The summer break after Le Mans seemed to have dragged on forever. At first I really enjoyed my time away from the track, but then I started to get myself into trouble by playing golf. And by “trouble,” I mean “financial trouble,” as the cost of replacing lost balls got really steep.
Le Mans was such an incredible moment for me personally, that it took a week or two to get over the disbelief and fully digest what happened. But soon after, my focus was back to racing and trying to solidify our lead in the championship.
More importantly, my focus for Brazil was to improve my confidence in the car, so that I would be able to perform at the level I was driving at the end of last season where I felt invincible against anyone I came across.
The main reason for my dip in confidence this year is partly due to the new tire construction for this year from Dunlop and the lack of seat time that you get as a driver to hone the setup to your liking.
One of the problems with driving in endurance racing is that practice time is split three-ways, and since nearly every track we go to this year is new to me, I am spending most of that time learning the track and not enough time to leave my mark on the setup especially when the setup is a compromise with two other drivers.
For Brazil, our engineer laid out a plan to finally cure the corner entry stability issues that the car had. And from the very first lap of practice, I felt a massive step forward. Every time I was in the car, I was able to take the car to the top of the time sheets or very near, and on used tires I was able to set some of the fastest times, too. It all boded well for the race.
Qualifying didn’t exactly go to plan for both OAK Racing cars, as for some reason both the No. 35 and No. 24 cars struggled to get its tires up to temperature for the 3 flying laps per driver.
I had to wrestle with the car a lot but I managed to extract everything I could to help salvage third on the grid for the race. Qualifying for endurance races don’t play a big part in the race’s outcome, but it’s crucial to keep your nose clean at the start and away from the crazy drivers from mid-pack and beyond, so we were happy after the session to start third after the session we had.
Sao Paulo was the most physical race we have done so far this year; there isn’t a lot of time to breathe, and the track is counter-clockwise so you use the weak side of your neck. I had done a lot of extra training at St. Vincent Sports Performance and Core Pilates & Fitness in Indianapolis to prepare for this race, so I knew if I were starting to feel sore, I’d hate to feel what the others were feeling!
My two stints in the car went well. When I first jumped into the car, we were almost a lap down on the No. 49 Pecom car and No. 26 G-Drive car because the first safety car had joined the field after those two and before the rest of the LMP2 field, allowing them to drive around to the tail of the safety car line and gain a massive advantage.
I knew we had a massive deficit to make up, so I gave 150 percent every lap – taking some big risks in traffic and helped to set my team up to overcome the lap deficit when I handed the car back over to Bertrand.
There was one pretty scary moment in the race when I dived alongside one of the Ferraris into turn 7. I was completely alongside him, but I don’t think he saw me as he turned into the corner.
He pushed me completely onto the inside of the corner with 4 wheels on the grass. We made pretty heavy contact, but I managed to escape any damage and didn’t lose too much time.
That’s what makes these races so difficult. Everything can be going perfectly in the race, but it can all come crashing down in a split second.
It was a massive relief to bring home the car in 2nd. Of course we always drive to win, but in the circumstances and with an eye on the championship, finishing 2nd and continuing our consistently high placement string was the best result possible.
The feeling of elation after the race in Le Mans was replaced by a feeling of ‘job well done’ after Sao Paulo. Our focus for the rest of the season remains the same, to treat each race individually and shoot for the win.
Even though the championship is our goal, you can’t afford to get complacent or be conservative for a second in this series, because it is so strong.
Last weekend’s result was equally important for us as our Le Mans win as it confirms that it wasn’t just a flash in the pan. I think we may have surprised a few people both inside the team and out, but I know that our pit crew are growing in confidence.
You can see it during practice pit stops – they seem to be getting faster and have extra bounce in their step. And in Ricardo and Bertrand, I have two formidable teammates who let their results do the talking and are not fazed by anything that is thrown at them.
It’s been a really fun journey so far. I can’t wait for Austin to see how this year unfolds!