December 2010—Back from World Tour
What a wild few weeks! I mentioned in my last blog that I was starting out on what would be sort of a victory lap of Asia, Australia and Europe. It included the V8 Supercar race on the Gold Coast of Australia followed by a jaunt straight to Germany for my first run at the Nordschleife, then right back to the East to take part in the Intercontinental Le Mans Series finale in the GT3R Hybrid at Zhuhai, China.
Australia was everything people had told me it would be and more. We spent the first week in Melbourne where my team, Garry Rogers Motorsport, is based. For those of you who have seen the V8 Supercars on Speed, I was connected to Garry Rogers Motorsport by Leigh Diffey who told me that Garry was a guy who really wanted to give young guys a shot at the highest level of motorsport in Australia. It was quite a spectacular weekend with half of the co-drivers being international stars from other types of racing. The race itself was a success, and a ton of fun! Leading my stint against some of the Aussie legends I have followed for years, not to mention the likes of Villeneuve, Franchitti, Dixon and Bourdais was a nerve-racking and humbling hour. The second race we had a puncture but were able to get back onto the lead lap and finish in the top 11, I believe. There was an official competition to determine the best team with an international driver from the two races combined, and I ended up second in that standing. We were very definitely the underdog heading in—of the 18 drivers rated in much of the local press, I was rated dead last and expected to disappoint. So it was a nice little taste of revenge when we ended up doing well. If you haven't seen the V8s, YouTube it!
I left Australia on Monday after the race with a smile on my face, but in the back of my mind I knew that the challenge had just begun. The next weekend was going to be an even taller mountain to climb—the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Although I had never raced a GT3 R, I had sampled one before and because I knew the car you would think that it wouldn’t be as daunting as the previous week. People were asking me why I had this preconceived notion that it was going to be such a challenging weekend and on the first lap of practice in the race car my expectations were confirmed. It is just a wild, wild place. I’d heard that the race is wild and you hear often about how crazy the concept is, but just driving the track on slicks is an insane experience. It’s so fast, the barriers are so close and there are so many blind corners that you really can’t get a feel for it on YouTube or playing video games or even driving around it in a rental car. When you get out there in a race car and you’re running over 300 km per hour, it’s a whole different experience. I enjoyed the heck out of it. I have a tremendous respect for not only the track but the craziness of that whole series and concept. You can’t compare that form of motorsport to anything. For me, it’s to Germans what Saturday night stock cars on the dirt are to Americans—you only understand it if it’s part of your upbringing. For many of the drivers, the only type of racing they do is at the Nordschleife and they are specialists. They are guys that you’ve never heard of and they are putting it to people who make a living racing cars every week internationally and know the ring well. I had a great time and I couldn’t have been with a better team; Manthey is not only successful and professional but they are a family organization. When you come to drive for them, from when you show up until you leave, you’re part of the family.
The final stop at Zhuhai was back to a very comfortable surrounding with the factory team. China was big race #3 after the Nürburgring 24 Hour debut and the Petit Le Mans, but finally a victory and a dominant one at that. The race shaped up interestingly because GT1, GT2 and GTS, which was more or less GT3 cars, were all very evenly matched on the race track. And then there was the wild card, the Hybrid. We knew we were going to be quick based on the layout of the track with a lot of straightaways and a lot of hairpins. That made for great time for us to charge and then to boost coming out of the corners. That combined with what Porsche Intelligent Performance is all about, which is going fast but doing it very efficiently, meant that we weren’t in the pits as often and we had the pace. We won by three laps and really just focused on staying out of trouble and hitting all our marks. It wasn’t about cruising around and conserving though; Jörg and I ran, as we do in the Flying Lizard organization, to a plan and the team did as well, and there it was. A great way to finish the season.
Now it’s some PR and marketing, auto shows and preparation for Daytona which starts December 1 and 2 down in Homestead. Much of the remaining days of December will be spent in Germany for all of our year end activities like fitness tests and the holiday party in Weissach. Feel free to check my Twitter feed which is displayed on the main page of my website for daily updates and pictures. I will check back in with you guys here before the end of the year.
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