy getting caught out in the marbles. Getting the win for a second day in a row, and getting fast race lap, really felt good.”
This YouTube video shows Valkyrie Autosport’s Brian Lock taking his second win on Sunday in August at Thunderhill.