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.
Catch live streaming on www.fiagt.com
For the first time in my career, I raced at a street circuit and in my ‘home’ town at the same time. The City Challenge Baku 2012 event was a first for the city of Baku. The organizers had previously demonstrated this type of event at Bucharest and Budapest with GT1 and GT3 machinery. In Baku, it would be a GT3 only event with two drivers, two qualifying races and a single 60 minute finale with driver changes. I was fortunate enough to have my regular team, Mühlner Motorsport bring two Porsche GT3Rs to Baku for the event and I would be driving with Nick Tandy, Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland 2011 Champion and former Porsche Supercup winner. The sister car would be driven by Sean Edwards and Karim Al-Azhari whom I knew from Porsche Middle East GT3 Cup Challenge. Read the rest of this entry »
The first City Challenge to be held in Baku, Azerbaijan is almost here. On October 26-28, we will be racing through the streets of Baku on a purpose-built street circuit near the sea front. It will be the first time in many years that I don’t have to travel to go racing and can sleep in my own bed during the race weekend!