As I sit at my laptop writing this I’m struck by exactly how lucky I am to have spent over the past decade being paid to do something I love. I do love my time at home with my family, but I am still addicted to that buzz of excitement I get when I first arrive in a race paddock, or first drive out onto the race track, especially when it’s a circuit I’ve not raced at before.
These days I don’t often get the chance to drive at a race track for the first time, as over the years I’ve been fortunate to race at most of the world’s major international circuits. But last weekend I had double the excitement, as I was racing for the first time at Virginia International Raceway, and what a raceway it is!
I was really delighted that Dyson Racing asked me to come and drive for them at VIR to help them with their tilt at retaining their drivers’ championship for Guy Smith and Chris Dyson. Driving their Lola B12/60 LMP1 Coupe is always a blast.
I’ve likened it before to sitting in a low-flying fighter jet rather than a race car, but at VIR it took that feeling to a whole new level. There is a section of the track called the ‘Hurry Ups’ which is uphill and flat out but is best described as two Eau Rouges back to back followed by Paddock Hill Bend, but going down to the left instead of to the right. I would stick this sequence of corners into my all-time favourite hypothetical race circuit without hesitation, although having watched the GT drivers through there I’m pretty sure that it’s more fun to drive in a car with downforce. In the Dyson Lola Mazda we were pulling the best part of 4G twice within a 10 second segment!
The race result was a decent one too, Chris, Guy and myself finishing 2nd overall to the Muscle Milk HPD, which keeps Dyson Racing in the hunt for the drivers’ and teams’ championship going into the final ALMS race, Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. I always thoroughly enjoy driving with Chris and Guy, as not only are they great drivers but also the banter with them and the team is always great. At one point mid-race when I politely questioned why they were keeping me in for a third consecutive stint rather than put Guy in, they replied that he was busy eating ice-cream!
Another highlight of the race was seeing Oliver Gavin clinch the GT drivers’ title along with the team and manufacturer titles for Corvette. I briefly saw Olly just before the start and promised to be especially careful not to hit his Corvette. Traffic around VIR was unusually tough with all the multiple classes, in fact in my two hours in the car I only got one lap where I didn’t get held up in traffic. So for him to then go on and clinch the GT win and get quite emotional at the end of the race was really nice to see.
Next up it’s my turn back in a GTE car, as I will be back out in the factory Lotus Evora for the Monza round of the International GT championship and Lotus have also placed me in the Alex Job Racing Lotus Evora for the last ALMS race at Petit Le Mans. AJR also had a great 6th place in GT at VIR, so I am excited to join them and finally get to race for Alex Job. In the past with my time at Porsche and Ferrari, he was always one of our biggest competitors and it will be nice to get in to the AJR team fold and partner up with Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler.
However, there was a shadow over my weekend in the US: the sad passing of ‘the Prof’, Professor Sid Watkins, who did a huge amount for improving medical care at race circuits in Formula 1 and beyond.
I was fortunate enough to be his next door neighbour for a couple of years in the London Docklands, and I would often bump into him in the lift or hallway. It was just around the time his book came out and I remember asking him if he would mind signing my copy for me. He suggested that I come over for breakfast the next morning, and when he answered the door he was in a beautiful dressing gown, and already smoking a cigar! We proceeded to have a full fry up, so it was obviously not a case of practicing what he preached!
He was such a gentleman to me and very kind with his advice at a time that I was trying to break into the ranks of professional drivers who actually get paid to race rather than paying to do it themselves, and I shall never forget that. Thank you, Prof. May you rest in peace.