Motor racing’s unpredictable highs and lows
I wasn’t supposed to race in the 2016 European Le Mans Series, but an early-season calendar clash led me to jump into Jonny Adams’ seat in the Beechdean Aston Martin. Jonny focused on British GT, I did European Le Mans and we both won our championships, so it all turned out nicely.
I thought I would just do the opening race at Silverstone, but then I was called up for the Imola round and took the championship lead, so that settled that.
Winning the championship was a surprise. We went into October’s Estoril finale needing everything to go our way – and for once it did. I would never wish bad luck on another competitor, but the gods were looking down on the no99 Aston Martin that day.
We arrived in Portugal with a mathematical chance of success, but when you start using words like ‘mathematical’ your chances are usually very slim. The leaders were way ahead, but we had three other cars snapping at our heels so our priority was to retain second place in the championship. First and second place receive automatic Le Mans entries for 2017, so not letting second slip away was vital.
We knew what needed to happen for us to win the title, but it wasn’t much of a conversation as it was such a long shot. We needed to win while the JMW Ferrari failed to finish – and we then made it harder for ourselves by qualifying eighth. But it’s in the nature of ELMS races that a lot can happen in the opening stint as different categories of driver go up against each other.
It all kicked off at the start and Alex MacDowall was able to sit back and watch the chaos, find a line through it and make his way to the front of the GT field. He finished his run in the lead and handed the car over to Andrew Howard, who also drove the stint of his life.
The Ferrari was starting to hit – or get hit by – all sorts of trouble. When I jumped in the safety car came out as our rival had just been involved in a collision. They really did have all the bad luck. The Ferrari was heading back to the pits with a gearbox problem, off the racing line, and was wiped out by a spinning LMP3 car. How do you even calculate the probability of that happening?
The restart was tricky as I was surrounded by LMP2 and LMP3 cars, but once I got clear of traffic I managed to rebuild our advantage. Alex then drove to the flag and the only scare we had was when the heavens opened on the last lap. We took the flag, winning the championship, but then the rain was so heavy it was difficult even to get back to parc fermé. Someone was definitely on our side.
I went from the amazing fortunes of Estoril to disaster in Shanghai for the penultimate WEC round. An LMP2 car lost it going into Turn One at the start and then rolled back towards the apex just as Richie (Stanaway) was coming through. Wrong place, wrong time and the subsequently heavy impact signalled the end of our race.
There has been talk in the past of leaving a gap between the LMP and GT grids for these races, but if there is trouble at the GT start there would then be a problem with the LMP1 cars coming around to complete their lap. We would prefer a gap because we tend to trip over the slower LMP2 cars and drivers, but I’m not sure what the answer is. It’s a tricky thing to get right.
I read recently that the WEC bosses are trying to turn the driver and manufacturer titles into properly recognised world championships, instead of ‘trophies’. The WEC is a world championship with world-class cars, teams and drivers and it should be recognised as such. Just because GTE Pro is a different category to LMP1 the prize shouldn’t be less than that given to LMP1. For manufacturers like Aston Martin and Ford, this is their main programme and deserves the credibility of being a full world championship.