April 6, 2011 – Nordschleife Testing and the World Challenge
Great therapy for the tough race weekend at Sebring was to move on to the next adventure and that didn’t take long. Sunday morning after the race Jörg and I traveled together to Frankfurt to head up to the Nürburgring for a few days of testing in our new Hybrid GT3R. A week at Sebring will wear you out mentally and the 12-Hours is very physical but there was not much time to recover because Monday morning we were already in the car on the Nordschleife.
The test we were joining was organized by Volkswagen. Exclusivity on the Nordschleife is almost unheard of, so it was wild having the whole place virtually to ourselves. There were maybe a maximum of five cars on track at any one point, and the size of that place means that you could go an hour without coming in contact with anyone. It was almost eerie! VW was developing their new Golf 24 from what it looked like. What a wild looking piece! It looks like a fusion between a DTM car and the latest road going Golf GTI and it’s all wheel drive for a little added spice. Although there were no lap times being taken, you would have to bet that thing will be a contender for overall in the 24h. Pretty cool to see.
Everything in our test with the new GT3R Hybrid went to plan. It continues to be an honor to be a small part of the evolution and the development of this project. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s an all factory run effort and working with the engineers and the mechanics who work regularly where Porsche race cars are built is a treat. It’s always great to reunite with the guys that I started working with back in my first season with Porsche. One of those is Owen Hayes, who was my engineer and team manager back in the UPS Porsche junior team as well as a race engineer for Penske during the RS Spyder days. Owen is a true Irishman who has lived and worked in Germany for the past couple of decades. Before Porsche he worked with AMG Mercedes on the ITC and DTM projects. He’s become a great friend and has a great laid-back personal side when the radio headset comes off at the end of the day.
An example of Owen’s efficiency and serious nature was the second day of testing on Tuesday when we had a process of 14 evaluation tests to go through. With me being the Nürburgring Nordschleife rookie of the bunch, he decided that it would be best that I remain in the car and to get through the program. “How bad could that be?” I thought to myself on Monday night. Well, eight and a half hours in the car with one bathroom break was a tough day at the office. Of course I learned a tremendous amount, primarily about the race track itself but also confirmed that my fitness training has been paying off. Dinner tasted good that evening at the pub.
I have a completely different take and approach now on the place they call "the green hell." With over eight minutes a lap of some of the fastest, most insane corners in the world, laps on a computer game or even on track in a rental car just don’t do justice to what it’s like to go around that place on the limit in the latest GT machinery. I now feel like I’ve got a foundation to build on. There’s still a lot to learn: driving in changing weather, driving at night, driving with 200 cars on the track, etc. I feel like my apprenticeship at the Nordschleife is roughly halfway and that will continue in late April when I will join the Hybrid program again for the second round of testing, this time while racing in VLN’s second round. I am now super excited to get back to the Nordschleife.
My March adventure continued as soon as I wrapped up at the Nürburgring. I jumped on a flight back to Miami and then drove across Florida to St. Pete in order to make a 6:30 a.m. practice for the first race of the SCCA World Challenge season. In a last minute deal, I signed a deal to race for Truspeed out of Southern California and the plan was to go out and fight the factory Caddys, Volvos for the entire season! Standing start one hour sprint races, 49 cars, and multi class racing around the streets of St. Pete had me pumped. I hadn't met the team principals, or even sat in the car, but I had a great feeling as soon as I walked under the tent that dark Friday morning.
The weekend couldn’t have gone any better. We gathered up a pole and both race victories, but it certainly was full of action and not without difficulty. . I had to fight my way past Randy Pobst in the all wheel drive Volvo in race one after he had a massive start from P4 into the lead by corner 1. Race two I was given a “gift” of 75 pounds of SCCA success weight from winning race one. It's part of their rules package to keep the racing close and to avoid one driver or team from running away with the season. Well, let me tell you, it's a serious change to the way the car stops and turns. Long story short, it took until the penultimate lap to make my move for the win in traffic. It was an awesome fight, and I loved the entire weekend.
I’m looking forward to the next race in Long Beach. I’ll be starting with over 100 pounds of success ballast this time. A cool part of the World Challenge is that you can tune into the races live on their website, so be sure to follow along and I look forward to seeing you guys out at the race track.