On Tuesday morning before the race weekend I received a phone call from Wayne Taylor asking if I wanted to partner his son Ricky in the world Championship event at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin Texas for the 6 hour event in the Chevrolet Corvette C7R GTE AM car! It was a massive surprise to receive a call from a Legend like Wayne but also an honour to be considered. Of course my answer was yes!
It was a hectic 24 hours from getting the call, I had to upgrade my race license to be able to compete in a World Championship event, plus I had to fly from the UK to Texas to make the first practice session. To make matters even harder I had none of my race equipment with me so I would have to borrow everything from my teammate Ricky. It was a test of last minute organization and improvisation skills.
I really had no idea what to expect before arriving at the circuit, everything was new to me. I had never raced at COTA before and had never driven such a high profile racecar before. It was brain overload for sure, but there is nothing like learning at the deep end.
I have always thought I could handle heat, I live in the Bahamas and I have been working in the sun most of my adult life but the heat we experienced in Austin was HOT HOT HOT. There was no let up in the pits or racecar. It just made my debut that little bit harder.
My team for the weekend was Larbre Competition, 5 times Le Mans winning team and over 30 years experience at the highest level of sports car racing. They have raced the Corvette very successfully for many years and I felt comfortable straight away and was very impressed with the level of professionalism. My two teams were Ricky Taylor and Pierre Rague, both very experienced and have raced many times at the Le mans 24 hours.
My first experience of the corvette C7R racecar was in practice and immediately I felt it was a refined racecar and very sensitive, completely different from the Aston Martin I am used to. It is the hardest car I have had to master and I only had 20 laps before the race to do it. The biggest thing to adapt to were the brakes, in the Corvette GTE car there is no ABS so it puts more emphasis on driver skill. I really struggled at first adapting to the braking, after a few spins I started to learn the technique!
My learning curve was incredibly steep and my expectations regarding my personal performance changed throughout the weekend. Being a driver you want to be fast all the time and prove your speed, but this weekend my job was to stay out of trouble and just drive around well within myself.
For qualifying the grid positions are determined from the average lap time of the Gold and Bronze driver within each team in the AM class. Ricky started qualifying and put the car on top in our class from the other Gold drivers, I only had 2 flying laps to get a time in and on my best lap I pushed too hard on the exit of the notorious turn 19 and ran slightly wide incurring a tracks limit violation. We qualified 6 th but should have been 3 rd . A little disappointed but another lesson learnt and with a grueling 6-hour race ahead we had enough time to make up positions.
The race would start at 5pm in the afternoon and finish in the darkness at 11pm. Ricky started the car and immediately made up positions throughout his hour stint, bringing the car in for the first pit stop in 3 rd position to hand over to Pierre for his hour stint then I would take over the car for the 3 rd hour when the sun was setting and the light was fading. I felt more and more comfortable with the car and the biggest thing to get used to is the faster traffic coming past you. Nothing prepares you for the shock of an LMP1 car overtaking you at 200mph on the straight or on the outside of every corner!
The whole team and drivers made no mistake throughout the race and we executed a perfect performance. I had 2 hours of trouble free driving, only having to manage 3 full course yellow periods, which is tough as the tires cool down and it is hard to get grip from the tires again.
After a hot and intense race we finished an amazing 3 rd position and a debut podium for me on my first World Championship event. We got up to 2 nd in the race but ultimately 3 rd was the best we could achieve. It was a mentally tough race with the extreme heat and driving into darkness. It was a sense of relief and pride to finish on the podium and I hope I get the chance to race at this level again. What a weekend!