APR Motorsport's Audi Grand-Am Rolex Series driver Dion von Moltke will be blogging exclusively for RACER.com throughout the 2012 season. -Ed.
Well, hello everyone! My name is Dion von Moltke, and I'm one of the drivers of the brand-new No. 51 APR Motorsport Audi R8 Grand-Am. I've been racing professionally for four years, since I started with APR in the Continental Tire Challenge Series aged just 17! I won my first three races in 2009 for the team, then had the opportunity to run a Daytona Prototype for Doran Racing in the Rolex Series in 2010 (LEFT), where I was top rookie driver. Last year, I switched cars, teams, and series and jumped over to the American Le Mans Series, where I drove a TRG Porsche Cup car in the GTC class. I managed to win my first American Le Mans Series race at Lime Rock!
Everywhere I have gone I proudly drive under the South African flag, and although I was born in the U.S., for me, home in my heart is South Africa. This year I am back with the team that gave me my professional start with APR Motorsport, now in the Rolex Series. I'm really excited to share my first blog here for RACER and provide more insight into my life during race weekends.
Our first race, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, is not only the pinnacle race of our championship, but it also sets the tone for how the rest of the championship will go. We certainly didn't get the result we had hoped for, but we left Daytona with an incredible amount of race data and other information that will help us become much more competitive for the upcoming races.
While my weekend started on Wednesday with the four-hour drive north from Miami to head to Daytona International Speedway, my journey to this race actually started months ago back in November. I started my training program then, which also included a trip to Pisa, Italy, for a week of the most intensive mental and physical training any athlete will go under to prepare us for the challenge that laid ahead of me. That included doing anaerobic threshold tests, interval training, strength training, working out, and learning about nutrition. But we also had some of the most advanced mental and hand-eye coordination training available. That teaches you how to push your body to an absolute limit and keeps you in peak mental focus at the worst stages of fatigue.
Needless to say, coming into this weekend the team had a lot of unknowns. We had a brand-new car, a brand-new engineer in Mark Scott, and five new drivers. The team chemistry between drivers and engineers is one of the most vital parts to success. Learning how we would work together would be extremely challenging given all our new parts, so the weekend was as much about exploring our car as it was our team members.
We worked hard to overcome the challenges from the get go, but we developed a theme of perseverance throughout the weekend that could best be described as “working together quickly.” After my full-season teammate Jim Norman and I met our engineer Thursday morning, we had the minor challenge of having only about one hour to learn the car and to set it up for qualifying!
Now, qualifying at Daytona is just pure mayhem! As it's our biggest event of the year, all of the drivers will try almost anything to end up on top of the time sheets. Although qualifying position does not really matter in this race, let's be honest here – we're all drivers and fierce competitors, so beating the guy next to us means everything! We used the qualifying as a test session, and although we only qualified 22nd, we started to realize that our Audi was going to be one fast racecar.
Throughout the weekend, the frenzy was building – you could just feel the energy bringing this iconic event to life. I wasn't able to sleep much on Friday night, because my fourth time driving the Rolex 24 provided my first chance to start it, so my nerves were as high as they ever would be. Starting this race is a huge honor and memory for any driver able to achieve this in their career.
It was a special feeling to be the one to start our journey together over the next 24 hours and be able to pass the baton over to the next driver. After a few hours of driver meetings, autograph sessions, and team meetings it was time to jump in the car and fire it up and begin our battle.
Once I was in the car, driving the pace laps, the nerves came back down and I was perfectly able to get into race mode. It became obvious this race would be flat-out from the start. I tried taking it a little easy and immediately one of the Ferraris dove around the outside of me, and it was on from there.
I am pretty sure some of the drivers were actually trying to give their engineers heart attacks with extremely aggressive overtaking and even some rubbing only 20 minutes into the race. I wonder if some of them didn't get the memo this race lasts 24 hours! Still, I did an hour and a half double stint, got out of the car and felt great. It was my first time driving the car for more than 15 minutes at one time, and I was really surprised at how fresh I still felt. To be able to hand off to Emanuele Pirro, who got in the car right after me, was just awesome! It's an incredible and special feeling to see the fire in the eyes of a five-time winner at Le Mans and see him get into the car I just got out of.
I had just managed to get back to the motor home to eat and get ready for my next stint when I heard the call over the radio from our engineer: “Emanuele, we need to take the car back to the garage – we need to fix the clutch there.” Those are the last words anyone wants to hear during any race, and I immediately sprung up and headed to the garage. When I arrived, the mechanics were already hanging all over the car, figuring out exactly what needed to be done. It might have looked frantic to the few hundred spectators looking on outside our garage, but my four teammates and I were amazed by the work our crew was already doing.
It looked like organized chaos as the crew repaired the car, but it's one of the most amazing sights to see – even though it's a sight you honestly wish you wouldn't have to! The crowd looked on and were amazed by how fast our guys worked; in less than an hour, the guys were able to get the transmission off the car so they could get to the clutch. The crowd roared applauding the job well done, and soon afterward we were back heading out on track and into the race.
Unfortunately, it was not long until we were back in the garage again, because of damage from contact with a prototype. The guys worked tirelessly throughout the entire night, showing the team's determination to get Audi to finish its first-ever race here at Daytona.
All of the efforts would finally be rewarded, 24 long hours after the green flag, when Jim Norman took the checkered flag. It was such a beautiful sight and relief for all of us. While none of us were by any means happy with the overall result, we really felt a great sense of accomplishment in just making it to the end of the race. Mark put it best when he said, “We were able to accomplish bringing home the car that just did not want to finish.”
Our next race is at Barber Motorsports Park in April, so it's a long break. But we're determined to take what we learned the first race and improve from there!
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 and on Twitter at @DionvmRacing.