Our intrepid sportscar columnist Johnny Mowlem brings you the inside line of his weekend at the Grand Prix Americas at Miami in the American Le Mans Series
Miami: The word should conjure up visions of blue skies with palm trees waving gently in the breeze, and open-shirted guys cruising along Ocean Drive in their white Ferraris alongside tanned women wearing nothing but two pieces of dental floss...
Well, when I arrived it was raining, and not just a light drizzle either, but a proper tropical rainstorm. Couple this to 100 percent humidity, and you pretty much set the tone for the whole race weekend, as it rained heavily at some point every single day I was there. Add on top of that a low grip surface, a seemingly two-foot wide racetrack and a nice containing concrete wall to stop us visiting the spectators, and you had yourself a pretty exciting concoction.
Fortunately, the Petersen/White Lightning team had taken the decision to use our old 2001 car for this race, which we'd last raced at Sebring to good effect to finish second in GT. This was part of the reason for using the old car, because we knew it was great over the bumps. Another consideration was that the whole team knew that there was a real possibility that we would at some point visit a concrete wall, and that we needed to keep the new car fresh for the championship finale at Petit Le Mans.
As it turned out, we didn't hit any walls, well maybe the odd rub here and there, but "rubbin's racing" as they say! However, I did end up having a couple of incidents with other cars, the latter incident in particular changing the whole outcome of our race.
Rather strangely, the first 'incident' occurred during qualifying. I've been racing a while now, but I can't remember ever being hit by someone in qualifying! The result of it all, meant that unfortunately my car's right rear corner got pushed forwards about six inches. The team did a superb job to get it all straight again and the most important thing was that we'd qualified third, just a few hundreds off the Alex Job Racing front row. The reason that this particular qualifying was so important, (other than the normal ego-tank inflation), was that this Miami Street circuit was so narrow and twisty that a non risk overtaking manoeuvre was virtually impossible.
A lot of the drivers I talked to disliked the circuit, and I understand that, as nearly every apex was blind, and the chances of arriving around a corner to find the track blocked were high. But traffic aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of driving a quick lap there. In qualifying I scuffed the wall four times at various points around the track on both sides of the car, which made it quite exciting. The only real issue was a huge bump leading onto the start finish straight, which would launch the car several feet into the air!
We had an inboard camera all weekend and even on the in-car you could see how much air we were getting. What it didn't show was the huge noise it made on landing, leading me to wonder every time whether this was the lap the rear suspension was going to collapse...
My team-mate Craig Stanton took the start, and soon discovered that we had mysteriously inherited a severe understeer problem. However he did well to keep us in touch in fifth, and then moved us up a spot when Marc Lieb unfortunately slid his Orbit Porsche into the wall at turn three. This incident brought out the second caution of the race after 45 minutes and the team decided to bring Craig in and do our driver change under yellows. During this pit stop the driver side door fell off, and we lost nearly 30 seconds while it was re-fitted, which meant that I re-joined in fifth behind Alex Caffi in the PK Sport car, just like at Laguna Seca.
Unfortunately although I could catch him, this time passing him wasn't going to be as easy. The slower prototype traffic was a huge problem, with one LMP 675 car in particular costing me nearly 16 seconds over four laps, and it was this need to try and deal with traffic swiftly that led to my second 'incident'.
I had closed right up to Alex and was intent in keeping the pressure on him when we encountered a JMB Ferrari that was going relatively slowly exiting turn two. I tried to follow Alex down the inside into turn three at which point the Ferrari turned in and I buckled my front right wheel against the side of his car. It was my fault for putting my fate in his hands, but as I wasn't actually racing him, I wish he'd seen me and made some more room. I was lucky not to damage the suspension too badly, but we still lost a lap pitting for a new tyre, effectively ending our hopes of a third consecutive podium.
Still, on the positive side, we managed to salvage a decent fourth place, which means we now go into the Petit Le Mans finale in three weeks with just five points separating second, third and fourth in the GT drivers' team championship.
Out of ourselves, the Risi Ferrari and the #24 AJR car, whoever finishes in front of the other in Atlanta will take the runners-up spot, and with the 'factory' AJR cars out of the running, the Privateer GT Team Championship is a straight shoot-out between ourselves and Ferrari.
Let's hope that Porsche comes out on top!
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