August 5, 2009 - Lime Rock
It’s been a busy couple of weeks since I last checked in. There have been some great highs and a bit of a bummer from the Spa 24 Hours, but all in all it’s just sheer passion and excitement that I feel as I pack my bags to leave for Mid-Ohio in the morning.
Lime Rock was as I hoped—just an unbelievable weekend for the Lizards, myself and Jörg. We weren’t dominant by any stretch in practice but I knew that we had to do more laps in a stint at Lime Rock than anywhere else. Speed is always a huge factor in the ALMS but also having a car that is consistent is required at Lime Rock because it’s such a short lap with few straights to let the tires cool and there are so many laps per stint because of the minimal length of the lap. You need a car that’s very reliable on tires and consistent all the way through the stint. With that, we focused on having a good race car and we knew that we’d have a shot at qualifying. With new tires you always have a chance for it if you can get right up to speed and the 911 has been very quick over one lap this year compared to our rivals.
It was my shot to qualify at Lime Rock. Jörg and I alternate, not race by race but over the season. We select which races before the season. I’m pretty impartial, so I let Jörg pick the race tracks he really enjoys qualifying on and I pick up the rest, knowing that the most important thing is that we like the same type of handling car and are usually within a tenth of each other in outright speed. So realistically it’s an advantage for us that we don’t have an A and B driver as many of our competitors do.
I had one of the most unbelievable qualifying battles of my career with Jaime Melo, knocking him off the pole as he sat in pit lane, thinking that they had done it. He then answered promptly and took it right back, but just to have that kind of war, throwing half a million dollar pieces of equipment around the track like it was the old days in go-karts, trying to one-up your rival. I had a smile on my face going into the race because immediately I knew that we had a race car that could win.
I drove behind the Risi Ferrari for a few laps and could see that I had the measure of him in both handling and also in outright speed. As soon as we got into the Cup class traffic and began overtaking them, we were also approached from behind by the LMP1 cars and that just made for an all out street fight. But I loved it. If you asked me if I’d rather have all GT2 cars or three classes trying to fight for the same piece of real estate, I’d take the three classes any day. That type of excitement is an equalizer. It levels the playing field and it leaves so much of your average pace of the stint down to creative and insightful overtaking and I love that part of my job. I really believe that’s one of the exciting and important things that the ALMS has going—multiple classes fighting amongst one another.
The pass for the lead on Pierre Kaffer in the Risi Ferrari came with LMP and GT traffic just ahead. There was one point of hesitation for Pierre and it allowed me to make my way past him and that was really the deciding factor for my stint and really for the race. From there I was able to open a gap. We had spoken in the pre-race briefing with the strategist about how to manage the start. If I have the chance to get out in front, is it all about flexing my muscle and risking the tires to try to make a gap between first and second or do I really make sure that I save my tires, even if the second place car keeps me within view? We decided collectively that the first stint would be different from the second stint. The first stint would be where there’d be a greater chance of yellow flags because the less experienced drivers in some of the Challenge cars started the race. So we were going to really try to push and try to put a gap between first and second. The reason is that if the overall leader happens to be between the first and second cars in GT when the yellow flag falls, the GT leader theoretically gets a lap up on the GT field because he gets to circle around behind the whole field where the safety car catches the overall leader who would theoretically be between us. I’d call it a one in 25 chance, but it happened that Gil de Ferran was just behind me when we went yellow. I made myself extra wide, knowing that it wasn’t going to create any issue for him and, sure enough, we made a theoretical lap up on the field. That was the turning point in the race. I think we had the legs on them, but halfway through the race to have the lead well within our hands, it felt great to turn the car over to Jörg and he did a phenomenal job finishing out the race in dominant fashion.
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