It was great to finally be back racing in the American Le Mans Series at Lime Rock Park this past weekend, but it was a tough weekend at the office for the Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing team!
Having scored our first overall win at Lime Rock Park last year, we were very excited heading to the race this year. We all have very happy memories at that track and we were really hoping we would be able to repeat this year and cut into the championship lead a little bit more.
However, the weekend didn't exactly go the way we wanted. I think it all started with the weather playing against us on Friday.
Because Lucas [Luhr] hadn't driven the car since Long Beach (I did a test back in May at Road Atlanta), we decided that he would drive the majority of the first practice session aboard our Muscle Milk Aston Martin LMP1 car and that I would get in near the end of the session.
Everything ran smoothly for us in the session and Lucas put in the fastest lap. We were sitting atop the charts when I took my turn in the car. Unfortunately, I only had the time to do one fast lap before a red flag came out and ended the session early.
At that point, it didn't really matter because we had a second practice session before qualifying that I could get some laps in and prep the car for qualifying. However, Mother Nature decided otherwise! Rain started coming down before practice and continued on until maybe 10 minutes to go in the session. While we were quick in the wet and once again topped the charts in practice, the track started drying up in the final minutes of the session.
We knew that the track conditions would be much different once it was our turn to qualify and having only done that one lap in the dry in the morning practice, I didn't really know what to expect going into what was a dry qualifying session. The car wasn't at its best and we were all pretty disappointed to have missed out on pole position and to be starting third behind both Dyson cars.
We're used to unloading the car with a good package right off the bat and that wasn't the case at Lime Rock, which made the weekend a little harder for us. But the flip side is that trying times like these just make us better.
Honestly, what was sort of surprising was that despite us not quite having the car to our liking for qualifying, we still posted lap times that were close to the polesitter's, so that was very encouraging.
I was confident we would come back with a better car for the race, which we did. The crew and our engineer Brandon Fry once again did a great job prepping the car; we were just unlucky during the race on the Lime Rock "bullring."
We knew heading into the race that traffic at such a short track with 30-plus cars would be a huge issue and, as it turned out, it was! It cost us the lead twice, once for Lucas and once for me. I don't want to say it cost us the win because Chris Dyson and Guy Smith ran a strong race for Dyson Racing at a blistering pace; but the contacts we had with the GT cars definitely affected our race as well as the performance of the car.
Lucas and Chris Dyson put on quite the show in the first half hour of the race with Lucas fighting hard to take the lead. Once he managed to make his way around him, he was able to start building a lead.
Unfortunately, after maybe five laps in the lead, a GT car hit the Aston Martin, damaging the car a bit and causing a flat tire. Lucas had no choice but to pit for a new set of Michelin tires. The crew did a great job to get him back out without losing a lap.
The laps are so short at Lime Rock, with the track not quite a mile and a half, that you can easily lose a lap during a green flag pit stop. Fortunately, we only had fallen back about 40 seconds behind Dyson. Lucas, as usual, did a great job to make up time on the leading car up until a yellow flag came out.
There was about two hours to go when the caution came out, much like last year. And I had said last year that I wouldn't want to do another two-hour stint at Lime Rock, especially in the heat.
Lime Rock is a very physically demanding track because there is no time to rest. But when Brandon asked me if I was ready to get in, because this was a perfect window to change drivers, there was no hesitation. I pulled on my helmet and waited for Lucas to enter pit lane.
The crew did an awesome job on the pit stop. We came in behind the Dyson car and were able to get back out ahead of them to retake the lead.
Once we got back to green flag racing, I got into a rhythm and was trying to increase the gap on Guy Smith who was now in the Dyson car. But once again a GT car hit us and made us lose the lead. To say it was maddening is an understatement.
It wasn't a small hit as the impact actually sent me spinning into the grass, which doesn't usually happen when there is contact between a GT car and a prototype. I had left him plenty of room so I'm not sure what he was doing!
Fortunately, I was able to get back on track but I had to get back into my rhythm again and that takes a few laps to get back into.
Due to the spin I had lost about 10 seconds to Smith and I pushed as hard as I could but the car at that point wasn't perfect because it had suffered slight damage with the two different impacts; and the traffic, while the same for everybody, just didn't seem to fall our way.
To top it all off, my drinking tube fell out early on in my stint and I was only able to find it during a caution period with less than 20 minutes to go. Hydration is so important and I'm lucky that I had well hydrated myself prior to the race and that we have such great products at CytoSport like Cytomax to keep us hydrated!
All in all, while we still finished second, it wasn't an easy weekend; but as we've proven in the past, it only makes us want to bounce back even stronger.
Next up we're at Mosport International Raceway in two weeks. If any of you are in the Toronto area on July 20, we'll be at Yonge-Dundas Square during the lunch hours that day with our Aston Martin doing pit stop demos and I'll be signing autographs. Come by and see us!
Until next time,