May 4, 2012: After a career in single-seater racing, I have moved on to the world of Sportscars this year and having just done the opening two races in Sebring and Spa, I have to say it’s very different indeed ! There are a lot of things which are as I expected and there are plenty of things which aren’t at all what I expected but overall I have to say it’s been very enjoyable so far.
Sharing a car with two other drivers is a whole new experience for me and this comes with a variety of complications. First of all being the shortest one in the line up, the seat position has to be compromised and I spend most of the time in the car being tossed from left to right – thank god for chiropractors ! Doing the engineering meetings is also very different as everything takes thrice as long by the time each driver has given his feedback and the information has been pooled. It can all get pretty tricky for the drivers because we all have our own styles and our own opinions in terms of what we want from the car, but the whole time it’s important to consider what the other two may want as well. This is a big change for me, as until now, I’ve worked one on one with race engineers to get the best setup for ME but this year I’ve had to learn to think of the bigger picture. In all honesty, this is something I wasn’t very good at in Sebring but I think in Spa I’ve started thinking a bit more about the other guys as well. On the plus side, it does mean we have three times the brain power thinking of solutions but on the minus side, it can sometimes be a case of ‘too many cooks’.
My team-mates David Brabham and Peter Dumbrek have been really good with me so far. They have been pretty tolerant of my single-seater ‘me-myself and I’ mentality and are helping me to work better as a sportscar driver. They seen and done it all before in various categories around the world – both the guys are F3 champions, Macau GP winners and raced at the highest levels in different parts of the world. Because of this and also by being a bit older, they are a bit more secure in their positions and therefore are happy to be open and helpful which has been fantastic for me. There is automatically more pressure when you have two good team-mates like this as you are very conscious about delivering a result for them as much as for yourself.
Over a race weekend, the whole way of operating is very different as the team has to lay a lot of emphasis on managing the time spent on track to ensure every driver gets enough practice in before the race. For the first time in my career, qualifying is pretty inconsequential which is very confusing I have to say when coming from GP2 or F1 where qualifying is hugely important. In an endurance race, being consistently fast in the race and having the right strategy for saving fuel and managing the tyres is of far more importance.
The other big change is the traffic situation in the races. In Sebring I was totally at sea during the first session of practice ! Being on a 6km track with 64 cars is a hugely daunting experience for a rookie and it’s pretty common to be passing 5 or 6 cars on a single lap. Being fast in traffic can make a big difference to your race but equally, getting in to a collision with slower cars can also damage your race as I found out in Spa when I collided with a slower LMP2 car. The variety of cars on track is equalled by the variety in terms of driving ability which means that you have some cars that are 25 or 30 seconds a lap slower than us. Judging the gaps to them and being able to pick your way past in the best way is a huge challenge in these situations !
Physically the cars themselves aren’t as demanding to drive as I expected, although being thrown around in my seat for hours can be a bit painful after a while ! Being in the car for longer stints can be hard work – at Spa I was in there for nearly 3 hours but to be honest, the only real physical problem I had was that I was bursting for a pee after about an hour which made the next two feel a lot longer than they were !
We’re off to Le Mans next for the jewel in the crown of the World Endurance Championship. I’m really looking forward to the whole experience of racing at Le Mans, which a lot of people have told me is better than any other race on the planet. The expected crowd for the weekend is nearly 300,000 people which should make the atmosphere pretty special. We have the test at Le Mans two weeks before the race which will be my first time on the circuit although having driven it on the simulator, I have to say it looks pretty mega ! The whole event is steeped in history and for an old school motor sport fan like me, it’s an important box to tick in my career along with racing at Monaco, Silverstone, Spa, Monza and Macau. Bring on the BIG month of June !