July 2010 Salt Lake City

Coming off a lengthy ALMS calendar break because of the traditional 24 Hours of Le Mans gap in the schedule, we were riding the high of the last two races with pretty spectacular finishes. We had a great test at Salt Lake City after Long Beach, and last year’s race at Salt Lake City was our most dominant weekend and certainly a proud moment for the whole team. With all that, there was a lot of excitement generated around getting back into the swing of things for Round 4.

My week started off with a wild day on Wednesday. I had three different agendas for the day, starting with working for Alex Job Racing’s GTC team and his IMSA Patron Cup entries. There were four Cup cars and my job was to work with all the drivers and the engineers to get the cars set up, establish some baseline data reference laps and video, and then work with the drivers. The day was divided into three sessions and the other two sessions were two other projects: shaking down the Flying Lizard car which had a new tub since the last race at Laguna Seca and then there was a road versus race car test for Road & Track on the street GT3. The scenario was that Jaguar, Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette and BMW would all have their race cars and their street cars on hand with a single journalist dedicated to each car along with a pro driver to drive the car. So it was a wild way to start the week, literally running from the GT3 street car to the Cup car to the GT3 RSR. I believe I drove a total of seven cars that day. It was a fun way to open the weekend and very well organized by all the parties involved.

From there it was about getting down to business, strictly RSR. The car started out with a pretty good baseline from the pre-test in April, but it was very clear that the Ferraris were extremely quick out of the box. From the lap times they established on day one, we knew we had our backs up against the wall, but in saying that, we were holding our own against the rest of the competition. We narrowed the gap right down to a few tenths by qualifying and we started third behind the Patron and Risi cars. Jörg was to qualify and start. As I’ve mentioned, before the season begins we choose in advance the tracks where we like to qualify and usually the qualifying driver will start unless there is a unique scenario.

Jörg did a great job and kept his nose clean until about the end of the first hour when he picked up a slow puncture and had to make a green flag pit stop. That set us back, down to sixth or seventh position, but as usual Thomas Blam, the team’s strategist, and the crew performed flawlessly and they were able to springboard us back up onto the lead lap and get us in striking position. I took over not long after Jörg had his puncture. There were a couple of yellow flags and it was about putting my head down and trying to reel in all of the lost ground.

I was really liking the car set up and I was having a good time out there. The traffic was pretty heavy and challenging, which I didn’t expect on that length of race track, but the long radius corners and some of the switchbacks meant that there were plenty of misunderstandings between the classes. It was a tough stint but by the end of that first hour I was in the car we had closed the gap up to the Corvette and the BMW who were in second and third position. We had just gotten around the Corvette after the final set of pit stops in my second hour when the pressure alarm system from the telemetry started going off and it was a bit of déjà vu—the same situation that Jörg had faced—a slow puncture on a rear tire from some debris. It was the opposite tire that Jörg had, so we knew it wasn’t a pattern forming. I rode it out as long as I could. The tire was losing air at a slow rate and actually in certain sections of the track was gaining air pressure just from the stress and the heat and pressure that are created from the loads on the tire.

In the end, the ratio between how much we were losing compared to how much we were gaining by my putting extra energy and emphasis on sliding the rear tires meant that it was too risky—there was a possibility that we would either have a blowout or the car would get to a point where it was bottoming out. So we had to make another unscheduled pit stop under green and from there I was able to just reel the BMW back in on the last lap. But we maintained a fifth place. The lack of yellow flags at the end of the race helped and hurt us. It helped us because the top five cars established such a large gap from the long green flag run that we only lost a couple of positions, but we didn’t get a yellow at the end to bunch the field back up to try and recover some of those lost positions.

They say that tough and trying days are the days where championships are won and lost because you have to maintain composure and score reasonable points, not make any mistakes or panic. We stayed right on target—no tones of voice changed and there were no slip ups. To spend as much time as we did in the pits and still to turn out a top five was very positive.

We’ve fallen out of the championship lead, but only by a couple of points—much different than if we’d had a failure or an accident. We still put reasonably good points on the board and we’re still right in the hunt. It’s so incredibly close between the two BMWs, the #45 Lizard car and, of course, the class-leading Risi Ferrari. Lime Rock is our next event and one of my favorites on the calendar. I think it suits our racecar as much as anybody’s, but I have to think that smaller venues mean even closer racing, so it’s going to be a wild weekend and a great one to watch.

There’s a small break between now and Lime Rock in two weeks and in the meantime, I’ll be posting a link for you guys to check out of a recent test I had in the GT3 R Hybrid, one of the most anticipated race cars to come out of Porsche’s stable in a long time. It was certainly a car I’ve been waiting to get my hands on and I flew over for a 36-hour jaunt to the Lausitzring in the former East Germany. I was so excited and had heard great things but really what the car was like to drive, both from a performance and an interest standpoint, I wasn’t prepared for. It was just an absolute blast. Stay tuned for more on that drive.

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.