“Baptism by fire,” is the phrase that keeps popping into my head when I think about this past weekend’s race at Spa Francorchamps located in the picturesque Ardennes Forest of Belgium.
The area was historically known for the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, but last weekend it hosted a different battle, the FIA World Endurance Championship ‘Super Season’ opener.
Team Project 1 has been preparing for months to field our brand-new Porsche 911 RSR, and finally, we had our day.
The WEC is relatively young as this Super Season only marks its seventh championship. That doesn’t mean they don’t know how to properly build the emotion of something unique and historic that is about to take place.
The fans also add to the feeling of the championship’s uniqueness in motorsport, attending in droves and prepared with pictures of drivers and their past racing conquests for an autograph.
I have to tell you; it’s a little surreal when a foreign accent calls out your name in request of an autograph, then produces pictures of your race cars dating back a decade.
There is no doubt that I have more enjoyment in viewing these memories than the fans do receiving my autograph. So merci, danke and thank you to everyone who took the time to print out this nobody’s old pictures and found me in the paddock.
The event got started without incident. We settled into a normal flow of getting settled.
Running the free practice sessions seemed quite normal and routine. The one exception I need to give a quick shout out to is the LMP2 car that passed me into La Source by moving over directly in front of me and slamming on the brakes.
I hope your diffuser looked worse than my front bumper, which his now a $8,000 chunk of garage art.
Qualifying was terrific for us as I watched my co-drivers Egidio Perfetti and Jörg Bergmeister grab third in a superb effort. Egidio’s pace was terrific, and I am quite excited about our future qualifying efforts.
The anticipation of taking the green flag grew significantly throughout the weekend until the morning of race day when you could tell that the team was eager and nervous. Slow and steady was the key to making it through our first event in the WEC and the team did a great job of executing through the nerves of our debut race.
Egidio’s amazing pace allowed me to take over from him in second place with an excellent opportunity to pass my pal Paul Dalla Lana for the lead.
However, the racing gods had a different plan.
As we circulated the track on the lap coming back to green flag racing our Porsche display flashed red with a fuel pressure warning followed quickly with a complete loss of drive.
WHAT!? I have been driving race cars for a good chunk of time, and I have never had anything like that happen.
After what seemed like an hour of talking to the pits and troubleshooting we fixed the issue and were able to resume the race, losing about two laps. If anyone wants to check back with me in a month, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to confirm, “Fuel Pressure Low,” solidifying its rank among my reoccurring nightmares.
The team pressed on, and we showed strong pace and solid execution, running 6th in class.
However, even that wasn’t meant to be as incident struck again while Egidio was turning laps in the waning moments of his stint.
Contact with a Ferrari sent our 911 off track, glancing off the tire barrier and coming to rest on the track. Egidio carefully came back to the pits, and the team took their time to ensure the car was okay to continue.
I gingerly returned to the circuit and to my pleasant surprise the car drove just as well as it did before, proving the RSR is a tough little (maybe not so little) machine.
We did our laps and took our points, but the real payoff was the invaluable knowledge that the team gained from just one event.
I celebrated the completion of our first event with two waffles, something the Belgians do very well. They are also known for their beers and fries, but the sweet carbs are my favorite.
One of our sponsors happens to know a thing or two about sweets, the Mentos brand of candies and gum rides on our No. 56 Porsche and we certainly reap the benefits as a team.
I wouldn’t say the supply is limitless, but there is not a shortage of fresh-makers in our pit. If you have the fortune of attending one of our races, be sure to swing by for a handout or two or more. What the dentists doesn’t know only hurts you later.
The universal truth that you can’t be two places at once plagued me while at Spa. Back in the States, our Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA program had quite a big weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with the rest of IMSA.
Park Place Motorsports driver David Kolkmann finished second in Race One and first in Race 2 in his No. 71 Eucon Porsche 911 GT3 Cup.
I had a pretty good time watching from my hotel room in Frankfurt over the IMSA app, yelling at the screen, willing and praying for our car to take that checkered flag.
What a great weekend for our Park Place team and I couldn’t be happier that we teamed with Project 1 to get involved in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge.
Next, up for our Project 1, Park Place team is the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
To put into words the anticipation for me as a long time viewer and fan actually to participate is not possible. I am just planning on soaking in as much of the experience as possible while still doing my job behind the wheel.
The Circuit de la Sarthe is a long track and won’t be easy for me to get a handle on, but fortunately, my time in the simulator at home and the AOTech facility (the mandatory rookie training) has helped greatly.
Unlike Fernando Alonso, nobody took my picture while I underwent my simulator testing which is a good thing since I am not a strong simulator driver.
I hope to do much better on the real track in a couple of short weeks.
If you happen to be at the test or the race, please say hello. I am so excited to share this amazing experience with everyone and am very grateful to my wife, Lindsay, and family for allowing me to disappear for weeks on end to chase this incredible dream.
I will be even more excited to share Le Mans with them.