Almost a week after the final checkered flag on the final ALMS race, I am still finding it tough to believe that we won.
I had been asked for over a month how much it would mean to win the last American Le Mans Series race? The fact that it was Petit Le Mans, one of our biggest races, and my ‘home’ race, just made it feel that much more important to win.
But, after the Baltimore accident, I knew it would be an uphill climb. After giving two laps to the entire field at the start even left me with a few doubts. But, when it was all said and done, there we were, top step of one of the most important podiums of my career.
We’d been testing for a week at Road Atlanta, trying to fine-tune a car that seemed to defy everything we threw at it. After all, Porsche didn’t design this car and we hadn’t developed tires for a morphed 2010 and 2012 911 GT3 RSR.
We’d been calling the car Falkenstein internally for a weeks but with a new grey and black livery developed by a Falken Tire fan in an international competition for Forza Motorsport, it seemed even more fitting.
By the end of 1,000 miles at Road Atlanta, there was no denying the name was appropriate! When we entered official practice on Thursday, I am pretty sure no one in Vegas was putting money on the No. 17 to win that weekend. But, that is how underdog stories are made.
We struggled with oversteer all week. When the team sent me out to qualifying on Friday afternoon, it wasn’t much better. We were getting closer and I put my head down and put it all on the line. We turned our best times of the week and qualified sixth.
When we did the ALMS Fan Walk before the race – I sure hope the new TUDOR SportsCar Championship continues that ALMS tradition – the front straight was wet. We discussed it and decided to start on the wet tires thinking the track would be wet all the way around for awhile.
I knew on the parade lap we’d made the wrong call. The track was already too dry for ‘rains’ so we decided we’d stop on the first green flag lap. First lap, already behind the eight ball; the race didn’t look like it was going any better than the rest of the week. But, we kept our head down.
Hour-by-hour we worked strategy strong laps as drivers. Wolf Henzler and Nick Tandy did a great job and the Falken crew couldn’t be beat on pit lane. Before we knew it we were legitimately in the lead and playing our strategy.
I turned the car over to Wolf and he gave the final driving duties to Nick. It was going to be close. It was cool but the rain had stopped and the car was pretty neutral. It stayed that way until the end of
Nick’s run when we began to get some oversteer – odd for the dark, you usually get understeer on a cool track. Nick had Dirk Mueller pushing him all around the track as we got closer to the end but when he needed to, Nick pulled away.
Then, with minutes to go, we got a full course caution. That closed the gap and the restart with eight minutes to go looked dicey. We had the oversteer and Dirk is a tough guy to keep behind you. Despite a brief run through the grass at the uphill esses that stopped all of our hearts, Falkenstein – complete with a new gash across the nose as a result of a run-in during an earlier stint – we did the unthinkable.
We won the Petit Le Mans with a car that had sat in the Walker Racing race shop showroom just a few weeks earlier.
What an amazing team effort. It was one wild ride – both Petit and my career in the ALMS – but it couldn’t have ended any better! Can’t wait for the future but trying to enjoy the past at present.