July 13, 2011 – Le Mans, Nürburgring, Imola, ALMS
It’s been a whirlwind since I last checked in. June was two 24 hour races in three weeks with the pre and post race activities plus an International Le Mans Championship race, so it was a busy month in Europe. It was great from beginning to end but unfortunately no solid results to stick on the trophy shelf.
Le Mans and the Nürburgring were very different. At Le Mans I was with Flying Lizard and in my normal RSR daily office and at Nürburgring we were in the highly anticipated GT3 R Hybrid 2.0. At Le Mans we never really factored in on pace, so the plan was to attack the race objectively and to stay out of the spotlight until the sun came up for the last six hours and be there at the end. We fought chronic understeer the whole time and had nothing for the BMWs, Vettes or Ferraris on the straights, but as we figured, they started running into problems technically and with incidents on track. It all was going marvelously to plan until we had a small hiccup with an injector. I was in the car when that happened and we needed to spend some time in the garage to correct it. We got the car back on track at rapid pace but it basically took us out of podium position and we had to settle for sixth.
Since March I’ve been commuting back and forth from Europe in preparation for the Nürburgring. A lot of people scratched their heads and asked me why I would travel home for only a few days, but the program was so intense and I wanted to remain connected with normal life. I went home between Le Mans and Nürburgring for a couple of days but came right back to prepare for my inaugural visit to the Green Hell. I’d heard so much about the Nürburgring 24 Hour, I expected big things from the race itself and everything leading up to it. Let’s just say I wasn’t disappointed. From driving the Semper Vivus into the autograph session and making a pretty grand entrance all the way to just witnessing this event which blew away any race I’ve been to from a crowd standpoint and an energy level.
The racing and the weather was very tough at the beginning. We didn’t qualify as well as we hoped, but we knew that we would be there in the race, based on efficiency and general consistency. I have to admit I was pretty nervous taking the helm for my first stint, with all of the expectation and pressure that the Hybrid had created and with a lot of our board members on hand. There were plenty of people in the box staring at the timing screens. But I came out of the car after my first stint just wanting more. I managed to take the overall lead in my stint and had an unbelievably exciting and, something I haven’t felt for a long time, just plain fun time. It was definitely a fine line between insanity and enjoyment, but those two combined put me on a natural high by the time I got out of the car. That high turned to a low quickly, as just a few laps into Marco Holzer’s stint, we had an issue with the differential flange and started spending time in the pits that continued through rest of the race for different reasons. In the end, I think it was a win-win because the Hybrid showed that even with some balance of performance curve balls that were thrown to us literally right before the race, we still were summed up as the car to beat. The icing on the cake was that the sister car from Manthey, the 911 RSR, dominated and won the race. There were plenty of celebrations and it was great to have the majority of the Porsche board as well as Dr. Wolfgang Porsche up in the media lounge with all of us to share a beer after a long day of rain, cold weather and then a brutally hot finish.
From Nürburgring I headed to Austria for a couple of days of R&R and fly fishing with my good friend Richard Lietz who is also a factory driver. The sweeping hills and fresh water rivers and lakes of Austria make it some of the most underrated countryside in the world. It was just what the doctor ordered. It was short jaunt from there down to Italy for Imola’s round of the ILMC. It was another wild race and it’s always great to be in Italy, a home of mine at one time, with plenty of friends and great food to catch up on. The race came down to the final laps where we had closed in on the race leader in GTE Am, recovering from an early puncture that took us out of the lead after being on the pole by half a second. It was a dominant weekend that just had a few more hiccups to keep the theme consistent in June. But we came down to the wire and came up one lap short on fuel and unfortunately had to pit with the white flag. Great fun and good to be back with the Felbermayr Proton guys for the first time since last year at Spa.
Now I’m in New York. I spoke on Sunday night for the Connecticut Valley Region PCA and tonight I’ll speak for the Northern New Jersey Region. This is a layover post Lime Rock where we had Round Three of the ALMS championship. Lime Rock is always a place that I consider us to be a factor, and this year was no exception. We qualified third, which was almost like a pole because the BMWs were about a second a lap faster and really untouchable in practice and qualifying. But in the race, sure enough, we were able to battle forward with consistent race pace and great strategy and pit stops. We really challenged them right down to the wire. It was another heartbreaker as with only minutes to go Jörg had a puncture and so we had to settle for second. Even so it was a great morale booster for us to get back into factoring for wins. Certainly we’ll be pushing hard at Mosport in a week’s time.
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