Conor recounts racing his second year of GP3 in Europe by discussing his scary crash in the second half of the Monaco Grand Prix support race doubleheader. -Ed.
Well, I thought Monaco was going to be the best weekend of the year but I seriously couldn't have been more wrong. What a ride it was...
The race weekend started out quite nicely. I arrived at the Nice airport in France by myself with no ride to the track until my teammate Daniel Abt (CENTER) got there a couple hours after me. Michael Vergers, a friend of me who I had raced with in the Walter Hayes Trophy Formula Ford race in 2008, was on my flight to Nice. Neither of us had a ride to the track and we saw a sign for helicopter rides to Monaco – which Michael instantly thought was a good idea!
At first I thought I probably shouldn't spend money on something like that, but after a minute I thought, it's my first time in Monaco and I should really try and make the best of it! It was only 120 euros, which wasn't too bad really for a helicopter trip over the sea to Monaco where we landed only five minutes walk from the GP3 paddock! Talk about awesome, it was such a cool experience, especially as I had actually never been in a helicopter before.
So that was a pretty cool way to start things out, and it was then time to walk the track. We had to walk the track in what seemed like rush hour traffic which was quite interesting. Everything about it was such a cool place – the sights, the track, the yachts! I couldn't believe it when I first got on track the next day. I was loving every minute of it and we seemed to be quite quick! The car felt really good, and I was excited to get to qualifying.
Unfortunately, we drew the unlucky straw for the qualifying groups. After drawing an even number, I had to be in the first group, so the second group was going to be faster. I had to focus on being the quickest in my group though, and it went very well until the very last lap. I was over half a second up on my previous best lap until the end of the second sector, when someone crashed in front of me. That meant I had to abandon the lap and my session was over, which left me P4 in the group. I couldn't believe it – I was so frustrated. That was the pole position that I wanted the most and I knew we had the car to do it! However, it was not meant to be. I lined up P8 for race one, since group two was indeed faster than group one.
Race one turned out to be about as much of a disaster as it could be. I was hoping for a good start, but unfortunately I held the clutch on the bite point for too long. Before the lights went out, the clutch just faded away and I stalled. I got going again and passed three or four cars before I was given a jumped start penalty. I didn't quite understand why, considering I had already fallen to the back of the field anyway when I stalled, but rules are rules and I had to come in for a drive-through.
So I went back out and started passing people that I had already passed because my car was a rocketship even with a broken wing rubbing against my left-front tire. I think we had the third-fastest race lap even with that. Then to add to the problems, my fuel pump broke on the last lap of the race heading into the last two corners.
I wanted to get that race out of my head and move on to race two. I knew I'd be starting in the back but I knew the car was good enough to make some passes so I was looking forward to moving up in the second race. I started 23rd and got a fantastic start this time narrowly missing a stalled car. There was a big crash in Turn 1, and I was able to gain some positions because of that. I think at the end of lap one I was 16th.
At the restart, I was charging. I started to pick off more cars one by one. I passed into Turn 1 and out of the tunnel into the slow chicane. My competitors were racing me clean and it was a good fight coming through. I made my way up to 12th, and the next car for me to overtake was Dmitry Suranovich...
Basically I had passed several cars up to the point where I caught Suranovich. I knew where my car was strong and I knew where my opportunities to make a move would be. My car was so good that I could run incredibly close behind him and was literally putting pressure on him at every corner. I could see he was driving in his mirrors though because at one point out of turn one going up the hill I was almost bump drafting him up to Turn 3 and he nearly drove straight into the wall because he was watching me!
He started making small moves to the inside of every corner in the brake zone. He did this once heading into the very tight hairpin and was extremely slow at the apex trying to stop me from getting a good exit and I made contact with his car removing his rear wing. It was certainly not was I was planning to do but I knew my car was still not in bad shape so I kept pushing.
It was now getting dangerous because he was driving in his mirrors without a rear wing, braking at random points on the track just so he could stay in front of me. I was doing everything I could to make a clean pass because honestly I just wanted to finish the race after the disaster first race I had. Every lane I tried to take on track to get around him he would move to block. What also made it difficult is that having no rear wing he had a lot of speed in a straight line.
I knew I had to get a good run out of the corner leading up to the tunnel straight and I did. I made an early move and immediately he tried to move in front of me, so I decided to wait until the exit of the tunnel. I knew for a fact he couldn't brake later than me without a rear wing. Still, I knew I would have to brake late, because he cut the track on the previous lap through the chicane because he missed his braking, and nothing was done about that.
I was so close, though, that I went straight for the inside knowing he would block – and when he did I went straight for the outside, because I knew that I could still out-brake him on the outside. But he immediately went to take that line, which surprised me so I said to myself that surely he can't be making a third move. I wanted to get back to the inside but he braked so early that before I got to the inside, I shot over his rear tires.