My first weekend of racing in the Blancpain Endurance Series was fantastic, although it ultimately ended in disappointment with a mechanical failure. With very little time in the car it was important to get as many laps in as possible during Saturday’s testing. We concentrated on race pace with plenty of fuel in the car and I ran on used rubber until qualifying on Sunday morning. The Navarra track is very tight with mainly second gear corners, so I spent my time learning the track and the car and was confident that our race pace would be good on Sunday.The team made a few changes to the car overnight as well which would hopefully improve traction which was very important here. I was sitting in the car waiting for my 15 minutes of qualifying on Sunday morning when, as the guys were bolting on my first new set of rubber for the weekend, it started to rain. I had never driven the Ferrari in the rain but set off to get a lap in before it got too wet. Traction control and ABS are critical in these conditions, so I turned them both up and headed off. First lap across the line I was in eighth overall, then the rain eased off and the track started to get quicker again, so timing across the line would be critical. I went onto my last timed lap and the track was still greasy but had plenty of grip. Traffic was a major problem - I was held up three times on my quickest lap by cars rejoining after a spin and some just struggling in the conditions. Halfway through the last sector it started raining hard again and I went slightly wide at the last corner as the track was wet again. In spite of all of this I ended up 22nd overall and 13th in class which, all things considered, I was happy with. I had gone quicker than I had been all weekend and could have gone considerably quicker so was making progress which is what the weekend was all about. We found out that we would have to start at the back of the grid after two minor misdemeanours from Saturday attributed to the car, but in a three hour race this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Danny Candia, my Paraguayan team mate, would start the race with me second and David McDonald third. Danny made a good start, stayed out of trouble and brought the car up to 33rd overall and 20th in class by the time he handed the car over. I came out of the pits behind the championship leading Marc VDS BMW, who had also just pitted. Over the period of a few laps, I caught him up and in doing this, again went faster than I had been all weekend - with a full fuel load. The race pace was excellent and I was settling down when I felt something let go at the left rear just after I started a lap. The car was crabbing badly but I managed to crawl back to the pits. The wheel nut had failed and unfortunately the suspension was too badly damaged to continue. It was massively frustrating for everybody as the car was going well and we were set for a charge through the field. It gave me enough of a taste to know that I want to do more of this! Thanks to Scuderia Vittoria and everyone who got me in the car and worked so hard over the race weekend.
Chasing the eventual winner before a delayed pit stop
A last minute drive in the Dutch GT Championship was a nice surprise! Ginetta asked me to drive my regular British GT car run by Team WFR, so it was off to Zandvoort for the weekend. The Dutch GT Championship is only for GT4 cars and is a very competitive, high profile series in Holland with some top drivers and cars from BMW, Nissan, Chevrolet (Camaro and Corvette) Lotus and Aston Martin. We were there in time for two sessions of testing on Friday - the day started off very windy and wet. We went out for the first session in the wet but were called in after a few laps as the car was too loud. After a delay, we were allowed out again by which time the track had a dry line, so we managed one flying lap on very cold slicks! Session two was dry but we had brake issues with bad “knock off” meaning I was having to pump the brake pedal constantly to build up pressure - not ideal for a quick circuit like Zandvoort. The track is very “old school” with different surfaces, different grip levels, undulating, bumpy and with some very quick stuff out the back of the circuit - fantastic!
Saturday morning was extremely wet - it reminded me of the first round at British GT at Oulton Park! There were two qualifying sessions, each twenty minutes, which set grids for the two “sprint” races, separated by a ten minute gap. I tried to follow some of the locals to find the wet lines but the spray was too bad to see anything, so concentrated on working it out myself. By the end of session two I was up to eighth and going quicker every lap - I felt there was much more to come.
Immediately after qualifying the sun came out so the track was bone dry for race one. By the first corner it was obvious that this what not the sort of GT racing I’m used to - lots of muscular driving and panel bashing! After a few laps I found myself part of a hectic five car battle including the two championship contenders. As we headed down the long straight past the pits towards the Tarzan Hairpin three abreast, the championship leaders had a major coming together right in front of me, resulting in a huge impact against the pit wall for the Corvette. Someone in the pits was injured and the Team WFR pit board went flying down the pit straight - luckily, Karl who was holding it was fine. A safety car period followed which is how it finished, with a fourth placed finish for me. A good start, all things considered.
Race two was on Sunday morning and the weather was sunny and looking stable for the day. Unfortunately, just after half distance I coasted back to the pits with no drive - the diff mount had cracked and there was a bit of peripheral damage as well. The Team WFR guys managed to find a welding rig courtesy of a Czech team in the pits next to us and had the car fixed and back together in time for the feature race of 50 minutes. I made a good start and was running in P5 in the opening laps. I started to catch the group of cars in front and spent a couple of laps being held up behind the eventual winner before they pitted for their driver changes. I pitted on the next lap and the guys found an issue related to the earlier problem. This delayed me by about 20 seconds so I came out of the pits in P7. I tried to pass the BMW in front of me and was eased towards the grass as I came up the inside into the fast right out the back of the circuit. I backed off and was passed by a Nissan that had been immediately behind me, who then made a move up the inside of the BMW - they touched and went off into the gravel, making my life easier, and I could set off after the giant Chevy Camaro in front of me. I closed it down and passed it after a few laps and was running in P4 with a gap to the front three. I crossed the line in P4, 18 seconds behind a podium. I thought if only we hadn’t had a delay at the pitstop, it could have been different - but then it was! Two of the cars ahead of me failed scrutineering and I was classified 2nd. Race pace was very good in the long race and I was the quickest car on the track at times. Considering the limited dry running we had, I think we showed the Dutch GT regulars what the G50 could do. It was a great experience and thanks to Ginetta for asking me to do it and, as ever, the Team WFR guys for a top job.
Pic: Jakob Ebrey
A win to round off the season was a fantastic way to finish. Going into the weekend, the pressure was off as the championship was already sealed at Silverstone but we were still keen to maintain our winning record.
The two practice sessions went to plan and we ended up quickest in both, which set us up nicely for qualifying. It took place in the evening with the sun setting, which created a brilliant atmosphere - I loved it! I qualified the car on pole by 1.3 seconds, even though I was slightly held up on my quickest lap and we were looking good for the race.
Off the line a slow starting Aston Martin in front of me held me up, meaning that the Mazda was able to get past into the first corner. I waited until my tyres came up to temperature, then went past into Redgate and pulled away, eventually leading by over a minute when I handed over to Warren just past the hour mark. He drove a great stint and we won the class by a healthy margin.
It was a brilliant way to end the season, and I would like to thank all the guys at Team WFR for the excellent job they've done this year.
Now comes the long Winter break to sort out my plans for next year.