• Klaus Graf and his teammates on the Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing team will be contributing blogs to RACER.com throughout the American Le Mans Series season.
I'm very happy to be writing my first blog for RACER.com and, unlike my Muscle Milk Aston Martin teammate Greg Pickett after Sebring, I have great stuff to write about. However, while we had a perfect race day, picking up my third overall win in the ALMS and first in Long Beach, it wasn't exactly a perfect weekend.
It was a busy week for me heading into Long Beach. I'm also part of the CytoSport company in Europe and while we were in Long Beach, the leading international trade show for fitness, wellness and health (FIBO) was going on in Essen, Germany.
I had a lot of work to do before leaving for California and that meant I would only make it into Long Beach on Thursday afternoon – which isn't ideal considering the jet lag from a nine-hour time difference and the schedule we had to deal with at Long Beach.
When it comes to jet lag, though, it's something I'm used to, as I always fly in from Europe for each race. Dealing with it becomes part of my routine. A lot of it is mindset. You really have to tell yourself a lot of things, like when to sleep, what to do, how to eat and what to drink. It's very important and it has a big influence on how you will feel, so that's very crucial. Obviously, it helps that I am not someone who needs 12 hours of sleep, because that would be problematic!
As for the schedule, I can't really complain about the 7:15 a.m. morning practice session, because I was at the track at the same time as the crew around 5:30 a.m. and wide awake! But, by the time the late afternoon/evening qualifying session came around, I could start to feel the jet lag.
We're use to such a different schedule. In a regular ALMS schedule, we're very busy with the running time, engineering meetings and media stuff, so the day goes by very quickly and you don't have time to feel the jet lag. Plus, after so many years of doing this you get into your rhythm and it becomes normal.
However, in Long Beach we had a lot of time to kill, even with the media stuff and engineering meetings. On the bright side, though, the crowd is so big in Long Beach that there's always somebody who wants something, so that helps to keep you busy – but still, more than eight hours between sessions on the same day is a long time!
Lucas Luhr went out first on Friday morning in our Muscle Milk Aston Martin LMP1 coupe in what was our one and only practice session in Long Beach and he had set the pace early. Everything was going great, but at one point he came in for some changes and when he went to go back out, the car wouldn't start. As you might remember, we had a similar issue at Sebring, which was caused by a faulty battery. We knew it couldn't be the battery because we had resolved that issue.
We ended up losing a lot of time in the pits while we were trying to find the cause. Once we thought we had resolved it, with maybe half an hour to go, I was able to get back on track but didn't turn many laps as the session was stopped.
After the red flag period, I went back out and was able to do about a handful of laps at speed, but then I went long in Turn 6 and when I went to start the car, it wouldn't start again. I'll admit that in the moment it was really frustrating, because we thought we had figured out what the problem was, but obviously we hadn't. Anyhow, after sitting there for five minutes, up until the end of the session, the car started again.
While, we were concerned with the car not starting, the fact that I went off on that lap actually helped us determine exactly what the reason behind the problem was. Fortunately, we had plenty of time, and more, between sessions for the crew to resolve the issue before heading into qualifying. And what an exciting session that was!
Because I had missed quite a bit of practice time in the morning session, plus with the completely different track conditions, I was not too sure what to expect. In the morning, the track was completely dusty with no grip, because we were the first cars out, and by the time we headed out to qualify the IndyCars had had two practices and had put a lot of rubber on the circuit, so the track had a ton more grip than it had previously.
It's really hard for the drivers and engineers to anticipate what's it's going to be like, especially with such a drastic difference. I was going three seconds a lap faster than what I had done in the morning. I can't say qualifying was easy. I had only turned about five laps at speed in practice and then to come out and push really hard and find your marks when you are going much faster than when you were previously out there isn't the easiest of circumstances.
Usually, you progressively improve on your time so you get used to the conditions and the limits of the track and the car, so that when you enter qualifying you know what to expect. In this case, it was the opposite, I didn't have time to cruise around forever because with only 15 minutes in the session you have to get right on it and get it done, so it wasn't easy.
During qualifying, my engineer Brandon Fry was on the radio telling me what Guy Smith was doing in the Dyson car, as we were exchanging fast laps. I was pushing as hard as I could to grab pole position, giving it all I had, but then on my last lap I over pressured the brakes a little bit and the rear stepped out and I gently tapped the wall with the left rear.
I don't know if that lap would have been good enough to beat Guy, but I was certainly trying to! Hats off to him and the Dyson team – they did a heck of a job in qualifying. I think we proved that all it takes is two cars to put on a show.
Then came race day. I think it was a perfect day for Muscle Milk Aston Martin Racing. We couldn't have asked for more coming out of Sebring and our first DNF.
Lucas laid the groundwork by getting by the Dyson car early and then we had a caution period, which helped us in our one-stop strategy. After that, the race just unfolded in the best way possible for us. The guys once again did an awesome job on the pit stop and that allowed us to gain even more time on second place. Still, while we had a nice lead and it may have looked easy for us from the outside, it wasn't.
After a few laps in my stint, they asked me to start saving fuel and hitting a certain fuel number. It's not always easy to do so, because you're managing traffic, trying to do a decent lap time and saving fuel all at the same time. It can be a little nerve-wracking because it's so easy to lose your concentration. But, in the end, it all worked out and we just brought it home.
The win meant a lot to everyone on the team. The crew deserved it so much after all the hard work they put into it since the start of the season. I'm happy for our Aston Martin engineer John Ogden, who flies in for each race, as well as for our partners Michelin and Aston Martin. Sebring didn't go the way we wanted to so to win the Long Beach Grand Prix is redemption at its best.
Looking back over the weekend, it looks like we don't want to make it easy on ourselves but while we had some issues, we overcame them and that's the most important part.
We once again learned a lot this weekend about our Aston Martin and, combined with the momentum our win in Long Beach has given us, I think it bodes well for the remainder of the season. It's just unfortunate that our next race is only in July! Until then we will be keeping busy with testing and preparing for the remainder of the year.
Thanks for reading!