The 2012 Grand-Am Rolex Series season presented me with some of the biggest challenges I have had to deal with in my racing career. We all realized early in the season that to develop the Audi R8 to become competitive with the leading GT cars, it was going to take a major team effort. Looking back, it is remarkable to reflect how well in reality APR Motorsport, Audi Sport Customer Racing, my co-driver Dr. Jim Norman and I worked together to make all the improvements that were accomplished.
We all had to persevere through a few bad results in a row, but every single person remained positive and dedicated to the cause. We kept our heads down, focused on the end goal, and that is why we were able to finish our season strong, in much better shape than where we started. With time running out on the season we all really started to click as a team at the penultimate round of the championship at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
With a new team, learning to clearly and effectively communicate in the midst of all the passion and emotion is one of the hardest and most important tasks to conquer. Every team and every person handles this differently so it takes time to get everyone on the same page. By the end of the race in Montreal, we had finally achieved great team communication. We had a disappointing result at Laguna but we knew we were able to properly compete, and went into Lime Rock with renewed confidence, especially with a further performance update coming on our rear diffuser.
The short two-day weekend at Lime Rock meant we only had one test day before the race, which ended up disappearing into a torrential rainstorm on Friday afternoon – between Jim and I, we only got a total of 16 laps, in mixed conditions. Mark Scott, our engineer, had to take an educated guess on the setup.
Jim started the race and was strong right away, immediately moving up six positions. We pitted at the second caution for tires, fuel and a driver change. My first stint in the race was very difficult as the car felt extremely nervous in the rear. I relayed as much information as I could about the car to Mark, who figured out what needed to be done to address this issue on the next stop. For now all I had to do was keep us running near the front until we could make a change.
I had to push extremely hard to fend off a charging Andrew Davis and Bill Auberlen and after a few laps of really pushing, I unfortunately lost the rear end coming out of Turn 4. With such a tight track, they had nowhere to go and we suffered a big hit on the rear end. Knowing how short of a lap Lime Rock is, it is really very easy to lose a lap so I knew I had to get running again as quickly as possible and hope my car could make it back to the pits. Luckily, the car still felt pretty good and the damage was mostly cosmetic – at that moment I was really thankful to Audi for building quite the sturdy race car!!
We pitted, implemented Mark's adjustments, and for the final hour and forty-five minutes of the race the car came to life and was really fun to drive. Our director of motorsports, Jeff Mishtawy, and Mark then collaborated to call solid race strategy. So in the end this was all about communication, the language drivers speak and the language engineers speak are often very different, but Mark was able to translate my car-speak over the radio and make me very happy, never an easy thing for a driver to be – we always want the car to be absolutely perfect!
On the final restart with 25 minutes to go, following excellent race strategy and flawless pit stops, we restarted in third position with a very fast Ferrari seriously pressuring us. The communication from Mark, Jeff, Jim and our spotter were key elements in helping me fend off the Ferrari and keeping my focus on what would be one of the hardest stints of my life.
We advanced to second when a Porsche ahead of us ran out of fuel, and to hear the cheers of the team and then see the happiness and joy was such a gratifying experience – I will never forget this. Our guys put their heart and souls into this season and to finish off with a solid second place finish shows how far we have all come.
We now look to the future, with a foundation of experience and confidence, to the uncertainties that come with the recently announced Grand-Am and American Le Mans Series merger. As a driver, I could not be more excited for the future of our sport with this news. It's still early days and we all have many unanswered questions, but I believe this could be immensely positive if done right.
It will be absolutely vital to keep a large number of manufacturers interested in the new series that continue seeing it as a viable platform for developing and showcasing their street cars, just as we have now started to do with the Audi R8. In our Audi R8 Grand-Am racecar we use the exact same chassis and V10 engine as in the street car, and for Audi the information we have learned throughout the season can be applied to make not only the Audi R8 better, but also the version that you can happily drive off the showroom floor.
Initially, the merger will be very difficult for teams and drivers as there will most likely be less room for everyone. We should still have a big field in one series, but overall there will be fewer cars than in the separate series, and that means less opportunities for drivers. This will be tough for some of us, but those who work the hardest and rise to the challenge will see the benefits of a stronger, single sports car series. We will see a game of musical chairs in 2014 and hard work, not luck, will determine who will be employed as a driver going forward and I am determined to be one of those!
We all expect Daytona Prototypes from Grand-Am and the GT class from ALMS to play major roles in the merged series. But there are so many really fantastic classes in both series that are being carefully considered, including our own GT class, the ALMS LMP2, LMPC, and GTC classes, not to forget the new experimental GX class in Grand-Am. And, wow – the tracks! We should definitely end up with the best collection of sports car tracks anywhere in the world.
But we are all just drivers after all – we all really want to hear what the fans and sponsors want to see going forward. We all have our own personal beliefs and ambitions, but the single most important opinion to all of us is that of the fans.
We're thankful for the amazing support and patience from our partners (Parathyroid.com, South African Airways, and PR Newswire) and I personally feel thankful to have developed a solid working relationship with Audi. Even if the results in Grand-Am haven't shown it, it's an exceptionally talented and driven to succeed manufacturer. And I'm also thankful – and pleased – to be working with my new manager Duncan Dayton – who I must extend congratulations to after getting married last weekend!
There's one more race yet as I will have another race in the ALMS with Alex Job Racing, the team for which I won the GTC class at Sebring, at Petit Le Mans. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to co-drive with Cooper MacNeil and Leh Keen and book-end the year with wins!
Thanks for reading and I appreciate your feedback.
Grand-Am Rolex Series driver Dion von Moltke drives the APR Motorsport No. 51 Parathyroid.com / PR Newswire / South African Airways Audi R8. To learn more about Dion, go to www.dionvm.com, on Twitter at @DionvmRacing and on Facebook.