Heading to Mid-Ohio this year brought back a bunch of different feelings. The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is where the Muscle Milk team made its return to the American Le Mans Series two years ago, in 2009. It's more or less where it all started for us, but it's also the scene of Greg Pickett's big crash last year aboard the Porsche RS Spyder. To be able to come back and take the win at that track this year after what we went through in 2010 was a big reward for everyone and a special win for Greg.
Obviously, Greg's incident was not something I wanted to think about too much heading into the race weekend because I wanted to keep my concentration on the present moment; but to be honest, I did think about it the first couple laps when driving in that area.
You arrive at high speed there and the braking zone is very short because the right-hand corner is actually quite quick. So, it's a very hard, short braking from a very high speed. It's not exactly the ideal place on a track to be thinking about someone else's accident, so you need to get it out of your system, not think about it anymore and focus on the job.
And that's exactly what I did, and believe me, mental focus was key when we got to the race day downpour! But more about that later.
The Mid-Ohio course is a very technically challenging track and, to add to its level of difficulty, it goes through many different conditions as the weekend goes by due to all of the different series racing there that weekend.
When came time to qualify, the track was in very difficult conditions. You didn't know heading into one corner and the next if it would be dirty or not. As I've said before, the conditions are the same for everyone but it's hard to go out there and put in a perfect lap, which is what you want to do when qualifying. Our lap wasn't perfect but we did get really close.
We found a lot of speed between our morning practice and qualifying but it was not quite enough to get pole position. However, we were very close to the Dyson car and that is always encouraging. I was very confident heading into the race. We had made some additional changes overnight that we knew would be beneficial.
At Mid-Ohio, it's important to be careful when working on the setup of the car, because of the changing track conditions. When we ran on the Friday, the IndyCars had not been on track yet, so we had to factor in that the grip level would be different come race time the next day.
Then came race day...what a wet and wild race that was. I admit, I think I would have preferred doing Lucas Luhr's stint in the dry, as he had the easier part of the job on that day!
Lucas did a great job taking the lead after the first restart and building a nice gap between him and second place. Taking over the Muscle Milk Aston Martin in the lead and with the rain that was coming made it somewhat easier for me.
The key word being somewhat! Being in the lead makes it easier to control the race rather than being stuck behind the GT cars in the middle of the pack and, of course, you don't have to worry about the other cars around you because when the rain started coming down, things got a little crazy. Being away from it all was important.
That said, it wasn't easy out there, not at all. At first we only had a drizzle of rain and our Michelin tires are so good that I was able to keep up a good pace with the dry tires on, but at one point I came on the radio and told the crew that I needed to come in for some wet weather tires as there was just no more grip out there on the slicks.
It seemed that once everyone had their rain tires on, that's when things got even sillier and cars started spinning off course left and right. The rain was really coming down and that's when it gets dangerous because you are driving at a normal speed and you almost can't keep it on the road, that's really difficult. If you start aquaplaning, there's nothing you can do – you're going to spin out.
When I say it was difficult, I'm not talking physically, but mentally. It was so stressful just trying to keep the car on course in the monsoon conditions we were driving in (RIGHT, the Robertson Ford GT). I can't say I was racing, it was more driving around trying to keep the car on the track to take it to Victory Lane. I knew that one false move meant I could easily be slipping and sliding away from a victory.
The visibility itself during the downpour wasn't all that bad but when you are driving in the wet it is the complete opposite from the dry. What I mean is where there is rubber in the dry you have a lot of grip, but where there is rubber in the wet there is zero grip, so you have to change your driving line completely.
Having raced in Germany in conditions like that and in the rest of Europe for many years, you learn this. Racing in the wet becomes a search for grip. You need to totally forget about the line you were using in the dry and go for a line where you can find some kind of grip and then you remember that for the next lap. It's a different type of racing you learn over the years – it comes with experience. Add in the fact that Mid-Ohio has many surface changes and it makes it even more fun to drive there in the rain!
Seeing all the GT cars go off and being able to keep the Aston Martin prototype on the track made me proud. GT cars are much easier to drive in the rain than the prototypes. I honestly think, if they would have kept us on track, the Falken Tire car would probably have passed me. It was not drivable out there anymore.
At one point, a GT car was between me and the pace car, and the pace car decided to speed up. I told the crew on the radio that the pace car needed to slow down because I couldn't keep up with it without risking sliding off course, there was just too much water on the track, I would have needed a boat instead of a racecar.
A huge part of our win was thanks to our Michelin tires. We made the right choices for the changing conditions. To keep the car on the road you need the tire to do that as well and that was certainly the case on race day thanks to Michelin.
It was a crazy day with the sun and the dry conditions and then with the monsoon that swept over the track, but in the end we scored some very valuable points. It was probably one of the toughest races for me mentally but it was also one of the most satisfying.
Who would've thought we would be where we are now when we started this adventure two years ago. I couldn't be more proud to be part of such an amazing team. Now we look to Road America, where we hope to erase last year's bittersweet ending.
Thanks for reading.
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