Mosport | Road America 2009

It’s Monday in Mosport and we’re testing for this weekend’s ALMS race. It’s traditional that we have a couple of promoter test days at the beginning of the week to prepare for the ALMS race.

Most of the competition is here and will be running both today and tomorrow like we are and there are a few including Audi that will run just tomorrow. There is a gap of a couple of days and then we’re into the official program which starts Friday. Toronto’s not a bad place to have to kill a couple of days. Sascha and I enjoy the city a lot and we look forward to a couple of days between the promoter test day and the race weekend to enjoy the diverse culture and cuisine and do a few media events with the local Porsche dealers and also an annual Hugo Boss dinner.

Road America. Reflecting back on the race, it was certainly a tough pill to swallow. We had a tough week from the get-go with a few technical issues that we needed to get out of the way in the limited testing that we had leading up to the race. It just felt like we were one step behind after we got put behind the eight ball in the beginning of the week, and that made it extra challenging. Qualifying was a tough one; there were a few corners that are taken just flat on new tires, but because of the delays, we weren’t able to perform a mock qualifying in our practice.

So I made the decision to go for it in qualifying, sort of just shut my eyes and find out what the car could do and unfortunately I got it a little bit wrong on what was my key lap. I paid for it a little bit in the overall positions in qualifying but what I knew was that we had a good balance in our setup and I was ready to hammer it through the high-speed corners in the race. With the race being four hours, it gave us a bit of time to have a lot of strategy to play a key role, with plenty of pit stops and action. This year’s ALMS has been pretty exciting with all the different competitive cars in different classes and there have been a number of incidents and contact, so we were thinking there would be plenty of yellows and that’s how it turned out.

The team had a great strategy. We went with a split strategy between the two cars and chose to stop a little bit more frequently early in the race, push our fuel windows forward and make sure that we didn’t have to stop for any unnecessary splashes of fuel at the end of the race. I got in the car for about the last two and a half hours of the four-hour race and I knew I’d be in until the end. I just focused on staying clean through the middle of the race and let the team, with their awesome pit stops and strategy, move me up and it played out. We were up into a solid second position after a good fight with the Patron Highcroft car in the pits and then later on the track with the #20 Dyson car that Butch Leitzinger was driving. We had a pretty rough battle, but we were finally able to get past and pull away to quite a solid gap in second place.

With about eight laps to go it was time to be a team player and, unfortunately, with the yellow flags falling when they did, it meant that we had to give up a couple of spots under yellow. It is never easy, but there’s no secret that we race as a team, as Porsche, and as Penske. With the way the season started out at Sebring for us, it’s been really difficult to make up those extra points given and so I’ve said in my past few blogs that it is all about striving for every position that we can through the race. It’s starting to pay off with the little bit of extra aggression that we’re able to factor in, but this time it was about the big picture. It’s us versus them—them being the Acuras—and we were able to minimize the advance that they made on the #7 car with their victory.

Beyond Mosport. This later part of the season is going to be as much of a challenge against the Acuras as it ever has been since the inception of this RS Spyder program. But as a team and as a factory we’re ready to throw off the gloves and fight it out. I think we have teamwork on our side and certainly the joint venture between Penske and Porsche means that every single mind is working as hard as it can right now and there are developments that we want to push forward with and fight these Acuras. These races we have toward the end of the year are certainly diverse—Mosport being one of the most old-school, historic tracks, certainly more back-to-back high speed corners than anywhere we race. It will be tricky with traffic as the track is extraordinarily narrow, and the speed differentials are intensified based on the high aerodynamic downforce that the prototypes produce. Of course, the faster you go, the more aerodynamic downforce you make.

We then push on to Detroit which I think will be one of the highlight races for me this year. Street races are a great equalizer and a real treat to drive with the Spyder. Belle Isle a great, great venue, and it has been revitalized by Roger Penske and all of his staff. Detroit is a place that welcomes us with open arms and lots of smiles, and the fan support there is fantastic. It’s also a shared weekend with IndyCars, so it’s a spectacle that we all look forward to. I drove there for the first time last year with Flying Lizards, with Darren Law, and we had a great run and a great time together. It was the first time I had run on the track and I really enjoyed it.

Through the end of the year we push on to our final stretch which will be Petit Le Mans, which adds a little bit of the endurance aspect that we haven’t seen since Sebring, and then the finale, which is always a great one, at Laguna Seca. So there are plenty of races to come and they are all very different. It’s an exciting way to hit the home stretch. There’s still plenty of opposition and plenty of motivation; by no means is there any margin of safety looking back on the season. We’re all looking forward and we’ve got a chunk of points that are there and we are as motivated as ever.

Q: What gauges are you scanning while on the track at high speeds? How are you interpreting the numbers?

A: The technology these days means that there is a certain element of security in the way the feedback from the car is analyzed. Live telemetry and all of the feedback going back to the engineers—a group of five sets of eyes on the screen at any one time—means that they pretty much know what’s going on from the mechanical side of the car, the engine, even air pressures, ride heights. So that’s great security that technology allows and actually frees the drivers to do what we need to do, which is drive to the very sheer limit. Personally for me, the shift lights and revs are number one, keeping an eye on my oil and water temperatures and pressures is something that I do routinely.

We have also a live split time that’s displayed on our dash based off of a chosen reference lap. It’s a pretty solid lap that was chosen from either one of the two cars during the week or from any of the data from the past years. We log that in as our base line lap time and then we have a running split of whether we’re above or below that split so that we can see how our lap is progressing. When you get into traffic or into a situation where you have to pace yourself, it’s a very useful tool. You can’t be fixated on it for too long, though, because things happen so quickly in an LMP2 car and traffic is where your eyes need to be most of the time.

The last thing on the list of interesting tools is our fuel consumption reading. This is a number on our dash which tells us our fuel remaining and also the average fuel consumption per lap. If we get into a situation of having to what we call “make” fuel or save fuel, then we’ll use this to gauge how much fuel we’re using on average per lap and try to make that number lower. That can be a tricky process but at this high level we’re looking for every little liter, which is different from any other team I’ve raced with.

So there’s certainly a lot going on in the cockpit, but we have great contact and communication with our engineers and our strategists and we get plenty of feedback and direction from the team. As long as you know where to look and when to look, things are pretty clear cut.

Send your comments and questions to Patrick at askpatrick@pca.org. Although he can’t respond individually, he’ll get to as many as possible in his blog.