Saying we had a tough weekend in Baltimore is definitely an understatement. We knew going into the race weekend that we would be facing some challenges, but never like the ones we had!
Like everyone else, we would have the challenge of learning the track and collecting as much data as possible in order to maximize the Aston Martin's performance for the Baltimore track and then Romain Dumas, who was filling in for Lucas Luhr in Baltimore had the added task of getting comfortable aboard the Aston Martin, a car he had never driven before.
While we had the best plan in place to conquer those challenges, despite the shortened practice sessions – due to the delay in on-track activities – things didn't exactly go the way we wanted them to.
After waiting out the delay, we were really anxious to get on track. You can walk the track as much as you want but the best way to learn the track is to get out there in the racecar and turn laps.
I didn't mind the waiting that much. It was to be expected for a first-time street race. When I finally made it on track, I was the first one out of pit lane and leading everyone as we started our first lap around the circuit. Not really knowing the track made for a funny moment.
When I got to Turn 1, I didn't see the entry point and had to go through the runoff area. The funny part of this was that when I got to the following hairpin turn, I looked in my mirrors and didn't see anybody behind me! Everyone had followed me through the runoff area.
I was laughing to myself – but that didn't last too long as I lost all power on the Aston Martin when I exited the hairpin turn. I saw a little puff of smoke in the car and everything just died. They had to tow me back to pit lane, after not even doing half a lap of the track!
The guys diagnosed the problem and found that it had to do with the electrical wiring. With the way pit lane is set up at Baltimore (just like in Long Beach), we were stuck in there until the end of the session and couldn't really do that much work on the car.
Once we returned under our tent in the American Le Mans Series paddock, the Muscle Milk crew took out the electrical wiring loom so that our data acquisition engineer Lee Szczypski could start working on repairing the wires that had burned. We all knew that that was not an easy task and that it would take a long time to repair, fortunately the race wasn't for another 25 hours...
Then, as the work on the loom continued and the search for the cause of the problem became apparent we learned that we needed to replace one of the electrical boxes. Many race teams do not use this box anymore, so finding one was just another challenge. We finally found one in Indianapolis and had a friend of the team fly into Washington on the Saturday morning with the part. We even tried to get a helicopter to pick him up at the airport to save some time, but that became a little too complicated.
In the meantime, Lee had spent the night working on the loom. Fortunately, he received help from a fellow DAG at CORE autosport. We also had to get parts from teams like Flying Lizard Motorsports, Corvette Racing, Dyson Racing and Walker Racing, who were nice enough to help us out.
Again, I can't say it enough, many, many thanks to Lee, he did an unbelievable, awesome job repairing the loom, replacing several hundred wires. If it weren't for all his hard work and dedication, as well as the help of our competitors, we wouldn't have made it.
Once the loom was back in the car, the moment came to start it. While we had power in the car, meaning the loom repair was a success, there was no spark and the car wouldn't ignite.
I have to be honest: While earlier on I thought that our chances of making it back on track were very slim, at this point, when the car wouldn't start, I thought we were done. Not because I didn't have confidence in my team but because these cars are so complicated and they're fully electronic, plus the time was winding down and the start of the race was getting closer and closer.
But the Muscle Milk crew is one dedicated, passionate team and they were not ready to give up. Finally at 3:31 pm (I think we all looked at our watch at that time) the car started. What a relief.
That meant it was time to go racing. While Romain and I had been able to ride aboard the safety car for a few laps around the track earlier that morning, neither of us had driven a full lap of the track yet. And poor Romain, he had never even driven the Aston Martin! Talk about baptism by fire as he was going to start the race!
Fortunately, we were able to start from the grid and not from pit lane, which meant that Romain would at least get a couple of pace laps before the start. But still it was not the ideal situation, but he did an awesome stint. We knew coming into a race weekend like this that he was the caliber of driver we needed to come in for one race and get the job done, little did we know his challenge would be even greater than we ever would have thought!
Unfortunately, we encountered some brake problems early on in the race and that set us back quite a few laps and took away all our chances. Obviously, had we had a chance to practice before the race we would have sorted out those issues but it was just not our weekend.
In the end, despite no practice time whatsoever and not doing any setup work on the car, we still registered the fastest race lap, which was a big accomplishment and somewhat of a reward.
Looking back on the weekend, yes, if everything would have been perfect we could have had a good chance of winning but at the end of the day, just the fact that we made the start of the race and actually finished it was a victory in itself.
We could have easily called it quits on Friday afternoon but we didn't. The team just pushed and did everything they could to be on track Saturday afternoon. It shows the passion and commitment of this crew and I think that makes them one of the best, if not the best in the business. The story of the weekend wasn't about us, the drivers, it was all about the crew. Thanks to them we were able to go out and score some points and remain in the championship hunt. It won't be easy as our rivals need some bad luck of their own but there are still many points up for grabs and we can't wait to get to Laguna Seca next week.
Finally, I want to thank the race organizers and the city of Baltimore for putting together such a great event. There were some teething issues but those are expected for a first-year street circuit. The grandstands were packed and the atmosphere in the city was great. I just hope that we have better luck next year, which will allow us to enjoy the event a little bit more!
Thanks for reading!