After a few bucket loads of duck burgers down at the local town bar last night with Vossie, Bass, Les, Vijay and Victor, the United Autosports drum majorettes for the weekend all dressed up in dark blue tee shirts and caps, I retired to the hotel but couldn't retire at all after the team had asked me to start the race tomorrow. Scribbled an edition of the race blog and still couldn't sleep so I mentally drove a lap looking for nits and bits to improve on, but that just got me more fired up, so maybe I dozed off sometime after midnight and woke at 4:45 to be in the garage before 5:30.
It was pitch dark at 6 when pit lane opened and without any heaters or sun to warm the tires, obviously the recon lap was nothing more than a scary tire and brake warming lap. I felt uncharacteristically nervous on the grid in P9; Taka agreed to call the start as I couldn't see the car on pole clearly enough to know when the starters would break loose. The single safety car lap was spent hammering the brakes and warming the tire walls, but they were nowhere near "on it" at the start. On Taka's order I bolted free but the field barely moved, so after drawing alongside the Audi in P7 I let up despite seeing a huge green light ahead...never seen such a slow start but wanted to avoid any risk of being called in for jumping the start. Still made one pass going into Turn 1, but within a few laps was back in P9. Just wonderful conditions, cool air, no wind and the car cranked out very respectable laps after I settled down and got into a rhythm. Having studied Markus' flowing, melodic lines on video, the ultra-difficult mountain top pieces came together and soon enough the lap times dropped from acceptable to good to great. Yesterday I was satisfied with a 2:12.4 in the heat of the day as faster than any lap I'd done here before, but in the cool early air I found lots of 10s, 9s and even one lap in the 2 minute 8 second category, 4 seconds quicker than before - all in the super-tricky and super-risky flowing corners at the top. Only one drama of being the race starter: you get the rising sun right in the eyeballs as the track begins it's blind precipitous drop back down the mountain. So for 20 laps you squint and look away from the corner's apex, trusting you know where to place the car, where to start braking and where to downshift. Seemed to work OK.
Early in the stint a kangaroo bolted across the track before Turn 3 and found an gorgeous black Lamborghini racing along at over 125 mph. No more 'roo and unfortunately the Lambo is out of the race. I was 5 seconds behind the Lambo, so lucky.
Never had a more exhilarating stint in my life and handed the car over to Markus at about an hour-20 (safety car stretched us) and he promptly put down the fastest lap of the race which latest a few hours...and we were double stinting the first set of tires. quite amazing courage and talent.
After three and a half hours and at least 4 major Safety Car interruptions, the McLaren was leading, we were in 4th and 6 Class A and
Class B cars had been carted off on flatbeds. In terms of excitement, Markus had been hit into wall by a slow car, leaving the rear balance a little disrupted, but nothing unmanageable. The Michelin engineers inspected the tire at the closest point of impact and found a large gash that inexplicably never caused a blowout, even at 170 mph - for 10 laps! Now that's a racing tire. Eric had had an uneventful drive with good lap times, I cramped up on the lower right leg halfway through my 2nd stint so just reverted to Left foot braking, something - stopped doing maybe 2 years ago...critical not to come in with a half tank of fuel and waste time in the pits.
The highlight reels showed some ugly crashes, including the very striking bright silver Ferrari that my WEC RAMracing partner, Matt Griffin, was part of. Fluids spilling from the front of the car made his car uncontrollable and after spinning, a super-quick Nissan who didn't slow across the top, so banana peeled through the fluids destroying both cars in a high impact crash.
In my second stint I got hip checked by a greedy Mercedes under braking into the final corner for no apparent reason, but the sturdy Audi help up fine. The McLaren and Merc's still walk away from us like the FIA homologation officer overslept again, but we're having a ball running in P5 under yet another Safety Car procedure with just under 5 hours. With brakes crunching these Audis to a harsh stop over and over again with unrelenting dependability, our Audi Pro car next door has already replaced pads under the Safety Car slow laps and had less than a millimeter of padding left, so we'll inevitably have to come in and do pads too before the end of the race as outside temps have now soared over 32 degrees and may top out at around 40. No double stinting in this weather.
E N D O F R A C E R E P O R T # 4