Mowlem's musings

Autosport.com's sportscar columnist Johnny Mowlem had high hopes going into Petit Le Mans, the final round of the American Le Mans Series, but he was brought back down to earth, quite literally with a bump

Mowlem's musings

The upside to having a good season is that you go to every race with an extra spring in your step knowing that you are in with a shout of winning or at the very least standing on the podium. The downside is that your own expectations are raised, along with those of everyone around you, so that anything less than a win is a bit of a let down.

This all came into sharp focus at last weekend's Petit Le Mans race in Road Atlanta. The White Lightning/Petersen Motorsport team were going into the race in a three-way battle for second place in the GT class team and driver's championship, and expectations were very high. Considering that for one reason or another we had missed three rounds this year, made this fact even more of an achievement and is testament to the preparation abilities and reliability of the team and car.

The Petit Le Mans race has, in just five years, established itself as one of the main sportscar events, and I have to admit it has a lead up to almost match the Le Mans 24 hours itself. Each day of the week I noticed that trackside got busier and busier in terms of spectators, or 'Fans' as Don Panoz likes to refer to them. Having driven on and off in the American Le Mans Series since 1999, I have tended to take for granted the level of enthusiasm and support for all the teams and drivers by the paying public, but this years race seemed even busier than usual, which is a great reflection on the current state of what is arguably the best sportscar series in the world.

Up until race day, everything had gone well, although qualifying had been a bit of a lottery with it starting wet and then slowly drying out. Intermediate tyres were the way to go for the last two minutes, but we unfortunately didn't have any mounted to change to during the session. I was therefore pleasantly surprised that my earlier lap time set on wets, which held pole initially and then second until three minutes from the end, kept us in the top six at the end of qualifying.

I was to start the race, and I knew from looking around me that I was in for a battle. I had Bill Auberlen in the BMW alongside me and the Risi Ferrari of Ralf Kelleners just behind me. The Ferrari in particular was going to be tough to beat, and we needed to do that to finish ahead of them in the championship.

As I'd expected, the start was chaotic, more like a 30-minute Porsche Supercup race than a 10-hour enduro! Unfortunately I had to go with it, otherwise I'd have been last after two laps... I have to admit it was a lot of fun and it soon showed that we were right in the hunt as I managed to get past the leading Alex Job Porsche of Sascha Maassen. Unfortunately I'd made contact with him to pass him, so I didn't feel I could defend too vigorously and allowed him back through three laps later, but we were still right on a front running pace.

Then it all went wrong! At the end of the 35 lap, I had out braked David Murry's Porsche into the chicane before the final, nearly flat out at 130mph, turn 12. I hadn't quite managed to make it stick and so we both ran side by side as we approached the right handed turn 12 with me on the left, ie: the outside. Now it was pretty obvious that this wasn't a good place to be so I backed it off slightly to tuck back in behind David as we turned in for the corner. Now Ralf Kelleners in the 360 Modena had caught us up whilst all this was going on, and saw this as perhaps his one opportunity to pass me. He used his extra momentum to come down the inside of me as I turned in for the corner.

I tried to give him room by running slightly wide, but I knew that if I went any further to the left I would be onto all the dirt and marbles and would slide straight off, so I had to remain committed to the corner. I think he tried to give me some room by running up the kerb on the inside, but he still didn't back out of the move and what finally did me was a tap from his left front to my right rear, which speared me straight off the track and into the concrete wall on the outside.

Now race cars and concrete walls don't mix very well, as anyone who's hit one will tell you. I'm very fortunate that I went in at probably no more than a 45-degree angle, otherwise I'd have been in trouble, but it still hurt I can tell you! Still, it seems I was lucky to get away with just some minor internal bruising where all my insides hit the left side of my chest cavity (nice!), and a stiff neck for several days. It had the team worried initially, because I was so winded I couldn't talk to them on the radio to say I was okay.

I was so disappointed for the whole team, as they deserved better, but as Dale White rightly pointed out, this was just one race, albeit the final one, and on measure the whole year has been a success, with the highlight being our win at the Road America 500.

Now it's a few days recovering and then back in the gym again to get ready for the Le Mans 1000km with Seikel Motorsport. Hopefully Gabrio Rosa, Alex Caffi and myself can finish the year on a high, and not in the wall...

shares
comments
Monza: Cappellari/Gollin grab victory for Ferrari

Previous article

Monza: Cappellari/Gollin grab victory for Ferrari

Next article

No surprises in qualifying

No surprises in qualifying
Load comments
Why the Jaguar E-type remains special at 60 Plus

Why the Jaguar E-type remains special at 60

It’s 60 years since the Jaguar E-type arrived and caused a sensation. As our resident racer Ben Anderson discovered when he got behind the wheel of two special racing versions at Brands Hatch, the thrill of driving them hasn't diminished over time

GT
Jul 31, 2021
The rise of a GT squad responsible for a unique 24-hour racing feat Plus

The rise of a GT squad responsible for a unique 24-hour racing feat

It's a significant achievement to win one 24-hour race in a year, let alone two, and with different manufacturers, but that's exactly what ROWE Racing did in 2020 at the Nurburgring and Spa. This weekend's German classic offers the DTM newcomer a chance of another unique double to add to its growing collection of accolades

GT
Jun 3, 2021
The new threat facing motorsport's greatest success story Plus

The new threat facing motorsport's greatest success story

The manufacturers were unconvinced – and even hostile – when Stephane Ratel launched GT3 in 2006. Now, 15 years on from its debut, they’ve sold more than 2000 cars and counting, but its continued expansion puts the increasingly globalised category at risk of losing its roots

GT
May 25, 2021
The Lamborghini teams plotting to stop a RAM raid on British GT Plus

The Lamborghini teams plotting to stop a RAM raid on British GT

With the Silver pairings that dominated 2020 now banned, Mercedes pair Yelmer Buurman and Ian Loggie could be in the box seat after winning last year's Pro-Am crown. But a swarm of Lamborghinis, with the defending outright champion among them, will ensure they face tough opposition

GT
May 21, 2021
How McLaren’s GT3 ‘single-seater’ defies expectations Plus

How McLaren’s GT3 ‘single-seater’ defies expectations

Time in a thoroughbred racer leaves you searching for time in yourself, especially when the rewards for total commitment are so high, as our man discovered at Snetterton

GT
Apr 28, 2021
How Ferrari's F1 protege became a Mercedes GT prodigy Plus

How Ferrari's F1 protege became a Mercedes GT prodigy

Raffaele Marciello once appeared to be Ferrari’s next Italian F1 star, but is now under the pay of its German arch-rival in GTs – and he’s very happy with his life

GT
Apr 8, 2021
Why GTE's future is a conundrum with no easy answers Plus

Why GTE's future is a conundrum with no easy answers

The convergence between the World Endurance Championship and IMSA over LMDh regulations offers a bright future for sportscar racing, but the imminent demise of IMSA's GT Le Mans class creates wider issues to which no catch-all solution exists

GT
Feb 3, 2021
How Tandy joined an exclusive club of endurance legends Plus

How Tandy joined an exclusive club of endurance legends

Victory at last year's Spa 24 Hours meant Nick Tandy had completed the unofficial sextuple crown of the world's six biggest endurance races, becoming the first Briton to do so. Ahead of his fresh start with Corvette Racing, he explains how he did it

GT
Jan 23, 2021