This weekend was another first for me and another adventure in Asia. I had heard stories (mainly made up ones from Max “the Axe”) where racing in China was like a full-on communist experience, that people were bussed to the racetrack against their will, dressed up in racing garb, and forced to cheer and look happy.
I was told I would be choked out by smog and that the greyness of the factories and depressing Chinese surroundings would be an unpleasant experience.
What I found was quite the contrary, unless the racing fans were very good actors and given great instructions about sports car racing and the drivers.
The fans followed racing closely, even our racing in the U.S. and were very engaged in the race on Sunday.
The city was colorful and the track was like no other circuit I have raced on before with the ginormous structures towering over the front straight shading the entire paddock.
Overall it was a great experience to be in China and a great adventure to explore yet another culture.
The track layout was very technical to drive and extremely hard on tires. During the track walk we noted the pavement was mainly large rocks which just looked like little tire shredders. The long duration corners were where the tires would be eaten.
The long turns one and two is a decreasing radius corner where you must carry a lot of speed on entry and carry as much speed as the rear of the car will allow around the final tight portion of the corner.
Turn 3 kicks back to the left and you have to get the car rotated around the increasing radius exit and try get to power as soon as possible without too much wheelspin.
The other tire killer is Turn 13 where the corner starts as a tight second gear corner but opens up almost into an oval style banked corner in 4th gear.
This really puts a lot of load into the left rear and often times we were in a complete drift all the way to the exit curbing.
We struggled all through practice with tire wear and never really got a good run until FP3 where we bolted on a set of soft tires and did a lap in the top three.
When it came time for qualifying we needed to save as many soft tires for the race as we could because the pace was so much higher so we qualified on mediums.
The session went as expected and we qualified 6th while the other teams opted for the softer compound tires.
When the race came we felt we had a good strategy to use our mediums in the heat and softs at the end of the race.
When I started the race we really struggled for pace and the track conditions were just not suiting our car for some reason and we were struggling around in the back of the pack as Pierre, Romain and I cycled through the car.
The tire wear was very challenging. By the end of the stint, it was a difficult to simply keep the car on line.
After hour three we were able to use our softs and the car really came alive. All three of us were running competitive lap times and had the pace to fight in the top three but unfortunately we had lost too much time over our first three stints and could not make up the time at the end.
We ended up fifth which was a little disappointing because I felt that our car was so promising in practice and at the end of the race, we really could have fought for more.
It was another great experience to race overseas in the WEC and I felt that the whole team did a great job and did not give up after our first few stints.
I am looking forward to the final round at Bahrain where we can hopefully take the positives from this weekend and work towards a strong result to finish the season.