I have many mixed emotions coming out of the Laguna Seca race weekend. We had high expectations going into what is the team's home race (based in nearby Benicia, Calif.) but it turned out to be a little more difficult than we could have imagined.
After a tough weekend at Baltimore two weeks ago we were hoping our luck would turn around and it seemed like it had after we led the test session on Thursday, but in the end, it hadn't.
The car was really good that day and we went into Friday confident that we could continue to build on what we had started the day before. While we did well in the practice sessions, we didn't improve as much as we would've liked going into qualifying.
It definitely wasn't our best qualifying effort of the season. I struggled a lot with grip and it was hard to do what I wanted on track, but those things happen and you still give it your all and do the best you can.
We ended up qualifying fourth behind the two Dyson cars, which we knew would be fast at this track, and the sister Aston Martin factory car. While I was disappointed with our qualifying performance, I knew it was a long race and I wasn't too worried about starting fourth.
I also knew that the Muscle Milk guys would give us a really good car for the race and it was great! Sadly, we had a couple of misfortunes that cost us what I think could have been a possible win.
Lucas Luhr was starting the race and he did an awesome job. Unfortunately, he received a stop-and-go penalty with a 60-second hold for avoidable contact. After watching replays of the incident I still don't understand why he was penalized, you could clearly see that Stefan Mucke was getting loose going into the turn, not to mention that Mucke nearly pushed Lucas into the wall earlier on.
Anyhow, Lucas served his penalty and did an incredible job to get back on the lead lap. He had reduced the gap between he and the lead car by more than a minute by the time a full-course caution came out.
The yellow was timely as it allowed him to pit and hand over the car to me. On the restart, I made my way up to second and kept on pressuring Guy Smith in the Dyson car. While he had built up a small lead at one point, I was starting to reel him in later in the stint.
Unfortunately, that's when we had a problem with the oil pump. I was coming out of the corkscrew and the engine just died. In all honesty, I thought we were done. I told the crew, "That's it, it's over."
But it wasn't. John Ogden our Aston Martin engineer said he could fix it and he did. Hats off to him and the team for getting us back out there. Once again they came through and didn't give up. I know I'm repeating myself but it shows the true spirit of this team. I've never seen such a "never give up" mentality.
We got back on track with less than two hours to go. It was important for us to get back out and complete 70 percent of the race so we could score points and try to keep the championship battle alive.
There was still a lot of racing to go and although the No. 16 Dyson car was looking strong at the time, you never know what can happen, we needed to score as many points as possible but we also needed the 16 car to not score so many points, which in the end didn't happen.
Even if we were something like 50 laps behind when I got back on track, I pushed as hard as I could, even passing the eventual race-winning car. That's where it gets frustrating. We had the performance in the car to win, we faced a stop-and-go penalty with a 60-second hold and made it back to the front, we were actually 20-some seconds from lapping what ended up being the winning car. Unfortunately, to win you need to be on track and not in the paddock, losing laps to the leader.
It was a disappointing weekend for us, to say the least. We didn't just lose the race, we also lost the championship. But congratulations to Dyson Racing, Guy Smith and Chris Dyson. They have had a great year and they ran very consistently all season, whereas we had problems. Our DNF in Sebring to start the year put us at a huge disadvantage.
We would have needed to win every single race and we knew that that would be difficult, as we've had a very competitive season in the ALMS LMP1 class. There might not be loads of cars like in the GT classes but the competition is tough.
Yes, it would have been nice to get to Road Atlanta and still be in the hunt for the title but it just wasn't meant to be. On the bright side, now that the title hunt is over, maybe Greg Pickett will be getting back in the car for the last race. He hasn't confirmed it yet but, if he does, it would be great and I know everyone on the team would be happy to see him back behind the wheel, starting with me.
Thanks for reading!