Wow, what a weekend. I don’t think in terms of out-and-out storylines we have ever seen an event like Bahrain last weekend.
It was always going to be memorable because of Audi and Mark Webber’s final races but the circumstances of the 1-2 for Audi and more dramatic action in LMP2 ensured it was a memorable one to say the least.
First of all it is important to say well done to both Audi and Webber for bringing so much to this fantastic strand of our sport. What they achieved is nothing short of remarkable and like everyone in the WEC paddock it was a pleasure and a privilege just racing on the same track as them.
Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich was the one that inspired me to start racing endurance and Le Mans. The way he took care of that team and his talent of understanding and putting people together is fascinating and it was after watching the ‘Truth in 24’ documentary a few years ago that I fell in love with Le Mans and it made me want to be involved in a real team sport like endurance racing.
For me personally, it was also an unforgettable weekend. The race itself was fantastic and another very strong one for us in the No. 31 Tequila Patron ESM Ligier-Nissan, but I will come to that shortly.
The day after the race of course was my test with the Toyota Gazoo Racing team. It more than matched up to my very big expectations and it not only proved to be a special one in my career, but it also re-enforced my opinion that LMP1 is where I want to, and need to be. It was a simply awesome experience.
I felt comfortable immediately and totally at home in the No. 5 Toyota TS050 HYBRID. After spending a day in Cologne the previous week with the team and getting to know them, I concentrated on making sure I did as best and as professional a job as I could last Sunday. I am happy to report that it went extremely well.
Firstly, as everyone knows, the Toyota Gazoo Racing team is a very high caliber operation. I could sense, feel and practically appreciate this from the very first moment.
Secondly, the car was exceptional and the extra power delivered by the Hybrid retrieval system was distinctive. I don’t know if it was just me of the three rookies that drove last Sunday, but apart from the extra boost it felt very much like an easy car to drive.
Yes, it is complex and the manual of cockpit and steering wheel functions takes some careful studying, but it is, at the end of the day, another race car and it rewards confidence from the driver.
After an install lap, I did three separate runs, two with new tires, and I set a good time of 1m44.292s. Analyzing it now I honestly think and feel I was ready for everything that they threw at me in the test.
It was over so quickly but I made a very conscious decision to soak up everything about the test. I wanted to test myself with what the time through at me in terms of the radio communication and also the consistency of the times I produced, which I am happy to say was good.
Overall it was a wonderful chance to sample working with a top-line LMP1 squad and I stayed as part of the team to take in the afternoon running with Stephane (Sararzin).
I was still learning and understanding how a development test functioned and how the team operated. It was fascinating and rewarding and I have to thank the whole Toyota Gazoo Racing team, the FIA WEC and ACO for the opportunity. It was hugely appreciated.
Twenty-four hours earlier I had completed perhaps one of my best races of the year for Tequila Patron ESM. After I helped qualified the car in fifth position, we went in to the race with a very aggressive strategy.
We planned for me to double stint at the start and get some track position which I was able to execute nicely. The Ryan (Dalziel) climbed aboard and did his double and stayed in touch with the leading bunch before I got in again to double once more.
It worked superbly and we were the fastest Ligier on track for much of the race. We knew it would be a big ask for Chris to defend the lead but still we were pleased with the gap that we had for the last 75-minutes.
He did a really valiant job in the final hour but of course with Rast, Albuquerque and Lapierre in for the last portion of the race and no Full Course Yellows or other variables helping him it was impossible to defend.
Fourth place was the absolute maximum and we were happy again to have had a wonderful team race which actually we have enjoyed all season from an operational point of view.
I offer now a heartfelt thanks to Tequila Patron, Oak Racing, Phillipe Dumas and the whole team for great work during the 2016 season. You guys have been incredible and should rightly feel very proud of the achievements.
For me, it has been a pleasure sharing my experiences with you all on Sportscar365 this season. There is more action for me at the LMP2 Sebring and Daytona tests coming up over the next month or so. As usual in racing, you never stand still.