Nine Hours. That’s the time difference between my home in California and Central Europe.
Racing is all about time. Sometimes thousandths of a second determines a pole position and sometimes a year and a half determines the champion of the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship ‘Super Season’.
Usually, at this time of year, I would be getting ready to jump into the heart of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship schedule with our No. 73 Park Place Porsche GT3 R. That isn’t exactly the case this year as we have shifted things around a little, instead focusing on WEC.
Our No. 73 Porsche is still on the IMSA grid, but not all 11 rounds of competition. The priority this year is a new venture with the well-known German Porsche team, Project 1, as the team and I both premiere in the 2018-19 WEC Super Season racing the No. 56 Porsche 911 RSR in the GTE-AM class.
I will be driving again with Jörg Bergmeister as well as a new friend and very strong talent, Egidio Perfetti.
So, what am I doing writing a blog about it while I’m somewhere over Greenland? Sportscar365 thought it would be a fun way to pull back the curtain on the WEC ‘Super Season’ from one of two Americans running in the full campaign.
All the cultural stereotypes can get put on blast and the series dirt can finally get flung around.
OK, well maybe I won’t start your new favorite gossip column, but I am, however, one to write more about the experience off the track as much as on the track. I won’t be writing lengthy race reports about lap times and paragraphs on the line through Eau Rouge.
Expect to get more of a life view on the travel, logistics, challenges and perks of participating in the world’s top sports car championship.
I had talked loosely about participating in the WEC for years, as it is with most drivers (except Louis Hamilton), it was my goal to one day drive at Le Mans.
This deal didn’t come to pass easily or overnight; it took a long time to put all the pieces in place. I met Project 1 team principal Hans-Bern Kamps at the 2017 Le Mans 24-hour race in June when my wife, Lindsay (yes, her name is Lindsay Lindsey) and I were there as guests of Porsche.
Former Porsche Motorsport North America CEO Jens Walther introduced us as we briefly crossed paths in the paddock and I didn’t think much about the meeting.
Fast forward two months later to August and I found myself in middle-of-nowhere Germany, Lohne to be exact, sitting across the table from Hans-Bernd, his partner Jörg Michaelis and the rest of the Project 1 team to discuss the big, “what if” of running a WEC program.
It was clear the passion, competitiveness and all-around know-how was strong with the team. After many discussions across those nine-time zones, we were able to put a terrific program together.
The first time I had the pleasure to meet the whole team in person was at our first test in Vallelunga in early March –in the rain.
Coming from a team in the States that have been together for a number of years now, it was quite a foreign experience indeed to learn all those new faces and names. To the credit of the team principals, team manager and lead engineer, Project 1 has put together a great crew of team members to undertake such a monumental task of campaigning a very complex car across a worldwide championship. It was also my first chance to take our new toy for a spin.
The car. Oh, the car. I hate to romanticize too much about the Porsche 911 RSR, but whatever emotions you experience just listening to it scream by on the track or as one marvels at the engineering feat of the complete package, the feeling of driving one is nearly indescribable.
The capability of the car is just so superior, the refinement of every detail so complete and the marvel that is Porsche’s pinnacle GT project just makes everything else pale in comparison.
When I drove it two weeks later at Spa (again in the wet), I jumped out of the car and had a very unprofessional grin that was not so hidden behind the mask of my helmet.
There were some other exclamations about the track that beautiful, undulating track carved out of the Belgian countryside and lined with giant pine trees that make you wonder if you are looking at real life or a painting.
Spa will be a special place to kick off our season next month, and I look forward to telling you all about it.
Finally, it came time to meet the other competitors in official fashion at the Prologue which took place at the famous test track, Paul Ricard.
It’s located about 30 minutes from the Mediterranean Sea in the South of France. Paul Ricard is a unique track with a bunch of squiggly lines painted on it.
It is a newer track in Europe at roughly 50 years of age, but because of the more barren landscape around it with small shrubs and olive trees, it is a difficult place to learn and get around.
I struggled at first, but after our six-hour race simulation, I felt pretty dang comfortable throwing the RSR around Signes corner, a very fast right-hander at the end of a 1.1mi straight.
The RSR inspired confidence through the high-speed sections and made them very fun. Maybe even more so on a track, where the worst possible penalty for getting it wrong are some square tires.
We left the Prologue with a good handle on things and the confidence needed to go into our first race weekend in a few short weeks.
When Americans travel to Europe, we often get a sense of coming home to our roots. Most of us can tie our origins back to European descent and similarly with automobile racing it seems that there is a distinct history that is palpable when you step into the garages at a place like Le Mans or Spa.
Indianapolis, Road America, Watkins Glen and Daytona can all draw their timelines back to the birth of automobile racing, but I can tell you that the European flare for waving the flags of its forbearers is something to behold.
I am counting myself blessed to be a participant in this fantastic championship and look forward to representing the U.S., IMSA and Park Place as we set out to make our own history.
When the green flag drops at Spa next month to kick off our year-and-a-half long journey, I won’t be able to help feeling nostalgic about the great ones who paved the way for this amazing sport.