A dog day afternoon at Watkins Glen



As you might expect, Corvette Racing is still buoyant after returning to the top step of the podium in this year’s edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and there was an air of positivity surrounding the team going into the fifth round of the United SportsCar Championship – the Six Hours of The Glen.

Post-Le Mans enthusiasm and pride was also felt by IMSA and Michelin, who jointly arranged a photoshoot in tribute of all those who achieved success in the French endurance classic, including overall winners Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber, as well as Corvette Racing’s triumphant trio, Tommy Milner, Jordan Taylor and myself.

It was lovely to see everybody so excited about our result and wanting to celebrate and honour the victory, but it also served as an opportunity to chew over what happened at Circuit de la Sarthe, while watching Jordan sift through suitcases full of mementos from his maiden Le Mans win, little keepsakes that remind you of the background story of the race.

The now autographed sign that hung outside his sleeping quarters was there and then there’s Fonzie; if there’s one thing Jordan loves, it’s his dog (and social media star), so you can imagine the sadness and despair he felt when he had to leave his beloved pooch at home while he traversed the Atlantic to Le Mans.

Mercifully, my young American team-mate was rescued from his sadness by some crazy, but very thoughtful Spanish fans. They all sported Fonzie t-shirts and kindly gave him a lookalike cuddly toy during the parade, and I suspect that played a significant part in helping him through the 24 hours.

Back at The Glen, on-track preparations were somewhat disjointed because of changeable weather conditions and the cancellation of qualifying, but the car was reasonably strong as soon as it rolled off the truck and, in the end, we didn’t have to stray too far from the original set-up.

Tommy and I started from sixth position in GTLM and I was the first to take the driving seat. Weather predictions had shown a storm system rolling in towards the circuit and the skies overhead looked pretty ominous as we sat waiting for the pitlane to open.

Like our rivals, we opted for slicks, only for the rain to arrive as we took off on the formation lap.

From the archive: Simon Taylor has lunch with Olly Gavin (2013)

My senses were on high alert as I felt my way around the 3.4-mile lap, in among a train of cars that were aquaplaning and spinning while trundling around at a snail’s pace, and lessons learned during my early years in British Formula Ford at Brands Hatch came in handy while trying to avoid the hazards.

My instincts told me to stay off the controls and let the car run its own course, rather than try to manipulate it and provoke a spin, but everything ran in slow motion and I almost lost the car at Turn 8, before having another near-miss when Bill Auberlen span his BMW on the opening lap.

The Californian was going approximately 50mph on a section of track that’s usually taken at twice the speed in the dry and he tried his utmost to gather up what became a long and lazy spin – all I could do was aim the #4 Corvette in his direction, in the hope that he wouldn’t be there when I arrived at the scene.

I then ran slightly wide onto a painted white line and fishtailed into the wall; perhaps I was a little too confident, but I was just thankful that I was able to get going again.

A full-course caution followed and confusion on the Corvette Racing ‘prat perch’ meant we had to wait until the next caution period before getting back on the lead lap, but strong pace in mixed and dry conditions and a cannily-timed driver-change meant we leapt from eighth to third in one fell swoop.

Tommy then did a good job to get to the front during two hours of dry running, when a fine but dense deluge soaked the already saturated ground once again and caused the race to be red-flagged.

We faced a dilemma at this point, as our strategy and the stoppages meant we were in a bit of a squeeze, at risk of exceeding the maximum four hours of seat time.

With hindsight, I probably should have remained in the car for the first two hours before handing the reins to Tommy, and I was subsequently sent back out in unfamiliar wet and slippery conditions, which led to an incident at the restart.

To set the scene, I had Bamber’s Porsche behind me and GT Daytona cars on my inside on the approach to Turn 1, so I passed the slower GTD machines only to then find the #912 Porsche on my outside.

My options disappeared in a heartbeat and I immediately knew I was in a lot of trouble. There’s very little grip at the apex of the first corner – it was like driving on glass – and I tried desperately to slow the car and protect my position, certain I’d end up on the same bit of track as Earl.

I tried to turn into the apex but instead ran into the Porsche’s right-rear corner. Earl span and continued without damage, but, because I had the wheel turned when contact was made, all of the energy from the collision went through my car’s steering and we were out on the spot.

It was a disappointing end to what was shaping up to be our strongest showing in the championship since the season-opening Daytona 24, where we finished third.

We have undoubtedly carried over some momentum from the Le Mans victory, but you live and learn and you have to gather up these experiences and file them away for the future.

You come to realise that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it might not be your day, and although the Corvette Racing guys reflected on the weekend positively, there’s a keen desire to turn the tide this weekend at Mosport, where we were victorious in 2011 and 2013.

Highlights of Oliver, Tommy and Jordan’s Le Mans victory:

You may also like