Warnock – At Road Atlanta For The First Time
is a highly experienced GT driver, but much of his racing has taken
place in Europe. He’s a multiple British GT Champion, has
raced at Le Mans five times (Mustang, 911 GT2 and 911 GT3-RS) and…hasn’t
driven that many races this year. Once the Ed. experienced two laps
around the swoops and blind brows of Road Atlanta on Friday at Petit
Le Mans (in the Medical Car, a Porsche Cayenne), the question became….how
does a Road Atlanta virgin cope with THAT? David tells the story
of his first Petit Le Mans.
driven in the Petit Le Mans event, nor indeed having raced at Road
Atlanta, I was more than ready to “try” the sweeps and
undulations of this demanding Georgia track. In preparation, I decided
to do the two ALMS races prior to this and ran at Laguna Seca and
Miami – with PK Sport.
I would be in
the second PK car for these two races, but was “promoted”
up to the lead car for the big event, joining Robin Liddell and
Alex Caffi – both very experienced pilots, who had driven
at Road Atlanta before. I had driven with Robin at Le Mans in 2002
and 2003 (achieving a creditable sixth place in GT this year, with
Piers Masarati, despite a number of problems.) In fact I have raced
in the last three Le Mans with the team, and the car has improved
markedly each year - so much so that I was really looking forward
to driving it again. Vic Rice and I had a reasonable showing in
Monterey, and things were going “reasonably” in Miami
before a wall caused an early retirement…..I wasn’t
Pickup and his team have done a great job this season, especially
bearing in mind the sheer logistics of an English team running in
the premier American series - which spans pretty much the whole
of the continent. Some races took over a week to get to –
I’ll never complain about having to go from Oulton to Snetterton
was however that there was an enormous learning curve to climb,
and all credit to the guys for doing it - but it would be incorrect
to say that we could compete on a level playing field with the top
machines on the grid.
would again be the nub of the problem at Atlanta. I obviously had
to get some track time to familiarise myself with what is a pretty
difficult circuit, but at the same time we needed to dial the car
in for the race. It is amazing to see how quickly the sessions “disappear”
when you are having problems. On paper it looked like we had plenty
of time to fulfil both ambitions, but it was not to be….
My first outing
onto the track was an interesting one – trying to learn where
to brake on a blind brow with an Audi R8 up your backside……not
recommended, I can assure you. I managed five laps before a broken
driveshaft curtailed my ambitions. At least I had familiarised myself
with turns 7 through to 12 – but the first half of the lap
remained a blur.
data at this point was pretty much irrelevant, but I concurred with
my colleagues who tried to assist me with my own learning curve.
My next session would be much better, and I went out to spy where
everyone else was braking for the notorious turns 2,3 and 4….In
fact I managed another four laps before another driveshaft went
(on the other side fortunately..) – was it me?
That took us
to the night practice – smashing….I had not sorted out
where it went in the day yet. Surprisingly I went a little quicker,
but was still slower than my colleagues. I needed more time to get
closer to them, but they in turn had become less comfortable with
the set up on the car. Detailed discussions with George, our engineer,
followed and various suspension changes ensued, but no one was entirely
happy as we went in to qualifying……no one except Robin,
who smiled gleefully when it started to rain.
a downpour, more a light sprinkle, but he knew how good the Pirelli
intermediates were, and he very nearly shocked the order by taking
pole. We ended up fourth but it was a great effort and higher than
we would have been in the dry. Alex Job apparently took note!
not quite be so good come race day however. No rain was forecast
and the warm up for us had not gone well. Robin was not happy with
the set up and anticipated some problems in the race. He was not
wrong – he made it up to an excellent third into the first
corner, but gradually went backwards after that as the car began
to become more and more difficult to drive. He wanted to race with
the Risi Ferrari and the Orbit and Petersen Porsches……
He battled on
until an alternator problem cost us a lengthy stop, dropping us
to 13th and well away from the leading pack. Alex took over and
agreed that the car was not right - before the radio packed up!
I knew my stint was going to be difficult, but did not anticipate
The guys had
pulled us up to tenth by the time I jumped in and made my way out
to the circuit. I had a few laps behind the safety car to bed myself
in before we went green: that helped, but not much.
As I started
to push I began to understand what Robin and Alex had been experiencing.
The car was pushing very badly and then “falling over”
on the exit of the corner. For me it was the worst of both worlds
and I knew the stint would be a struggle. At one point I had all
four wheels on the grass at 135 mph…..not recommended! On
top of this there was a strange “clunking” noise coming
from the front of the car, with a terrible vibration! I was not
turned out we had a broken drop link on the front anti-roll bar.
I battled on, but was not unhappy to hand over to Robin –
I promise. We were still in tenth, but it is the most uncomfortable
I have ever felt in a race car…
But all credit
to my driving partners, who brought us up to eighth in GT, which
in the circumstances wasn’t bad at all – in that company,
with so many top class cars. Hopefully I’ll have the chance
to do the race again. It certainly is an impressive place and a
huge event, with a large and knowledgeable crowd in attendance,
and I’m sure it could be a lot of fun…….