Johnny Mowlem’s Road America Victory
Petersen / White Lightning's First In The ALMS
Just occasionally, a race will almost fall into a driver’s
lap. That was what happened to Johnny Mowlem at the Road America
500, in the Petersen Motorsports / White Lightning Porsche, but
on Friday’s Test Day you’d have had trouble convincing
him that he was going to be a winner this particular weekend…..
Friday was a
nightmare, probably the worst start to a race weekend I’ve
ever had with Petersen, which is rather ironic. The car was very
difficult to drive, it was very nervous, and we had a lack of all
round grip. We were really struggling. With the ‘old’
car, we had a good base set-up and could make minor adjustments
from there, but having missed the Canadian races, we still don’t
really know this new car.
We were seventh quickest
on Friday, which was embarrassing…we were about four seconds
off the pace. We had to make radical changes from there, so we changed
the springs, I persuaded the team we should use the diff. we’d
used with Bob (Wollek) all that time ago, we changed the ride height
– fundamental things. The team worked absolutely flat out,
and as ever did a superb job. We definitely have one of the best-prepared
cars out there.
Instantly, on Saturday
morning, the Porsche was markedly better. We gradually adjusted
it from there, so that in the last session before Qualifying I set
a low 2:12, on used tyres, a full three seconds quicker than the
day before. That was pretty good: the way things are at the moment,
I don’t expect to be quicker than AJR.
Qualifying then turned
out to be a disappointment: you need to bring the tyres in slowly,
getting the temperatures and pressures up before you go for a quick
one. But straight away I felt a slight vibration, and despite being
very careful, it gradually got worse. It turned out that the bead
of the tyre had come out of the left rear wheel. When I pitted,
the team rushed off to get the tyre re-fitted, and in such a short
session, by the time I went back out again, I had time for one flying
lap. I had no choice but to go for it. I did an 11.7 on my first
and only flying lap – and that was it! More than any other
track this year, Road America needs you to do at least two or three
laps in order to get the tyres right for a really quick time. A
mid 10 was definitely possible, but we still ended up fifth, so
in the circumstances, that wasn’t too bad. But I knew we had
a much better race car than we had shown in qualifying.
the race, and he kept coming on the radio saying “The car’s
fantastic!”, which sounded promising! He did a really great
job: Robin (Liddell) had a go at him, then Andy Lally did too, but
Peter Baron in the Orbit car was dropping away, and then Craig managed
to get some breathing space between him and those immediately behind.
Craig then caught and
passed Ralf Kelleners in the Risi Ferrari, and we were up to second,
about forty seconds behind Lucas in the AJR Porsche.
Then suddenly Robin was
on a mission, catching Craig at two seconds per lap: he was only
six seconds behind – at which point Orbit and PK pitted. The
race then went to a full course yellow, and I thought we were buggered!
Both Craig and Lucas came in under the yellow, and as I rejoined,
I was really confused about where we were. In the queue, with other
cars mixed in with us, the order was Sascha in #23, then Marc Lieb,
then the PK car and then me.
When the race went green,
I caught and passed Alex Davison, then was catching Marc Lieb…when
his engine let go. I was now P2, and a lap up on PK, because it
turned out that they’d lost out at the first stops, having
pitted under green.
I set about
trying to deal with Sascha, but he was pulling away a little, and
then we both got caught in traffic. The gap between us was about
four seconds – and then he suddenly slowed and I was through.
He was stuck in fifth.
I had clear air behind
me, and the instruction over the radio was to cruise, so I backed
off, and was really only worried about keeping my concentration.
Timo (Bernhard) was going very quickly, making up time, but I was
in a lonely race from then on. Any number of drivers could have
done that job, the only problem being a return of the vibration.
Road America is such a power circuit that no one could get through
on one fuel stop, so when I pitted with 20 minutes to go, we put
on fresh tyres, and then I had a bigger vibration!
is that the tyre unseats itself and spins on the rim, but it can
only happen when the tyre is cool.
But we had such a big
lead that I could take it gently to the flag. Dale White then came
on the radio to remind me about the revised podium ceremony. We’d
been told about this at the Drivers’ Briefing: the winning
drivers were to stop on the start-finish line, so that the class
winners could all gather for a winners’ podium for TV, then
we’d have the regular podium ceremony afterwards. I didn’t
think for a minute, then, that it would affect me….
wanted me to get as close to the pit wall as I could as I crossed
the line and took the flag – for the benefit of the team.
You climb the hill on the start-finish straight, and then suddenly
pop into view – so there I was, right up against the pit wall,
actually scraping the mirror along it, with dust and muck flying
everywhere. All the crews on the pit wall scattered – except
our crew: I must have absolutely covered them! No one seemed to
mind though, least of all Mike Petersen (whom I'm hugging, below).
When I completed the
slowing down lap, Martin Haven pulled me out of the car, and Andrew
Marriott was there to interview me for SPEED TV – which was
a nice moment, as he’s been very supportive over the years.
And when I got up to the podium to join the others, all my mates
were there – Johnny Herbert, Andy Wallace and David Brabham!
We then went though the regular podium ceremony.
It was an odd feeling,
having such an easy race from a driver’s perspective and yet
winning it. I’m more used to winning after a real battle.
At Sebring this year, I was fighting AJR for all I was worth, exchanging
the lead with them for nearly the whole race and that gave me an
awful lot of personal satisfaction, having driven my heart out to
live with them. I was gutted to finish second, but knew that I’d
driven at my absolute limit, and gone as hard as I possibly could
have done. Yet here I was winning the race at Road America, and
I hadn’t done any of that! I tried sneaking up on the quick
lap times, but every time I got within a second of a good time,
the team would come on the radio and tell me to slow down. It was
the right thing to do, but that didn’t make it any easier
to carry out!!
My other ALMS win was
at Laguna Seca, with David Murry in ‘99, when we beat the
new GT3-R, with the RSR. That was a really satisfying win, because
having qualified second, I chased Dirk Muller, passed him, pulled
out 15 seconds, and then David carried on and won the race from
Cort Wagner. That was a really satisfying one. And it’s Laguna
All in all I’m
obviously delighted to get the win, but I’m even more pleased
for the whole team, from Mike Petersen and Dale White down. They
have had some great results at Daytona and Le Mans, but this is
their first ALMS win and I’m proud that I could be a part
of that. They are the hardest working bunch I have ever had the
good fortune to drive for, and they thoroughly deserve this win.
After all, we’ve come so close before only to have it taken
away, like last year at Mid-Ohio when I led the first half of the
race from Sascha Maassen and Timo Bernhard, only for Lucas Luhr
to take Randy Pobst out of the lead with only 20 minutes to go!
So this win is payback for all that bad luck!
I leave for California
on Sunday, because we’ve got some filming lined up with NBC
on Monday: Mike Petersen, Craig and myself are going up in a bi-plane,
flown by one of the Petersen guys, Harry Haggard. That should be
fun. Then it’s promotional work for the ALMS on Wednesday.