Since I checked in with you guys in March, we’ve had a couple of exciting Grand Am races with Park Place Motorsports and more testing in preparation for this weekend’s debut in the American Le Mans Series with my new race team, CORE Autosport. Testing has been going very smoothly with the RSR and I’m excited about this weekend coming up. Traditionally, Laguna Seca has been a great track for the Porsche and although we don’t have a ton of expectations as to where we’ll factor in pace-wise, the real focus is debuting as a team and trying to execute a clean four hours. I really look forward to seeing so many of the California fans that have made it clear to me that they’ve been waiting for this debut and I share their excitement.
In the Rolex series, Barber in Birmingham and the last race at Road Atlanta two weekends ago are certainly examples of the highs and lows of motorsport. Barber just wasn’t our weekend. With limited running because of variable weather conditions, we just didn’t quite hit our marks as a team. We able to put some points on the board and stay out of the drama but eighth place wasn’t the finish we were hoping for.
In the weekend off between the two races, we went back to the drawing board and worked hard to improve the car, getting it closer to what we thought was one of the best on the track at COTA in round 2 of the season. When practice was complete at Road Atlanta, we knew that we had a race car that was much more in balance and the team was working hard on the organization, pit stops and strategy. With heavy rain in qualifying, we were forced to start by points order, so we didn’t have the best position on the grid. But we knew that if we executed a clean race, we had the pace to challenge the front runners.
The race was spectacular. We had only one caution very early on and the plan was for me to jump in after the 30 minute mark. My teammate Patrick Lindsey did a great job at the start and brought the car up to fifth. My job was to go hunt down a win, with about 20 seconds to gain to pull the leaders back in and I was able to just get to second place as the white flag came out. It was a classic endurance race, with varied strategies, lots of touch and go moments with the DP traffic, but ultimately the team nailed their pit stops and strategy and my engineer, John Horton, and I were really on song with the setup. We had the car to beat. The short version of my two hours behind the wheel was a story of attacking when the time came to attack, particularly on out laps after green flag pit stops, but then really deciding how to overtake such a competitive field of GT cars. I had some really tight, hard, clean battles with Max Papis in the Ferrari, Leh Keen in the Brumos 911 and then the final lap wheel-to-wheel through treacherous turn 12 at Road Atlanta with Alessandro Balzan in the Ferrari. That #63 Ferrari has really been the class of the field this year and to be able to hunt him down at the end of the race really has us excited that our car is progressing well and that we have a fighting chance of going after the championship this year.
On the ALMS side, Sebring was a very different week for me. As I mentioned in the last post I was able to experience the 12 hours from a completely different perspective and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. All during the week I stuck to the plan of meeting and learning how CORE operated. I was busy coaching my IMSA GT3 Cup drivers and doing a lot of media work for Porsche. For the race I was able to have fun. Dario Franchitti, Jörg Bergmeister and I had the chance to go out and visit the turn 10 and turn 13 fans and really enjoy the race in a relaxed way. Toward the end of the race I jumped up in the booth with John Hindbaugh and Jeremy Shaw to do a little guest commentating. All in all, it was a very busy week of low pressure activity but I was able to sort of be a fan and really soak up what makes Sebring so special. Hopefully it will be quite a few more Sebrings before I see it from that perspective again, but it was a great journey.
The return to the American Le Mans Series this weekend is long awaited and it’s exciting in many ways. Watching the first two races this year hasn’t been easy but I knew it was the right thing to prepare properly with CORE. As I touched on in an earlier blog, CORE is no stranger to the American Le Mans Series; they are twice the defending champions in the LMPC class. But it’s really about the team collectively gelling with the new crew lineup for the RSR, some coming from the LMPC program and some new members. It’s been an interesting role to grow and help the team with some of the experience I’ve been able to gain from other programs in the past. So far expectations have been exceeded and that has me very positive not only for this coming weekend and season but down the road for a long association.
I’m rested and recharged. We put in our final pre-season test with CORE at Birmingham last week and I headed out to Las Vegas to join the PCA Club Race and DE that was taking place at Spring Mountain. It was great to speak in the evenings to all the racers and drivers and connect with PCA members in their environment rather than in the corrals when they’re visiting our races. On my way home yesterday, I stopped in at the Greystone Concours d’Elegance, a really fabulous and growing concours in Beverly Hills. There were fantastic views and a great little lineup of cars. I was there to present the winning 911trophy to a beautiful and original 1973 911 RS. The award was a Gulf branded watch from my sponsor, B.R.M. They have a stunning line of retro inspired and very modern time pieces made in France. The afternoon capped off a great weekend, but now it’s time to get down to business. Laguna Seca, here we come. Hope to see many of you up there!