Well that’s another season in North America wrapped up, and our first in the TUDOR United Sportscar Championship. As readers of this column will know it hasn’t been a great season for one reason and another but our last race this past weekend, Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, was very encouraging and has left us all looking forward to 2015 instead of looking back somewhat downheartedly at 2014.
Having had a good many car issues over recent races, our #4 Corvette C7.R appeared to feel quite different this weekend and that showed itself best in the first few hours of the race. Unlike in previous years, the final round of the season this year was a 10-hour timed race instead of 1,000 miles OR 10 hours. The only time the race has ever gone to time was in 2009 when the race was interrupted by a huge rain storm mid-way through and the clock kept ticking while everyone stopped and waited for it to stop.
Despite the fact that the Georgia autumn is normally a gorgeous time of year, this week seemed to throw a bit of everything at us. We had warm sunny conditions for the first day of practice, torrential rain for the start of the second day, dry qualifying and a very cool but sunny race day. All that meant that it was difficult for engineers and drivers to always get an accurate read on track conditions and, in particular tyre pressures.
One of the things we’ve had to get used to this year is the amount of different rubber on track from other series running alongside us. It was Tommy’s turn to qualify this weekend and this was one of the issues he faced, with a very slick track following the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge race. We didn’t therefore have a great session but we all know that in an endurance event it’s not where you start that matters, it’s where you finish.
Tommy started and did the first couple of hours and the race was going well. We managed to get into the GTLM lead which was nice to do after such a difficult season and that gave us all a massive boost. Finally, after so long, things seemed to be going in the right direction for us and we were leading on genuine pace! Pit stops and our strategy worked out well in our favour for the first three-quarters of the race but, when we got to the 7.5 or 8 hour mark, we started to have some issues with tyre pressures again and that took away our chance to challenge for a podium finish.
I have to say this was one of the hardest Petit Le Mans events I’ve ever done and there were a number of reasons why. One major thing which happened to me was that just when the sun was going down, a PC car in front of me came out of pits and was throwing out loads of oil behind it which was hitting my windscreen. As the screen accumulated more dust it was getting harder and harder to see which, coupled with the fading light, gave me a huge amount of pressure.
I was starting my third hour in the car, and at one of the 14 restarts I had a massive amount of traffic and one of the Vipers on me trying to make up a lap; it was probably one of the toughest moments of my sportscar career. With the traffic and low tire pressures as the same time, I was also responding to instructions from the pit wall to try and resolve an electrical problem we had. It was all going on at the same time and was pretty hectic!
We still have some new car stuff to figure out and developments will be starting from now and going on over the winter to get to the bottom of the issues we’ve had. I’ve happy for all the guys on the team to get a solid result in fourth, as it’s been a battle this year and they’ve done more than their fair share of building and re-building the car at every race. It’s a shame we missed out on a podium but it’s a nice positive way to finish the season.
There has been lots written recently about the discrepancy in the standard of some of the driving in PC and GTD cars and the pro drivers in the field – which arguably is the cause of many of the caution periods we had – as well as some of the incidents during Petit Le Mans.
With our car having been caught out (and penalised) by the pit exit red light at Road America, and there being another incident at Petit Le Mans, I would really like it if the series could look again at the way this is regulated. In the GTLM class we are all really on the limit in pit stops and driver changes with tyre changes taking place now at the same time as refuelling, and when you are leaving the pits – readjusting yourself to a completely different environment to the one you were in just minutes ago – coming up on a red light isn’t always what you expect to see.
I believe the lights are not positioned well enough to be visible to more than the lead car and it seems to many of us that the current system doesn’t work and needs to be reviewed. The series say they welcome feedback so let’s hope this is looked at before the start of 2015.
A different kind of driver…
Corvette Racing organised a charity golf tournament for us on Wednesday morning before the race weekend really got underway, and it was great to be out on the course with Tommy, Richard Westbrook, Antonio Garcia and our team bosses, among others.
Our endurance team mate for this final round was Ryan Briscoe who was going double-duty in both the #3 and #4 car but it almost looked as though he’d be doing the whole race on his own in our car as Tommy had a bit of a ‘racing incident’ with the golf buggy. He was going through a very bumpy part of the course and a rapid right and left turn, plus some hard braking, resulted in a locked rear axle and we were suddenly up on two wheels. All credit to my great team mate because, instead of ending up at the bottom of ditch, upside down, his fine driving skill got us back on four wheels and onwards the right way up. There was a good deal of nervous laughter afterwards which just added to the colourful language and flying golf clubs that always seem to accompany Corvette drivers’ golf rounds.
It was great fun to have Ryan round all weekend as he fits in excellently with whole team and is an absolute professional. Let’s hope his 2015 Indycar programme will allow him to join us again too.