For any fan of racing, a mention of Indianapolis Motor Speedway likely conjures up an image involving the famed brick pavement of the past. Over time, these iconic bricks have earned IMS the nickname “The Brickyard.” After my teammate Max Papis and I took our R.Ferri/AIM Motorsport Ferrari 458 to a big victory in the GT class of last weekend's Grand-Am Rolex Series Brickyard Grand Prix at Indy, it was definitely all about the bricks for us!
To be clear, I'm not talking about the fact that we got to drive across the yard of bricks at the start/finish line every lap for three hours as we barreled the "wrong way" down Indy's front straight at top speed (ABOVE) and into the infield road course. And I'm not talking about that fact that we got to take part in the Indianapolis tradition of kissing that same row of bricks after winning (although that was really cool!). I'm talking about the weight of all those bricks which has been lifted from the shoulders of every member of our team now that we've got our first win out of the way!
Without a doubt, winning at Indianapolis is a very big deal for any driver, and I'm certain that in time this win will stand out as a highlight in my racing career. To be able to win at such a historically significant circuit and do it with such a storied manufacturer as Ferrari is really something extra special. The fact that this also happened to be the first win of 2013 for the Ferrari entries in the Rolex Series is the icing on the cake. After the race someone pointed out that I'm currently the only driver to be involved with every race win so far in Ferrari's comeback to Grand-Am with the 458 Italia. I continue to pinch myself that I've been fortunate enough to be affiliated with such a special brand and enjoy the success that we've had together.
Our season to this point has been a tale of close calls, missed opportunities, and plenty of heartbreak. The team has given us an unbelievably fast Ferrari racecar at every event, but no matter how close we came, something always seemed to crop up to keep us out of Victory Lane. The season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona looked promising for our new team, as we had all of the pieces in place to win, including a driver lineup bolstered by Ferrari factory driver Toni Vilander and ex-Formula 1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella. Speed was never lacking, but a few mechanical hiccups early in the race put us out of contention and left us hungry to make up for it in the regular season.
The next six races of the season saw frequent flashes of brilliance that were almost continually subdued by race results that were below everyone's expectations. To be fair, we made our share of mistakes, but we also encountered a streak of bad luck that tested the patience of everyone on the team. Taken out of the lead at Mid-Ohio while we were in the pit lane, of all places, a freak mechanical issue at the Six Hours of The Glen, again while leading. Things just weren't going our way. But the team never gave up despite all the adversity, and continued working harder to improve every aspect of our performance for the next race.
I don't think anyone was especially confident that the track layout at Indianapolis would do us any favors, especially given the long front straight and our lack of top speed compared to our rival manufacturers in the GT class. Our car shines in high-speed corners, long-duration corners, braking, and circuits that put an emphasis on balance and handling; not ones that demand but so much in top speed or outright horsepower. What I'm saying is, we definitely didn't have the fastest car at Indianapolis, but what we lacked in speed we made up for with crafty race strategy, slick pit work by the R.Ferri/AIM team, and on-track consistency that saw us leapfrog our competitors with a brave move to double-stint our Continental tires and shorten our pit stops to keep the lead until the checkered flag.
Realistically, we probably aren't a factor anymore for the drivers' championship this season. With that said, Ferrari happens to be leading the manufacturers championship, and the best way to maintain that lead for Ferrari is to keep on winning races. We have four to go in the 2013 season, and now that we've got some luck and momentum on our side, you can bet on seeing us out there trying to win them all!