April 15, 2009

The Tuesday after the St. Petersburg race I dashed for the airport to make it into town for rehearsals at the New York Auto Show on Tuesday evening in preparation for Wednesday afternoon’s North American GT3 launch. When Dave Engelman at PCNA asked me about being involved in the presentation of the GT3, I of course told him that I’d be honored and happy to help out. Soon after I showed up I realized that the three pages of the technical description of the new GT3, which has so many new updates and exciting elements, was my responsibility in the presentation. PCNA CEO Detlev von Platen and I were to unveil the car and then I was to give a technical description. Receiving that news, realizing that there were no Teleprompters and knowing I was going to be in front of the cream of the crop of automotive journalism at 2:55 on Wednesday, I proceeded to get very little sleep. I was on the floor of the show at 6:45 a.m. for final rehearsals before we went live as the final presentation of the day. Someone asked me how I was feeling about giving a technical briefing, knowing that most of the people who were giving the briefings for the other manufacturers were either project coordinators or project engineers who knew their cars like the backs of their hands. My response was, well, quite frankly, I’d rather be heading into a triple stint at night in the rain at Le Mans—this is just unbelievably daunting for me.

NY ShowI usually don’t consider myself a shy person or someone that freaks out about public speaking, but this was such a technically dense description that I knew I needed to know my facts and to be well practiced. I was determined not to stand up at a podium and read through a press release. I wanted to give the journalists a description and a practical comparison of (a) what the GT3 is to me as a racing driver and (b) just how exciting this new car is because it keeps everything that makes me believe it’s the best car on the road today but it adds an element of practicality that makes the car a daily driver it you want it to be—which is completely unique for the GT3 line. It made things easy when I got up there because I believe so much in the product and I basically ripped up my notes and just spoke from the facts that I had studied and from the heart.

I’m in Salt Lake City this afternoon. I’ve been in Long Beach already this week doing some media work for the telecast this weekend that will be on ABC on Sunday—a very cool piece that I don’t want to give too much away on. I had a house call to my friends and sponsors at Troy Lee Designs who I think are one of the most cutting edge companies in all facets of motorsport. We had a day of fun that should be on the telecast and I’ll touch on it a little bit more with some pictures in our post Long Beach update. From there I came to Salt Lake City where we just spent ten hours doing a media tour through the city with all of the local media from the local ABC affiliate where we did Good Morning Salt Lake City. I’m back at the airport now and on my way back to Long Beach where my rental car still sits in the parking lot with all my clothes in it and I’ll be heading to San Pedro tonight to meet Jörg and then we’re on track tomorrow.

We are feeling good now that we have the championship points lead heading into Long Beach. The back-to-back street courses present some parallels and we have a little bit of confidence based on how strong we were at St. Pete. But we’re also pretty sure that our competition has picked up on what we’ve done with tire selection and therefore we’re going to have to find a new edge for this coming weekend. I have a few ideas, but we’re going to keep all those cards close to our chest and try to pull another one over on them.

April 13, 2009

PodiumSt. Pete was everything we could have hoped for, but the week wasn’t all smooth for us. The rain of the first day of practice, combined with an incident in warm up, meant that our already short track time on the street course was cut in half. That was the same for everybody involved, however, so no drama there. The trick to our whole weekend was thinking about the race and how tire wear would be. That’s where my trump cards of Roland Kussmaul and Stefan Pfeiffer came in. Instead of chasing fastest laps in practice and throwing new tires at the car, or working on qualifying setups, we kept the same set of tires on the car longer than most and were able to get a good wear reading. That told us that there was a good chance that it was going to become a tire wear race. Sure enough, our decision to go on the harder compound for qualifying so that we could start the race on those tires paid off. It made it tough on me in qualifying—I was digging as deep as I could but really didn’t have what the others had in tire compound, but as soon as we got to about the half way portion of the first stint, we just started coming through the field and reeled Farnbacher and the Ferraris in. We just pulled them straight in. We were able to pass both of them on track and ironically each of them went into the pits with problems on the laps that we got to their back bumper. So it was pretty cool. From there, the brilliant strategy from the Flying Lizards and Thomas Blam meant that we stayed out until we got a yellow, which meant that we put another lap up on the field. It was a pretty dominant effort. There was definitely some attrition from the Ferrari and the #87 but we were confident that we had them where we wanted them.

After the race I convinced Jörg to stay over instead of running to the airport. I told him that if we won he was going to have to stay and celebrate. So we had Jörg and a few friends over. Sunday I was determined to spend a portion of the weekend at home, which is what I love most, especially with the spring weather that Florida presents. We relaxed and were out on the jet skis and onto the island for a little bit of sun and fun, but had to wrap it up early and dive for the airport for tire testing and some commentary work for the GT3 Challenge in Atlanta.

Monday in Atlanta I spent the first half of the day with the production crew of the Speed telecast that will air one-hour segments in each IMSA GT3 Challenge race. That was a great experience for me, learning a new how to be in front of a camera doing a little bit of presenting and hosting. The second part of the day, because of threatening skies, meant that we pushed the tire test forward and went out in the afternoon. Roland laid over as well, to assist in the tire testing as he has done from the beginning. It is a very cool experience for me to spend quality time with one of the most iconic engineers that Porsche motorsport has ever seen. We always have a great time. It’s very concise, efficient testing, but also plenty of jokes and laughter in between. Roland brings a sense of professionalism and humor to racing that I’ve just never been exposed to and it really loosens me up. It’s a great chemistry. The tire test went phenomenally. The Yokohama guys were great as always and we were well under the pole times of last year’s IMSA Challenge. So we were pretty positive on the outcome of the tire tests and we finished up everything ahead of schedule.