The first race of the season is always exciting and the VLN Race 1 at the Nurburgring did not disappoint. From the snow Thursday evening to electrical gremlins in the new Porsche Cayman GT4, it was a weekend of surprises.
We started late Saturday morning due to fog and had a much abbreviated qualifying session.
Daniel Bohr set our time of 9:04 where pole was in the 8:50’s so obviously we had some work to do.
The car felt better with the new set-up on Saturday morning but I was still getting use to the handling. Frank Schmickler (Schmicki) took the start from 7th on the grid and was going well for the first lap. We then had the first of our issues when the Cayman went into ‘limp home’ mode for no apparent reason. Frank came into the pits after two laps and the Porsche engineers quickly tried to diagnose the problem. After an unplanned 5 minutes in the pits, our race was effectively done. Frank went out and completed his stint, handing over to me after about 1hr 25 minutes.
I hadn’t turned a lap on the Nordschleife all weekend so my first lap was a race lap. I liked the feel of the car on new tires and built up speed. A couple things about the Nordschleife – it’s fast and the GT3 cars are super-fast.
I took it easy in traffic; generally making sure the car I was passing knew I was there. I did the same for the GT3 cars. I was going flat out down Adenauer-Forst and a brand new Aston Martin GT4 crashed into the right Armco, then across the track in front of me and hitting the left Armco, all while doing about 200kph. Incredible I didn’t hit him or vis-a-versa. Code 60 for a couple of laps and then racing again. I have traditionally not been a left-foot braker but found it pretty easy in the Cayman to left foot brake. More practice required. My stint came to an end and I handed over to Daniel for the closer drive. Unfortunately, we all the technical issues we had, we only came home 8th in class, but the car was complete without even a scratch and was quickly on a truck to Porsche for failure analysis. Hopefully by the time of the second race at the end of April everything will be perfect.
Great to be back at the Nordschleife and announce I’ll be driving in the entire VLN Porsche Cayman GT4 Cup championship this season….with my friends at Muehlner Motorsport. We kicked off on Saturday 19 March for first practice of the season on a wet track with melting snow on the sides! Felt like old times – a brand new Porsche less than 48 hours from the factory (like Zolder in 2007 with the brand new Porsche GT3 Cup S) and 34km on the odometer. The Cayman is a street car converted to track use – it has glass power windows, automatic gearbox, air conditioning, key to start and a cup holder!
My first laps on the full Nordschleife since 2009 in the wet with a brand new car. Wow. Slap on the Michelin rains and off I go. A few laps around the GP circuit and then red flag on Nordschleife for a serious accident. We wait in the pits for about an hour and then off on slicks on a drying track and first laps around the Green Hell. The Nordschleife is not for the faint hearted in the wet with slicks but that’s what Marc Basseng always told me was the challenge….and attraction of the Nurburgring.
After three laps, in for quick check and then a race run of 7 laps. It was great….race line dry and the car working great. All the little tricks of the track coming back and improvement in lap time every lap. After an hour, in to the box with petrol to spare. All well and the car very stable throughout.
Now looking forward to the first VLN race in 2 weeks.
The FIA GT Finale in Baku was an awesome event…especially driving the Big Bon sponsored MRS McLaren MP4-12C for the first time. Compared to 2012, the new track layout was much better…more flowing with some high speed stuff, but I was still in first gear six times per lap with the slow chicanes and hairpins.
As is always the case with street circuits that come to life during a race weekend, delays are inevitable and Baku was no different. Our practice time on Saturday was delayed as the track was brought up to FIA standards and we had a compressed practice and qualifying session on Saturday. The McLaren was great to drive…the technology built in was really helpful in getting the car right for me and Ilya. I thought it might take some getting used to adapt to the F1 type steering wheel, but it was easy. Controls on the wheel included ABS, Traction Control, Throttle Position and Engine Map along with radio, Pit Speed, flasher, etc. The most difficult thing for me was getting used to having no rear view mirror and counting on the wing mirrors only. I found myself constantly looking up and finding no mirror to look backwards.
Practice and qualifying went okay — it was obvious to me that not being in a car for most of the year and being new to the McLaren was holding back my speed. I was about 8 seconds off the pros which is a lot, but I made continuous progress and started picking up some helpful hints from the other drivers including cutting the first chicane to two wheels within track limits! As could have been predicted, we started the qualifying race from near the back which was okay with me. The track was extremely slippery in sections as the organisers had washed it down over the night! I did not want to stuff it in the barriers so I just took it easy and just built up confidence to finish 19th out of 28 car grid. The car was great and Andy Soucek gave me some great coaching which really helped.
For the main race Sunday afternoon, Ilya started in Row 10 and had a great start, missing all the carnage at the first chicane. He was running great only to have a rear tyre go unexpectedly after contact with bolts sticking up out of the pavement where the third chicane curbs used to be. Bad luck. When Ilya in for the pitstop, we had another puncture in the front right so lost more time there. I went out onto a nice dry track and just pushed, pushed, pushed. The McLaren responded really well and I enjoyed driving the car with more aggression. The aero is better than the Porsche and the engine response is also quite different. I really enjoyed it and the entire MRS crew were a delight to work with. We finished 16th overall and a lap behind our other “Gentlemen” competitors due to the double puncture.
Overall, I think the Baku race was a success and I had a great time driving with Ilya, MRS and our sister car with Andy Soucek and Oliver Turvey. Big thanks to our sponsors Jaguar Energy Drink and Big Bon and especially Fuad and Parviz for all their support.
Street racing in Baku is back! This weekend November 22-24, the FIA World Challenge will run the last race of the season on the streets of Baku. After six years of exclusively driving Porsches, an opportunity came along to try something different — a McLaren MP4-12C from the garage of MRS Motorsport. I know the MRS team from Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland and I’m looking forward to joining their two car team in Baku…my ‘home’ race and we’ll be sponsored by Jaguar Energy drink and Big Bon pot noodles.
This year, the track has moved out of the centre and will run by the famous Crystal Hall where Eurovision was held. I drove the course yesterday in my road car albeit without the chicanes that will be installed. It’s wide for a street circuit and will be a lot faster than last year’s track. The temperatures will be in the low teens, so will be a challenge to get heat into the tyres. The McLaren package looks very competitive and we can use the aero package to full extent this weekend.
I’ve always had the benefit of driving with great drivers and this year is no exception — guys like Sean Edwards, Nick Tandy, Marc Basseng, Kevin Estre and Norbert Siedler have taught me a lot and I’m looking forward to running alongside Oliver Turvey and Andy Soucek this weekend in the sister Mclaren. It’s going to be great.
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