Daily Sports Car: Bouncing Back On A Speed-Restricted Nürburgring

It’s been a mixed few weeks in my 2015 campaign, the second VLN round couldn’t have gone much better, while the ELMS at Imola was, well, interesting…

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Heading to the Nürburgring for VLN 2 I had a variety of emotions. The tragedy during the first round of the year meant having to return to the circuit with plenty to think about regarding the new speed restrictions imposed on certain parts of the circuit. The drivers’ briefing was a chance for us to try to get to grips with the new regs and how the system was going to work. We all had questions, but ultimately hitting the track was the best way to get our heads round it all.

The event overall was mega, one of the most crazy races of my career. Driving in mixed weather conditions at the Nürburging is not exactly a new thing, but the way the race panned out meant we changed tyres multiple times. We ended up second in SP8 in the end, which for the NGK SparkPlugs RaciNGK Team was an incredible result. We’re a new team and yet the atmosphere in the garage is that of a group of hardened veterans.

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The conditions were so tricky on-track during the race, especially when we went to slicks – the car was rarely kept in a straight line. I found myself battling for the podium spot throughout the race, and ended up driving two hours of the race with the car that finished third right behind me; it was an awesome experience. SP8 is a competitive class featuring the likes of the Aston Martin Test Centre (which at the time were trying out the new Vantage), Audi privateer teams and the RacingOne Ferrari. Beating drivers who were on their home soil was a brilliant way to kick things off for the season.

VLN 2 was the first time we’d all driven on the circuit with the speed-restricted sections, and although I’m not sure it’s the solution, it’s great that the DSMB acted by imposing a rule to allow us to keep racing. Personally, though, I think it does have some potential issues.

Some of the SP9 cars ran with speed-limiters specifically for those sections and I spoke to the Black Falcon guys about it, because their SLS’ had them. They had a much easier time, because although getting into the mentality of slowing down intentionally only took a few laps, I had to control the speed manually in the restricted areas because we did not have the luxury of essentially another pit lane speed-limiter!

What this means is that those of us having to keep an eye on our speed had one more thing to think about, and at the Nürburgring, it’s adding to an already huge list of weather, hundreds of other cars and cars all with varying speeds.

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I found myself having to look at the dash far more often than normal, therefore deferring my concentration, and I’m not the only one who encountered this issue. At a circuit which is already so mentally wearing, it has the potential to create problems. It can create unusual amounts of traffic when gaggles of cars leave the zones and speed up again, but also has the potential to cause incidents in them with drivers not giving the track their full attention.

Thankfully there weren’t any major happenings during VLN 2 or the Nürgburging 24 Hours and I hope that continues.

When I left the ‘Ring I immediately started preparing for the ELMS round at Imola, but I had no idea it’d be such a disappointing outing for all of us at JMW Motorsport. It was a difficult weekend and was made even more difficult after once again the safety car caught us out. We had to pit under green twice, which essentially killed our race. Despite all drivers doing a good job and our pit stop being faster than anyone else I believe the result wasn’t a direct reflection on the team’s performance.

I have now completed seven races with JMW and finished on the podium five times, so it was a real culture shock to the crew as we always have a meal afterwards, which was a quick pizza before bed!

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We had the pace in the car and after my first stint I thought we were in good stead for a podium and even a win. However, the second safety-car period for gravel on the track effectively ruined our race. Rob Smith – our bronze driver – was in the car at the time and still had 10 minutes left of his minimum hour of driving time when the safety car was deployed. This meant we had to pit under green after it ended with him still completing his stint – and at Imola pitting under green means losing a lap.

The Full-Course Yellow system in the FIA WEC works well, so I hope that they introduce it sooner rather than later in the ELMS to prevent it breaking up the action like that. We thought after Silverstone that karma would swing in our favor and we’d benefit from a safety car. But that’s motorsport and its rules. I’m a big fan of the race direction guys at ELMS and I believe they’re on the same page as us.

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Next on my calendar is the Le Mans 24 Hours. I’ve recently just got back from the Test Day working with JMW, helping out with their new trio of drivers for the race. My role is to answer questions regarding the car, help with any experience I have with set-up and generally try my best to add value where I can. I get on really well with Aziz (Turki Alfaisal) and have done since last year. I also met Michael (Avenatti) and Kuba (Jakub Germaziak) for the first time and was very impressed. This driver line-up I’m sure will bring us a excellent result.

I know how much Le Mans means to them and it’s clear they share the same passion for the race as the team owner Jim, Tim (Sugden) my manger and team manager and myself.

Jakub, Michael and Aziz did a brilliant job finishing in P4 with a dry lap from Kuba. They make a good team and I hope my involment was part of that success. I’m loving being part of Le Mans again despite not driving. It gives me a real chance to focus on my goal of winning the ELMS championship this year and work on my Le Mans deal for next year.

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Chasing my dream of winning at Le Mans continues – it’s by no means over.

GR

[Original Article]