Looking forward, not back

18th July 2014

The race weekend we’ve just had in Canada at what is now known as Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – but for most of us will always be Mosport – was, to be honest, one I want to forget. We never got on top of the car’s handling or performance all weekend and then, when we’d finally made some progress in the race, Tommy [Milner] got spun around by a slower competitor and it all went downhill from there.

It was great to see our team-mates in the sister Corvette C7.R, Jan Magnussen and Antonio García, win the race, but a collective decision in our car to try hard compound tyres didn’t pay off so highlighted the problems we were having and the big gap between us.

Before we head off to Indianapolis for the next round of the United SportsCar Championship, our car is going to be thoroughly examined and all the set up decisions we’ve made over the last few races will be analysed and re-examined to try and figure out the chassis imbalance we’ve had. It feels like with five races to go we’re starting from zero again but hope we can now all look forward and not back.

Safety first

There were some pretty big incidents at Mosport over the weekend, including a DP crash which sent driver Boris Said to hospital with broken ribs, and two serious fires which saw both the DeltaWing in the TUSC and a BMW in the Continental Tire Series burnt virtually to the ground.

As drivers we know that racing is dangerous but that’s a risk we’re prepared to take because we love what we do, and you always do your utmost to dispel the danger. Ideally, that’s by racing in a professional series with a professional team who don’t scrimp on parts or equipment, who prepare a car properly, and who do all they can to ensure the safety of their drivers.

You also make sure you’ve got all the proper safety equipment in terms of helmets, HANS, suits and fireproof underwear and so on, but that’s not much good if those on the safety teams at the tracks aren’t up to scratch.

Fellow Briton Andy Meyrick, who was driving the DeltaWing when a fuel line ruptured and the car caught fire, was extremely lucky to have escaped with ‘just’ minor burns to his face and hands. He said that there were balls of flame in the cockpit and his overalls were on fire when he stopped – with great presence of mind – by a marshal on the front straight at Mosport.

GTLM results

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

Said marshal was wearing just a T-shirt instead of being fully kitted up, and made no attempt to extinguish the fire or help Andy out of the car. The right-hand door had melted by this time so Andy had to try and get out of the left, having inhaled some pretty toxic fumes which made him sick and nearly pass out. Thankfully the adrenaline helped him and he got out but still the marshal did nothing, just stood over him while he was slumped on the ground until the safety team arrived.

Even then, because they only see our race cars once a year and lack specific knowledge, the team had no idea where the master “kill” switch was so the fuel continued to pump which meant the fire burnt for far longer than it should have done.

From a driver’s point of view, you try and build trust with all those around you – whether that’s on your car, in your team, in the medical and safety teams, and in race control – and that’s difficult to do if you don’t know each other.

A Viper burns at Sebring. Photo: John Dagys

In the American Le Mans Series we used to have one team which travelled to each of our races and who used to make a point of coming round to every team regularly to find out if there was anything new on the cars, where all the relevant safety features were, whether the seat can be moved, if and how the door can be removed – all with the aim of being able to extricate a driver safely and quickly. They were top notch but were disbanded as a team when the ALMS was sold.

While I’m not denigrating the skills of the local teams, who I’m sure are qualified to do what they do, the point is that in our new series we have up to 50-odd cars, probably 25-30 of which are individual and uniquely different to any other but its team-mate, if it has one. We’re not NASCAR, where all the cars are the same, week in and week out, and it’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

It’s a concern for all the teams, and especially all the drivers, and we feel that our words are falling on deaf ears. There have been a couple of good media articles written on this very point recently… perhaps that, together with the combined voices of team managers and driver representatives, might help to move things along.

Flying the flag

I might have plied my trade in the USA for the last 15 years but I’m very proud to be a British driver on the other side of the pond, and equally proud to be a member of the BRDC. It was nice therefore to be able to go to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on both Saturday and Sunday and be part of a great British sporting weekend, especially when a Brit won.

We haven’t been able to crow about much in the sporting arena recently, with ‘Team GB’ coming up short in the World Cup, Wimbledon and the Tour de France, so it was great to see Lewis Hamilton at his best. From the BRDC’s members’ point of view, and from that of all my guests, it was a perfect weekend. Can’t wait for another one of those somewhere!

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