Getting back to work

I am finally back home in the states after my travels through Europe in pursuit of what is supposed to be a hobby – my historic racing weekends at Silverstone, Goodwood and Spa. There were mixed results, with a crash at Goodwood which left me a little sore and a fantastic run at Spa in a Shelby Mustang.

I’d never raced a Mustang before and I gotta say that to get my hands on one for the endurance race at Spa was just fantastic. The circuit is just fabulous, of course, and we ran well until the alternator started playing up during the night. We qualified 38th out of about 90 entries and got up to 10th which was pretty good. You have to understand how to push these cars because they’re not bullet-proof like the cars of today. The brakes are the biggest factor – they wear out like brakes always used to do, and it reminds you how different it was back then.

It was important, however, for me to get back to my real job in the USA with Rahal Letterman Racing as we had the final round of the ALMS, Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. Then my son Graham was racing in the final round of the IndyCar Series. The season just seems to get busier and busier on both sides of the Atlantic.

Petit Le Mans went well, with our BMW cars in the running for both the manufacturer and the team championships, so there was a lot on the line for BMW and we really had to focus. Interestingly, Petit Le Mans is tougher than Sebring for one big reason, and that’s the number of quick corners at Road Atlanta. There’s only one line through them so it’s easy for the slower guys to get caught out by the faster prototypes trying to come through. It’s a lot more stressful trying to stay out of the way so we put a spotter up on the hill out back and he’d tell our guys when to expect faster cars and that way they didn’t have to spend the whole time looking in the mirrors. It worked well but we still had a fraught race trying to win those titles because one of the BMWs bottomed out so hard on a bump that the gearbox housing was damaged and the starter shaft was bent so we couldn’t re-start the car in the pits.

That meant taking it back to the truck and we lost about 50 laps machining a new shaft and putting the gearbox back together.

But we got it absolutely right with the other car, the strategy was perfect, and we had some luck. The Ferraris and the Corvettes had the legs on us but the lead Ferrari was penalised for an infringement in the pits and then it ran out of fuel so we came through to win both the manufacturer and team championships for BMW. David Letterman was bragging about this on his Monday night TV show – BMW and all our sponsors were pretty pleased with the exposure that show gets right across the States. It’s been a tough year but we were consistent and that’s what wins titles.

Talking of titles, I was so pleased to see Dario Franchitti take another IndyCar Championship – I’m a big fan of Dario and he’s a gentleman, which just goes to show that nice guys can win. He had another very strong year, the Ganassi team did a great job, and in the end they got the job done while the pressure began to tell on the other teams. So, accolades to them all, and who knows how many more titles Dario can go on to win from here.

My son Graham had a great end to the year, coming 10th in the final round despite losing a piece of the front wing in a touch with Ryan Hunter-Reay, and running higher than that earlier in the race. Since Toronto he’s been driving better than ever so maybe the tough times he had earlier in the year have been good for him. I think those hard times, looking for a drive and sponsorship, did him a lot of good and now he’s on a high. He’s now the guy with the ball and everyone wants to talk to him for 2011. He’s got the security of a sponsor for the next two years and I believe he now has a great opportunity to make it happen next season. So, a positive end to the year, and now it’s time to focus on the final round of our historic series which has been a lot of hard work, but again I think the prospects for a second season look good.