It’s a new year and a new challenge for me. To be back racing in America with Meyer Shank Racing full-time this season is really exciting and I’m looking forward to making the most of the opportunity to race with a team such as MSR.
You can’t get much better than starting that journey together at Daytona for the Rolex 24. This year was my first time racing in the Rolex 24 – one of the biggest races on the planet – and it couldn’t have gone much better!
After four days of rain, we woke up to a beautiful, yet freezing, Saturday morning on race day. I was excited, I was confident and thought we had a chance – there were too many signs not to believe it.
Car No. 60, on the 60th running of the race, ten years after Shank’s last victory. I’m not normally superstitious, but last time weird dates and numbers were involved was in 2010 when I won the Formula Renault UK championship on the 10.10.2010 with car No. 10.
We had had a decent build-up to the race; the qualifying race went well and the pace in the car was there. Did we think we could overcome the strength of the Cadillacs? Probably not, but we knew if we executed a clever race then we would be in the fight regardless.
Then the start happened! I was first in the car and my first stint was terrible, we dropped from fourth to last and I was struggling a lot with the balance of the car – the tire pressures ballooned.
Thankfully we rectified that over the next couple of stints and our pace improved and we were back in the fight. Not to mention the traffic at the start of the race was crazy, 61 cars on track and trying to navigate what felt like a pack of 30 GT cars at once wasn’t easy.
Helio jumped in after me and he was flying, the old boy still has it that’s for sure! I had so much fun sharing the car with him, Simon and Olly. They’re a great bunch of guys that all added so much value to the result.
I wasn’t in the car again until 10 p.m. so I was able to chill out in the warmth of the motorhome for a few hours. Some drivers prefer to stay on the pit stand and follow the race but I prefer to switch off and relax as much as I can plus it was freezing!
By the time I next got in, it was dark and boy was that first out lap difficult – I need to get used to not having tire blankets.
It didn’t help that it was nearly zero degrees out there. That definitely wakes you up going out on cold tires straight into the night. The car was working better in the darkness and the track was coming to us with more and more rubber going down.
I was still trying to figure out how to get the most out of the car. We have a few tools in the cockpit to help us with that and I was able to find something that seemed to work a bit better for me.
I can’t remember much about the racing because it felt like I was flat out battling other DPis all race long. It was relentless and I had forgotten what it was like to race in America. The style of racing is so different – you’re always fighting and that’s what makes it so exciting, not only for the fans but us drivers too!
After my second triple stint it was time to get a bit of rest. I went to have a shower but we had no hot water in our motorhome!
That wasn’t very appealing at the time, and trying to wind down is always so difficult. Normally I can sleep during a 24-hour race and I had a four-hour window until I was next in the car.
I think I managed about one hour of sleep before I was woken for my next few stints. My teammates had done a fantastic job and we were properly in the mix.
I got back in the car around 5 a.m. and drove into the daylight. That was a cool few stints, the car was working really well and I had some good battles.
To be honest the whole race feels like a bit of a blur now and I can hardly remember what went on. After that I managed to get another hour’s sleep before my next and final stint around 10 a.m. By then it was starting to warm up a bit (thankfully, although our car seemed to prefer the cooler conditions more).
I was feeling really good in the car by this point and had found a way to limit the balance issues I was battling with. I had some really good battles with a good friend of mine, Mike Conway – he’s a super fair racer!
Thankfully I managed to come out on top of that and I was able to chase down the sister Acura of Ricky Taylor. He seemed to be struggling a little bit more than me in the infield and I was able to make a move on him into the Bus Stop. This enabled us to get back in the lead of the race.
The team had done an absolutely fantastic job all race long with the pit stops and yellows, we always seemed to gain positions in the pits. By this point I had done nearly four stints and we were out front leading by four seconds. I was pretty tired by this point and I had been busting for a wee for the past two stints!
I remember the team coming on the radio and asking if I could do another hour in the car and take it all the way to the finish.
I think my engineer said something along the lines of “this is for the win, can you do it?” I contemplated whether it was smart for me to continue for another hour; I had already been in the car for over two.
The original plan was always for Helio to finish and he’d done such a strong job all race long. Plus he’s won some pretty big races in his time so why not pass it over to him? Turned out to be a pretty good decision.
I have never been so nervous watching the final hour of a race before. Ricky was all over Helio and he handled it perfectly. I couldn’t even watch it, I remember going back to the motorhome and starting to pack my bags to make the time pass quicker.
Olly was watching the TV in the motorhome and kept grimacing and making noises every time Helio caught traffic or Ricky looked super close. I nearly missed the finish as we were sprinting from the motorhome to pit lane. We got there just in time to celebrate with the team – it was such a surreal moment!
Then the signature move came out! I remember Simon joking with Helio earlier in the week that, if we win the race, Spider-Man needs to come out!
We saw Helio park the car at the start-finish line. We all looked at each other and said “he’s going to do it!” We all sprinted over to him and climbed the fence. It was unreal! I remember watching him climb the fence winning the Indy 500 when I was a young kid. That was a special moment.
To experience all of that – winning one of the most prestigious races in motorsport with those kinds of people by your side, it just doesn’t compare. It was the best possible start and I can’t wait to see what’s next for us as a team!