I came back to Germany from Sebring International Raceway with mixed feelings. Last weekend was a tough race for our No. 91 SRT Viper GTS-R while our sister car with Kuno Wittmer, Jonathan Bomarito and Rob Bell did very well and finished second, which I was really happy about.
For the official TUDOR United SportsCar Championship Winter Test, SRT Motorsports had one Viper there with two drivers, Marc Goossens and Jonathan.
We could only use one car because the 91 Viper was displayed at the Chicago Auto Show and then had to be prepped for the Sebring race.
Marc and Jonathan did a fantastic Job getting a good base setup for the Sebring race weekend and we had many new components to try out since last year. After hearing the feedback and reading the reports, I was very encouraged.
Before the main race weekend, we received some tough news from the sanctioning body. Our two Vipers were given – a 0.3mm restriction to our engines and an additional 15kg weight for the Sebring weekend. These Balance of Performance changes would challenge us even more.
Arriving in Sebring, I received a good amount of practice laps from Bill Riley and Tyler Hook, our two engineers of the 91 car, in order to get up to speed quickly. In the night practice, I felt quite good. We could turn quick laps with the soft compound of our tire partner Michelin.
During the day, we had problems finding grip and getting the medium compound to work, but in the first couple of practice sessions the track was still very green and felt slippery.
Ryan Hunter-Reay also showed great pace and was up to speed in a heartbeat, but Marc said the track had changed quite a bit from the Winter Test. We struggled to get a good setup and used qualifying and warm-up sessions prior the race to continue to work on the setup of the car.
Obviously, we were not very happy with where we started after qualifying. We qualified the No. 91 SRT Viper GTS-R in position 10, while the No. 93 made it to P8, so this really showed we were off the pace a bit with both cars.
In the warm-up we made the last couple of changes to the Viper but we also were involved in a shocking incident.
When Marc came in for a change on the car, we got hit by a Prototype Challenge car that was released from his pit stall as we drove into ours. We made contact and got damage to our side sill and exhaust pipe.
On the grid, our mechanics did their magic to repair such a large amount of damage in time. Marc started the race with a double stint, which took very long because of the many yellows we had in the early hours of the race.
He did really well and managed to get the car up to the top six when he came in for the driver change. I jumped in next for my double stint and it was the same experience for me with many safety cars and also a red flag during my session.
To be honest, I never had seen so many cautions in my career. It was a really chaotic and dangerous race in my eyes. Due to the fantastic strategy of my team, we managed to win the first four-hour part of the race, which gave us maximum points for the North American Endurance Cup.
During the accident that caused the red flag, I had my second scary moment of the day, but thank God Bill was on the radio to warn me that in Turn 17 at the exit of this blind turn was a huge crash. I was shocked and braked down the car in order not to hit the parts and the car laying all over the track.
During this, I was fighting with one of our yellow GTLM-class competitors for the top spot. When I was on the brakes in 17 he almost ran into my back and flew by on the right side. That took the lead away but at the same time there was another full course caution and I then gave the car to Ryan for his first stint.
Both of our cars were in the top-five during the middle of the race, but while I was being treated by our Belgian physiologist, I heard that Ryan made contact with the wall in Turn 17. When I saw the car on TV, there was quite a lot of damage to the rear.
The wing was bent heavily and the mechanics had to tape the car and change the diffuser on the rear. These repairs cost us five laps to the leaders. Now the snake was even harder to drive, we had a lot of drag because of the bent wing and the alignment was off too.
Marc managed to fight hard after the driver change and was in the car two-and-a-half hours. We got back three laps at the end and finished in a strong seventh position despite the heavy accident.
I was our night pilot and drove two-and-a-half hours in the dark until the checkered flag, but in comparison to the others we were not able to do the same lap times anymore.
But even with the damage, the car was still strong, reliable, got us to the finish and, even more important, the No. 93 Viper made it to the podium at the end.
In the end, our team overcame many challenges on and off the track. Both cars were extremely fast and we continue to improve.
The teamwork in the pits was outstanding. I am happy and lucky to be a part of this great family of SRT Motorsports and just want to say thanks to all my teammates and crew members. You guys are the real heroes.