I guess one of the more exciting parts about an endurance race is working through problems and still moving your way to the front. Very rarely in a 10, 12, or 24-hour race does a team have a “smooth” run, and I’m pretty sure any driver or team member in the paddock could tell you how their Petit Le Mans was anything but smooth.
In our case, it was particularly rough which made it all the more impressive to finish on the podium, but I’m still a little frustrated.
Like I’d said after our race at Circuit of the Americas, the guys at Magnus Racing have really done an excellent job of rebounding. Between BoP and a few challenges of our own with car setup, we had a rough summer and Texas was a good sign that we’d turned it around.
The reason our form had changed was due to an excellent two-day test at Road Atlanta the week earlier, so headed to Petit Le Mans we knew we had a shot at it. It’s also sort of my “other” home track (beyond Watkins Glen), as I literally live 20 minutes away. There’s something really special about being able to sleep in your own bed during a race week. We were prepared, we were focused, and with no realistic chance at the championship, we had nothing to lose.
During practice and qualifying we had sort of a mixed week. The setup window on this year’s Porsche 911 GT America is so narrow that you can have a perfect car one minute, and then the temperature can change by just a little bit, or the rubber on the surface changes after a prior session, and the car behaves entirely differently. It’s nuts. That describes our week. One session we’d be in the top three, then it would rain and wash all the rubber away, and all of a sudden we qualified ninth.
The race was anyone’s guess. Our pace seemed on par with all of the top Porsches, and with the addition of Marco Seefried who helped us win at Sebring, if we had a smooth race we could conquer.
When the green flag fell, everything was on John Potter’s shoulders. I know I’m usually full of praise of his driving and how he’s progressed, but Saturday’s drive was once again very impressive.
Many of the teams opened the race with their top drivers, but we elected to start John to get his minimum drive time cut into early. It can be a risky strategy since you run the chance of losing a lap, but this was where John shined.
Running against some of the biggest names in the world, John never lost touch with the lead pack, and he did it comfortably. During his opening stint he was only a few seconds from the lead pack, and despite pushing this hard he never ran wide, locked up a tire, or did anything to risk the car. He was so good we left him in the car to run a second stint, and then a third!
I don’t think John has ever done a triple stint before, but he was running so well that we could keep him in the car and completely cross off his minimum drive time (two-hours, 15 minutes) before Marco and I ever got behind the wheel. He was simply awesome.
When the time came for John to pit, Marco got in and there wasn’t a scratch on the car. Marco is very experienced, and it showed when he ran his opening stint. He’s never raced here before, but he climbed his way through the field pretty well, and we were top five by time he came in for fuel and tires.
Road Atlanta can be tricky as Petit Le Mans gets into the afternoon and night. There are so many fast corners that the tires get a pretty good workout, and as a result it gets dirtier and dirtier off line as debris and rubber pieces continue to build up. Heading into Turn 12, you crest a slight right-hand hill to set up for the corner, which can be tricky as the car unloads and then compresses, especially with the rubber build up. This caught Marco off guard, and all of a sudden as he crested the hill he found himself spinning, but like a true professional he gathered it up and kept going, losing minimal time and continuing on.
Then I got in. My first stint was fine and the car was great, and we were looking like a podium car when BOOM… left-front tire explodes just as I exit Turn 12! These are the moments where you earn your money. You have to drive a full lap before you can enter the pits, so you want to get there as fast as you can so you don’t lose much time, but the faster you go the more you can damage something else, especially our splitter which is so sensitive. By time I came in, made the stop and got back going we were down a lap. Ugh.
Luckily with the way the yellows and pit stops worked out, we got it back pretty quickly.
But then came the new problem…
When I came in on the next stop, we handed the car back to Marco and somehow in that process the connection to the radio was damaged. This meant that Marco could hear our engineer Lars, but couldn’t speak back. On the next scheduled stop the team tried to fix it, but it was a loss. This meant Marco would go through the rest of his stint, and then me for the end, without being able to talk to the team.
Anyone who knows me knows I like A TON of information, especially at the end of a race when we’re in it. I constantly have to remind the team to let me know who’s behind me, how close they are, who’s in front of me, how many laps to go, etc. It’s important for many reasons. During the night time all you see in your mirrors are headlights, so you need to know if it’s the headlight of a faster class that you should allow by, or if it’s the headlight of a competitor who you need to keep behind. You also have to manage your tires, so it’s good to know how much time is left and how far the car in front of you is so you can play that balance.
I go nuts when I don’t get that information, and as the race began to hit its closing I wasn’t getting that, and it was really tough.
We had a yellow flag at the end that led to a restart with five minutes to go, and as soon as we went green I was hit by a GTLM car as the field coming from behind decided to go three wide, causing me to high-side the curbing out of Turn One and having to manage the car home. More importantly, I fell from third to fourth in that process.
Let’s just say, I wasn’t happy.
Somehow, fate intervened and we still took third when the No. 23 crashed (glad he was OK), but if I’m being honest, it was bittersweet. We had another podium, another trophy, and that was awesome. However, it would have been a second if I wasn’t pushed wide, and we might have been able to get to the front if I had all the information I needed during my stint.
It is what it is, and still a great testament to the team. Five podiums, plus a win at Sebring, is a great year and everyone should be proud. I love my time with Magnus Racing and I have every faith 2015 will be even better.
Thanks everyone for taking the time to read my thoughts, especially everyone at Sportscar365. This is a great site and it’s been amazing to see it grow.
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