October 3, 2009 - Road Atlanta
Well, it’s the home stretch now. Things haven’t gone as smoothly as we hoped, but that’s racing. Atlanta, as everyone probably has heard, was a wet one. It was unfortunate that we didn’t get to run the whole race, but what was really tough were the events that unfolded just before we went red. The car was very hooked up, both in the wet when we started the race and as it dried out and we went to slicks. We were actually a little bit surprised how competitive we were. Running at the top of the field all day as the pit stops cycled through was uplifting after the last couple of weekends that we’ve had on the longer tracks with the big straights. The situation when the rain started to come meant that the Ferrari took a gamble and sort of leapfrogged the whole field. It was sprinkling while we were under caution, but with the weather changeable and iffy at best, it was still too early to go to wets. They took the gamble to get the wet tires on while we were still under yellow, and as soon as the track went back to green, within a lap and a half there was a downpour. So hats off to them for taking a gamble and getting it right, but unfortunately the Corvettes and ourselves, who had been racing for the lead, both got caught out and we had to take a fifth place. Having said that, my perspective is to look for the positives. It could always have been worse. To still take fifth place points and to continue down the road of sewing this championship up means we are still on track and on plan. It’s tough to be conservative and positive with a top five finish after such a mid-season run of wins, but the bottom line is that we need to take this championship.
We knew from testing the week before that the rains that had been in the Atlanta area were intense. At the driver’s meeting Friday night all the drivers were already discussing what would happen if the race was stopped, even a day before the rain came. Do we race on Sunday; do we race late into the night? From the rains that we’d had earlier in the week and were still in the forecast, what unfolded wasn’t completely unexpected. I was in the car when the deluge came. I started the race and the next time I got into the car, the rain was coming again. Seeing the Corvette in the gravel trap under yellow flag conditions was surprising, but that was a barometer of just how much standing water was on the track. It wasn’t only the prototypes; the GT cars were having a hard time staying on the racing surface even under yellow flag conditions—so that gives a little perspective on just how much rain there was. And that was with everybody on full wet tires. So the red flag was definitely the right thing to do—there was no real controversy there. But it was tricky all race. I had come over the brow at 10a at full speed and it was so hard to see that it was only the cars that were spinning off and that were hard on the brakes that told me how much water I was coming up on. It was like a cloud had dropped a flood right over turns 10a and 10b. In those circumstances the driving really becomes reactive and instinctive. There’s not enough time at those speeds to plan in your mind how to handle the situation. You go with instinct and past experience. Thank goodness for all my years racing in the wet over in the U.K.
Getting away from Mosport and Road Atlanta, which are huge speed circuits with long straights, will help us now. This has been our biggest struggle—the regulations have allowed for some of the newer cars to really have the upper hand on the existing ACO regulated cars like the Ferrari and the Porsche. So the rug’s been pulled out from underneath us a little bit, but without turning this into a political whining session, the bottom line is that the tighter the track, the better it is for us at Porsche. Laguna is known for being more technical than it is for its straightaways and that’s a positive. The strategy and the organization of the Flying Lizard team which I’ve been talking about all year is still first rate amongst all of our competitors and really we just have to play it smart as drivers. The math means that we have to continue to stay out of trouble. Although that’s not the most spectacular way of doing things, or our nature, that’s really what it comes down to. In saying that, we’re going to race just as we’ve always done, but the sidebar is just not taking any unneeded or wild risks. It’s not at all a situation where we can afford to just ride around for four hours. That’s as risky as going 110 percent like normal. You just have to go out and do what you’re programmed to do and hit all your marks. I’ve found that riding around and trying to stay out of the way means you get caught up in the pace of the race and what everybody else is doing. So we’re going to keep doing what we’ve done all year. That’s what has gotten us to the last race with a healthy championship lead and so we just have to keep going.
As to the questions and concerns over the competition and the rules, I think that the ALMS, IMSA and the ACO will get together in the off season and come up with a pretty good package for next year and I expect us to be at Sebring with as much horsepower as everybody else. We’ll leave that to the politicians of the sport.
Send your comments and questions to Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Although he can’t respond individually, he’ll get to as many as possible in his blog.