May 2010 - Laguna Seca

Monday, May 24, 10:30 a.m.

It was a victory like no other in my career. Talking about it over dinner last night almost created more anxiety than I actually felt when I was behind the wheel. When I went back through it, it was one of those races where you don’t process much cognitively. You’re working it from another level in your brain. You’re basically driving by feel, you’re just immersed in focus and, luckily, I have quite a few miles under my belt that I can fall back on. It was so intense. The main point of drama had Ollie Gavin in front of me in the Corvette and Joey Hand’s BMW behind me. Joey wanted a way through, Ollie was holding me up because his soft tires were going off, but no one was going to give an inch because we didn’t know how this race was going to unfold. It had been so wild to that point with yellows and incidents and tire wear, we knew that we all had to drive our hardest and just let the race unfold.

Fast forward to the final stops. The Corvette had dived in early for new tires after their softs had faded. We were on mediums and contemplating running the entire stint on one set of tires with a green flag stop—and that’s what we ended up doing. We had a little hang up in the pit stop with the radio malfunction, so we ended up over-fueling the car and lost the lead on the green to the BMW who had stopped before us and taken fuel only. It then became a knock-down-drag-out…..Joey was up the road a few seconds, Ollie was now behind me a few seconds, so the order had swapped but I was still the meat in the sandwich. We didn’t have pace to pull that gap back to Joey, but the way that we were catching traffic—with traffic management being so critical at Laguna Seca these last few years—I knew that we were still in with a chance and I was pretty calm at the point.

When the final yellow flag came out with about 15 minutes to go, the strategy of the race, from a driver’s perspective, completely changed. The sun had set, the temperatures had dropped, the tires were over an hour and a half old where normally we run them just to about an hour, and I knew we had a chance. That’s when I asked Thomas Blam, our chief strategist, “Where are these other two guys in points? What is your take on the race?” He came back on the radio, “Just try to go for the win, but don’t take any risks.” This was a classic all-bases-covered Flying Lizards answer, but that was actually correct and that’s what I wanted to hear.

At that point I was as concerned with holding onto second as I was with going for the lead, but that’s what I was processing in my mind. As soon as we came around for the restart, I was driving more from the heart and I saw an opening. There was no contemplating or processing championships or risk management….I was completely relying on my skill set as a driver and going for it. You know, the line between hero and zero, brave and stupid, is so fine but there’s no time for any wavering. We were three-wide through Turn 11, which is difficult to get two cars through normally. Being on the inside I had the least amount of momentum, but there was a bit of door-to-door contact between all three of us with a GTC car on the outside, Joey in the middle and myself on the inside. Then I absolutely knew that I had opened up a can of worms. The race had been so extreme and so touch-and-go in terms of contact. There was nothing dirty out there the whole six hours, but there was definitely some real elbow-to-elbow racing. When that restart happened, all bets were off.

So I got through on the inside of Turn 11 and I knew that I had to make my way through the traffic, whether it was a P1 car or a GTC car, as quickly as possible on cold tires to gap myself to the Corvette, which had new tires, and Joey, who was probably pretty unhappy at that point. There were about three laps to go when we broke through the traffic. I had two Ferraris ahead of me and it was absolutely just about hitting my marks.

My mindset in the past, even as recently as last year, was to drive as hard as I could, take chances, and once past the traffic to go as fast as possible. This race was groundbreaking for me because I had a different approach. It was now about hitting my marks, not looking in the mirror and not thinking about whether we’re going to win this race….just nailing it with clean, clean lines and perfect laps. He was up to my bumper as we crossed the finish line. If the race had gone one lap longer, I don’t know what the outcome would have been. One of those options might have been gravel traps and a white car and a red car sitting there wondering what might have been.

But in the end, this healthy rivalry between all four manufacturers is only going to grow through the season and, just like Long Beach, my outlook has been every time we have even a sniff of a chance at victory, we have to take it because it’s going to be that tough all year. It’s not just for the points; for me there is nothing that comes close to winning races. The points will figure themselves out as long as we race every weekend for wins and we don’t take stupid, unneeded risks.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had as much emotion after a race in my career but certainly not in the last eight years. Maybe there was something like it back in 2005 when we first triumphed over Alex Job at Road America, but not Le Mans, not Daytona….being in at the end and having such a wild finish. I can tell you my pass on Ollie at Turn 6 had me as excited as winning the race. I don’t think they showed that on TV but it was incredible when Ollie and I went door-to-door down the corkscrew and I was four wheels off the track in trying to keep Joey behind me. It was just such a race…..I’ve never had anything like it in my career. The emotion was very different. I don’t know if the Lizards have found the dented roof yet, but I was literally standing on top of the car I was so happy. It was absolutely breathtaking and I’m still riding that high.

Saturday, May 22, 2:15 a.m.

This was the best race of my life—bottom line. I’ll write in later, but for now it’s time to celebrate.

Saturday, May 22, 9:14 p.m.

If this is any indication of how this season is going to pan out, fasten your seat belts, folks. Better yet, start booking hotels to come see us.

In GT alone there are body panels flying and lead changes every 20 minutes! We have been somewhere between third and fifth for the majority of the first 3.5 hours.

At the moment, based on lacking some straight line speed, we are going to aim for a solid podium. I will be heading back in the car to finish the race, but only a win will have me smiling. The restarts are getting wilder as the clock ticks. Oh yeah, and there is a GT car in a legit third place overall!

 

Friday, May 21, 11:22 p.m.

I would have to say Quali was a bit of a shocker! The #45 car has been fast all week, although we have struggled for a consistent balance in setup.

There were a few factors in what stuck us in the awkward position of eighth on the grid for tomorrow's race, but I will tell you we are far from dejected. Jörg is one of the best qualifiers in the business, so I believe him when he said he got hosed by traffic out there.

As they say, it’s a long race! Six hours (two more than our normal Laguna finale in length) means we have plenty of time to claw back positions.

I'm excited.

 

Friday, May 21, 9:00 a.m.

Coming off of our win at Long Beach tied for the championship, we're expecting a really intense six-hour endurance “sprint” at Laguna. The Flying Lizard boys nailed it all weekend at Long Beach with the setup, strategy and pit stops, and we're going to have to be on top of our game to beat the Corvettes, BMWs, Ferraris and our sister Porsche this weekend.

We all keep saying it, but it's true: the competition in the ALMS GT class this year is unreal. As we saw in 2009, it's often down to less than a car length and there's even been a fair bit of door banging, but it's a fantastic show for fans and great to be a part of.