As we move into the last third of the ALMS season, we’ve said goodbye to the ‘usual’ two hour 45 minute races. This past weekend was the first of two four-hour events and it was at the track which always figures high up on any driver’s list of American favourites: Road America. The fast, flowing nature of the four mile, 14-turn circuit has a habit of producing exciting races and tight finishes and is the fastest track visited by the ALMS. Corvette tests here for Le Mans and we all love coming here.
But, to say it wasn’t an easy race is probably an understatement and one that pretty much the whole of the GT field could make! It was fast and furious out there as always, and great fun, but Tommy and I seemed to have a few things thrown in our path which didn’t allow us to be fighting for the win on this occasion. We had the pace and performance, and if we’d have had a bit more luck on our side, we should have been sure of a podium finish. Having said all that, to finish fourth and come out of the weekend still ahead in the points table means a lot.
It’s a shame I had to wait until after the race to see how close the finish was at the front between my countryman Guy Smith in the Dyson Lola and Lucas Luhr in the Muscle Milk HPD. It looked like a heck of an exciting battle, and to cross the line with only 0.083 seconds between them after four hours speaks volumes for the ALMS and the competition within all the classes. In GT, seven cars finished on the same lap representing five different manufacturers; you can see why the auto companies love it and keep coming back for more.
Caution periods can either work in favour of your strategy or against you in a sportscar race and we had four last Saturday which tended to work better for some than others – specifically for BMW and not us! The timing of the yellows and when we pitted turned our race into a bit of a roller-coaster; we were up there near the front, then down in the order, then up and then down again.
At our last stop we also had an issue with the door latch and, when we exited from the pits, we not only had a number of GT cars ahead of us on track but also some P2 and PC cars. Racing in a multi-class environment you’re always aware of other battles going on, and I make a big effort not to get in the way of faster cars coming through. Getting in the way of those battles can seriously affect the outcome of someone’s race result and, when there’s a five-car train such as we had in GT, every second counts. The last ten laps were a bit crazy and very aggressive at the end, with extremely close racing between five or six cars all gunning for victory, so our fourth place was a good result in the circumstances.
Tour de Road America
Since 2005 there has been a great fundraising event held each year at Road America: a bike ride to fight cancer which benefits, amongst others, Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong foundation. It’s a family-friendly event for local cyclists, drivers, fans, race team personnel and anyone else who can, or wants to, ride round Road America once the track closes for the day. Most moving to see are the cancer survivors who come for a fun ride on the track and one of the event’s most loyal supporters is our team boss, Doug Fehan, who’s a keen cyclist. He loves nothing better than to try and embarrass his drivers by whupping them on the bike, but unfortunately we all had other team duties this year and couldn’t enter. He was, however, up against actor Patrick Dempsey and his Dempsey Racing team-mates which probably didn’t bother him too much!
Long journeys to and from the USA are something I’ve become used to over the years but every now and then you have a really interesting flight which makes it seem to go much quicker. Coming from Chicago to London I found myself sat next to former F1 and current sports prototype driver Karun Chandhok who was returning from a friend’s wedding. Amongst other things, we talked about the World Endurance Championship and how much he’s enjoying driving the LMP1 HPD prototype with David Brabham and Peter Dumbreck. Although he still has hopes to return to F1, Karun has found working in sports cars really challenging but good fun. He admitted that, after working for so long on a one-to-one basis with your own engineer, it was a big change having to learn how to compromise on set-up and make decisions by committee. That adjustment aside, he’s loved the atmosphere and the racing and said that driving through traffic at Sebring and at night at Le Mans were definite highlights. He’s a really great guy and a definite plus to sports cars; I hope he’s able to stay for many years to come.