It’s two weeks after Le Mans and my LMP2 victory is only just starting to settle in. To be honest, I’m still trying to digest all of the emotions from my first 24 Hours of Le Mans. I knew it would be physically challenging but it was more mentally draining than anything I’ve experienced before. I feel like I’ve been through every spectrum of emotion, from the lowest lows to the highest highs, right alongside my OAK Racing team and teammates Bertrand Baguette and Ricardo Gonzalez.
The response from fans across both sides of the Atlantic has been unbelievable. I’ve replied to nearly everyone who texted me or messaged me on Twitter, but I’m still going through the hundreds of Facebook posts. It was pretty special to have people like Bobby Rahal, Arie Luyendyk and guys I’ve always looked up to reach out and say well done.
Since I started karting, I’ve dreamt of winning Le Mans – along with the Indy 500 – so taking the LMP2 class title is undoubtedly the biggest achievement of my career so far. If I’m honest, it’s not something I thought I’d be able to accomplish at this stage of my career. A few years ago I was focused on racing solely in IndyCar, but my path was forged in a completely different direction. When all the doors seemed to close on IndyCar, one opened in sportscars and the next thing I know I’m driving in one of the world’s biggest races. I have always followed the opportunities presented to me and they have always turned out to be blessings.
I joined OAK Racing in their Morgan-Nissan for the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship and the team’s focus has always been on winning Le Mans. Team President, Jacques Nicolet’s passion founded the team and it’s always been his ambition to win Le Mans. It’s what we’ve been working towards all year.
Leading up to Le Mans, our first two races at Silverstone and Spa were blighted by bad luck and we were never really able to show our full potential. We didn’t get the results we had hoped for. A few weeks before Le Mans, we tested our Le Mans aero package at Magny Cours; it went well and gave us renewed confidence, a strong belief in ourselves and in each other.
Making my Le Mans debut was a big deal for me, and a long trip away from my US home. I knew Le Mans was a massive event, but I never knew how big until I first set foot in the paddock. It was already packed with transporters, motorhomes and all kinds of mega-structures; it was more like a bustling city than a race paddock.
The build up of publicity to Le Mans was intense, but my biggest highlight was my first Drivers Parade – the sheer size of the crowd blew me away. Five minutes into it my teammates and I decided to get out of the car to sign some autographs and meet the fans, but that turned out to be a big mistake. The car had to move on, and I didn’t get back in, so I walked the entire route and got to the end 50 minutes after the car!
My first on-track experience was interesting, to say the least. I’d worked hard on the simulator beforehand but it’s impossible to appreciate the scale of the track until you’re driving around it. I was heading down the Mulsanne Straight on my out lap and thought I was coming to the end, but realised it was just the second kink – I had another 10 seconds of full throttle to go! We’re used to high speeds, but at Le Mans you’re at top speed cialis online 20mg for what feels like forever. Just picking out the braking points is daunting at first.
We had quite a frustrating time in testing. Like most teams, we lost a lot of track time due to track repairs. It seemed like every time I got in the car the track needed to be repaired, so I’d done just three proper practice laps before I went into qualifying. If I’m honest, qualifying was a massive disappointment for us. We were happy for our sister OAK Racing car to take pole, but classifying ninth in class fell short of our expectations. For a 24-hour race qualifying isn’t crucial, but it was disappointing that we didn’t show our true speed. That was partly down to bad luck and partly down to not getting the strategy quite right.
It was still really wet during my stint, but it dried out for the last 30 minutes of Bertrand’s session. He had quite a few laps blocked by traffic, then the other teams decided to go with a second set of tyres right at the end. We decided to stay out and it turned out not to be the right decision. Bertrand wasn’t able to improve his time and we got bumped down the order.
There is no place for complacency in our team, so that result left us with a massive chip on our shoulder. But instead of weighing on the negative, it gave us even more motivation to redeem ourselves and show the world what we could do. We had 24 hours to make up for lost time.
Part II to follow later this week.