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Multiple race tracks, tons of testing, 2000km of road driving and a small fire to contend with. It’s been a busy month on track.
Blancpain GT Testing
My first test of 2019 got off to the best possible start in Paul Ricard, France, at the Official Blancpain GT Test.We showed up with a brand new Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 and were consistently in the top 10 on both days. The car felt amazing to drive and both my co-drivers, Rinat Salikhov and Denis Bulatov, were quick. There was a tail-wind down the massive 2km back straight which resulted in top speeds just touching 300kph… which was insane, the fastest I’ve ever been in a racing car.
With 60 GT3 cars on track our relative performance was impressive but deceiving as we are not sure if the other teams were holding something back in terms of speed. I suppose we will find out next weekend at Monza.After the Blancpain Test we were scheduled to do a private test in Austria but snow cancelled those plans. I only found this out afterreturning to London and had to quickly repack my bag and head back to France for some coaching with Kessel Racing a day later.
Switching Tracks Like a Video Game
After France I managed to get a few days of training done at home before jumping on the next flight to Italy for a test in Monza with Rinaldi. We focused entirely on the braking performance of our 488 GT3, testing different disks pads and discs.Pro drivers usually don’t do that many laps at a test, it’s usually the Gentleman Driver who does the most driving, but on this rare occasion I got all the seat time. At one point during the test I spent 2.5 hours strapped in the car, trying all kinds of things, and only got out of the drivers seat after a red flag paused the session for 15 minutes.
My day didn’t stop there though. Later that evening I jumped in my (terrible) rental car and drove 550km to France, where I focused on more testing and coaching in Paul Ricard with a Ferrari 458 GT3 for Kessel Racing the following day.
Luckily the test finished early which gave me some time to rest before another long drive the following day when I headed to Mugello in Italy, 700km away, to compete in my first race of the year. The Mugello 12 Hour by the 24H Series (confusing naming for sure).
Mugello 12 Hour
Originally I was scheduled to race in a bright green Rinaldi Ferrari but a last minute change moved me to their sister team, ‘Wochenspiegel Team Monschau’, who made a late decision to compete in a few of the 24H Series events. WTM opt for white Ferrari’s instead of green.
It was my first time on the Hankook Racing Tires which are quite different compared to the Pirellis and Michelins I am used to. They are more difficult to extract speed from on a single lap but also ‘last for forever’ in a race stint. This means qualifying requires some experience with the tire, which I didn’t have.
Mugello is a beautiful circuit with high speed corners linked together by big gradients and blind entries. I was consistently one of the fastest drivers in practice but qualifying didn’t go our way, in general the Rinaldi-run cars were exposed by our lack of experience with the tire and 7th on the grid, and fastest of the Rinaldi entered Ferrari’s, was the best I could manage.
The race itself is quite incredible because you have 60 cars on track consisting of varying classes, you don’t have a moment to rest, overtaking lapped cars left, right and centre. It’s a crazy experience which I better articulate in this onboard video. Our race proved to be unlucky when we lost a chunk of time in the first two hours to some strategy mix ups.
The following day I was in the car for Part 2 of the race and drove a two hour stint, climbing from 11th to 7th overall. But… Lady Luck again had other plans when our car caught fire after a pitstop and ended our race early.
The First Big One Of 2019
With the madness of March behind me I am looking at an even crazier April with a race occurring every weekend.
Mugello, Monza, Spa and the Nordschleife are on the menu but the most important of them is the first round of the Blancpain Endurance Series at Monza next weekend. Cannot. Wait.
April will also be the first time I get a taste of ‘The Green Hell’ when I race a Porsche Cayman at the 23km track, in an attempt to get my Nordschleife racing permit. More details on this pretty soon.
The season has barely even started and I’ve probably driven more in the last 3 weeks than I have all of last year. It’s been an incredible start but I’m ready for more.