Before travelling to Wisconsin this last weekend, I didn’t have any idea what sort of ‘historic’ weekend it was going to be. A third win from six races would have been the icing on the cake, but a third place was good enough to boost our championship points haul and put Tommy and me back at the top of the tables; a great way to end the weekend.
I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like racing at Road America. It’s a little over four miles long with a European-style layout and is very fast, plus it’s the venue for some of the closest finishes in ALMS history. It’s also in a very scenic part of the USA, near the shores of Lake Michigan and quite a number of racing people bring their families with them here.
I didn’t realise until Corvette Racing pointed it out that I’m the only driver to have now raced in each of the 12 ALMS races at Road America, winning 3 times, taking 4 pole positions and 4 fastest race laps in class. We weren’t able to add to that tally this year as the SRT Vipers were in a class of their own when it came to speed, but we certainly gave them a good run for their money.
After having had nice sunny, breezy weather for practice and qualifying, two hours of rain prior to the start of the race was a bit of an unwelcome surprise. We started from third (in GT) and Tommy stopped for fuel under yellows within the first 30 minutes, but then had to pit again for slicks just a few laps later as the track was rapidly drying. We struggled to make up the lost ground and, when he came in for the driver change, we were eighth. However, when we left the pits we were third so I can’t really say I’m disappointed with the result at all as the crew guys did a spectacular job.
From then on we were trying to maintain position but also save fuel as we knew the race could be won or lost on strategy. Our plan was to be able to eke out our fuel to the finish, gambling that not all of our close competitors would be able to do that, and it was all going to plan. Unfortunately one of the GTC Porsches crashed out 10 minutes before the end of the race and we finished under yellow flags which allowed the Viper to win and our team-mates to pip us for second. A double podium for the team was nevertheless a great result and it was really close as apparently the Viper was on reserve tank fumes by the end!
Going back to the past…
Our schedule allowed us quite a lot of free time between track sessions. As well as being able to go running with Antonio [Garcia] around Sheboygan’s harbour and lakeside where we were staying, I also went out for a pretty special bike ride around Elkhart Lake – the nearest village to the track. I was lucky enough to be lent a bike by my team boss, Doug Fehan, who is a very keen cyclist and he happened to drop into conversation that his specialised S-works SL3 Tarmac all-carbon fibre bike would cost $10,000 in the shops so I was keen to not have a problem with it…
More by luck than judgement, I found a sign commemorating the first road race which took place in Elkhart Lake in 1950. The start-finish line was on County Road P and competitors followed a number of local roads and through the village for a total distance of 3.3 miles. I cycled about 40 miles and did an average speed of 21mph so I can only imagine what it must have been like racing over these public roads back then. I researched it a bit afterwards and learnt that the course was expanded to 6.5 miles for the next two years which must have been awesome.
And to the future…
This was the first (and only) time that the ALMS and Grand-Am Rolex series were both at the same track at the same time and the paddock was certainly an impressive sight. We had 33 entries in the ALMS and there were 30 in Grand-Am so it was packed and full of friends old and new. All in all it was a very positive weekend with a good feel for next year’s combined series, United SportsCar Racing.
The promises made by the organisers to take the best parts of both current series appear as though they are being followed up, and that’s very encouraging. Tyre regulations and a good TV package have been announced, and we know that the GT class is pretty stable and settled for next year which is excellent news. There’s still some unrest within certain parts of the paddocks because of the uncertainty on prototype regulations and the full calendar which is frustrating as decisions can’t be made without those. The official Daytona 24 test is early January so time is ticking by fast and I have great sympathy for teams like Spirit of Daytona Racing (with whom I did Daytona this year) as they are in limbo at the moment. The likes of Scott Elkins and Ed Bennett are working extremely hard to get those problems ironed out and there’s no doubt it’s a mammoth task.
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