I spend a lot of time on airplanes getting to races and tests.
Some days I think Delta is going to have to create a new frequent flyer category for me. So, with VIR so close to home – about six hours from Braselton – my wife Jamie and I decided it was a good excuse to spend some rare time together driving through our beautiful country.
As a result, the Wednesday before the race, I got up and went for a run and then packed our Porsche Cayenne for the trip to Virginia. What a great choice for my mind, body and soul! I knew I’d need it going to a tough track.
We knew after the accident at Baltimore forced us into “Falkenstein” that we were facing an uphill battle to compete in the ALMS GT class for the rest of the season.
This is, beyond a doubt, the toughest GT competition in the world. Being a second off the pace in some series or classes may not mean much but here you might as well be off by a minute.
It is just that competitive. COTA confirmed that to us. But, we had made progress over the course of the weekend in Austin and the Team Falken Tire engineers had made more progress between events with ideas to maximize the unique combination of Porsche 911 GT3 RSR we now have.
So, with a positive attitude we pulled into Alton ready to take on the challenge.
Thursday morning I was up and ready to go but we weren’t scheduled to be on track until later that afternoon for testing. Wolf and I had a good run on a river path we found near to the hotel. My compliments to the city for creating the path. It was a great place to relax with a good teammate and great friend.
Don’t make any mistakes that driving a racecar professionally is a job. It is the best job in the world but it is a job. We always have a number of meetings throughout the weekend – pre-event, pre-session, post-session, post-race, post-event reports to file with the team – all designed to make us better.
However, with all the unknowns now facing us, those meetings have become even more important. Our first meeting of the weekend came at 12:30 on Thursday afternoon to determine Falken tire and Porsche setup options for the weekend. We also determined I would be the first in the car for the weekend to start base-lining the changes we made since COTA.
After doing the initial “install laps” – checking for leaks, etc… after the post-COTA rebuild – I began to the push the No. 17 harder and we immediately found the car had some serious understeer. But, shortly after the session began the track changed dramatically and we began to fight oversteer.
This was very ominous. We worked through the session to solve it but we didn’t get away from the oversteer. Wolf closed the test with a lot of oversteer. Our post-test debrief was spent discussing tire and chassis changes to make the car more neutral.
Friday opened like Thursday, meeting Wolf for a run and then breakfast at a great little local place on the way to track. It was a relaxing meal spent talking with some great people from town. Spending time getting to know what is around you is tough on the busy weekends we have but something I really enjoy when I can do it. This was proof as to why!
Unfortunately, breakfast was probably the highlight of the day. Each session we just couldn’t make a dent in the oversteer situation. We made small changes, big changes and nothing made it better.
It was Wolf’s turn to qualify this weekend. We’d start 10th. Still too much oversteer and lack of lateral grip.
We did get a chance to visit with the Porsche faithful at the Porscheplatz on Friday which is always a pleasure. We started out with a light crowd but it continued to increase as we spoke. By the end, it was a great crowd with a lot of questions.
VIR may not have the overall number of fans as some other races but they are die-hard! I loved it!
After the traditional Mexican dinner with Wolf, I looked forward to race day.
I opened the warm-up session on Saturday bedding the brakes and putting in two ‘hot’ laps. Wolf closed the session since he’d be starting the race. After the autograph session and our pre-race meeting it was time to get started.
Wolf opened the Oak Tree Grand Prix and immediately was pushed off track. Because the grass off the track was so dry, it clogged the radiator ducts at the front of the Falken Porsche. By pitting to clean it we got off sequence with the other GT cars.
We used that to our benefit to take our own road. By being out of cycle and pushing hard, Wolf moved us up to second. The same combination kept me there until the pit stops didn’t matter anymore.
Even with the great effort of the Falken crew and pushing as hard as I could, one-by-one all the factory cars picked me off. We just didn’t have the speed to hold them. They could set me up and the only way to hold them back would have been underhanded so I fought each one as long as I could but always cleanly.
At the end of the day we crossed the finish line in eighth. That was a two-position gain over where we started and we fought hard to accomplish that!
My ride home was focused on Petit Le Mans, just a few miles from my house! I couldn’t wait to get to both!