August 7, 2009 - Spa

From Lime Rock it was a quick journey home to unpack and repack and do some laundry in the same day and jump a plane to Spa for the 24 hours and a reunion with the team I’d raced for last month at Le Mans and the past three seasons in my endurance escapades in Europe—the IMSA Performance Matmut guys. Spa is an incredible weekend. I think that of the GT-only races, it really sets the bar high. The FIA GT is a great series to be a part of on a part time basis. Things run very differently from the ACO’s version of endurance racing and I think that the variety makes it a lot of fun for the drivers and the teams.

The biggest variable at Spa is always the weather and this year was no exception. I think I had two and a half dry laps the whole week and that went for the whole field, not just me. Qualifying was in mixed conditions and we mistimed it with my teammate Patrick Pilet taking qualification duties. So we started sixth, but we were confident that if it was dry we had a car that was very, very quick. Sure enough, Patrick was in the lead and pulled out a comfortable margin in his first two stints. I promptly took the car over and went through all conditions of full dry, monsoon downpours on slicks and wets and a drying track at the end of my double. Through all of that we battled hard with the factory Ferraris but we were able to hold the lead. Things were on the up and up until the beginning of the fifth stint, when my teammate Raymond unfortunately hit oil in one of the fastest sections of the track. That essentially was the end of our race with heavy damage on the front and the rear.

It took us almost 20 laps to get the car back on track and then it was a survival marathon. Being 20 laps down for 20 hours of the race—those are difficult challenges because as a driver you are no longer motivated by the ambition of victory, although you never let that out of your mind. Your motivation becomes doing your very best behind the wheel for your team and your sponsors. For me, it’s where I change my perspective and I ask myself what it’s like to be North America’s only factory driver, driving for a marque like Porsche, and I go out there and put in the best stints I can to back up the trust and faith that people have put in me. You have to be fueled by something else other than wanting to have fun, because it’s a real challenge to put in two-hour stints when the situation is hopeless. It was a long, trying weekend but that’s the reality and that’s sometimes the way they go. The outcome was very similar to Le Mans this year, with tough luck, but Le Mans was a huge positive experience where this weekend was not nearly the same feeling. At Le Mans, we had raced for the victory and for a podium up until we fell out of the race, but at Spa we were in a much different position.

Being back to my home with the Lizards and the ALMS, this weekend will be exciting. Mid-Ohio is a track that carries so much pedigree in road racing and the fans are such a motivation at this track. It’s one of the most demanding tracks for set up because there is so much turning and braking at the same time and that means that you must have a high performing platform and with that we spend so much time on weight distribution and suspension settings. And it’ll be exciting to have some new cars in the field including the Cytosport RS Spyder. I think what’s even more of an attraction and curiosity will be the two factory Corvettes being in our class in GT2. I can’t help but be confident. The goal has to be the championship but the goal also has to be to win races. My philosophy has been that in order to win the championship, you have to go to every weekend trying to win the race rather than playing it conservatively. But you do leave an asterisk next to the goal—and know not to take any unneeded risks. I think that the Ferrari will be very strong this weekend, but they’ve been very strong all year. I think we’ll be stronger.

Send your comments and questions to Patrick at askpatrick@pca.org. Although he can’t respond individually, he’ll get to as many as possible in his blog.