Let me start by saying, like anyone, I enjoy winning. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here and both my family and my accountants would ask far fewer questions.
However, one thing that’s tough to describe is: I want to win on my terms. Starting my driving career a little later in life, I came into this series with nowhere near the experience of someone like my teammate, Andy Lally, or any of the pros, and while I understand that I may never have the speed of someone like Andy, a win would not be the same to me if I didn’t feel like I did my part.
That’s actually why I like the fact that IMSA requires minimum drive times. I’ve heard tales of the past with “Am” drivers doing one lap and then pulling in, handing off to the pro, and that’s it. That type of win doesn’t do it for me. I need to know I did my part, and just showing up isn’t good enough.
It’s the same way with how we run the team. Of course picking the right people is a critical ingredient in how a team operates, but I don’t want to just put everyone in place and walk away – I need to be involved. If I played no role in this team, be it as a driver or a decision maker behind the scenes, then the trophies in my office would just be reminders of checks that I wrote, not real accomplishments.
All of this leads to last Saturday’s final round of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Petit Le Mans. Since we’ve won at Daytona and Sebring, Petit was the next big objective for Magnus Racing, and after a good race in Texas and some recent testing at Road Atlanta, we knew we had a chance.
Practice and qualifying went well and we decided to put me in to start the race, effectively getting as much of my time in the car out of the way so that Andy and Marco Seefried could go the rest of the distance. This is an effective strategy under one condition: you don’t lose too much distance to the leaders early on. If you go a lap down, it’s really tough to make it back up.
Even if Andy is “the closer,” I’m under no illusions that my role to start the race is an important one. No, I don’t have to lead and set the fastest times out there, but if we go a lap down, we’re screwed. If I damage any part of the car by pushing too hard, we’re screwed. If I get too racey with someone and they end up running into us, we’re screwed. So my job is to go as fast as I can without doing anything wrong or losing a lot of time.
This is incredibly stressful for me. Even though it’s my team, like I said, I want to know that I did my part. I don’t want to be the guy who lets everyone down. With that in mind, I have to say that when it was time for me to get out of the car I was somewhere between excited and relieved. Not only had I kept up with the lead pack without a single scratch on the car, I did THREE stints in the process, satisfying my minimum drive time.
With a two-hour-and-15-minute drive time for Petit, we weren’t sure if I’d be able to cover that amount of time and still maintain touch with the lead pack. This would mean putting Andy and Marco in for another hour or two, and then putting me back in during the middle of the race. However, all of this was completely thrown out the window with my pace and the way the race unfolded.
By getting my drive time out of the way early, and in touch with the leaders, I’d not only felt like I did my part, but did it in the best way possible. We now had our “best bullets” in the gun for the rest of the race, and I have to say, it was a satisfying and relieving feeling to know I was “done.”
However, relief like that doesn’t last long. Once your anxiety calms down and the relief passes, now you want to win…and a new stress unfolds. This is some of the worst kind of stress, the kind that’s out of your hands. The remaining seven hours would come down to Marco, Andy, the pit stops and the strategy, all I could do was sit and watch (RIGHT).
We had no shortage of dramas during the race. Marco had a spin, Andy had a blown tire, there were random pit issues, and a radio that stopped working for the final four hours. There was no shortage of challenges, and with 15 minutes to go it looked like we still might have a podium.
With three laps to go, Andy was pushed wide and fell to fourth and it looked like we were going to be beaten by not only the winning Audi, but two other Porsches, which is in many ways the greatest source of irritation. I was incredibly frustrated and I have to say, when Andy crossed the finish line in third due to a last-lap crash by AJR’s No. 23 car, I didn’t believe it. It’s weird because I should have been excited, but in many ways I was still surprised and frustrated. We wanted to win it, and though I’m thankful for our fifth podium of the season, it wasn’t quite the result we were hoping for, especially when I was so happy with the role I’d played.
The season is now over, but the busy-ness isn’t. It would be inappropriate to get into our discussions, but we’re still hard at work going over a number of off-season items, and this is part of the business that so few know about… largely because we can’t talk about it!
Regardless, thank you everyone for taking the time to read my ramblings, and a big thank you to RACER Magazine and especially Marshall Pruett, who for whatever reason has been amazingly supportive of our delinquency.