Mowlem's Musings

I've just returned from a long 10 days in Atlanta during which time I've had a real mixture of emotions. I'd flown out the Friday of the week prior to the race, because the ACEMCO team was doing a two-day test on the Saturday and Sunday prior to the race itself. Things didn't get off to that great a start from the very beginning, though

Mowlem's Musings

I was flying into Atlanta via Washington, and we were all sat on the plane at Washington Dulles waiting for the doors to be closed when a rather panic stricken voice came over the intercom, advising us that we needed to immediately vacate the aircraft, because the airport was about to get hit by a tornado! As we were leaving the plane you could feel it being blown around all over the place, but fortunately the airport missed a direct hit and we were eventually able to fly out some four hours later. Not the smoothest flight I've ever been on, as I'm sure you can imagine.

The weather from there on in was absolutely glorious however, and the test days were going extremely well until unfortunately Joao Barbosa, (mine and Terry Borcheller's third driver for the Petit) had a very unusual hub failure on his left front wheel. I say unfortunate, because it happened at the almost flat out turn 12 that leads onto the pit straight, and Joao hit the concrete wall on the outside very hard indeed. He was very lucky to hit the wall at a shallow enough angle that he wasn't hurt, although the car damage was extensive.

Jeff Giangrande, the team owner, had everything sorted almost before the car came to rest, and had two team members flown in his jet back to his workshop in Michigan, and by 10am the next morning they'd arrived back in Atlanta with our spare tub/chassis, having driven all through the night.

The whole team then worked absolutely superbly to rebuild the entire car from scratch, so that by the time the race meeting started in earnest on Wednesday, we were ready to go. The drivetrain, chassis and suspension never missed a beat throughout the entire week including the race itself, and this is an enormous testament to the team's efforts. The accident had set us back though, as we were effectively now in a new car, and so it really took us until the night session on Thursday and the final Friday practice before qualifying to get the car back where it belonged and back onto the tails of those pesky Corvettes.

We'd qualified third, and Terry took the start, and the lead, past both Corvettes into Turn 1. Terry said to me afterwards that he knew it wouldn't last long, but he couldn't resist diving down the inside even if it meant just leading one lap, which is actually all we did lead. Still, he then did a great job to settle down into a good race pace and things were looking ok.

Shortly after I got in the car for my first stint, though, I got attacked by our coolbox going into Turn 1, which got my attention, In fact, I nearly went off but had to pit immediately as it was crashing around in the footwell. On the way back in, it knocked the main master switch off several times which turned the electrics off, along with my radio, which I hadn't realised until I arrived back in pitlane; unannounced! This will explain the comments that those of who watched the live coverage heard being directed at me by Jim Bell the engineer!! From what people tell me, I'm quite glad my radio WAS turned off!

Then the car developed a strange hesitation that grew to be a bad misfire, which was traced to a map sensor failure in the airbox. Once this was sorted we were off and running very strongly, albeit a long way back. In fact our fastest race lap was only ¾'s of a second slower than that of the championship winning Corvette, which shows how much performance gain we've made. Having said that, we'd be kidding ourselves if we ever thought we could have beaten the Vettes at this one. They looked to run the perfect race both in and out of the pits, and fair play to them on a great one/two result.

To rub salt in our wounds, two hours from the end our low fuel pressure pumps started playing up, which meant that we couldn't utilise more than half the fuel in our tank, and this finally put paid to our charge back up through the field for that final podium slot. I thought for a while like it might be a repeat of when we took third off David Brabham in the Lamborghini at Mid-Ohio with only one lap to go, but here it wasn't to be and the Viper held on to take their first podium of the year.

It's hard to look at the positives when you see so much wasted potential in a race such as we had at this year's Petit, but despite some of the reliability issues we've had this year, we've still had six podiums in eight races, and it's very rare that we ever have the same problem occur twice. We need to take a real positive attitude to Laguna Seca for the final race of the American Le Mans season, and hope that we can finish the season on a high.

I know that everyone in the team, myself included, will be giving their all to bring Jeff a top result. After the disappointment of this year's Petit, he deserves it!

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