Côte de COTA26th September 2014
It would have been so good to start with a headline like ‘Austin powered us to victory’ but we’ll have to keep that one for another day. This last weekend at Circuit of the Americas was no different and, ultimately, it was disastrous for us with very poor results being little reward for all the hard work put in.
We all looked forward to going to Texas as COTA is one of the finest facilities in the USA. The circuit is great fun to drive and a huge challenge to get right due to the sequence of corners and the fact that it goes from a series of high speed corners to a series of long straights and slower corners – it’s a real challenge to flow it all together. A driver has to drive in a precise but aggressive way to get a lap time, and it’s vital for engineers to make sure that the car gives the driver the ability to do that. If it’s not able to change direction well enough at a given point, or is not stable enough, the lap time will slip away.
It was my turn to qualify last weekend and it didn’t turn out well. A small percentage of our performance was down to us not quite getting the car underneath us and our ongoing problems with the chassis imbalance, but a far greater percentage was down to Balance of Performance. As my team-mate Tommy Milner said afterwards, there seem to be several classes within GTLM…
1 Bomarito/Wittmer Dodge
2 Farnbacher/Goossens Dodge
3 Christensen/Long Porsche
4 Fisichella/Kaffer Ferrari
5 Makowiecki/Pilet Porsche
6 Auberlen/Priaulx BMW
7 Edwards/Müller BMW
8 Henzler/Sellers Porsche
9 García/Magnussen Chevrolet
10 Gavin/Milner Chevrolet
Despite the fact that it rained at COTA last year, and it was forecast, it always comes as a bit of a surprise when the skies darken and the heavens open. Although we didn’t get hit by rain anywhere near as badly as the WEC, the changeable weather meant that there wasn’t much consistency between track sessions in terms of data. It just added to the challenges we faced. As for the race, probably the less said about it, the better. It wasn’t one of our finest hours (well, two hours and 45 minutes).
No matter whether it was wet or dry, it was hot enough to be at the beach or poolside, and ultimately that was probably harder for the guys in the team than it was for us drivers. In our Corvette the heat wasn’t that bad and it’s certainly a benefit to us that the AC system worked so well in the cars – something that Corvette Racing put a lot of thought and effort into in the new car which has paid off.
I could see a lot of other drivers struggling with the heat and I know that in the six-hour race, for example, drivers were nauseous when getting out just because of heat and dehydration. You never saw a driver without a drinks bottle the whole week so it wasn’t because they weren’t doing their bit.
I came to Austin direct from Melbourne and it was the first time I’ve flown across the Pacific. It makes the Atlantic look like a lake in comparison! It was a very different way to arrive at a track and the jet lag was a challenge; my coffee intake was definitely more than normal. I realised it was going to be quite a big time change, but fortunately most of our track sessions were later on in the day so I was a bit more awake and my body clock was switched on.
Being with the FIA WEC meant it was a really packed paddock and the schedule was crammed, but it was nice to see again all the Aston Martin guys who I worked with last year at COTA. Darren Turner and Stefan Mücke got a good result on Saturday night which made up for last year’s disappointment… if the Corvette in that race couldn’t win and be up there, then it was good to see Aston take the victory.
It was great to see Tommy and Jordan and Ricky Taylor drive together in the WEC (Team America), and it was a shame they were unlucky in the storm and caught out by the regs.
It was also good to see all the Audi guys outside Le Mans and I got the chance to talk to my old team-mate Marcel Fässler – who had a great weekend – earlier in the week when I had coffee with him, Benoît Tréluyer and André Lotterer at Mellow Johnny’s, the famous bike shop in Austin. Our race might not have gone so well, but Austin itself ain’t that bad!
A breath of Aussie air
It’s been a pretty hectic few weeks as I went straight to Australia from our last race at VIR. It was a bit of a frantic trip getting there with 54 hours of travel in all by the time I got there. I was dead on my feet.
My team-mate for the V8 Series enduros that I’m doing with Walkinshaw Racing is Nick Percat and he very kindly picked me up and had me stay at his house for the next two weeks, showing me around Melbourne and talking me through all the things that would be expected of me as a co-driver. We also spent many days at the Walkinshaw facility just outside Melbourne and it was a very productive couple of weeks.
There was so much to adapt to – not just the car and its tyres, but the systems and procedures used in this type of racing. Although we had some mixed results at Sandown, we’re going into the next one at Bathurst with a lot more confidence for a really good result. Even getting in and out of the car is very different; it’s the other side of the car to what I’m used to, and the systems and processes you use are completely opposite, so the muscle memory you have is defunct. Cool suits instead of an AC unit, differently placed window nets, even who you talk to on the radio – it takes a little time for it to become instinctive.
As a tall guy, I’m not the most flexible in terms of getting myself folded up into small shapes. Nick is tall too but he’s more flexible than me and used to the process required to quickly get in and out of the car. I realised I had some problems so the team signed me up to an intensive course of Pilates which was a lot harder than I thought and I came out of all the sessions exhausted and sweating! I now have a new respect for anyone who does this, and I will be adding it to my training regime from now on.
I can’t wait to get back to Bathurst and put it all into practice but, before then, we’ve got Petit Le Mans which is the final round of the 2014 United SportsCar Championship. It can’t come soon enough!