How do you start to describe the weekend I’ve just had?
I’m not sure it’s fully sunk in yet, but Tommy Milner and I won our race at Virginia International Raceway – the penultimate round of the ALMS season – and with that result we also won the 2012 ALMS GT Drivers Championship.
Our points clinched the Manufacturers’ title for GM Chevrolet and Corvette Racing won the Teams’ championship, plus it was my 100th ALMS start. You could say it was a good day!
I was asked before the race if I was nervous but, to be honest, I wasn’t. We’d already won three races this year and we knew we just had to be safe, sensible and not get caught up in any dog-fights.
But everything worked for us, right from the first corner on the first lap where there was a big pile up with cars everywhere. I think I was only millimetres away from hitting an LMP but he just got out of the way in time and I squeezed through a gap unharmed. As I went through, I thought, “this is definitely our day”.
This was my fourth ALMS championship but the last was in 2007 so it’s been a long time coming. This year, with Tommy, it’s gelled really well and we’ve become a great team. You can have these great runs in a season, and we’ve only finished off the podium twice in nine races and that consistency has been one of the keys to our success.
The final jewel in our 2012 crown would be another victory like we had a couple of years ago at the final round of the season, the 1000-mile or ten hour Petit Le Mans event on October 20. We’ve got absolutely nothing to lose and it’s going to be a massive amount of fun as a result. I can’t wait and we’ve got a lot of celebrating to do!
100 Not Out
Saturday’s race at VIR was always going to be special, no matter what the outcome was, as it was my 100th ALMS race. All but three of those have been for Corvette Racing and the milestone made me think about some of the highlights over the years.
When I started 12 years ago, racing in the USA for me was very new, but it was a bright new world and a land of opportunity. The Series had ties to European racing though its links to the ACO and Le Mans but ran their races in quite a unique way. There was a real buzz and a great atmosphere and my first two races were two of the biggest, Petit Le Mans in 2000 and the 12 Hours of Sebring in 2001. I went from one to the other thinking, wow, this is amazing – huge crowds, Spring Break in Florida, carnival atmosphere, lots of wild activity going on all around you. I’d have been crazy not to want to be involved with it all!
Like so many others I was very saddened at the news about Sid Watkins. I spent two and a half seasons (1997-‘99) driving the F1 safety car and being in his company for every one of those weekends, and being part of and around the whole team at the FIA was an amazing experience and education.
Sid was such a knowledgeable man, and a hugely interesting and generous person to be around; he was someone who enriched lives. I always looked forward to going to dinner with him because you knew there’d be some great stories, entertaining company and probably someone else of great interest likely to be there as Sid’s guest. He had time for everyone, and everyone always had a great time with him.
On one trip to the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, we all travelled out on a Virgin Atlantic flight and his daughter Jess had arranged to be on it – flying it, actually, as First Officer! Gary Harstein was there plus a lot of the other FIA crew plus Sid’s son Alastair. We all landed, bullet train-ed it to Suzuka and then had an incredible dinner: as I recall guests included Alex Zanardi, Carl-Heinz Zimmerman who runs Mr E’s motorhome and Charlie Whiting – all huge characters. What a fantastic experience for a young driver to be in that world for a while.
Sid’s forward thinking and determination not to be put off by anyone or anything have served every racing driver today, and he kept on making advances and pushing to make it safer for not only all of us in a cockpit, but also everyone in the pit lane. He was a marvellous man, and will be greatly missed.