It’s been a phenomenal year for Tommy [Milner] and I, with our four wins and the GT title wrapped up a few weeks ago.
It’s a great shame we couldn’t finish it off with another victory – especially as it was at the 1000 Mile, or ten hour (whichever comes first) Petit Le Mans which is one of the ALMS’s two ‘classics’. The race might only be in its 15th year, as opposed to the much longer-established Sebring or Le Mans, for example, but it gets a huge crowd at Road Atlanta and the nature of the undulating and narrow track makes for some really exciting racing… especially when it gets dark!
We competed at the front again, as we’ve done all year, until we had a steering rack failure at six hours which knocked us right out of the game as the rack was replaced in the pits. There was close racing between both the Corvettes before and after our setback, BMW, the Flying Lizard Porsche and the lead Extreme Speed Ferrari which eventually pipped our sister car to victory in the GT class by just 30 seconds after 9 hours and 37 minutes of nose-to-tail racing.
Once we were out of contention we were all rooting for the #3 car in the hope that Jan Magnussen could continue his amazing record of a win in every season of the ALMS. My marathon running mate Antonio Garcia put up a tremendous fight with the #01 Ferrari in the last hour and it was super close right to the finish. Congratulations to Toni Vilander, Scott Sharp and Johannes van Overbeek for such great pace and strategy…we were convinced they were going to have to pit again before the chequered flag for a splash of fuel but they nailed it.
It was a perfect example, as most sports car drivers have experienced at some time or other, of an endurance race biting you when you least expect it. In 2012 we’ve only finished off the ALMS podium three times in ten races and who’d have guessed that this would be one of them as Corvette Racing is usually really strong in these longer events. There was a lot of promise at Petit Le Mans; we really had a good car to fight with, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. The No.4 will live to fight another Petit Le Mans in 2013 and we all can’t wait for the season to start. See you at Sebring in March!
I am now on the final leg of a pretty long trip to the USA this time around, starting with a celebration breakfast on 9th October for all of GM’s motor sport programmes and drivers at the Renaissance Centre in Detroit. After that I spent a few days in Pratt & Miller’s workshops on the outskirts of the Michigan before the team set off for Georgia and Petit Le Mans. Having time on my hands, I decided it would be fun to travel south with the team’s truckies on the 800 mile trip and it was a blast although I’m not sure I’d be rushing to do it again! The patience and calm these guys have compared to racing drivers is, well, ‘poles apart’ doesn’t quite seem far enough to describe the difference between the two sets of drivers. These racing trucks are big and laden with precious cargo, but they arrive at the tracks each race pristine and polished and are parked up with pin-point precision. Hats off to Chad, Dave and all the other truckies in the paddock for making a hard job look easy.
Now the final race is done and we’ve had the annual prize-giving where we were awarded our championship trophies, I’m off to Bowling Green in Kentucky to factory where the production Corvettes are all made. It’s potentially going to be hard on the signing hand but well worth it to show the guys there our cars and how the road and racing cars link together. We tried to get ahead of the game and signed about a thousand of these while at the track!
The talk of the ALMS paddock all week was the proposal by the FIA and ACO to bring together through regulations GTE and GT3 cars to race as one combined series. I think there’s quite a long way to go before I could properly comment on that, as too much is still unknown but that subject, together with the imminent ALMS and Grand Am Series merger, meant there was a general mood of optimism about GT racing’s future. Yes the economy has been tough, and yes that has an effect on where and how different manufacturers choose to race but no one with any passion for motor sport could have failed to feel the positive atmosphere at Road Atlanta. In front of lots of Georgia big wigs and team owners, plus other interested parties such as promoters and IndyCar teams’ personnel, the ALMS and Road Atlanta once again put on a fantastic show. There were tons of fans, a close-fought race through several classes, incidents and accidents and all in all it was a great way to close out 2012. I’m really looking forward to the future of GT racing as are many of my driving friends and colleagues. Hope you are too.