Mowlem's musings

AUTOSPORT-backed sportscar star Johnny Mowlem is developing what could be called a bridesmaid complex, as he explains in his latest column from the Sebring 12 Hour classic... Sadly, even that was taken away from him as the car was excluded after the race for a technical infringement, although the team appealed against the decision

Mowlem's musings

I seem to be making rather a habit of this finishing second business. In my last three races - last year's Petit Le Mans, this year's Daytona 24 and last weekend's Sebring 12 Hours - I've been the bridesmaid in all of them! At least the Daytona result was a second overall, as opposed to the second in the GT class of the other two, but it was still bloody second!

Having said all that, the latest result at Sebring was a fighting second, with the Petersen/White Lightning team swapping the lead with the #23 Alex Job Porsche of Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr every time either of us pitted. So it was a deserved achievement for the team. All of them, from Mike Petersen and Dale White down, are committed to winning. The crew work incredibly hard and they deserve much of the credit.

I was more pleased at the result for them than I was for myself. Aside from a problem when the rear diffuser began to flap about at the six-hour mark, the car ran like clockwork, which is testament to the preparation of Kent, the chief mechanic, and the rest of the crew.

The run up to Sebring is a bit like Le Mans, in that it goes on all week. From Monday's first test day, our car was quick. In fact, in virtually every session, ourselves, the two Alex Job cars and the #43 Orbit car were covered by less than 0.2secs, so we all knew we had a shot at victory.

Qualifying turned into the traffic nightmare from hell, so I was very fortunate to eventually line up third for the race. At the start, Alex Job cars and ourselves pulled away pretty rapidly from the rest of the GT field, pausing only briefly to allow those lunatics in the Bentleys (who'd had to start at the back) past! This in no way is casting aspersions on the rest of the GT field, which was one of the strongest I've ever competed against. In fact there were 31 cars on the GT grid, including many of the best GT teams in the world, but our three cars were obviously working well, due in no small fact, I'm sure, to the Michelin tyres.

I actually took the lead at the first pitstops, through going onto a different pitstop strategy. Then when the #24 AJR car fell back with a variety of problems, we continued to exchange first place with the lead #23 AJR Porsche on each pitstop until around the seven-hour mark. During that time our team did a superb job in the pitstops, and my new team mates, Nic Jonsson and Craig Stanton, did a sterling job keeping us in the hunt. However, when our diffuser began to come loose we lost a lap whilst it was secured. The car was never quite as good after that, but we clung on grimly!

Shortly afterwards, around the eight-hour mark, Kevin McGarrity had his huge accident in the Risi GT Ferrari. His impact at Turn 17, the fastest part of the track, was massive, and I was really pleased to find out that he is going to be fine, despite breaking bones in both of his feet. At one point he was still trapped in the car when it caught fire. The marshal who was first on the scene was about as much use as a chocolate teapot, and Kevin had to drag himself out of the car unaided. To cap it all, when they eventually got him to the medical centre, the only pain relief they could offer him was aspirin! I'll be bringing that up at the next drivers' briefing, I can promise you.

Rumour has it that he was nerfed off by a Bentley. That I don't know, but one thing I do know is that I got hit by a Bentley, driven by David Brabham. He's supposed to be my mate, and he still hit me! To be fair, he did apologise afterwards... I think the driver visibility in the Bentley must be pretty bad, because they hit a lot of people. That's something they'll need to address if they want to win Le Mans. Ironically, Brabs had to pit after our contact for repairs, whereas my car was virtually undamaged. It's not often a GT car gets hit by a prototype and comes off better!

I drove the last stint to finish the race, unlapping myself from Maassen as he exited the pits after his last pit stop and then pushed as hard as I dared for the last 30 minutes to avoid going a lap back down again. Pushing hard in the dark at Sebring is quite eventful, so it was quite a relief to see the fireworks all going off to signal the end of the race. The general atmosphere at Sebring is always pretty electric, probably second only to Le Mans on the world sports car calendar.

This year, with an estimated 100,000 crowd in attendance, the atmosphere was even better than usual, and the podium was pretty awesome. I also discovered that the more you spray champagne, the better you get at it, which was nice, although I know Sascha and Lucas wouldn't agree!

All in all it was a good fight and a good result. Now the Mexico City round has been cancelled, it looks like my next race will be Le Mans. If I can manage to get on the podium again there, especially on the top step this time, then I will be a very happy man!

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