Fighting to the finish

by Web Editor on 15th August 2014

By Oliver Gavin

Road America seems to be a favourite for every driver in North America with its four-mile European style, great mix of medium and fast corners, plus some really challenging sections which make you feel properly satisfied when you get them right!

Since the latest balance of performance issued just before Indy we seem to have been a bit on the back foot compared to the rest of the GTLM class in the United SportsCar Championship, but our goal is the same as always, to score the maximum number of points for both the manufacturer and drivers’ championships. At Road America Tommy and I finished seventh just behind our Corvette Racing team mates which was enough to keep us in sixth place in the drivers’ table, and only a few points away from fourth.

It was my turn to qualify and we managed sixth – struggling a bit because of the harder Continental rubber which had been laid down on the track in the 2.5-hour race which ran just before our qualifying sessions. That made the track much more slippery than in practice but it was another fairly tight session – apart from the top four who were streaks ahead and obviously had had deep pockets to hide some performance during practice...

We started ahead of our sister car for the first time since Sebring which was a nice reward for the guys on the #4 car for all the hard work they’ve put in over recent races. We seem to have now got on top of the balance issue we’ve been chasing over the last couple of months, but roll on 2015!

It was a pretty brutal race, punctuated by no fewer than six full course caution periods. Both Tommy [Milner] and Antonio [García] were jostled around on the opening laps with Tommy getting rubbing on both doors, and the front and rear bumpers. The team made the call to come in early for two tyres and a top up of fuel, which was a good one, but unfortunately our strategy call was undone when we picked up a stop-and-go, plus a 60 second penalty for exiting the pitlane when the red light was still on.

Our pits were almost at pit out and, to be honest, it was the length of the queue behind the safety car which caught us out. You don’t expect to come in to the pits, refuel and change tyres, and still find the pack passing on the pit straight (which is why the red light was on) because of the size of the field. We must have gone out only one second before the light changed as the Risi Ferrari and our #3 car were just behind us and they were okay.

GTLM results

1. Fisichella/Kaffer, Ferrari
2. Edwards/Müller, BMW
3. Bomarito/Goossens/Wittmer, Dodge
4. Bomarito/Goossens/Farnbacher, Dodge
5. Christensen/Long, Porsche
6. García/Magnussen, Chevrolet
7. Gavin/Milner, Chevrolet
8. Auberlen/Priaulx, BMW
9. Henzler/Sellers, Porsche
10. Lietz/Tandy, Porsche

My stint started well and I was able to stay with the cars directly in front of me, getting us up to fifth. I was running behind one of the Porsches and he was blocking me into T5 so I couldn’t get a good run out of that turn into the next. I tried to defend into T6 but Mark Goossens in one of the Vipers tapped me once to open the door and then used me as a brake to get through – losing me two places.

I went to see the race director afterwards and had a bit of a contretemps with him as this is exactly the same sort of move that we got penalised so heavily for at Watkins Glen; the Viper getting away with it seemed somewhat inconsistent. We looked at the video footage together, but I was told they decided it was a “rough racing incident”.

After that we were always playing catch up and our results were the best we could hope for. With our extra weight we don’t currently have enough pace to make good headway against our competitors and some of them have us covered in every department as they have so much power. As it is at the moment, we can only luck onto the podium.

Family fun

The family came over with me to the USA just before the Road America race and we spent a few days in Chicago before setting out for Elkhart Lake. It’s a beautiful setting, and we stayed at the Ostoff Resort which is well organised for children. We always make a point of stopping at the Off the Rail coffee shop while there, which is owned by David Hobbs’ godson, so feels like a home from home. People say that the whole of Elkhart Lake seems to have been marking time since the ‘50s but there’s nothing wrong with that!

From there we went on to Pratt & Miller’s headquarters which is at New Hudson in Michigan. Not only do they build and develop all our race cars but they also develop a lot of specialist medical equipment plus ‘stuff’ for the military. We had a full tour to show them where all the cool cars are built and it was great as my children are now all old enough to appreciate what happens here and how it impacts on my ‘day job’ (other, full-time job being Dad!). It’s also a chance to see one or two of our team outside of a race track and our engineering director even managed to get me using some considerably reduced horsepower!

From here we’re going to visit some family who are based in the USA, and spend two days in Washington DC which we’re all looking forward to. It’ll be time for our next race at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) before we know it and, as that’s going to be a GTLM/GTD class race only, we’re going to be fighting for overall victory. You never know!

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