Living the American dream, and a farewell to Aussie Grit
For a modern Grand Prix track, the Circuit of the Americas is great! I’m not usually a fan of the Tilke-designed tracks or what has happened to a lot of circuits in terms of run-off areas. Track limits used to be glaringly obvious: tarmac, kerb then grass. Now with all the Tarmac run-off, the lines are blurred and I’ve seen some huge shunts in places where AstroTurf is used to define the edges of the track.
But back to COTA, where we’ve recently had round six of the World Endurance Championship. Although it does have a lot of Tarmac run-off, the big kerbs keep you honest. With the elevation changes and the configuration of the corners they have made a classic Grand Prix track that is enjoyable to race on. This year was particularly hard as it was hotter and more humid than ever before. The first couple of hours of the race were very difficult and we all suffered in those opening stages, then when the sun went down it became a bit more manageable.
My regular team-mate, Richie Stanaway, was away on Aussie V8s duty so Fernando Rees stepped back in for the weekend. With a few technical issues before the race our practice time was foreshortened, so Fernando did a good job despite having little running. Ultimately, though, we ended up fifth, which isn’t where we wanted to be. I’m sure we could have grabbed a podium but a few events during the race put that out of our reach so we had to be content with taking some valuable points.
Next on the WEC schedule was Fuji, one of my favourite places. I love going to Japan. Fuji Speedway is an old-school track and it is always a surprise to find how low the grip level is there. By the end of the weekend you get your head around where the grip is but before then you are fighting the car through each part of the corner. It’s easy to make mistakes there even when everything else is perfect; it was a surprise that we didn’t see any safety cars or full-course yellows during the race as the circuit naturally forces drivers into making mistakes.
We had a Balance of Performance change before the event with a smaller engine restrictor and they also increased our rear Gurney; you can see from our sixth-place finish that it had quite a big effect on our performance. It turned out to be one of the most processional races I have known in the GTE class of WEC since the championship started. The order went two Fords, two Ferraris, two Astons and Porsche, which is exactly how it was in qualifying. So, not an exciting race for us but it was a pleasure to race in Japan. It is so different to everywhere else we go and the fans there are so dedicated. It is always fun to go back.
In between the two WEC rounds I was at Spa for the penultimate European Le Mans Series event. That turned out to be a bizarre race for me. As the Platinum-graded driver I am limited to doing just over an hour in the race, so you usually do just one stint. As soon as I jumped in there were double yellows as a car had gone in the barrier and next time around we had gone to a full Safety Car period. I ended up doing 27 minutes all behind the Safety Car as it made sense to get Alex [MacDowall], the Silver driver, back for the final stint. I’ve never had such a short race. I hope at the final round in Estoril we can have a good run. We have a shot at the championship but we also need to make sure we don’t lose second place – it’s a bit tight at the top.
I was probably as surprised as anyone to see that Mark Webber had called time on his racing career. I first met Mark when he came over in 1996 to do Formula Ford and I raced against him a bit in 1997 when I did half a season of F3. In all that time he hasn’t changed a bit. Twenty years later he is still the same stand-up fella. You always hope that you’re going to be the guy who makes it to the top of the ladder and gets the opportunity to be a Grand Prix driver, but saying that it’s been a joy for a lot of the guys who knew Mark back in the day to see how successful he has been.
I don’t think many drivers could show sportsmanship to the level Mark does. He’s a great team player, which was clear on his arrival at Porsche. He’s one of the best ambassadors our sport could have and I’m sure he’ll continue to be in this new chapter of his life.