Tommy Milner and I had a pretty faultless weekend on the bumpy and punishing streets of Baltimore’s Inner Harbour.
We might have ‘only’ got a second place in GT instead of a win, but we headed both practice sessions, I got a very satisfying pole position (my first of the year) and set a new fastest race lap record in what turned out to be an unpredictable two-hour race. More importantly at this stage of the season, the result gives us a clear 28 points lead in the GT Manufacturers’ and Drivers’ championships ahead of our Corvette team-mates Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen.
We had a good car all weekend and, while we were obviously hoping to pull off a victory, this is a positive result. Ten GT cars finished on the lead lap, helped by two caution periods in the final 45 minutes, but I decided it would have been too big a risk to try and pass Bryan Sellers in the class-winning Falken Porsche. Bryan drove really well so all credit to him and the team for their win, and they did better than us at opening a gap on the restarts. I had to laugh when I saw his post-race comments about “one of the worst sights in racing is having Olly Gavin behind you in a Corvette”! I’m pretty sure it was meant positively but you never know in such a tight and competitive field as we’ve got in the ALMS.
The story of our season so far has been to keep the points ticking over and, while you’re leading a championship and everyone is chasing you hard, your aim has to be to maintain or – ideally – increase it. Everyone on the team is doing their job perfectly at the moment and that builds confidence going into the final two events, a four-hour race at Virginia International Raceway and the ten-hour Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
Baltimore bump day
Friday’s practice/qualifying day was one of delays, curtailments and disruption due to a very bumpy section on the front straight in the area of a covered rail track. ALMS shares the billing on this race with IndyCar and we all had the same issue last year; as a result an unpopular chicane was installed to slow the cars down so they didn’t take off over the bumps.
Following pleas by drivers, officials this year tried to do away with the chicane but it soon became clear that was going to be too dangerous an option, especially for the IndyCar drivers although some of the ALMS cars got more air miles in than they’d bargained for! After Simon Pagenaud got almost two feet in the air, the series called a halt to opening practice and some major talks took place. I was asked by officials for my opinion so I talked to several of my ALMS driving colleagues as well as Dario [Franchitti], Hélio [Castroneves] and Simon [Pagenaud] before we all went to see the officials. Dario said that so many of the IndyCar drivers didn’t want a chicane and they wanted everything possible to be done to try and avoid it.
I think ideally it should have been covered by a long Tarmac ramp as they did over similar rail tracks near the pitlane entrance but, for whatever reason, that didn’t seem to be an option. First of all they tried grinding down the bump to level the road more but that didn’t work so a temporary tyre chicane was placed on the front straight. No one was a big fan of the tyres but in the end it was replaced overnight with a two-kerb chicane and tyre bundles, which didn’t slow us down but perhaps spoilt the rhythm of the lap. The track is rough on the cars at the best of times, but without the chicane I think it would have been even rougher on the drivers.
North American super series
Bumps aside, the big talk of the weekend was about a rumoured merger of the American Le Mans Series and Grand-Am – North America’s two sportscar racing championships.
Not much is known about it yet but, if it’s true and they get it right, what a prospect for racing fans in North America, and worldwide! Can you imagine seeing our Corvette C6Rs on the banking at Daytona International Speedway – the sound would be absolutely awesome – and the addition of more Prototypes to races like Petit Le Mans would ensure substantially increased grids and an amazing spectacle for fans.
Like I say, there are still a lot of questions to be answered but it could change the face of sports car racing as we know it for many, many people.