August 29, 2009 - Mid-Ohio

The back-to-back Midwestern romp was all positive, looking at it in hindsight. We were able to stretch our lead over the Ferrari in both races but the way each race unfolded couldn’t have been more different. Mid Ohio was a weekend that didn’t start out smoothly for us; we just stayed persistent and dug deep and found so much pace by tuning the car. That’s a testament to the team and all the effort and it is another reminder that we’re just gelling right now—Jörg, myself , Stefan [Pfeiifer, #45 race engineer] and Roland [Kussmaul, Porsche engineering legend] —we’re just all coming together at the moment and working toward the right direction. A lot of the changes have to be very strategic because not only is track time limited but the time between sessions is generally limited. That means that certain changes can’t be made even between sessions, such as differentials for example, so we have to strategically map out our major car changes when there is enough time in the weekend calendar. And realize that if we make a change and it’s potentially the wrong way, we might not have a chance to change back before qualifying. So it gets to a point where you all are thinking down the same road and it’s been going just magically. In saying that, we could see at Mid-Ohio, although we dominated the race, the addition of the Corvettes and the improving pace of the Ferraris and BMWs means the competition is ramping up at a high rate.

The win at Mid-Ohio was just one of those days when everything clicked. The team and their strategy was impeccable, to really just out-snake everybody. It was never about fuel saving for us; it was just about absolute spot-on calculation from the team. The race had been dominated to that point by Jörg and I got into the car and drove absolutely as hard as I could. With a handful of laps left, we had a final restart and I had the whole GT pack behind me. It was a very rewarding race to dominate and the strategy was just the icing on the cake. The fuel light came on about 25 percent of the way into the white flag lap, but the team was so confident of the calculation and so prepared that there was never any stress. And if there was, they surely never let me get wind of it in the car. So many of the media and our rival teams were absolutely at a loss for words, but it didn’t seem to be that dramatic under our tent. I kept saying, “Do you need me to save fuel? Are we going to be close? Are we OK?” And the answer was, “No, you don’t need to save fuel.” There are some things that we can do to conserve as drivers if we need to, and nothing extraordinary was needed. It was a great outcome, making it five in a row.

We had a leisurely road trip from Mid Ohio to Road America. I told Jörg I was determined to show him a little bit of culture outside of the same ten paths that he travels every year for the ALMS schedule and although we didn’t cover tons of distance we had a good time traveling through Columbus for a night, Indianapolis for a night and then Chicago for two nights before making our way up to Road America. In Chicago we had an event at Napleton Porsche, which was just a superb vibe of enthusiastic Porsche owners and racers. I’ve not yet been to a dealer event where there was so much enthusiasm for track driving and motorsport. We followed the evening with a track day out at Autobahn with a handful of the guests from the night before and Jörg, myself and Wolf Henzler had what I’d call a workshop day with our guys and their cars. It was a relaxed day out at the track, sampling their cars, giving them our feedback and also getting out in a pack and doing some lead-follow. It’s always great to give enthusiastic drivers an opinion from a professional Porsche racer’s perspective, but in this case they got three. I say there’s no right or wrong way to set up a car or attack a race track. I think there are many different styles that can get you to the same place and so we laughed when one of us would get out the car and would be ranting and raving and the next one would just kind of shrug his shoulders. It’s fun to see the different styles among the three of us.

Then we headed up to Road America to prepare for our back-to-back weekend. Right from the first session we could see that we were in a very different position than at Mid Ohio. Road America is a track with a lot of long straight-aways and with the addition of some new manufacturers, we could see that they definitely had plenty of horsepower. We went with a very low downforce set up to try to offset the straight line speeds of the BMWs and the ‘Vettes and that worked in theory for qualifying and early in the stint, but we found about halfway through the stint that it was a lot of work to keep the car controlled in the high speed corners and also in the braking zones. A lot of people relate aerodynamic grip to only high speed corners, but aero really changes your ability to brake late into corners. I knew I had a challenge on my hands after hearing Jörg on the radio during the opening stint. As I put my helmet on to get out there, we set out on a goal to beat the #62 car and get as far up as we could, knowing that the BMWs had already gained a theoretical lap on us through an unfortunate timing scenario with the safety car. It was an ultimate battle royale, trading paint, with lots of bumps and bruises. It was such a high speed, high stakes race that there was really a lot of relief to get through without any major incident, be able to repass the #62 Ferrari toward the end of the race and extend the points lead. In saying that, there were a few times where being roughed up was sort of the agenda. My nature as a fiery kid with a lot of Irish blood in me was to want to throw an elbow back or throw a block or polish the front of my bumper, but I knew this was not the time in the series, especially with the Corvettes who aren’t running for the championship and really have little to lose. Even though fourth place wasn’t what I had hoped for, we all knew that we had accomplished our mission and there was actually some sort of relief that I felt toward the end of the weekend that I was able to swallow my pride and stay calm, especially toward the end of those last few laps battling with Johnny O’Connell. We’re right where we want to be with three races to go.

Now it’s on to Mosport and we’ll approach it as we do every other weekend. We go to the race track with one goal in mind and that’s to win. You do everything in your power, especially leading up to qualifying and the race, to shoot as high as you can. But at a high speed track like Mosport, it could be that we only have what we have and we just need to be that much better from a strategic perspective with our pit stops and consistency from the drivers. I think that even if we don’t have one quarter of the equation—on straight line speed—if we can capitalize on the other three, there’s no reason why we can’t realistically contend for a victory. I’ve been asked very often in the last few weeks whether we go into hibernation mode at this point in the season to preserve the championship. That’s not our style. I think that sends the wrong message to our partners and generally I believe that if you navigate around the race track just trying to stay out of trouble, trouble will usually find you. If you do what you’ve always done, I believe you get what you’ve always gotten. So if it’s not broken, don’t fix it is my mentality and that’s what we’re going for. We’re going to try to win.

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.