The vagaries of Virginia

1st September 2014

Our most recent round of the Tudor United SportsCar Championship was another tough weekend which promised much and delivered little for me and Tommy Milner in our No.4 entry. To be honest, at the end of the weekend everyone was just pleased it was over and that Antonio García had not lost too many points in the championship battle.

The low point of the whole weekend was a crash in practice involving Jan Magnussen in our sister car and Richard Lietz in one of the factory Porsches which put a big dampener on everything. Richard went off track on some fluid dropped by another car and came to rest against the tyre barriers and then Jan went off on the same fluid and slid helplessly into the Porsche’s door. Both cars were badly damaged, but worse was that Richard suffered a broken arm and Jan was briefly knocked out and got a concussion. We were lucky to have Jordan Taylor available to step in, who did a great job, and he joined with the rest of us in sending best wishes to Richard for a speedy recovery.

The race should have been a good one for us because we’d had success there in the past and it was a GTLM/GTD only event so we were fighting for an overall win. Practice went pretty well but we lacked pace in qualifying as we were a bit out on set up. We were looking much stronger come warm up and the race and I managed to move from ninth at the start to fifth by the time I handed over to Tommy.

GTLM results

1 Fisichella/Kaffer Ferrari
2 Henzler/Sellers Porsche
3 Edwards/Müller BMW
4 Auberlen/Priaulx BMW
5 Bomarito/Wittmer Dodge
6 Farnbacher/Goossens Dodge
7 García/Taylor Chevrolet
8 Christensen/Long Porsche
9 Gavin/Milner Chevrolet

DNF
Christensen/Lietz Porsche

As Tommy went out of the pits, eight GTDs went by the start-finish line in a huge queue and that meant we lost a couple of places but we were still in a good position for a potential podium. Tommy was then battling with the eventual race-winning Ferrari just prior to the halfway point when he was hit hard from behind by Pat Long in the sister Porsche, pushing us into the barriers. The damage cost us four laps for repairs, effectively taking both of us out of the race, and after that we just had to drive around to finish in ninth.

There seemed to be some sort of invisible magnet between Corvette and Porsche all weekend, the Jan/Richard Lietz accident being the most visible. I had a slight contretemps with Michael Christensen – Pat’s team mate – on the first lap which ended up with us touching slightly and this was followed by Tommy’s clash.

Aside from our woes, it was a very exciting end to the race and Giancarlo Fisichella showed his Grand Prix-winning class with a last lap pass for victory. It was a good finish for the track and for the race in general and nice to see two cars battling at the front which haven’t been up there for the majority of the season. It looked like BMW was going to get the win but Risi played the strategy well and judged it just right so congratulations to them.

Never stop fighting on safety issues

It was a great shame that Jan wasn’t fit to race but he fully understands that safety is paramount and that he needed to be fully well enough to get in the car. His team-mates, who know him as well as anyone in the racing world, could see straight away after the accident that he had been knocked out and was not 100 per cent. By not participating at VIR it has put his championship chances to an end, which is hard for him to accept and now if the No.3 car wins the title it will be Antonio alone who is Drivers’ Champion.

What it did prove to me was that we can’t ever take safety for granted and have to keep looking at ways of improving it. Even with today’s high specification GTLM cars from respected manufacturers such as Chevrolet, Porsche and Ferrari, this accident showed that drivers can still get hurt. For sure our Corvette crash box in the door saved Jan from further injury… maybe Richard would not have broken his arm if the Porsche had something similar and a good number of people have come to look at it since. If it can prevent any more injuries like Richard’s, then it can only be a good thing.

VIR version 2014

Since we raced at VIR last year a huge amount of work has been done at the track including widening sections, hard-surfacing the paddock, building garages and changing the entry to the pitlane which many of us felt was an area of concern last year. The whole VIR management team, led by Kerrigan Smith, has stopped and listened to the series and its drivers, and shown how they can improve a facility – and it’s a refreshing approach.

You have to wholly applaud them for wanting to improve things and making a visit there a better experience and spectacle for teams and fans. There are also, for example, plenty of washrooms around the circuit, something other tracks would do well to take notice of as a lack of little things like that leads to the type of frustrations you hear about from fans. On top of all that, everyone at the track was friendly, helpful and inviting and that made the whole VIR experience very positive and good to see.

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