We might have ‘only’ got a second place in GT instead of a win at this weekend’s ALMS race around the streets surrounding Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, but we headed both practice sessions, I got a very satisfying pole position (my first of the year) and set a new fastest race lap record.
Not a bad haul and, more importantly at this stage of the season, the result gives us a clear 28 points lead in the GT Manufacturers and Drivers’ title chases.
We had a good car all weekend, and had some luck, but the weekend was full of delays, disruptions and shortened sessions; pretty normal stuff for a street race!
Friday was the worst due to a very bumpy section on the front strait in the area of a covered rail track. We all had the same issue last year – with the open-wheelers getting more airborne than us, being quite a bit lighter. As a result an unpopular chicane was installed to slow the cars down so they didn’t take off over the bumps.
Following pleas by drivers, officials this year tried to do away with the chicane but it soon became clear that was going to be too dangerous, especially for the Indycar drivers although some of the ALMS cars got more air miles than they’d bargained for!
As Marshall Pruett reported, after Simon Pagenaud got almost two feet in the air the series called a halt to opening practice and some major talks took place. I was asked by the officials for my opinion so I talked to several of my ALMS driving colleagues as well as Dario, Helio and Simon to get their views. Dario said that so many of the Indycar drivers didn’t want a chicane and they wanted everything possible to be done to try and avoid it.
I think ideally it should have been covered by a long tarmac ramp as they did near the pitlane entrance but, for whatever reason, that didn’t seem to be an option. First of all they tried grinding down the bump but that didn’t work so a temporary tire chicane was installed. No one was a big fan of the tires but it was replaced overnight with a two-curb chicane and tire bundles which didn’t slow us down much but perhaps spoiled the rhythm of the lap. The track is rough on the cars at the best of times, but without the chicane I think it would have been even rougher on the drivers.
Qualifying was a blast! It could have all bit a bit different though as I got hit by a prototype going into Turn 3 right at the end of the practice session immediately before qualifying. The right side of the Corvette was bashed up a bit, with the most damage being to the door and exhaust system.
We only had 20 minutes to fix it and at one time there were 10 guys on the car including team boss Gary Pratt wielding a hammer; real teamwork. We tried to change the header and the pipe, but they couldn’t replace it in time so we had to run with a bent exhaust for qualifying.
Jan, who has a great line in dry wit, said straight after qualifying that he wanted that setup on his car for the race! The Corvette is pretty strong, so I wasn’t concerned about structural and suspension damage, and the motor was running fine, so it didn’t seem to be a problem.
The race was quite a wild, unpredictable two hours but Tommy drove real smart at the beginning and stayed out of trouble…trouble isn’t hard to find on street courses, as many of our competitors found out. He did a great job on the tires I used for qualifying which probably weren’t very nice to drive on. Baltimore was his ‘home’ race and he had lots of friends and family watching so it was great to do so well.
Ten GT cars finished on the lead lap, helped by two caution periods in the final 45 minutes, and with the championship in mind I reckoned it would have been too big a risk to try and make a pass on Bryan Sellers [in the class-winning Falken Porsche].
Bryan drove really well so all credit to him and the team for their win, and they did better than us at working their tires on the re-starts and opening a gap. I had to laugh when I saw his post-race comments about “one of the worst sights in racing is having Olly Gavin behind you in a Corvette”!! I’m pretty sure it was meant positively but you never know in such a tight and competitive field as we’ve got in the ALMS.
The story of our season so far has been to keep the points ticking over and, while you’re leading a championship and everyone is chasing you hard, your aim has to be to maintain or – ideally – increase it. Everyone on the team is doing their job perfectly at the moment and that builds confidence going into a new race for all of us, four hours around Virginia International Raceway. Tommy and I can’t wait!
A former British F3 Champion and Formula One test driver, Oliver Gavin has raced in North America for the last decade for Corvette Racing, representing General Motors. He has achieved three American Le Mans Series GT1 Championship titles and four GT1 class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and in 2012 will also be racing in select races with Spirit of Daytona in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series.