Robin Liddell – Nerves Jangling At Laguna Seca
Sebring, Le Mans, Petit Le Mans – PK Sport had entered them
all before this season, and achieved considerable success at each.
A first season of the full ALMS has been a challenge though. Robin
Liddell kept us up to date with many of the key races during the
2003 season (see his interview
with Paul Collins at Mosport), and here he tells the story of a
best finish so far – fourth at Laguna Seca, with Alex Caffi.
The Scotsman does tell a good tale…
was a bit fraught, as you know. The background from PK’s perspective
was that George, our new engineer, suggested to Mike Pickup that
we had someone down at Turn 2 as a spotter, because George knew
that the first corner at Laguna is often the scene of some drama.
Mike was going to go and do the job himself, but he asked me whether
I wanted him down there. I wasn’t that concerned about having
a spotter, because in that situation, things tend to happen so quickly
you generally have to take a decision and go for it. That’s
how it worked out….
“It was carnage.
We started seventh, and at Laguna there’s the long run from
Turn 11, over the brow, round the slight kink which is Turn 1, and
then into the braking area for Turn 2. As I got level with the start-finish
line, brake lights started coming on: some cars had to have been
slow away at the front and we all got bottled up. I lifted initially,
then thought ‘to hell with it’ and kept it nailed down
the outside. I stayed out wide, which worked out very well at Turn
2, where cars were going off, there was masses of tyre smoke, and
there was debris on the track on the normal line. I came out of
Turn 2 in third in GT, so that was a good first (proper) corner!
Car came out then of course, so the order was Craig Stanton leading,
then one of the Job cars, then me, then the Risi Ferrari.
went racing again, I was battling with Stanton and Lazzaro, because
the Job car took the lead and disappeared at the front. But I didn’t
have quite the pace of the other two, and Lazarro passed me –
and then he passed the Petersen car too. So we were fourth.
to explain the set up of the PK car here. We run the ‘long’
diff., which is a bit of a compromise, especially on the tight corners.
Coming round Turn 11 on your own was fine, but if I got caught in
traffic and came through slower, we’d drop out of the power
band and struggle away a little, up towards the start-finish line.
In traffic, I could easily lose several car lengths to the Petersen
car, accelerating away up the straight. We had the same problem
at Trois Rivieres.
also chosen to qualify the car on soft rears, which was maybe a
slight error of judgement. We realised that once we’d run
in the last practice session, but the decision had already been
made by then, and the paperwork submitted. We scrubbed some harder
rears in during the warm up, and took the decision to run a harder
right rear, as it’s an anti-clockwise circuit.
“After eight to
ten laps of the race, I was struggling a little with the left rear,
but the tyre then stabilised and didn’t lose any performance
after that – but it meant oversteer in the right handers.
Lazzaro had lined me up at Turn 10 (the right hander), and overtook
me into Turn 11.
that brought us to the stage where I was catching Craig Stanton
(I think he was suffering as we got into the stint, because he was
unwell). With the problem exiting 11, I couldn’t get close
to him at Turn 2 – which was where he was having a problem
locking his front left. So I had to find somewhere else to get by.
I was catching him into the Corkscrew, and I finally saw an opportunity
up the inside into the fourth gear Turn 9. It was just an opportunistic
move, but having got by, I was able to pull away steadily. The tyres
stayed very constant, and we were running a genuine third.
have a slight issue with the brakes though. Alex had bedded in new
pads in the warm up, and I just did the last few laps. I had a lock-up
at the front, which I thought was odd, as I wasn’t expecting
anything like that at warm up pace, and although the car felt very
consistent, we never got to the bottom of the lock up. I knew we
might have trouble when the fronts squealed as I rolled onto the
“Sure enough, the
rears were locking in the race, so I turned the balance half a turn
to the front, but with whatever the problem was with the fronts,
I had a big lock up, and then a vibration of course. It felt similar
to the vibration we’d had at Sebring when a front let go,
so it was damage limitation from then on, and I just held the gap
to the Petersen car at 10-12 seconds.
it was an easy stint, even though it was hot. Sears Point had been
tough, Trois Rivieres too, but at Laguna it wasn’t as bad
as that – maybe because at Sears there isn’t a straight
of any sort to give you a breather, while at Trois Rivieres, it’s
as if the hot air gets trapped on the track. But running third at
Laguna, I’d hardly taken a drink at all.
“Then we had our
first sign that this race could be very interesting for us. The
fuel light flashed on much earlier than I thought it would, so I
got on the radio and passed that information on. When it coughed
and then coughed again, I put the reserve on and told Mike I was
pitting. He told me that this was earlier than planned, but we had
“Once Alex got
in and I had a chance to see where we were, I realised that we’d
only done one hour and 17 or 18 minutes. We’d pitted several
minutes early for a one stop, and now it looked as though we’d
be in trouble. Johnny Mowlem told me that I’d pitted at least
a lap early at Road America, and here we were expecting to do a
one stop. We seem to have some issue with fuel pick up, which we’re
going to have to get sorted.
“Alex left the
pits in third, but Johnny Mowlem – in the 2003 Petersen car
– picked him off quite quickly, as I expected, but we were
still running in a very good fourth. That was the best position
we could hope to earn on this day, but with the fuel problem, I
was a little surprised that we didn’t ease off a little to
save the fuel.
“Then I spotted
Johnny making some deliberate, early gear changes past the pits,
and it turned out he had rising temperatures, which he was trying
to control. But unless he slowed down a lot, we were still looking
“Ten minutes from
the end, Alex was struggling: Cort Wagner was catching him with
the Buckler car. At first it was two seconds a lap, then it was
more than that, as our car was coughing more. Cort wouldn’t
have had any fuel worries, because Kevin Buckler had done something
like an hour and 40 minutes to start the race in #66.
“So could Alex
keep it going, and stay ahead of the blue car? Would the car keep
going? It was a very tense time in our pit, and none of us really
believed we could hang on. But we had a bit of luck: the winning
Audi passed us on what turned out to be its last lap. There was
no way that Alex was going to complete another lap, so that was
a huge chunk of good fortune. Without it, we would have run out.
Alex was on the radio, asking (shouting) what he should do, and
Mike told him to keep going – which turned out to be the right
thing to do, except that none of us thought he would make it! The
mechanics thought he would run out, and I think it was only Mike
who had faith that it would keep going.
“Alex hung on,
and took the flag six-tenths ahead of Wagner, and the celebrations
began, but it was a very fraught time in our pit. When you think
you’re going to stop on the track, and lose it all….
was what we deserved. It is tough racing at this level, but that’s
the way it’s supposed to be. Miami next, and it’s going
to be extremely hot there….but the street track should suit