First of all I want to say that I look forward to writing these blogs throughout the season, every other race weekend, as my Muscle Milk Picket Racing teammate, Klaus Graf, and I will be alternating and I want to thank RACER.com for sharing these blogs.
It was definitely an interesting few days at Long Beach, kind of an up and down weekend that ended in a great way, fortunately.
I always love going to Long Beach – I'd go there 10 times a year if it were up to me! It's one of my favorite circuits on the American Le Mans Series schedule, one, because it is a street circuit and two, because of its history.
It's also a home race for our sponsor Muscle Milk, so we really wanted to do well for them but also for us as we were going for three in a row and we were not happy with our result at Sebring. We wanted to make up for it.
The weekend didn't exactly get off to a great start. For me, it began with travel delays from Europe and my luggage not making it. I arrived pretty late on the Thursday night and we were on track at 7:30 am the next morning!
We had a pretty good practice session but then heading into qualifying we just went the wrong way with the setup on the car. I wasn't happy at all after qualifying being that far off with our lap time from the front row, even if we were starting third. Part of me knew we could turn it around for the race but, to be honest, until the race actually started we didn't know exactly how the car would be.
Because of the schedule at Long Beach, we don't have a lot of track time. The one and only practice session on the Friday morning is not ideal to work on the car's setup because the track is so dirty, so you lose a good part of that session just waiting it out.
We took the first part of it to do pit stop practice for the crew guys, so it was a series of out and in laps with driver changes. Then there is no morning warm-up on race day to fine-tune things. We had a 10-minute window for recon laps to get a feel for the car, which was good but you always want to compare and see where you are with the others.
Before the start of the race I was a little nervous in regards to how we'd be compared to the Rebellion and Dyson teams. I was confident that we had found some speed but our competitors are very strong so we didn't know how close we'd be.
Once the race started, I knew we had a good car, the changes we made were perfect. Within five laps I had gone half of a second faster than I did in qualifying the day before, with a full tank of fuel! That meant a lot.
I was able to get around Chris Dyson for second on the second lap and then I was able to keep up the pace and catch up to Neel Jani a little bit.
My stint in the car was short-lived per the strategy call that our engineer made, but it was OK. A yellow flag came out about 15 minutes into the race and that is the minimum driving time for a P1 driver to get points for the race, so that's all I needed.
The strategy call by team manager Brandon Fry was perfect. It definitely played out in our favor as it then allowed us to do a shorter fill later on in the race and take the lead.
Would I have liked to drive more? Of course – I'm a driver; that's what I like to do. But in sports car racing that's how it is. Sometimes you have a busy day, sometimes you don't.
With Klaus and I, it doesn't really matter. I know I can trust Klaus and I hope he trusts me! You have to do what you need to do to win and think of the team, that's all that matters. You need to put your ego aside in sports car racing and think of the big picture, if you can't have that attitude then you're in the wrong business. A win is a win!
Klaus did a great job as always. We still had to save fuel to make it to the end of the race and he was able to do that all while building and maintaining a gap on the Rebellion car.
I can't write this blog and not mention how well the Michelin Street Soft tires performed. We debuted them in Long Beach last year and this year we did the whole race on the same set of tires, they certainly helped in achieving our third win in a row at Long Beach. Overall we did everything right from changing the car after qualifying for the race to pit stops and strategy.
I was told after the race that our win was the 42nd of my career, which ties me with Olivier Beretta for the most wins in the ALMS. With Olivier back in the series this year it will be interesting to see how we end the season. I would certainly like to end the year on top in what will be the final season of the ALMS as we know it. That would be great, but there's still a lot of racing ahead of us!
I also spent an extra couple of days in the area as I was visiting the Honda Performance Development facility on Monday after the race with the Honda IndyCar drivers. It was a great tour. It's amazing to see how many people work there and to see all the know-how they have in house, was very special.
I was a little blown away by all the machines they have and what they do there. It was awesome to be able to be there and meet the workers. I think they enjoyed having us there to help HPD celebrate their 20th anniversary. I enjoyed it very much and if I have the chance I will definitely go back there.
In case you're wondering, my luggage did finally make it.
Until next time,