Greetings! Running in both the ALMS and the Rolex Grand Am series full time this year has been a wild ride. The last time that took on “the double” was 2006; I am loving every minute of it. This year being the end of the two rival sports car series makes it seem fitting and somewhat of an honor to be there for it all.
In my last entry I touched on the fact that being involved in two new programs has been a great experience, a big challenge and very rewarding. The last couple of weeks I’ve found myself at Lime Rock for the last Grand Am race ever, followed by the penultimate ALMS round at Virginia International Raceway the weekend after.
The final minutes at Lime Rock were a bit of a disaster, but taken as a whole, the race was a great graduation for this new program. We’ve been consistent podium contenders since Indianapolis and to have a strong second half of the season is exactly what I hoped for as a send-off to next year’s new GT Daytona regulations. The short of the long is that we battled back from being almost a lap down to reeling in the GT leading Corvette with barely ten minutes to go. Unfortunately we got cleared out from behind by a Daytona Prototype after he made a mistake and missed his braking zone. We were out on the spot. Game over. It was a rough end to a great season but it’s satisfying to realize that we could grow as a group and take on the seasoned veteran entries in the series. The Horton Autosport Park Place guys took a young group looking from the outside in for their first top five to a group that was almost expected to be on the podium by the second half of the season. That to me was mission accomplished.
From Lime Rock it was down the road to hook up with Core Autosport. I was confident going in that it would be a great race track for the 911RSR after a great podium finish last year with Jörg and FLMS. We opened the weekend with a strong P1 in the first practice section but we struggled through the remaining practice and qualifying with a car that was unstable mid corner fighting off the oversteer. When the race began, my new co-driver Colin Braun did a great job keeping the car clean and on the lead lap. We ran a little bit longer than most on our first set of tires and were able to go off sequence in the strategy knowing that really the only place we were going to make up track position was in the pits. Sure enough, the yellows fell our way; we were able to short fill for our last pit stop and come out of the pits in P1!
After a rough qualifying with a tricky car to handle it seemed we would be running closer to the back of the class all day. To be sprung up into P1 certainly produced that feeling of monsters lurking and being hunted. I was calm and focused as I brought the field back to the green. I’ve been in that position before and I was prepared to fight for the victory. What I underestimated was the sheer pace of the Ferrari and although I tried to make his life difficult, after a few laps he was able to pass me down the straightaway and actually be completely past me before the brake zone which left me very little chance to try and get my elbows up and continue to hold him off. From there it was just head down qualifying pace to try to keep the rest of the gang from closing in on me. I had about 20 minutes of two Corvettes, a BMW and a Viper, and for once in my career I was really looking for lapped traffic and hoping we would catch the back of the GTC class. That came not soon enough, but just in time so that I could focus on slipping by the GTC cars in critical places where I could use them to hold up the chasing Jan Magnussen Corvette and the Dirk Müller BMW. We ended the day ended in second place and although second is usually a disappointing position on the podium, days like this are different. We’re taught in sports psychology that you judge your personal performance on whether you got the best out of yourself and your equipment and it was one of those P2s that feel like a victory. It was a great little mini-battle victory and good momentum heading into the final ALMS race and final Petit Le Mans next weekend at Road Atlanta.
Normally I’ve found myself in an attacking position the past few years with a car that’s fast in a straight line. Races where I’ve been trying to come from behind, in the hunter position, have been some of my greater races. But this was really a shoe on the other foot as the hunted. Certainly it was high pressure but it was very tactical. I felt very relaxed and really it was about car position and traffic management and a certain manipulation in how I was going to keep those guys behind me without being dirty or breaking any rules. It’s almost a game of intuition rather than a classic battle; you have to know where that other guy is going to be. The way that the rules are written today is that you are able to make a proactive move of defense, but once you make that move you must remain there and cannot return to the racing line on that given straight. The second part of that is that your defensive move has to be before your competition moves to overtake you. So you basically have to prejudge the closing rate and before he pops out of your slipstream you have to already be where you believe he’s going to be—almost a game of chess except you’re moving at a slightly higher rate of speed. The scenario as a GT car means you are balancing the approach of the slower GTC cars while keeping an eye on the GT cars behind you and every so often a faster Prototype joins the group looking to slide by all of you! It’s a ballet that often comes more like Russian roulette. It’s the side of sports car racing that I most love.
Petit Le Mans is next and it’s one of my favorite races in the world. It blends Le Mans heritage and American sports car culture. There is always a great turnout of fans and industry people who come to see it. A thousand miles into the night at Road Atlanta, there’s not much more sports car culture for North American than that. This will be the final ALMS race as we know it before we move into the new series and I think that will bring a great celebration vibe. The overall objective remains the same; to race hard and try to be there at the end. It’s very much a ten-hour sprint race. The race has been tough for Porsches over the past few years and I want to get the top step back for what is our home race for Porsche Cars North America. I hope to see everybody down there.