Seventh inning stretch



It’s fair to say I was a little frustrated after round seven of the United SportsCar Championship – it just felt like another race of ‘what ifs’.

The Friday at Road America was a complete washout with no dry running at all during the two-hour free practice sessions, therefore the moment for finding a decent baseline and assessing Michelin’s three tyre compounds passed.

Unlike the standing water, track time had evaporated into thin air and we were left with a narrow 60-minute window on Saturday morning in which to find a suitable qualifying configuration, refine a good balance for the race and choose the right tyres.

It was certainly a big challenge and we had to make a bit of an educated guess, but my team-mate Tommy Milner went on to do a solid job to qualify fifth, right in the main GTLM pack, despite losing some time with a small brake-locking issue on the lap when the tyres were at their best.

However, it was already evident that the Porsches and Ferraris were in a class of their own and Corvette Racing’s fight would be with the BMW contingent.

Strategies migrated in different directions and we were in a three-way fight for fifth, sixth and seventh positions come the final stint.

I was on the rear bumper of Lucas Luhr’s Team RLL BMW Z4 with only a handful of laps remaining and my Michelins were in better shape than his, and this enabled me to get a decent run on him coming down to Canada Corner, just as a faster prototype came barrelling past the both of us.

I attempted to follow in the prototype’s wheel tracks as we dipped down to Turn 13. Lucas and I were side-by-side and some paint was traded when, with me on the outside and the BMW on the inside, my German counterpart pushed me wide onto the grass at the outside of the left-hander.

I spent the final tour of the Wisconsin circuit trying to clear the rubbish from my tyres and, while I reduced the gap once again, I didn’t have the time to mount a solid and sustained challenge or initiate the pass before the chequered flag.

Seventh position is by no means the result we want, but I look back on the race as a tough and entertaining contest.

We knew from the very start that a podium was out of reach, unless something extraordinary happened or there was a high rate of attrition, but our race was shaped by the fact that there was a compromise with tyre selection and because we were required to back up the #3 car driven by Jan Magnussen and Antonio García, who sit atop the standings with three races remaining.

We have to do what’s best for the team and Tommy and I will be playing a supporting role from now on to help the sister car win the title. If an opportunity to reach the podium presents itself, then we’ll take it, but we have to make sure our priorities are straight.

However, the pursuit of perfection is unrelenting and Corvette Racing does whatever it can to ensure it isn’t sacrificing any speed or time, thinking outside of the box, examining routines and procedures, understanding what can be done better and learning from its mistakes.

I suppose you could say the team was thinking ‘inside the box’ at Road America, as they worked extensively on pitstops – particularly driver changes – and the results were immediately obvious, as the crew performed brilliantly all weekend.

From the archive: lunch with Oliver Gavin

Of course, there were very few mistakes to analyse at Le Mans and we continued honouring Corvette Racing’s eighth victory at Circuit de la Sarthe with a visit to the General Motors Tech Centre in Warren, Michigan.

I shared a car with Jan and Antonio for the journey between Wisconsin and Michigan. Jan’s phone was constantly off the hook as he kept up to date with his Danish Thundersport Championship interests and spoke to Kevin.

As he chatted away, I was once again struck by how hard a language Danish is to understand. It isn’t like French or German where you can pick up bits and pieces. I can’t even gauge his tone most of the time, because he can sound quite aggressive when he’s actually telling a joke!

I was also mindful of the fact that it must have been quite a hard event for Jan, Antonio and Ryan [Briscoe] to attend, given that they were unable to compete in the French endurance classic itself, but Jan amused everybody as he recounted the events of Le Mans with his typically straightforward, dry wit.

On the whole, it was a great team bonding experience that involved 300 individuals from the Corvette road car engineering division and GM executives, as well as people like Corvette Racing team manager Gary Pratt and program manager Doug Feehan.

Everybody was delighted, there was a lot of positivity and it was nice to get a little nostalgic and share our stories of Le Mans, from the incident that wiped out the #63 car to the epic fights with Aston Martin, Porsche and Ferrari.

But for me, seeing Corvette’s eight Le Mans trophies and realising that I had a hand in achieving five of them was very surreal. It’s a nice stat to have.

One GM executive gave a good analogy, saying, “In baseball, if you have a batting average of .500 then you’re basically connecting with every second ball that’s pitched at you. That means you’re right at the top of your game and, by achieving eight wins over the course of 16 years at Le Mans, we have a remarkable batting average and win 50 per cent of the time.”

We’ve had a season of ups and downs, but winning Le Mans makes up for all the downs. I certainly want to fight at the front and achieve more results and I’m as motivated as ever with a new car coming in 2016. In the meantime, we’ll go to Virginia International Raceway – another mega racetrack – for the Oak Tree Grand Prix!

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