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  • Writer's pictureR. Villeneuve


“If The Shoe Fits….”

It was an interesting transition into the Porsche GT3 Cup car for me.  I was excited to be getting some testing time, since it is always hard to show up and get in a car for the first time on the day official practice starts…I have been there – and don’t want to do it again! As I prepared for the test at Infineon Raceway, I looked at the shoes that I had brought along; standard Sparco race shoes, a few seasons old and well broken in, and two pairs of Piloti’s newest racing shoes: a high top and a mid-cut boot.  I thought about it for a minute, and realized I had been bugging Kevin Beard at Piloti for a pair of these race boots ever since he told me they were in the testing phase.  Here I am years later, staring at 2 brand new pairs in my race bag. It was such a nice gesture from Kevin to send them to me to use; I felt I owed them a try. So, I laced them on and the test day commenced. As the day went on, I did not worry once about my shoes or my feet.  We left the track with a smile after a good day of testing the car, and the promise of more good days to come. We were excited to get to Laguna Seca.

Then came the first official Friday practice for the Grand-Am Rolex Race at the Verizon Festival of Speed at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.  I got myself ready in the usual way and since my race shoes were the last things I put on, I wasn’t giving it any thought. Out of habit, I found myself reaching for my old racing shoes. The ones I wear everyday at work when I drive the Formula Cars at Skip Barber Racing School, the same ones I have put on countless other test days and race-weekend mornings.  I hesitated a moment, then realized this was a big race-weekend so I better stick with what I know.  I went about my business for two days thinking nothing of any of it, just enjoying life as a racing driver at the racetrack - simple!

Saturday came and providence dropped qualifying into my lap. Again, my only thoughts were on the important stuff; the cars handling, procedure, tires, braking, and all the things you think about in order to go faster than you had before. After all that IS what qualifying is about. You can try to go faster than your competitors but if you can’t go faster than your own time, then you’re not thinking about this in the right way!

For me and the Team Polizei 144 Racing Porsche, qualifying started from pit lane, not my pit box, with 5 cars ahead of me. I was one of the lucky ones that got a shot at a decent qualifying lap without traffic and I planned to take advantage of that, even if that only meant not having to look in my mirrors. 

The green flag waved and I was following one of the other TRG Porsches as we took our first lap out to warm up the tires and brakes. I had one of the Salheen Corvettes in between us, and for some reason I didn’t think having that car there might be an issue. It really wasn’t! I spent the first 2 laps making sure everything felt OK and then I started to push. I knew the only thing I was lacking up to that point of the weekend was effective braking, so I was trying to get a feel for the car on the brakes.  I started to push the brake pedal harder and later in each corner. By lap 5, I had caught and passed the Corvette to avoid slowing and then having to get the tires up the temp again - there was no time for that. By lap 6 it was all over, the tires were not ever going to give me any additional grip and if I hadn’t rung all I could from the car by then…well no use trying any harder just to go slower! We qualified relatively respectably!  As we put the day’s events behind us and I began to look forward to race day, that’s when it hit me like a hammer!!! OUCH! My right foot was killing me. I had been pushing the brake pedal so hard during qualifying I had literally hurt the ball of my foot. AND to top it off, I was realizing that during downshifts I was catching the side of my race boot in between the brake and throttle, which was making my downshifts inconsistent.  I walked over to the TRG transporter and found the Piloti’s I wore at testing. I tried them on again but they just didn’t feel right so I was unsure what to do. What I did know was that there was NO WAY I was going to survive an hour (little did I know it would turn out the be 2 hours!) in the car on race day, if the 15 minutes of qualifying were enough to send me hobbling around (not limping, that I left to Alex Roy).

I headed to the Team Polizei HQ booth and on the way I passed the Piloti booth. I then had a thought, what if I got a half size smaller pair of Piloti race shoes, would that solve the problem? I had a chat with Kevin Beard, who not only runs the company but also designs the shoes. Who better to talk to? He gave me an additional tip of taking the insert out of the shoe for even more feel on the pedals. “OK I will give it try”, I said. Sunday morning, with all its tension and excitement, also brought with it the morning warm-up - a session just long enough for me to figure out if these half-size smaller Piloti’s would be superior to my traditional, ‘ole stand by racing shoes.

GT cars are unique in that their pedals are better for heel/toe than road cars, but they are not as close together as the footbox of something like a Daytona Prototype. So if you have fairly narrow feet like I have, it makes a big difference to me how close together the pedals are.  I have a unique style on how I like the pedals set up in a Formula Car. I brake with such exaggerated inverted ankle movement and tucked in knee, so I am comfortable with the brake and gas pedals almost even, while under full brake pressure. For most people this would cause hitting the gas and brake at the same time, which is something we see at the racing school everyday. Although driving and particularly braking, is all about technique, it is also about having the right equipment, especially shoes.  In this case the shoes were making the difference, at least so far!

As you may know, I did a double stint, staying in the car for almost 2 hours! I brought the car up as high as 3rd and was running 6th for a long time. As the race unfolded, I kept my focus despite the hot conditions in the car, with the help of my spotter Tommy Fogarty. He really did an incredible job for us! As I was driving it occurred to me that my driving was mistake free (for the most part). Each downshift was crisp, each brake application precise. All of the problems with my feet that I had had in qualifying just disappeared! I was in 9th when Mike Fox came on the radio and told me to pit on that lap. When I got out of the car and handed it over to my co-driver Henri Richard, I was hot, really hot, fatigued, dehydrated, soaking wet, my back hurt and I was mentally tired; but…my feet felt great!

Thanks Kevin! Thanks Piloti, for being a part of the successful debut of Team Polizei 144 Racing! I know once and for all, if the shoes fits, wear it!! I’ll be wearing Pilotis from now on!

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