Jeff Segal says it has been a whirlwind since getting the call up to fill in for Alessandro Balzan with Scuderia Corsa this weekend in Detroit, but he’s loving every minute of the opportunity.
Segal was set to fly to France Thursday to take part in the test day for the 24 Hours of Le Mans with JMW Motorsport, but the sudden change in plans forced a rapid rethink of his travel schedule.
Asked to describe the last several days, the 2016 GTE-Am Le Mans class winner said one word immediately sprung to mind.
“It was frantic!” Segal told Sportscar365. “I think that is the best word. I was supposed to be in Le Mans yesterday and this obviously changes things.
“[Co-driver] Cooper [MacNeil] and I will fly to France with a group of other drivers immediately after the [Detroit] race. We’ll arrive, hopefully, an hour and a half before the first practice session begins.
“That will be even more interesting with a team that we’ve never driven with before! [Le Mans] is a track I know well, but I haven’t driven the 488 GTE yet, so a lot of new stuff.
“I knew it was a possibility a couple of days before the announcement, and I knew it was going to happen a couple of hours before the announcement.
“I changed my plane ticket about 12 hours before my flight, so it was very last minute. There were a lot of logistical hurdles to clear.
“It’s all part of the challenge. I’m happy to be here to support the team, to support Cooper, and Scuderia Corsa.”
Segal drove alongside MacNeil, Balzan, and Gunnar Jeannette in the team’s WeatherTech-backed Ferrari 488 GT3 in January at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has stayed involved with the team in various non-driving capacities since.
It’s that experience with the team that he says has helped ease the transition as he fills in for his friend and former co-driver Balzan, who is on site this weekend following a minor medical procedure.
“It’s under circumstances that aren’t what I’d prefer,” he said.
“Alessandro is a very good friend and I wish him a speedy recovery, but in the meantime I’m just trying to keep the seat warm and keep them up there in points.
“I’ve been working with the team since my last race with them at Daytona as a spotter, coach, and working with the data and the drivers.
“Basically, we’ve just switched roles. There’s a little bit of a gap for me because I haven’t been in the car in awhile and there’s an adjustment for Alessandro, so we’re helping each other along.
“The truth is, to a certain degree, we haven’t missed a beat. We’re all looking out for each other and trying to keep everything strong.”
Segal comes to Detroit with confidence born of past experience at the tricky street circuit which includes a podium finish in 2013 for AIM Autosport and a near-podium last year for Meyer Shank Racing.
While the late notice has made this weekend a challenging proposition, he said the expectations for the team remain high in Detroit before jetting off to Le Mans.
“In practice it was a bit like drinking from a fire hose because I’ve been out of this car, this team, and especially these tires, so to get back in on a street circuit where there’s no margin for error, it’s a little bit tricky, ” said Segal.
“FP2 went a lot better. We were second, which is fantastic, so now we’re just trying to keep this good mojo going through tomorrow, get out of here on time, get to the test, and then we can all breath a little bit.
“Primarily staying out of trouble is always the goal, but expectations are high. This team has a strong race at Sebring and we were looking very strong at Daytona before we had some issues.
“They expect to be challenging for podiums and wins. No pressure!”