We are now two races into our 2014 European Le Mans Series season and things are definitely starting to line up nicely. The team and all the drivers are starting to get to know each other better, we are more relaxed, the car is better, and we have managed to score pretty good points for our fight for the championship.
Although we still have a lot of work to do, I feel like we can now show up at the next race at the Red Bull Ring and definitely be a contender.
It was my first time to go to Imola and it was definitely a special experience. The first thing we did was to visit the Ayrton Senna tribute for the 20th anniversary of his death.
Looking at all the pictures and videos brought back a lot of memories of that era and it also gave us an understanding of how big the Formula 1 race use to be at Imola, and how passionate the Italian fans are.
On Friday we had a chance to walk the track and the first thing we noticed was just how beautiful the circuit is, it is definitely an old school track and it has some great corners and scenery. You can be walking down a straight and on one side you’ll see a beautiful forest, and on the other the town church.
It was a great experience after being to a lot of the newer F1 tracks last year that are built in the middle of nowhere. While walking the track we came upon the Tamburello corner where Senna had his accident, now it has a chicane but you still get a sense of how quick that corner was in the past, it definitely gives you respect for how those guys were driving back then.
It was also very special to see the pictures, messages, flags, candles, and other mementos in honor of Senna that have been left by fans throughout the ages on the wall of the circuit.
The first day of practice was quite difficult for us. First we had a mechanical problem that kept us in the garage for a while, and then I made a mistake and had a bit of contact with the tire wall at the second chicane, which once again cost us some time.
In both instances the ART Grand Prix team did a great job repairing our Mclaren, but we lost valuable laps. The format of the ELMS weekends makes it quite tough for teams with three drivers to get proper track time, and both Karim (Ajlani) and myself were new to Imola so we needed as many laps as we could get.
Despite the limited laps, all three of us were very happy with the way the car felt which gave us a lot of confidence, our engineer Gaetan Jego and McLaren have done a lot of work after Silverstone and they have definitely stepped up the handling of the car.
However this still hasn’t given us enough speed to fight against the Ferraris which took the top 3 spots in qualifying pretty easily. Our qualifying session was a bit frustrating since Alex (Brundle) never really got to do a proper lap due to just bad timing with the yellows and the reds, so we ended up eight but weren’t really too worried about since it’s a long race.
The race itself worked out pretty well for us and was relatively uneventful, there were a lot of cars going off, crashing, and making mistakes but all three of us kept our head in the game and got through our stints without any problems. We had a strategy planned out from the beginning and stuck with it.
With this type of racing, where you have various manufacturers and gold, silver, and bronze rated drivers in every car, it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly where you stand and what to expect from your competitors.
As the race was coming to the last 90 minutes we started getting a clearer picture of everyone’s strategy and we realized that we had a pretty good shot at fourth place.
Eventually that’s how we finished, it was a great result especially because as we all joked; we were the “best of the rest.” Even though we were fourth, we were a full two laps behind the top 3 which were all Ferraris.
They are just too fast for us right now, the regulations are not helping the McLaren at all, not only on track but also in the pits where we are losing time every time we refuel. I hope that after two straight podium sweeps by Ferraris in the first two races the ACO will realize that there must be some adjustments to the BOP rules, because at the moment I really don’t see how anybody can beat them which is frustrating.