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The Brundle Blog: Two Different Cars, Two Different Engines, Two Continents, Two Podiums

Dear sportscar fans, you must accept my apologies (again) for the delay (again) in the latest Brundle Blog, although this time I haven’t been sitting around with a pile of admin to occupy myself; I actually have a worthwhile excuse. In fact, time has flown since I last put pen to paper.

Back to work

I was at Circuit of The Americas on September 19/20 for round 12 of the United SportsCar Championship with OAK Racing. Things were a little different for Gustavo Yacaman and myself this time, as we were aboard the Ligier JS P2 that I raced at Le Mans. I have fond memories of the Morgan, but it was brilliant to drive the Ligier again.

I helped develop the car with Onroak Automotive, but this was the first time I’d driven it since June. It was tricky for Gustavo, who had no experience with the car prior to Austin, so we were both learning on the job like a pair of sixth-form interns during free practice, especially with the new HPD engine.

TUSCC_COTA_Race_15

But the whole team were brilliant throughout the entire weekend, and it was great to battle fairly with Joao Barbosa for second. The parity between the Daytona Prototypes has also improved *tips cap to IMSA*. They gradually overtake you now rather than blasting straight past. Although I may have appeared less than enchanted with the Balance of Performance situation earlier in the year, hopefully I can be relied upon to tell it how it is; they really did an excellent job for us at COTA.

I imagine a lot of you are starting to feel an autumnal chill, but it was the complete opposite in Texas. In fact, the heat was relentless all weekend. I was totally finished by the end of the race; I think I left half my body weight in my overalls!

It was relatively straightforward to swap drivers at Le Mans as the stops took a little longer, but it’s always touch and go when we hop out in USCC because our guys are so quick. We even dragged Gustavo out of the car by his extraction handles and basically threw him over the US-style pit wall in order to ensure a quick turnaround. Glamorous, eh? That being the case, double stints were a must, so it was time to suck it up and get on with it!

TUSCC_COTA_Race_16

Remember what it’s like to run around when you’re young and then guzzle juice from the fridge as soon as you get back in? That’s exactly what you want to do when climbing from a sweat-soaked LMP2 car after the temperatures have soared. You will literally snatch anything vaguely resembling liquid and knock it back like you’ve been lost in the desert for weeks.

But instead, you’re funnelled on to the podium where all sorts of itchy hats are plonked on your head (ever the image-conscious PR machine, of course I was delighted to oblige). Some of the interview rooms were air conditioned, meaning I immediately tried to simultaneously recap a 165-minute race while thinking about how to remain in said room for as long as possible. I was wondering how many laps I could get away with describing in intimate detail before I was thrust back into the heat!

This sounds very extreme, but in all seriousness I was on the limit. Drivers in similar cars in the World Endurance Championship race later that night required medical attention, even though their race finished in darkness and I jumped out at 2pm! All other LMP2 machines competing were open-cockpit; DPs have air conditioning, helmet blowers and room for a cool suit, whereas we were relying on two cockpit vents without fans! We were suffering.

Non-stop from Florida to Fuji

Since my last little treatise, we’ve actually been on quite the American road trip through Texas to Austin. We then went to NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans to put some proper miles on the Ligier before heading to Petit Le Mans in Atlanta, after which I enjoyed one day back in Norfolk before flying to Japan for a WEC appearance at Fuji Speedway.

You’d think we’d just won the championship judging by the local reaction to breaking the track record at NOLA in what we’d expected to be a quiet test in Louisiana! The circuit owners were offering us champagne, and local journalists came down to the track with more than enough enthusiasm for a title-decider. It was really cool! I love to see the infectious passion for motorsport that people have all over the world. It really makes me feel good about the health of our sport.

The craziness continued when we headed into New Orleans for a bit of sightseeing, especially on Bourbon Street where it literally felt like Mardi Gras! Bizarre is the only way to describe it. We then travelled to Georgia for Petit Le Mans and then straight on to Japan, although at least I got 24 hours at home before travelling to the Far East.

The trip from the USA to Japan is not like nipping to the shops, which makes me even more aware of the sacrifices made by the OAK guys. They’ll have been on the road for two months by the time they get home. My admiration for their hard work – all of it away from their families – continues to grow. They are all-out racers.

I loved being back in Japan; it’s the wackiness of the place that I enjoy more than anything. It’s almost as if everything is designed with the purpose of being as compact as possible. It’s really cool and very different to America, where oversized rules! The culture shock is simply huge.

We managed to finish on the podium in Fuji, which was a really top result. The Ligier has taken centre stage for us at OAK Racing in terms of development, so the poor old Morgan feels a little long in the tooth these days. However, she did a great job in Fuji by getting us into second in qualifying and third in the race.

AUTO - WEC 6 HOURS OF FUJI 2014

It was amazing to actually race at Fuji Speedway this year after the appalling weather 12 months ago. You’d think that would have dissuaded the fans from returning, but this certainly wasn’t the case! It was a full house in 2013 and not one fewer person returned for this year’s race. If ever you need proof of how committed and passionate the Japanese supporters are, this is it; they’re true motorsport fans.

From an outside perspective, it was tremendous to see the overall reaction to Toyota’s victory, not just from the fans in the grandstands, but also how it can benefit our sport as a whole.

Electrifying Formula E

Between my European Le Mans Series and USCC commitments, I managed to catch the inaugural Formula E race in Beijing. The mere thought of travelling there made me feel drowsy, but the race quickly perked me up.

It was really interesting to see how the drivers approached overtaking in China. Normally, the build up to any move plays itself out over many laps, with the chasing driver trying to suss out where the car in front is weak or particularly strong, before throwing it down the inside (or outside).

formula-e-china

However, due to all of the energy-saving options available to the drivers, there’s always a chance one will be distinctly quicker than the other on a specific straight on a particular lap – like Nick Heidfeld was in Beijing when approaching Nicolas Prost – meaning the guy defending is caught out big time.

It reminds me of the push-to-pass option in FIA Formula Two. The ‘ever insightful’ Jonathan Kennard used to deride me in the commentary box for checking my mirrors too much, but you have to know if the guy behind you is on the march. Having to be ready to defend your position at any time requires a completely different style of racing. I think FE might have legs after seeing the initial reaction, but only time will tell.

Anyway, I have to jump straight back on a plane and head to Estoril for the final ELMS round, so until next time…

Alex