Three and a half years.
That’s how long it had been since Gustavo Yacaman had driven a GRC Lites car when he landed in Louisville for last weekend’s event at the Kentucky Exposition Center.
He didn’t exactly take very long to get the hang of it again, though. At or near the top of the speed charts all weekend, Yacaman not only won pole for the weekend, but also hung on for a third place finish in the final—returning AF Racing to the podium for the first time since last August in Atlantic City. And it all came together in the span of less than a week.
“I had just landed from Europe from my last race in Silverstone,” Yacaman explained before hitting the track. “I saw a message from (team manager) Brad Manka asking me for my phone number. He was like, hey, there’s a chance we can put you in the car. We don’t have a driver for the weekend and we need someone that can hopefully put the car in the front. I was like, yeah I’m down! I flew right up here and here we are a couple days later!”
One half of the first all-Colombian driver lineup in Red Bull Global Rallycross history, racing alongside veteran Lites driver Alejandro Fernandez, the three-time Indy Lights race winner expected to be quick right away. But with experienced podium finishers or race winners on the grid with every other team in the paddock, it was still a slight shock to the establishment to see a first-timer’s name atop the scoreboard when the checkered flag fell in qualifying.
“If you don’t come here with a dream of wanting to win on the podium, you might as well stay home and watch it on TV,” he explained. “You have to have those aspirations and those desires, but at the same time, you can’t get carried away. The only expectations I had were to have fun, to enjoy the experience, to keep the car in one piece, and hopefully to make it out in the final.”
As the only newcomer in the field in Louisville, Yacaman knew there would be challenges during the weekend. Among the biggest: a deep field, with nine drivers who had led laps in Memphis, and a brand new course—albeit one that no other driver had experience on either.
“That plays against you in Europe where the tracks are two minutes long, but I don’t think it will matter here as much,” the Colombian said of the new course. “But the level of the series is pretty good—we have seen throughout the years that there are no slouches. And even though this is a new track, everything else is also new for me. The tires, brakes, four-wheel drive, just everything is brand new.”
So will we see the experienced open-wheel and sports car driver back on the Lites grid in 2017? All indications point to yes, as long as schedules line up. Yacaman will be in Belgium next weekend as Red Bull GRC makes its debut at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, but there are no additional date conflicts with the Blancpain GT Series, his primary sports car obligation for the season.
“We’ll see—we’ll check the schedule!” he said from the podium. “Any weekend I can, I’d love to come back. It was a great experience. Running these cars and running in the dirt was a completely new experience for me, and it took some time for me to figure out because I’m used to high downforce cars.
“It was quite an experience, and hopefully I’ll be back soon.”
A lot sooner than three and a half years.