Before talking about the Four Hours of Silverstone, and my first race with ART Grand Prix in the European Le Mans Series, I should tell you the back story of the off season and how we ended up here.
The 2013 season was a dream year for my teammates Martin Plowman, Bertrand Baguette, and myself. After joining OAK Racing we went on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, we won the pole and the race at the Six Hours of Fuji, scored a bunch of podiums throughout the year, and went on to become the world champions in the LMP2 category.
Going into the off season I think we were all very confident that with the year that we had we would find the right ride to come back and defend our title, but unfortunately in racing things don’t always happen that way, and now even thought we are all in top rides, none of us are either in LMP2, or in the WEC.
During the winter, my manager (Toni Calderon) and myself worked very hard to find a way to come back and defend our LMP2 title. It was great to see that there was a lot of interest from pretty much every team out there, but we were taking our time to make sure we found the right combination of teammates, team, chassis, tires, engine, etc.
There were some solid opportunities on the table, but I wanted to take my time to make sure that we could find something that felt right, just like it did in 2013. As time went on, things started changing quickly in the WEC and it became apparent that LMP2 was not going to be nearly as strong as last year, so I started realizing that maybe it was time for a new challenge.
Right about this time we decided to call Sebastien Philippe who had been an integral part of our success last year as the team director at OAK, and had now moved on to ART Grand Prix.
After a few conversations we all quickly realized that there was a strong chance to do something together, and to put a strong package in place for the GTC category in ELMS. Even though our focus and experience had been geared towards prototypes, when the opportunity came to join a team as successful as ART Grand Prix we couldn’t pass it up, and a few days later the deal was signed.
Honestly I was pretty nervous when I got to the first test, my whole life I’ve driven open wheel cars and prototypes, so I really didn’t know what to expect of a GT3 car and whether I would be able to be quick in it. But after only a few laps in the ART GP McLaren I quickly realized that the transition wasn’t going to be as difficult as I thought.
Don’t get me wrong it’s a huge change, you have not nearly as much downforce, the car is heavier and moves around a lot more, the brakes are completely different (because of ABS), you have to anticipate the corners a lot more, among other things. But the car is actually a lot of fun to drive, and I’m really enjoying learning how to be fast in it.
Silverstone was a decent weekend for us. Of course you always want to be able to run up front and win, but that just wasn’t possible for us at this event. We’ve been working on the car setup quite a bit but we are obviously still lacking speed compared to the Ferraris, they just seem to have better grip and downforce overall. So at a track like Silverstone where you have a lot of high speed sections, and not a lot of straights, we struggled.
The race went fairly well for us, we finished fifth which is a pretty good points results considering the very competitive 15-car field. Perhaps we could’ve gotten fourth if it hadn’t been for that late race caution, but the podium was not in our reach. So as far as the championship goes, we did what we had to do which was to score as many points as we possibly could.
But if we are going to be serious contenders we are going to have to improve and be fighting for the top three spots, there’s only four races left in this very short championship so by Imola we need to do our best to be up there.
My teammates Alex Brundle and Karim Ajlani have done a great job, we’ve quickly formed a good working atmosphere and we definitely enjoy working with each other.
As far as the team they are obviously top notch, so I know they are working hard right now to keep improving he car and I’m really looking forward to being back on track with them in Italy and going for our first podium.