Mowlem’s 2003 Rolex Musings
dailysportscar.comThere was a very strong line-up in the #35 Risi Ferrari at Daytona for the 41st Rolex 24 – Johnny Mowlem was partnered by Ralf Kelleners and Anthony Lazzaro. The #34 Risi / Ferri Ferrari had a very good line-up too, and with some excellent driver combinations in some of the 911s, the GTS cars and the DPs, this was clearly going to be a very wide open endurance event. Having driven the Crawford last year and now a 360 Ferrari in 2003, Johnny’s view of the race was always likely to be particularly interesting….even more so as he finished up second overall. And didn’t receive a Rolex!

”From last to second, that was a phenomenal achievement, wasn’t it? Second overall: we felt we were in with a good chance of an excellent finish, but you don’t really believe it’s possible until it happens.

”Then it was a bit dispiriting to realise that after they got all the first three up overall, we had to wait to the end while they gave watches out to all sorts of people, some of whom had been 50 or 60 laps behind us in the race!!! Missing the watch was hard on the day, but now events have had time to sink in, I realise just how great an achievement it was for the Risi team to take second overall with a car that is far less proven and developed than the GT3RS.

”I’m so pleased for the team, because they all put I such a determined effort, and on that first lap it looked as though it could have been all over.

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”We were pretty happy with our qualifying, although Ralf was perhaps a little disappointed not to be quicker – but there were reasons for that. Basically we were where we expected to be, that is quickest Ferrari, but we didn’t expect the Washington car to be so close. I discovered why it was so close to us in the race: we added downforce in the Thursday night session, but before that it was quicker than us in a straight line. For the race, it probably had a little more downforce than we did, but was still quicker on the banking – Cort Wagner must have been 10 kph faster than us in the race.

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”Anyway, no one remembers qualifying anyway, so let’s get on with what happened in the race itself.

”We had gear selection problems on the first lap! Events later on would prove that we never got away from the problem, but ending lap 1, there was Ralf coming down the pit-lane! He was stuck in second gear, but coming towards us, he found neutral, then got it in gear and was straight out without stopping.

”Ralf did a double stint, then Anthony, and by the end of my first double, say six hours into the race, we were up to third overall. We did doubles all the way through, because the Ferrari doesn’t really take it out of you – although I’m convinced it was the best car in the whole race under braking. The brakes were exceptional.

”Then Ralf had the right rear wheel fall off. There was no good reason for that to happen, because it was nearly an hour after a pit stop. I think we lost seven laps then.

”We were always on a mission, but from then on, every lap was like a qualifying lap – if they hadn’t been before.

”We had some great dices with both the Washington Ferrari and the #20 JMB car – but both of them were quicker on the straights. I think we must have had an engine that was simply just a little bit down on power.

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”I had a good dice with Max Papis during one stint during the night, setting 1:54.9s / 1:55.1s, and then Ralf went out and carried on the dice. It was great racing. A yellow had bunched the field, and from the green the two of them were right together all the way.

”Anthony drove a double, but just before I got back in, I realized that we’d lost ground to JMB with an exhaust problem. The team must have fixed that amazingly quickly.

”Throughout the race I don’t think any of us made a single mistake, and only the two Porsches could run quicker than us in the GT class. But we must have lost 10 or 11 laps with our gear selection and exhaust problems…..although without a problem, we couldn’t have held on to the #66 car. I’m sure Alwin Springer made sure that that was a fairly special Porsche.

”Then we had the problem with the gears again, with Ralf at the wheel – was that about three hours before the end? He came to a halt in neutral, and they’d even hooked up the tow rope to bring him back. He fiddled with the master switch, it fired up, all the gears were there, and he raced back into the race!

”It was only in Anthony’s last double that we rolled off the pace.

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”I felt it was harder this year for the GT teams than previous years – because instead of a prototype coming past very quickly, we had the Daytona Prototypes, which were quicker on the banking, but depending on who was at the wheel, slower through the corners. I lost probably ten seconds stuck behind one of them, and in the end I had to come from 50 metres back and slam past him on the brakes, then block him on the banking – it was the only way to stay ahead, until I could make up ground on the infield.

”I felt it was more dangerous than in the past, and more difficult for the GT drivers – but the whole Daytona Prototype concept could work long term, if ‘they’ put some money towards the manufacturers and make the cars a little more powerful.

”I’m still not exactly thrilled about coming second and not winning a Rolex though!”

 

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