We approached round 3 of the European Le Mans Series with one goal and that was to win the GTE class for JMW Motorsport. We had the pace, the strategy and the will to win, but in this series you also need some luck!
JMW Motorsport are well acquainted with the Red Bull Ring but it was my first experience of the track. I was blown away by the Alpine scenery surrounding the venue as well as the state of the art facilities. The circuit didn’t disappoint either, as I came to terms with the steep changes in gradient during our team track walk – next time I’ll opt for a golf buggy!!
Our goal was to win, but first we needed a strategy. The pace across Rob, Andrea and I was really strong in practice and we worked out that we were also efficient on tyre wear. We made the decision of double stinting the Dunlop slick tyres in the race. This meant two less tyre changes during our pit stops and a total saving of 40 seconds! The other half of the strategy was to stay out of trouble – easier said than done when we are racing in amongst two different prototype classes!
Andrea qualified the JMW Ferrari 458 Italia in 2nd place for Sunday’s 4 hour race, just pipped to pole by the #77 Porsche of Cairoli and just ahead of the #56 Ferrari of Pier Guidi. The championship leaders would start back in 6th with the Aston Martin V8 Vantage.
Our line up would go like this: me to start, followed by Rob, then Andrea and back to me for the final stint. The hardest but most rewarding shift is always the start as so much is on the line. Rob and I always joke with each other about who gets chosen to start the race, as it usually means one of us will be feeling a tad nervous on the Sunday morning!
As per usual the first lap was full of excitement with lots contact between LMP3 cars ahead of me. I managed dodge the bumps or bangs and snuck past the #77 Porsche before turn 2. Without taking too much out of the tyres I built up a gap of 12 seconds to the # 56 Ferrari who had followed through!
We ran through the planned strategy and continued to build on our lead with slick pit stops and strong pace on track despite all 3 of us getting caught up in our own drama. I was side swiped by the leading LMP2 car, Rob was forced off the road at turn 1 and momentarily dropped down to second, while Andrea received contact from another LMP2 competitor. It’s fair to say that managing the traffic around the tight and twisty Red Bull Ring was proving tricky, but our Ferrari took every punch and kick in its stride and somehow arrived at the final hour with just a few dings and scratches!!
Andrea handed the car over to me for the final hour with an 8 second lead back to the #77 Porsche of pole setter Cairoli. It was crunch time and my orders were very clear – PUSH!!!
I did just that and pushed to the limit from the out lap, increasing the gap back to Cairoli to over 12 seconds. The pressure was eventually turned down a notch when he had to make an extra pit stop for fresh tyres. It was now about bringing her home! I reached the chequered flag to take the first Ferrari victory of 2016 and JMW’s first race win in over 4 years!
What an amazing feeling! The whole team really deserved this victory after a faultless performance in terms of pit stops and strategy. Rob and Andrea are just great to work with and did an amazing job. Looking back we were in the wars but somehow we got through it to take victory!
Check out this slick tyre change by the JMW crew!
We now sit 3rd in the standings, just 5 points behind the #51 Ferrari who are the new leaders. I have to say a big thank you to all my sponsors who have provided continued support over the years and I’m glad you can all join me in celebrating this victory!
Next up is round 4 of the series in Le Castellet at the Paul Ricard Circuit, France.