Oliver Gavin at the Sebring 12 Hours
Iâ€™ve been doing this long enough now to know that the harder a victory, the sweeter it is, but Iâ€™d be happy if we didnâ€™t have to put that to the test again this season! The Sebring 12 Hours was a brilliant start to our 2013 ALMS title bid; winning it by 2.7 seconds after 12 hard hours of racing and two setbacks just proved what a team Corvette Racing is.
I hadnâ€™t won at Sebring since 2007 and it was a first for both Tommy Milner and Richard Westbrook so it meant an awful lot. It was also the last ALMS Sebring as we know it, due to the impending united ALMS/Grand Am series, and a pretty emotional experience. We donâ€™t yet know exactly how next year or the future will look, but hope that the many Grand-Am officials who were at Sebring will have appreciated what a great event it is.
Among the 12 entries in the class, we had plenty of tough opposition from the Vipers, the Risi Ferrari and the Porsches but knew we had a good chance to do well. BMW was pretty quiet in practice and qualifying but you can never count them out at any time, as they proved in the race.
I managed to put us on the front row of the GT grid and was really happy with the start I got, getting a jump on the pole-setting Ferrari of Gimmi Bruni. We pulled out a good lead but at almost quarter distance it all started to go wrong. Richard was at the wheel for the first of his stints and said that what happened was like an indoor firework going off!
We had a small electrical fire behind the dashboard which filled the cockpit with smoke. Fortunately Richard was at the final corner so he quickly peeled off into the pits, but the damage had already knocked out the pitlane speed limiter and we ended up not only losing time for repairs, but also had to serve a penalty for pitlane speeding. After that it was hard racing and some great work by the crew which got us back into fourth place around half distance.
Circumstances were conspiring against us though and we were unbelievably frustrated to find ourselves behind again when an unfortunate incident with another GT car saw Richard being penalised. Another incredible fightback, more slick work in the pits and a well-timed caution, and at the start of the final two hours we were 55 seconds behind the Risi Ferrari.
We set about chipping away at it, lap by lap. Tommy was absolutely brilliant in the last two hours, stringing together qualifying lap after qualifying lap. He put pressure on the Ferrari repeatedly until it paid off, 14 minutes before the end, but it was a nail-biter right to the chequered flag.
Sebring is the biggest race we do outside Le Mans and just like in France, itâ€™s a whole week long. For many years the team has rented condos on a nearby golf course for the drivers so we have a â€˜home from homeâ€™. This year the â€˜runnersâ€™ â€“ Antonio Garcia and I â€“ were together, with Richard and Jordan Taylor sharing.
We ran every morning in the early part of the week, and Antonio has even got me an entry to the Madrid Marathon if I want it as the London event clashes with our next race at Long Beach. Iâ€™m tempted, but need to get that one by Mrs G first!
I donâ€™t play much golf but Richard organised a game for us on Wednesday as it was a fairly free day. We were 3 teams of 2, effectively a 6-ball â€“ plus a Corvette film crew â€“ so you can imagine how popular we were with the locals! I was playing with Tommy and it didnâ€™t start well but it turned out to be a bit of an omen for the race. Not to put too fine a point on it, we ended up playing a blinder.
Richard and Jordan Taylor were comfortably in the lead but, after 9 holes, Jan Magnussen had lost 13 balls (mostly in the water) and had to go and buy some more. He came back with fluorescent pink ones which clashed nicely with Tommyâ€™s shorts and sunburnt legs but they did the trick. On the last hole I ended up getting an Eagle which stunned and delighted me, but left Richardâ€™s face a picture! Thereâ€™s nothing like competitive drivers in any sporting situation; expect to find Westyâ€™s clubs on a well-known auction site soon, while my ladiesâ€™ rented clubs were returned with pride.
The wrong side of the law (and barriers)
The only down side to my Sebring week involved a brush with the law! First of all I found my rental car being towed away from a Corvette parking area â€“ there I was, standing in my race suit trying to convince the official that I had the right to park there â€“ and then with a local Sheriff at the end of the race.
I was trying to make my way over the barriers to get to our Corvette, which was parked on the front straight, to congratulate my team-mate. Apparently last year some photographers had got on to the track so the organisers asked for some more security and I got physically stopped to the point of an assault. Allan McNish experienced something similar trying to congratulate Marino Franchitti who won the P2 category, also being poked in the chest by the policeman. Thankfully we got through eventually â€“ imagine how Tommy would have felt if thereâ€™d been no one there to meet him? You win as a team and you lose as a teamâ€¦ luckily for all of us, it was the former this time around, and what a win.
Motor Sport Magazine – The original motor racing magazine
Source: Motor Sport Mag