Coming to the Circuit of The Americas, I only heard good things about the place. Everybody that’s raced there had raved about it. When we showed up, saw the facility itself and also got onto track on Thursday for the open test day, I think all of our thoughts and hopes had been answered.
Without doubt, it was fantastic to get onto a new circuit, something that felt that it was made with the loving touch of man as opposed to a computer generated program.
It definitely had that character about it, with the undulations, the fast sections, the cambers sloping away from you, with the high speed and low speed sections… Everything about it was nice. it was an attacking circuit but a circuit you also had to drive with delicacy at different points.
Thursday was very hot and humid and that’s what we expected for the whole weekend. We’d prepared for that. We brought our inflatable Toys ‘R Us “Cars” bathing pool! That was used just to cool us down, if necessary, afterwards.
We were expecting for it to be like that but Friday produced exactly the opposite. It went from extremely hot and humid on Thursday to a washout the next day.
It compromised setups a little bit because we didn’t do a heck of a lot of running on Friday. When it came to qualifying, which was dry, but a lot cooler and a lot less humid, we went in with a car that we knew, but a car we were also trying to explore to see what the track liked and what it didn’t. Therefore, there was an element of educated guesswork.
For Loic, Tom and I, it was clear after Brazil that we should have had pole there and were in a position to lead the race when we had the wheel come off. We wanted to get back into the position of actually leading the way to the front as opposed to defending our championship. And the first way to do that was in qualifying.
We went all-out attack with it. The guys gave us a car where Loic could throw down some good laps and switch over to me. Even in traffic, I was able to take risks and be able to get the lap out of the car. I was very happy with how the car was, and also the tire wear.
We got pole. Pole by 2.5 tenths doesn’t really mean anything. It means you’re quicker than the opposition. It doesn’t mean you’re actually going to be that way in the race, especially over six hours. But this was a circuit that we expected Toyota to be very fast but they weren’t. In qualifying, they were a second off. That was quite a surprise to us that we had that sort of advantage.
Going into the race, Loic got a very good start and was able to pull away from Marcel. The Toyota got into second place. By the pit stop, when Loic changed to me, I went from having a 15-second lead to having a 10-second deficit because the Toyota double stinted their tires. That was something we couldn’t do but they had the commitment to do that straight from the start.
Straight away, the lap time advantage we had was negated instantly by their tire strategy, and also by their extra fuel capacity with being a gasoline engined car and being able to do a couple laps longer than us per stint.
As soon as we got to 45 minutes and that first pit stop, we knew the race was well and truly on. It ebbed and flowed and we all had to push like mad to make sure that when I came out after my final stop that I was actually ahead of the Toyota. We were told to run 25-lap qualifying stints and that’s the way they had to be.
You couldn’t relax in any way whatsoever because if we came out of the final stop behind the Toyota, then we were not going to be in a position to easily pass them. They were definitely up for the fight. Thankfully when we did make the final stop, we ended up with a 23-second advantage, the checkered flag fell and we had won at the Circuit of The Americas.
It was a tough, tough fight, really tough. Physically it wasn’t so bad because it was quite cool and much easier than what we expected it to be. It just told us that come the next round in Japan, they’re definitely going to be up for the scrap, especially as they’re coming back with two cars. We’re looking forward to that.
We were able to increase our lead in the drivers’ and constructors’ championships, so it was a nice weekend all around.
But for me, it was beautiful to be racing back in the States. It was superb to have so many fans out and some that had driven from as far as Portland or Los Angeles, were two that I had met during the autograph session. It’s a circuit that is without doubt world class and fully deserving to have all of the big, international events coming to it in North America.
It was our last time of the year to be racing out in the U.S. but it certainly was a good one. For Tom and I especially, and Loic is increasing on this, it’s nice to continue our success and enjoinment of racing we’ve had in the States.