Another bump in the road


By Oliver Gavin

Teams and drivers typically encounter many bumps in the road, both literally and figuratively, at Sebring. It’s a car buster – always has been and always will be.

It might be a cliché, but the Floridian circuit is renowned for testing both man and machine to the limit, mainly due to its unforgiving bumps, and it certainly lived up to its reputation during the 2015 running of the 12 Hours of Sebring.

My Corvette Racing team had a stranglehold on the top two places during Thursday’s stop-start night practice session, although both of the Team RLL BMWs and the #911 Porsche entry also featured at the top of the time sheets during free practice, suggesting that the bout for pole position would be a hotly contested one.

Now, you may recall that I took the #4 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R to pole at Daytona in January, but it was ‘Tommy Time’ at Sebring; my team-mate Tommy Milner was elected to qualify and went seventh fastest with a lap that was only half a second off the eventual P1 time.

We struggled to extract pace from the #4 car all weekend, particularly on the softer compound Michelin rubber, but that proved to be irrelevant when all was said and done.

Corvette Racing’s push for reliability in testing appeared to be paying dividends as we continued plugging away unhindered, with both cars on identical strategies getting well within the fight for the GTLM podium at around half-distance.

However, a ‘belt and braces’ approach wouldn’t have prevented a critical time loss, caused when an equipment malfunction brought Tommy to a stop midway through his second stint, or the ever-worsening throttle issue that ultimately led to retirement with approximately two hours to run.

Victory may not have been possible, but a podium finish was definitely on the cards, certainly when you consider how the strategies played out in the final throes of the race.

The #3 car took a comfortable win by being clever with fuel-saving; Antonio García and his engineer made one less stop than everybody else and are getting a reputation for thinking well and pulling these sort of situations together.

It’s never easy to see a podium slip away but it’s just another disappointing result on a rough run of luck for the #4 machine, which can be traced back to the Circuit of the Americas in 2013.

We led the championship going into Austin; our closest rival was the sister Corvette Racing entry and a gearbox issue resulted in nil points for us and an 18-point swing in their favour.

From that moment we’ve rolled from one small disaster to the next, but everybody experiences barren spells and, believing our day will come, we endeavour to change our fortunes by keeping the faith, being patient and remaining cool.

The podium may not be a regular feature in my life right now, but the same can’t be said of Richard Westbrook, as we’ve spent a lot of time together lately.

We have both been part of several media interviews and film shoots, we flew together on the ‘Disney Express’ to Orlando, shared a rental car and then stayed in condos in a golf course community, just five minutes from Sebring.

First of all, a joint interview in my ‘local’ preceded an afternoon of clay pigeon shooting for The Grid’s Sebring preview and, much like our clay pigeon shoot, we spent much of our time ‘shooting the breeze’ before, during and after the 12 hours.

I stayed in a condo with Antonio while Westy shared with his team-mates, Mike Rockenfeller and Michael Valiante. The place is generally a retirement village and most have a pool around the back and direct access to the golf course, while others are holiday homes, popular with race teams visiting Sebring.

Of course, Richard went on to finish on the podium and that meant there were contrasting emotions in the immediate aftermath and during the drive back to Orlando, where we had lunch with Mike and Augusto Farfus, who gave us a small window into the life of a DTM driver.

Teams in this highly competitive, high-pressure championship tend to have a pick of drivers filtering out of the uppermost echelons of single-seater racing and we spoke at length about how miniscule the difference between success and failure is in the DTM.

Some very talented, world-class racers, such as Joey Hand, Allan McNish and Andy Priaulx have all had a crack at the DTM and never quite got a break. It’s just another racing paradox, as these are all very accomplished drivers in other forms of motor sport, but the DTM seems to be a slightly unique discipline and a halfway house between single-seaters and sports cars.

It was fascinating to get Augusto’s insight, but also to learn how well paid DTM drivers are too; you’re constantly looking around at who you’re up against and comparing, and I’ve come to realise that the contractual arrangements and earning potential are actually quite different.

After the disappointment of Sebring I was able to reset and escape from the fast-paced world of motor racing during a family trip to the Norfolk coast, staying in a house that’s owned by my wife Helen’s step mother.

The challenge of Long Beach now awaits and we’re entering an important phase of the season because, with Daytona and Sebring done and dusted, the next two months are key to understanding how to extract pace and reliability from the car in preparation for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I’ll fill you in on our progress next time.

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