Earlier this week, 20-year-old Max Root was driving from his home in San Diego to Pepperdine University in Malibu, California as he begins his third year at the university majoring in business administration with an emphasis on commercial real estate.
Anybody who’s driven on the highways between San Diego and Malibu will tell you it can be a challenge, but Root is more than equal to the task. After all, he’s spent the past season-and-a-half driving the No. 7 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup machine in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama.
And he’s done it pretty well. He’s currently second in the championship standings in the Platinum Cup class, for 911 GT3 Cup cars built in 2017 or later. He’s finished on the podium seven times this year – actually, seven times in the past eight races – and he returns to action in this weekend’s pair of 45-minute GT3 Cup Challenge USA races at VIRginia International Raceway with high expectations and fond memories of his first visit to the track last year.
In the second race of last year’s GT3 Cup Challenge USA doubleheader, Root did something nobody else was able to do in the second half of the 2018 season, except when he did it again in the penultimate race of the year at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. He took the lead from Zacharie Robichon in the No. 19 Moorespeed Porsche and stayed there for 12 laps before Robichon got it back.
Root eventually finished sixth in that race, falling from a podium spot on the final lap. But his performance coupled with the fact that he finished third in the first race at VIR – one of five podium results in his rookie GT3 Cup Challenge USA season – has him optimistic heading into this weekend.
“Coming off last year, we had a strong performance,” Root said. “It was fun battling with Zach at the front there and leading a majority of the race.”
As much fun as it was to battle Robichon, Root also enjoyed the overall challenge of the 3.27-mile, 17-turn layout at VIR.
“That’s a really cool, raw American track that we have, something that is far and few between after traveling to a lot of tracks in North America,” he said. “There’s a lot of corners, like the top of the Esses, where it’s inch perfect.
“Anything past that is a pretty big off, so I enjoy that aspect of it. I think it’s a track that suits our ideology at Wright Motorsports really well, and it’s something that I personally enjoy. I’m smiling ear-to-ear, lap-to-lap, so that’s a good aspect of it.”
Root came into GT3 Cup Challenge USA competition in 2018 as the recipient of the prestigious IMSA Hurley Haywood GT3 Scholarship. Befitting of his status as a student – both at Pepperdine and on the racetrack – it’s been a nonstop learning experience.
“The Hurley Haywood Scholarship was kind of my catapult into it, with no real racing background in a car,” Root said. “I come from motorcycles and from a dirt background, so it was definitely a shift getting used to slicks and tires that fall off.
“But I think with the Wright Motorsports team and with the tools that we have and the engineers, I’ve really been able to understand the dynamics of the Porsche and how to drive it effectively and get the most out of the car. I would say the biggest hurdle for me was the tires, understanding the peak lap and how the tire falls off and understanding how to drive it at its max capabilities throughout a stint.
“As well as getting used to all of the tracks that I’d never driven at before with not a lot of simulator work and no experience in karting. It was a full experience from day one. There’s not a day that goes by at the track that I don’t learn something valuable to add to my toolbox.”
What he’d like to add to his trophy case – as early as this weekend if possible – is a first-place trophy. He’s collected plenty of podiums the past two years, but he’s hungry to win and believes it’s a realistic expectation at VIR and the remaining races this season.
“Every time I get in the car and I strap in, my goal is just to do 100 percent of what I can do that session, whether it’s a test day, a qualifying, a race,” he said. “So, there’s no reason we can’t be on the top of the podium in all six of those races. I think we not only have it in me, but in the team with our preparation. I think you’ll definitely see the No. 7 car on the podium these last six races.”
This weekend’s doubleheader of races for the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama at VIR kicks off Saturday morning at 11:20 a.m. ET with the first 45-minute race. The second race goes off at 9:45 a.m. ET Sunday.
Both races will be streamed live on IMSA.tv with IMSA Radio commentary.