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JARVIS: COTA Debrief

Oliver Jarvis files his latest Sportscar365 column…

Photo: Audi

Photo: Audi

Sometimes you know immediately that you have a great car and that was the case in Austin at COTA.

I started FP1 and instantly could tell that we had a car capable of winning the race. In that first session, all three of us drove our Audi R18 within a tenth of each other.

We eventually ended up topping the session after a small improvement on one of my last laps allowed us to jump ahead of the No. 2 Porsche. We went on to top both FP2 and FP3 as we continued to make small improvements to the set up ahead of qualifying.

Despite topping all three practice sessions, we knew that qualifying would be close between us, Porsche, and our teammates in the No. 7 Audi. Loïc and myself qualified and unfortunately just missed out on pole position, securing P2 on the grid behind our sister car.

The biggest surprise of qualifying was the gap back to the No. 1 Porsche in third place.

Loïc took the start of the race and after losing out to the No. 1 Porsche in turn one, quickly gained back the position before closing down the gap to Marcel Fässler.

Once again we were surprised by our pace advantage as by the end of the first stint, both Audi’s had pulled out a considerable gap to the third place Porsche in the hands of Mark Webber.

At the time of pitting, the two Audis were separated by less than a few seconds. I took over from Loïc in the pit stop coming out just behind André Lotterer in the sister car.

Over the next 28 laps, myself and André continued to pull a significant gap to the chasing cars behind and once again pitted with only a few seconds between us.

I had considered staying in the car for a second stint, but the blisteringly hot conditions at this stage of the race made it almost impossible.

Lucas took over and after jumping our sister car in the pit stops set about pulling a gap. At this stage of the race we had built up such an advantage over both Porsche and Toyota that it was looking like a straight fight between the No. 7 Audi and us.

However this all changed just over three hours into the race when a sudden electrical issue into Turn 1 caused our car to shut down.

After stopping on track, Loïc was able to do a power cycle and thankfully this fixed the mysterious glitch, but by this point we had lost 50 seconds allowing our sister car to take the lead and the No. 1 Porsche to close to within 5 seconds.

Despite this, we were still confident we could win the race and set about closing the gap to the sister car. Even with our competitors pace having improved significantly as the temperatures dropped, we still had the quickest car on track as Loïc pitted and I jumped in the car.

Over the next few laps I pushed to continue closing the gap to first place, still with the victory in our reach. Then at the worst moment possible for Audi (as both us and car No. 7 had already pitted) there was a Full Course Yellow allowing both No. 1 Porsche and No. 6 Toyota to pit and effectively gain a free pit stop.

This was the defining moment of the race as it allowed the No. 1 car to take the lead of the race and the No. 6 Toyota to move into third.

From being ahead of the No. 1 Porsche, we were now over 55 seconds down with less than 2 hours of the race remaining.

By the time I handed the car over to Lucas the gap had reduced to 45 seconds but after Lucas took over there was an issue with the passenger door, and again we had to visit the pit lane to close it properly again costing us crucial time.

The gap continued to close for the remainder of the race and we took a chance by double stinting the tires in the last stop and therefore gaining 25seconds in the pit stop compared to the Porsche who took new tires.

Despite this we crossed the line 20seconds behind the winning Porsche.

There was definitely disappointment after the race for us, as this was a race we dominated in terms of pace but handed Porsche the victory.

Even with the electrical glitch we still could have won this race without the Full Course Yellow. Saying this, you can’t take anything away from the job the No. 1 Porsche did as they drove the perfect race

Oliver Jarvis (@OllyJarvis) is the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours LMP2 winner, driving for Bentley Team M-Sport in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup and Jackie Chan DC Racing by Jota Sport in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

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