A visit to the temple of speed

31st July 2014

It had been a couple of years since I’d been to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I’d never raced there before last weekend’s latest round of the United SportsCar Championship. The last time I was there was for GM and the place is definitely one of the iconic names in racing with a standout venue and facilities. I always reckon that if you mention motor sport to the man on the street, someone who knows almost nothing about it, they will probably be able to identify the Monaco Grand Prix, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indy 500.

So it was interesting to return as a competitor, but I can’t say it will be one of my all-time favourites. We had a 14-turn, 2.43 mile infield road course using a bit of the banking but parts of the track were pretty narrow and, when you have to go off and on to the banking, it prevents flow and doesn’t allow you to find the kind of rhythm as at other, purpose-built tracks. The TUSC paddock was also very fragmented, with the different classes spread all over different parts of the infield and the IMSA truck difficult to find, but the track and the series are looking at how they can make improvements for next year.

It was a bit strange racing on a Friday evening but we got a reasonable turnout during the autograph session. There were a lot more NASCAR fans here than we had at Daytona, but it was good to see a different group of people and introduce them to top class sports car racing.

One step at a time

We still haven’t found the magic cure to the chassis imbalance we’d had for the last four races but we’re definitely making good progress in the right direction, and our engineers put in a lot of hours over the weekend to find some answers. Going into the Indy race there had been a new Balance of Performance issued for the GTLM category with Corvette Racing being pegged back with an additional 25kg of ballast, but most of our other competitors each receiving a break of either less weight, bigger restrictor, or improved aero… in the case of the Ferrari, all three!

It was Tommy’s turn to qualify but we missed the set up a bit and couldn’t get the grip we wanted – a common complaint all weekend from everyone – and didn’t qualify well. As it turned out, though, being at the back of the class might have been an advantage as we managed to avoid the carnage of the first 35 minutes which saw three full-course caution periods! The changes we’d make overnight and tried out in warm up were working and the car’s balance was better so we were chipping away at it little by little but it was frustrating to see some of the other GTLM cars flying off into the distance.

GTLM results

1. Bomarito/Wittmer, Dodge Viper
2. Fisichella/Kaffer, Ferrari F458
3. Christensen/Long, Porsche 911
4. García/Magnussen, Chevrolet Corvette
5. Gavin/Milner, Chevrolet Corvette
6. Auberlen/Priaulx, BMW Z4
7. Edwards/Müller, BMW Z4
8. Farnbacher/Goossens, Dodge Viper
9. Henzler/Sellers, Porsche 911

DNF
Lietz/Tandy, Porsche 911

The start of the race wasn’t great as the pace car went too fast and the field (of 48) got very strung out which didn’t make for good racing. However, the early yellows tightened things back up and we were starting to pick up some places. It all got a bit dramatic when Jan ‘Kevin’s Dad’ Magnussen got spun around by a GTD car and there were cars going all over the place. Jan went full throttle to spin his Corvette back around to continue and created a huge smoke screen which made life interesting for a few others, including Tommy. He said afterwards that he realised in the middle of all the smoke that if he couldn’t see out of it, then others wouldn’t be able to see in – it was a bit of a heart-racing moment! Looking at the in-car video afterwards, I’m really not sure that the gap for Tommy to get past could have been narrower.

From then on we were competitive to a point, and I had a good battle with Antonio García in the sister car with both of us trying to catch the leading Porsche and Ferrari but we struggled to make progress. We were racing hard against each other and had a few close calls, but I was struggling with a brake issue and the No.3 car had some accident damage so the chance of another Corvette Racing win was minimal.

It was decided when we came across a big bottle neck of traffic and we had to instantaneously decide whether to go to the left or right of the pack. Antonio took what turned out to be the better of the two options and so we finished fourth and fifth in class.

Stormy weather…

The area between Indianapolis and Chicago is notorious for getting hit by stormy weather and we had a huge thunderstorm on Wednesday plus bad weather again the weekend after our race, but fortunately no rain during our two days of running. Antonio, team boss Doug Fehan, Gary Pratt (of Pratt & Miller fame) and Richard Westbrook were playing golf on the Wednesday when they were hit by the thunderstorms and had a rain delay of 2.5 hours.

It turned into story time from Doug who has been in racing for all his long life and it seems that Gary either benefited from the stories or took a sneaky nap during them because he had his best round of the whole year when play resumed!

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