Mowlem's musings

AUTOSPORT-backed sportscar star Johnny Mowlem was a man on a mission in the Daytona 24 Hours. He joined the Risi Calpont Ferrari 360 squad with victory on his mind but, after a rollercoaster of a race, he fell just one place short, as he describes in his first column of 2003

Mowlem's musings

Like I've been quoted as saying on several occasions, there was only one thing wrong with last Sunday at 1pm US eastern time: We stood on the podium having fought tooth and nail for 24 hours to finish a great second position overall, and yet the Rolex man shook our hands and left them empty!

It seems almost churlish to mention it now, but I was gutted at the end of the race. I had spent the last two hours of the race biting my nails in case the gearbox gremlins returned and finally put paid to our race, and yet when we took the chequered flag, alongside the initial elation, I felt a bit empty. In all honesty, this wasn't just because we missed out on a very fine Rolex, although admittedly that would have helped! Instead, I think it was because all of us in the Risi team knew we had missed a unique opportunity to take the overall win.

Admittedly the Racer's Group Porsche ran faultlessly, and definitely had the edge in terms of pure speed also, but if a whole multitude of little problems had gone the other way, things could have been very different. Three major things stopped our Risi Calpont 360 from keeping the Porsche under pressure throughout the whole race, and it is testament to a professional and talented team that we still managed to finish second overall despite them.

Our first problem started on lap one! We had the F1-style paddle shift gearbox, and Ralf got stuck in second gear before even completing a lap. By the time he could reset it we were dead last and nearly a lap down after just two minutes of racing. We'd have settled for second overall at this point...

By Hour 7, when I got out after my first double stint, we were back up to second in GT, third overall and then the next problem hit us. Ralf lost his right rear wheel, for no good reason, as it was some 40 minutes after his pit stop. By the time they towed us back into the pits, we'd lost a further seven laps.

If beforehand we'd been on a mission, then from this point on we really threw caution to the wind, and tried to drive every lap like it was qualifying. During my next double stint at night I had probably the most fun I can remember having in ages, in a racecar anyway! [Easy now Mowlem - Ed] The Ferrari is an incredibly fun car to drive on the limit, and its braking is exceptional, allowing us to brake later than anyone else, even the Daytona prototypes. I had a nice dice with Max Papis in the JMB Ferrari, managing to edge a few more seconds further away from him. I asked my engineer Rick Mayer on the radio whether that meant I'd get a Champ Car drive? The reply? "Probably not!"

Then a yellow caution period bunched us all up again and after the pit stops Ralf got in and did a fine job to keep Max behind him for over an hour. Both he and Anthony drove superbly and I couldn't have asked for two better team-mates. Finally, with three hours to go, the gearbox gremlins that had been periodically causing us to have to come to a halt out on the circuit and reset the gearbox, got worse.

This time Ralf couldn't get any gears at all, and another four laps ticked by as Anthony and I agonisingly watched him on the live Speed Channel coverage. He was actually being towed away and was only 10 meters from being pulled behind the wall when he finally got it going by cycling the master switch. Up until then it hadn't helped that he had also lost radio contact with the pits. In fact, he told me afterwards that the only radio contact he heard was two marshals discussing which toilet blocks needed emptying! But by some miracle he was on his way again and with two hours to go we decided to cruise to the end.

Now that I've had time to think about things, I realise just how fortunate I am to be able to be a part of such a historical result. It is of huge credit to Risi Competizione and Ferrari that we achieved the finish we did, and I'm just glad that the good luck prevailed in the end to give the whole team the result that their hard work and talent deserved. So often it doesn't work out that way.

However, one thing I know for sure, I'm back into the Porsche fold with Petersen Motorsports for the Sebring 12 Hours next month, and even though I like and respect Guiseppe and his team, I will be doing everything I can to keep that red Ferrari behind me. It'll be tough, because Sebring will suit the 360 far better than Daytona. Still that's what it's all about.

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