October 2010 - Petit Le Mans

At Atlanta, the car was as good as it’s been all year. Our plan all year was to race within our performance window, be very smart and shoot for wins. That was our plan going into Petit even though for the drivers’ championship we only needed to finish tenth or better. For the first time this year we were on the conservative side. That wasn’t necessarily the plan but subconsciously we all knew that if we could pull this championship off this year against the competition from other manufacturers with newer, more developed products, it was going to be so big. And we weren’t going to let anything get in between us and that.

I started and it was tough in the opening two hours to not indulge in what was an eight car train of hard battles, penalties and contact, but we stayed right there in the hunt and didn’t indulge. As the race unfolded, we slowly moved up the standings and were able to put laps on our competition—really it was about five cars that were separated by a lap or two—but those cars were able to get their laps back through yellow flags and wave-bys. In the end it was tighter than we could have ever expected. Petit was a culmination of what everybody has been talking about—to have seven or eight cars on the lead lap going into the final hour of a 1000-mile race says a tremendous amount about the series and where the GT class is right now.

Getting to 70 percent of the race at a normal Petit Le Mans would have guaranteed a top ten spot, which would have ensured our championship. But because there were so many cars in the class and such performance and reliability, if we had had any mechanical failures or anything on track that didn’t allow us to finish, even though we had made 70 percent, the drivers’ championship would not have been assured. So it hindered us a little bit from going 100 percent, which would have normally been our goal. Get to 70 percent, ensuring that we’d be in the top ten because there wouldn’t necessarily be ten cars still in the running, then go for it. It didn’t unfold that way, so I chose to be conservative in the final stint and the local emotion out of it post race, finishing fifth, wasn’t as great but I still knew it was the right thing to do. We stuck to our plan, the team was right on the same page with me and we executed.

We won the championship for the third time in a row for the team and back to back for Jörg and me against competition that people say has never been seen before. So in the end whether it stung a little bit not to go after a podium is not so important. In saying that, to give credit where credit is due, I don’t think we have a car to fight with the lead Ferrari and the lead Corvette, but I would have liked to think we had a shot at a podium. In the end finishing top five, putting points on the board and racing as hard as we did for wins earlier in the year meant that this is how it unfolded for us. There was just a tremendous celebration afterwards. It was a magical season—just surreal—maybe even sobering that evening at the banquet to realize what we had done. We had accomplished what even some of us doubted we could. Nobody imagined we could do it—not even ourselves. There were good days where we knew we could fight for the wins because of our track record and just who we are as a team, but there were other days when that cynical, practical voice would flip in and say, “Hey, you’re going to have to be smart this year and know when to play and when to fold.” There was no one on this team who was willing to fold, no matter what the odds were.

Ask Patrick:

Q: Did the Hybrid have more power than the GT3 RSRs and other GT class cars at Petit? It was awesome to see it leave the Corvettes in the dust in Turn 10 up the hill.

PL: Absolutely. When the car is on the boost, and I’m sure the drivers were using boost coming out of 10B, the car has quite a bit more power than most of the GT cars out there.

Q: With the flywheel whipping around horizontally, peaking at 40,000 rpm, is there any noticeable gyroscopic effect?

PL: There are two questions I frequently get. One is about the gyroscopic effect and the other is what would happen if that flywheel were to come loose at 40,000 rpm. I think the answer to the latter is pretty obvious, but I have a lot of trust and faith in Porsche engineering—everything that I’ve ever driven from Porsche has a huge reservoir not only of performance but safety. The gyro effect is not an issue. There is an effect created by that flywheel and those kinds of rpm, but it’s nothing that you can feel while driving the car.

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.