Mosport | Detroit | Petit LeMans 2008
Mosport. Mosport was a wild weekend. The race came down to fuel
strategy and never in my career have I been involved in such a sticky situation.
A lot of the drivers in the LMP2 class this year have Champ car experience—guys
like Adrian Fernandez and Gil de Ferran—and they talk about the heyday of CART in
the late ‘90s and how it was all about saving fuel, not only with the engine mapping
and onboard controls but also with the driving style. This was a true view of what
they have always talked about—what a race! The way the yellow flags fell at Mosport,
it was so unbelievably close on whether the LMP cars could make it to the end on
fuel. It was just great to be an “interested spectator” and listen on the radio
as everything unfolded toward the end of the race.
Earlier, I had started the race and all went well in my stint. Everything went to
plan; I got a solid start and kept it clean for the first hour and a half. Mosport
is an insanely quick circuit, which makes passing tough in the prototypes. I was
able to snooker the De Ferran car on the start and then hold off the quicker LMP1
field cars… all in all, mission accomplished. I turned the controls over to Sascha
and then followed the race as closely as I could. During the race we have a closed
circuit intercom system that runs between all our #6 guys so we are able to hear
one another on an open mike. It’s amazing the communication between the strategist,
whether that’s Roger or John Erickson, our team manager, and our key players who
are our assistant engineers. They’re the real fuel mileage and number calculation
guys— John and Robbie—and they’re the real background support who really do a tremendous
number of high stress, lightning fast calculations… talk about pressure! They can
tell the strategist what to tell the driver over the radio about how it’s going
to play out. And I’m a third factor, a kind of wild card factor, as the driver who’s
not in the car, who can relate to what the active driver wants to know, when and
how much information over the radio. It’s a great experience for me to be so active
in how the race plays out whereas in previous programs I’ve just sort of stepped
out of the car and done my best to rehydrate myself and cheer my teammate on. It’s
fun to be a different part of the team—certainly I have a very minimal role there,
speaking only when spoken to, but it’s great to follow along and be a part of it
To finish third at Mosport was a great feeling after being off the podium for a
couple of races and it came down to the last lap as to whether we were going to
make it on fuel. We had calculated it perfectly, so it was a nail-biter but it was
a lot of fun. I don’t think there was a liter of fuel left in our tank when we coasted
back to the pit, so it was certainly icing on the cake to get it so right.
Detroit. Then, of course, it was back to back weekends from Mosport
to Detroit. Detroit is just a great track for so many reasons, the venue and the
layout, but street courses are something that I find suits my driving style because
they are low grip, high risk circuits and they take a methodical, technical approach
rather than a banzai, ‘close your eyes and hold it flat out’ track. I enjoy driving
in the rain, driving street circuits and even dirt cars— races where there is a
little bit more of a drift to the car. The old days of Formula 5000 and Formula
One when you could see the cars without technical assistance and the drivers hanging
it out – I love that stuff.
The weekend began very differently in that I had a new teammate just before I arrived.
Although it was a new teammate for the season, it was a familiar face in Ryan Briscoe.
Ryan and I grew up racing together; we met in Belgium in 1996 as 14-year-old rivals
from opposite ends of the world in the Junior Karting World Championship. We became
close friends and roommates a couple of years later as teammates in the factory
CRG Karting Team, which is kind of the Penske of karting in international caliber
racing. Since then we’ve crossed paths in Germany and again when he came stateside
in 2005. We raced the Rolex 24 together and we’ve always kept in close contact and,
of course, we’ve both raced for Penske the last couple of years. We shared a car
at Sebring this season also. We’re sized very similarly and we know how to work
together, so it was a pretty seamless transition, but it was bittersweet in that
everything that I had done this year was with Sascha and it was a tough adjustment
I knew I had to get down to business, that there was minimal track time because
street circuit venues always have limited time on the circuit. Both practice sessions
were washed out, so we ran minimal laps in the rain, had a good balance in the rain
but the weather was changing all day. It peaked into dry weather just before qualifying.
Ryan was planning to qualify because of his experience there last year in the RS
Spyder and also the sessions were dry for his IRL practice. But at the last moment
Roger thought that it would be better if I got in the car to get some dry laps as
that would be my only time to learn the track in the dry before the race. To say
the least I was somewhat disappointed with fifth on the grid. We had split the setups
between the #7 and the #6 based on having no dry running and needing to find a balance
for the race.
Unfortunately, our direction was the wrong one but a lot of the lack of pace came
from me just having to go out there and learn the track in the RS Spyder. It requires
a phenomenally different style from how it’s driven in a GT car. The #7 car was
one place ahead of us on the grid, so my objective in the race was to run wingman
to him on the start because we had the factory Audis just behind us; they are very
quick on the straights but in overall pace if we can get a gap, we can maintain
our position ahead of them. The race went pretty straightforward for us for the
most part. The #7 car guys had an unfortunate coming together with a GT car but
in the end, we also had a suspected puncture at the end of the race at which point
we had a late pit stop with Ryan in the car which dropped us from third to fifth
It was not the result I had hoped for with the street course, but it was a great
experience driving the Spyder and the venue was second to none. Being in the Motor
City and with the Penske-promoted race, there were tons of PR activities all through
the weekend. On Thursday night we helicoptered over to the Henry Ford Museum—Ryan,
Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and myself—and we attended a charity gala function.
It was nice to be at the Henry Ford Museum for the first time and I spent most of
the cocktail hour sneaking around the back of the ropes to check out everything
that they had there in the historic halls.
Petit Le Mans. Looking toward Petit Le Mans, the pressure has never
been so great. The Acuras have closed in the last three races and it is way too
close for comfort. In saying that, I think we’ll be good at Petit. We have a well
developed car there and I think that where we might lack a little bit of pace we
make up with strategy and fast pit stops. Obviously it’s a ten hour race. That means
lots more pit stops and strategy will play a role. It’s exciting that we have new
additions to the field, especially in the prototype class with the Peugeots and
the new Zytek. I think there’ll be a different atmosphere out on the track with
the new drivers and teams. Atlanta is always a special event because of the passionate
fans and the close following that Porsche has with their North American base being
there. I always look forward to the race. It’s a great mix between sprint and endurance
and the atmosphere always gives me that extra charge.
Q: What do you think of the new DFI engine?
The DFI is something that everybody wants—more horsepower without
increased fuel consumption. Not only did we maintain our mileage but we increased
it, so that’s a testament to new age technology and all of the work that the engineers
at Porsche have done. In today’s world, efficiency is very important in racing where
fuel mileage is so crucial, but it also translates into the road cars of today.
The current economy and high fuel prices have put a premium on increased fuel efficiency.
It’s a great thing to have more performance without a fuel penalty and I think that’s
what the ALMS and sports car racing is all about. Not only marketing Porsches and
other marques but also developing technology for the road. And that time crossover
is shorter and shorter every year. What we develop on the race cars is put into
the road cars sometimes within the same calendar year where it once was a four or
five year cycle between race track and road. That’s a very interesting process of
Send your comments and questions to Patrick at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Although he can’t respond individually, he’ll get to as
many as possible in his blog.