October 19, 2009 - Laguna Seca
Well, if you haven’t heard about it or seen any of the clips on YouTube, maybe it’s best you head that direction before you read the rest of this. I became a fan for those last 20 minutes as I think so many people did that sat there with their jaws dropped as Jan Magnussen and Jörg went for it at the end. It was man versus man for victory. It was riveting.
As I’ve said before, we needed to go into the Laguna weekend with the mentality we’d carried all year—race for wins, take no unneeded risks. The mathematical equation was if the Ferrari were to win or finish second, we would need to finish at least tenth. We basically needed to finish the race and, with the attrition that is expected at Laguna, we would be pretty safe for a championship. But that’s just not our way of doing things. We knew all week that we had a competitive car beneath us. As we had hoped, the lack of straights at Laguna and the demanding nature of the race track in terms of handling meant that we were back in the ball game after being on the outside looking in those last few rounds.
Practice went very well. Qualifying was a slight disappointment but only because of some rough luck for Jörg out on the track. Jörg started and drove the first hour. We took to the track, both Jörg and I, waiting to see what would happen. And with the yellow flags and the crashes that were expected, it must have been after only about an hour and a half before the Ferrari was already out of the race. After hitting debris just ahead of me while I was driving my first stint, my focus at that point was not to crash my own car on the water the Ferrari had dropped all over the race track only a few car lengths ahead of me.
Those are the moments that test you. The inclination is to begin thinking, Is the Ferrari out? Or back on track? Have we just won the championship? But those are the key points where championships are won or lost and why we as drivers get paid to do what we do. At that point I knew that I just needed to stay calm and quiet on the radio and continue to put laps in. The conservation mode slipped in a little bit because I knew that the Ferrari had a least a couple of laps of work to do to replace some radiator damage. Only a few laps later I got the call on the radio that we could go for the win. There was no talk of championships being won or congratulations. It was all business and that was the motivation that had the hair on my arms standing up.
Shortly before the end of that stint, we went yellow. The team asked me if I was good to do a double stint, which I acknowledged I was, and we came in for a fresh set of tires. At that point we were third and through an awesome, unbelievable pit stop we were able to take the lead in the pits. Again, that’s what I’ve been ranting on about in my blog all year — just how good this team is. That wasn’t chance or coincidental timing, that’s how good these guys have been all year!
That next stint was probably the most spirited drive I’ve put in this whole year. I was so determined not only to win, but to stay ahead of the car that was right directly behind me on the restart—the #3 Corvette with Johnny O’Connell behind the wheel. We’ve been battling those guys since they joined GT2 at Mid-Ohio and finally with the championship in our pocket, the gloves were off for us. I was able to pull out a pretty fair margin on cold tires at the restart through traffic and then it became a battle of lap for lap between us—for me to maintain or grow that gap and for him to close it back down. It was always between six and 12 seconds depending on who caught traffic where. When I got out of the car, while we were still under green, for that final 50 minutes, I knew that personally my job was done for the season but something told me that the competition was going to heat up further as the end of the race grew closer.
Again, we were able to gap the #3 in the pit lane and under green that’s worth even that much more—an incredible job by the Lizard guys. And then it became the Jörg and Jan show. Those last five laps were literally some of the most exciting racing that I’ve seen in a long time and there was a lot of jumping up and down, cheering and chanting and nail biting in both camps. It was very emotional stuff. The rest of the details are very subjective. The bottom line is that the only two guys that really know what happened were in the two race cars, but it was an unbelievable spectacle and a great way to close off a championship season with a win. The sidebar that was my concern, and Jörg made it very clear to me as soon as I got to him in the race car that he shared the same concern, was Jan. The first question was to know if Jan was OK. As soon as we did know that he walked away, the celebrations began. Jörg was so awesome to stay in it and battle that hard. He showed tons of heart and I give him a lot of credit. It’s magical to win a championship with him again, and to do it with another team this time after we first won together with the Petersen guys in 2005. The Lizards deserve a huge “well done” for repeating as back-to-back champs in the GT2 class and it’s a huge honor to be under their tent.
It’s been just an unbelievable season. To kind of recap, to go five for six in the beginning of the year and then to really endure an ego check where we had to hold our ground, maintain our composure and continue to put points on the board while a lot of the other ripples in the series and on track were ironed out was really what won the championship for us. I think the end was the icing on the cake, to be able to come back in the last race of the year and race for the win. What we wanted was to race the last weekend for the victory and we thought that chance might have slipped through our fingers at Atlanta, but as quick as it was gone, it was back through some unfortunate luck for the Ferrari. And that’s just how unpredictable racing at this level of competition is and why you have to keep your head down and just focus on the task at hand. There are so many variables, so much excitement and so many hypotheticals that can detract from the focus. It is just so gratifying to have such a competitive field and an up and down season and end with a victory and a championship.
We were able to have a great two evenings together as a whole team and that’s something that’s very rare with the current economy and just the size of the team that we are as Flying Lizard. The team allowed both cars, the #45 and the #44, to savor the moment and to enjoy the season whether we were to win the championship or not. Our team dinner that evening of the race and the whole next day, spending it together as a team and a family, all the way through the ALMS banquet was great.
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