What a weekend for the Brits, both at Mid-Ohio for our ALMS race and in the various London Olympic arenas.
I was in the USA for the first week of the Olympics, but was massively inspired by cyclists Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins, tennis star Andy Murray, heptathlon gold medal winner Jessica Ennis and all the others; so many examples of fantastic, inspirational performances under huge pressure and expectation.
I can only equate it to marathon running and racing but, in the end, it’s all about believing in yourself, in the job you’re doing and the way in which you’re doing it. And, whatever the result, you never stop learning. So, as medals were won in London, Marino Franchitti and I were doing our bit for Britain at Mid-Ohio with our respective PC and GT victories!
The battle went down to the wire and it was just fantastic for Tommy and I to come out on top of a really nail-biting battle with the Flying Lizard Porsche. It was our third win of the season and we regained the points lead so it couldn’t have been better – especially after a rough last couple of races. Mid-Ohio is considered as Corvette Racing’s ‘home race’ so it was quite emotional to get the victory in front of so many Pratt & Miller people and the GM top brass.
I think one of the key factors was a couple of really hot laps after each tyre change. We seemed to be able to get heat into our rear tyres quicker than others and that made all the difference, but we had to really nail it from the moment we left the pits. I did the last hour of the race and was lying third but, with one lap on my new tyres, I managed to catch Jan in the No.3 Vette. Then my crew chief radioed that Jörg Bergmeister was on cold tyres and told me to go for it. It was bumper to bumper after that, under big pressure, but you mustn’t let any doubts creep in about your ability to come through.
We’ve so nearly won this race for the last two years so it was good to get this one for the team who put us in a position to win through their prep and pit work. As I said last time, Tommy and I like that winning feeling!
Friends around the world
As the ALMS race had twin billing with IndyCar, it was also great to see Dario [Franchitti] who was there to greet my fellow BRDC marathon team member, Marino, at the end of the race. Likewise Justin Wilson, as I’d met up with his younger brother Stefan on a recent trip to the Indianapolis Grand-Am race.
Stefan and I had a long talk about the trials and tribulations of being a tall racing driver and the problems we have getting comfortable in some cars. He’s struggling to find a ride at moment – I hope it all works out OK for him. Mark Webber is only a couple of inches smaller and he’s doing pretty well isn’t he?
Sprint Cup Fever
The day after the Grand-Am race I watched my first NASCAR Sprint Cup race and was massively impressed. It’s all about the show, which is huge, and drivers are definitely perceived as good guys or bad. The reaction from the crowd when someone like Dale Earnhardt Jr or Jeff Gordon was introduced was wild, and when Kyle Busch was announced the crowd booed like at a pantomime.
Spectator access is fantastic and you can even buy a pass onto the grid – can you imagine Formula 1’s reaction to that? The drivers also understand they need to be open to fans and engage with them, particularly after the recent financial downturn and, together with the series and their teams, they are all working very hard to involve fans and sponsors.
At the Brickyard 400 there was a celebration of the newly developed and raced Corvette Daytona Prototype, honouring Jim France and his efforts to successfully get that car on the grid. Pratt & Miller have done a nice book and film about it which features yours truly as I was quite heavily involved in the early development.
I was therefore on the grid before the Sprint Cup race and was asked by one of my GM motor sport bosses to drive one of Chevy Grand Marshal cars for a couple of laps (took me back to my F1 safety car days). It was originally going to be a Camaro, but then I had a last minute change to a Corvette as the original driver didn’t know how to use a stick shift.
My passenger in the car was Curtis Shaver who had been nominated as ‘hero of the day’ through a scheme run by race sponsors Crown Royal. Curtis was a farmer from Alabama who lost a leg in an accident some years back. He was so impressed by the help and care of the emergency services that he joined the fire service and trained as an emergency medical technician. He was a completely selfless, amazing man and obviously a real American hero and inspiration to many. Part of the deal was that the race was named in his honour – the 19th Annual Crown Royal Presents the Curtis Shaver 400 at the Brickyard. How cool is that?