Round 3 – Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Laguna has traditionally been the season finale for the American Le Mans Series. This year however, Laguna is moved up to the third race of the season and extended from a four hour race to a six hour race. This would definitely be a long race.
Everyone knows Laguna. It's one of the most recognized tracks in North America. Just about every racing game to come out in the last few years has Laguna Seca available to drive. Last year, in the ALMS, it was site to the huge last lap battle and accident between the Flying Lizard Porsche and the Corvette. Laguna is always one of my favorite places to race for the track and for Monterey. I got to Monterey on Wednesday afternoon stoked for the race.
We had a quick session on Thursday, only an hour, in the late afternoon, where I was able to get some running in the 92 car. Nearly when it was time for me to hop out and hand over to my teammate, Bill Auberlen, I radioed in to the crew about some liquid getting onto the pedal box. A brake master cylinder was leaking so session done for us. Not a huge deal but it would limit some testing which we planned to try some time different tire compounds.
On Friday, Bill started the session, since I had all the running on Thursday, and I got in for the final outing in the car to feel the car after some changes. Having two cars in a team is almost a requirement this year in GT. You need that second car to get the best possible setup for the race.
The 90 car was trying some more compounds of tires so that as a team we could pick what we thought would be the best for the race. Dunlop is constantly bringing us new compounds and constructions to try and it's amazing how just about everything they bring us is better than what we had before
One thing you don't get with a lot of other disciplines in racing is sharing a race car. I'm 6'2". Bill, just getting out of the car here, is 5'8" / 5'9" something like that. Quite a bit shorter. While there are some advantages to having a codriver, such as having another opinion on what the car needs to go fast, usually there are just compromises. Compromises in seat position and setup are common. Luckily, Bill and I both are looking for the same thing from the car. I've found now after driving with a lot of different people, the better the driver is, the less compromise there is in the setup.
I can't forget to mention, you're also sharing the car in the race. It's tough to watch the race from the sidelines, especially right now in the ALMS because you're always itching to get back in the action. Always wanting to be a part of the battle
I know a lot of people ask what JOY is, on the side of the car. It's BMW's latest worldwide marketing campaign, that's clear, but right now, JOY is the M3 GT. This is the most impressive GT car I've ever driven, by far. A legend in the making. The car just won the 24 Hours of Nurburgring and I can see many more victories in its future. We will get a win this season in the ALMS. That I'm confident in.
Plus, it's just a sexy beast. The car is in tech inspection here. The Rahal/Letterman guys take the car down to tech to make sure after any setup changes that it's all still legal.
Our 92 car on the setup pads. The car goes onto the setup pad before and after every session to make sure it's where the engineers at RLR want it. We run the cars right to the minimum ride height, 55mm, so you can see how important it is to take the car to tech often to make sure it meets the rules.
Friday was a busy day. Practice in the AM, another hour practice in the PM and then qualifying right after. Later that night I had a dinner with sponsor Bell Micro. Here, Joey and I are at VICCI's tent in the vendor area. They've done a bunch of new t-shirts, hats, watches, etc. which will be for sale in a few days at Vicci.com. The shirts are awesome. They aren't just a shirt with sponsor logos all over. It's actually stuff you'd see for sale at the mall.
…and there's one of them. There's another 4 or 5 shirts already. Some for the ladies too of course.
Chatting with Mike Renner, of the BMW Performance Center in Spartanburg, SC here. Mike is one of the chief instructors there. If you live on the east coast, the Performance Center has some awesome programs where you get to thrash some of BMW's latest offerings. M3's, M5's, 7's, 3's, z4's, the new 3 Diesel, and the X5 and X6. The new Z4 sDrive35is is a sickkk car.
A drivers universal language. The hands always make it a better story.
Qualifying. Bill qualified again, just how the weekend played out, and the practice before qualifying we were in the hunt but the Ferrari, which had won the first two pole positions, was quick again in the previous session.
Bill did an awesome job and put in a great lap to go P5 and Dirk P6 only 30 thousandths off Bill's time and only a few tenths off P2. Qualifying isn't our strength. Race pace is our strength and as long as we are close in qualifying we'll be good for the race. Especially being a 6 hour race, qualifying isn't as important.
The approach to the corkscrew is one of the craziest things you'll see in racing. You basically drive up the side of this mountain, and you have to brake before you can even see the corner. All you see is blue sky. There is very little in the way of references around your brake point, I use the track itself. This works fine, until you have to make a pass, or the sun goes down and your references no longer are references. At that point you have to go all by feel. One of Camden's desktops shows this perfectly.
… and here's one looking in the opposite direction of Camden's desktop. That's just looking down to T6 as the car approaches the corkscrew.
The BMWCCA contingent at Laguna Seca has to be the biggest collection of any of the marques at any race in the ALMS. We're signing our hero cards here at the autograph session for fans but a lot of them are BMWCCA memebers and friends getting some swag and waiting for our quick tech talk after the autograph session. They're setup on the hill by T5 and you can really feel their presence. At night, there were 4 or 5 flash bulbs going off every time I went by from that turn alone.
If you can believe it, the 90 car, only 4 hours earlier, was missing a lot of parts on the right side. An unlucky moment for Dirk in the 90 car, saw him spearing off the track and into the tires/wall at the exit of turn 6 and had damaged the car quite heavily. The shot above is the start of the race, and it's looking like nothing had ever happened. A testament to the great work by both 90 and 92 car crews to get it ready to go again for the start of the race.
The race started out fine. We were running 4th / 5th in class. No problems, the top 7 or 8 in GT all running right together. I hopped in and then it all started. I was up front, leading, with about a 5 or 6 second lead, when one of the backmarker LMP cars, with an amateur driver, tried to pass me after I had already committed to T4. I managed to see him out of the corner of my eye in the mirror and had to abort, while he spun trying to pass me in the dirt. I only lost 6 or 7 seconds, and came back on the track right behind Joey. Not what I wanted, but it could have been a lot worse.
I got back going, until two laps later when the 62 Ferrari made a pretty ambitious move down into T2, where he made contact with my left rear, and then my left front as I was spinning, causing a flat tire. Unreal. So I pit and it was time to get out of the car. I hop out and to our luck, it goes yellow, and everyone pits except us. So now we're back in first. OK, all the bad luck has to be out of the way now, right? Nope.
The next time I got in the car, we pitted ahead of our teammates and decided to not take tires and just take fuel to get some track position again. The 90 car was taking tires and when I left, I hit one of their tires. Sitting as low as we do in the car, I had no clue there was a tire in my path out of the pits. All I was focused on was missing the 90 car and the tire changer, which I did just fine, but had no idea there was a tire there. Stop and go penalty. *&%$
Ohhhh and it gets worse. So after all that and an hour later, we pit for fuel and tires, now in 5th at this point after the stop and go. When I come out, I'm chasing the number 3 Corvette for 4th and it goes yellow. Perfect. I can get my tires up to temp now and I can see the whole GT battle ahead of me. I'm on light fuel and new tires. I catch the Corvette easy in half a lap. Our 92 BMW M3 is a rocket right now. I pass the 3 once on the entry to 10 but he gets me back in 11. I do the old swing wide and run up underneath him down the start finish straight but he pushes me into the pitlane approaching T2, where you can't pass. I know the car is fast so I just stick to his bumper through T2, and then I get by on the entry to T3, almost. He's just barely hanging with me on the outside heading to T4, a right hander. As we approach 4, I just about get my turn in point, that is a right hander, and BAM! I get hit hard on the LEFT rear. I catch the first slide and as the car rights itself again, I can feel the car sink on the left rear and I lose all control. Stuck in the gravel. Flat left rear and we lose 3 laps.
I can't even describe the feeling sitting in the car, in the gravel, after the day I had just had. I wouldn't be surprised if the fans in T4 could hear me screaming obscenities in the car. They towed me out of the gravel and I finished the race. The same driver who was involved in the accident at the end of the race last year was the same one in the car this time. Magnussen is a great guy, I have a ton of respect for him, but I'm not surprised it was another Corvette involved in an accident like that.
At the end of the day, Joey finished 2nd, keeping a great points finish for the BMW Rahal Letterman Racing Team and a bad day turned good for them. While we had a good day turn bad for us in the 92.
If you're not watching these GT races, you should. It's a straight up battle and I hope the fans watching are enjoying it. Your favorite car or team might not win every race but it's a damn good show either way.