The Mid-Ohio Race course has unique characteristics. With one long straight; plenty of elevations; tight, twisty and flowing combined corners; it’s tricky for the drivers, the cars, and overtaking, but the flip-side is that guarantees action-packed races.
The start of the Mid Ohio race weekend didn’t go as planned, I had been to the track the previous week in an Indy Lights car, which went very well, but in a Mazda RX-8 GT car it was a different experience. The braking points were a lot earlier, the gears were different and the cornering speeds were lower. It was going to take some getting used to.
During testing I felt we were off the pace. We were around 8th fastest, but I really had to drive the car hard to get the times. I was also extremely busy behind the wheel which was unusual. We kept on making setup changes but nothing we did seemed to make much difference, and I didn’t have much confidence in the car. In the two practice sessions before qualifying on the Friday, we were still struggling. After pouring over the data and setup sheets we eventually decided to change a few final things before going into qualifying.
The fifteen minute qualifying period started at 5pm, and we waited in the pits to ensure I had clear track, which would help to get the best out the car. Those last minute changes had worked and it felt like a different vehicle; the whole car felt hooked up, I was braking so deep into the corners, yet able to stop it, turn and get out of the corner with no problems. Each lap I went faster and faster, and I was able to get into 5th place. Eventually I produced a lap of 1:24:35 seconds, securing 3rd and I then consolidated that with another lap one thousand of a second quicker. I was now within two-tenths of pole position, which meant we were the closest we had been to the right pace all weekend. Both my own and the team’s confidence was lifted and we felt good for the race on Saturday evening.
On race day there was a threat of rain in the afternoon, due to start just as the race was scheduled to begin. During the morning session we tried a few more things, but with testing at 8.40am and the race at 5pm the day was very long. Luckily we had a busy driver meet and autograph session with the fans coming in for the Mid-Ohio race which broke up our day.
By the time the race started there wasn’t much sign of the predicted rain and instead it remained very hot. The start of the race was scruffy. The first corner was always going to be tight, and I was hoping to get down the inside of the 94 BMW, but I couldn’t quite pull it off here. He was battling for the lead and seemed unstoppable – the amount of torque he was producing was huge, and it meant there was no way of keeping up with him in a straight line. The BMW wasn’t necessarily the fastest car around the corners, but once it was pointing in a straight line it was shifting pretty fast, and I wasn’t exactly hanging around on the straight either, reaching around 160+ mph.
Twenty minutes into the race there was a crash at turn one. Two of my competitors had made contact and one of them ended up in the wall, luckily walking away unhurt. During the safety car period we planned to pit to top up with fuel, change tyres and rejoin the race in good time, but things didn’t quite work out that way.
The car was lifted up on the air jacks, but the front right wheel didn’t go on fully. The SpeedSource crew ended up having to jump back over the wall to tighten it up, and to me it seemed like a lifetime waiting in the car. It was the 1st mistake the team had made in any pitstop all year.
The wheel was secured and I made my way to the end of the pit lane, but I had to wait for the safety car to come by again before I was released back onto the track. This also seemed to take forever. Despite it not being the quickest of stops, I think I was now roughly in 8th position. All I knew was I now had to pass as many cars as quickly aspossible. I found my way in 5th position before we had another safety car, but this time unfortunately it was for a crash between a car that had spun out in front of my SpeedSource teammates’ number 70 car, and the water and oil leaks the crash caused meant they had to retire them from the race.
The safety car altered things again, and the other teams changed their strategies. I was in 5th place battling my way forwards with two other Mazda RX-8s. It proved to be extremely tough overtake, and I made a contact trying to leverage my way into 3rd position.
The Mazdas proved to be the hardest to get past, as they share the same strengths and weaknesses of my own car. I attempted to overtake whilst defending against the 94 BMW – there was a bit of contact from behind as well as from the side, rubbing fenders with the other Mazda. It was a hard and fair fought battle, and while no one did anything unexpected or out of control, it provided me with one of the most exciting battles for position that I have ever been involved in.
Yet again there was another safety car. The two cars in front chose to pit but I carried on, now in the lead and behind the safety car. Just as the safety car was ready to come in a had quite a heavy hit from behind. The 94 BMW was pressuring me. I held my ground and kept the lead for a number of laps, and although he was able to get alongside me on the straights, I positioned myself in the right places, managing to keep the lead by out braking and defending for the lead. This was another amazingly hard-fought battle, and something I never really encountered while racing single seaters which tend to hold your position more.
The BMW eventually got by me on the straight, and now I found myself trying to keep up with his first place car while defending off the 3rd place contender. The power of the other manufacturers was tough for us to compete with; but we made up for that with the better cornering speeds. Yet again there was more contact, the rear of my car was taking quite a bit battering, but the race raged on. I eventually earned myself a bit of a gap, just enough to catch my breath, and by this time roughly 1 hour 15 had past. Still in second, it was looking good, before the safety car made its way out again due to another car getting stranded in the gravel.
While the safety crew cleaned the track, I made my way into the pits to hand the car over to John Edwards, my co-driver. We had a fast stop. We only lost a few positions, but there was still plenty of time until the end of the race. John made good progress and we were still in the top five.
Whilst John powered on, I was taken to the medical centre. The extreme high temperature inside the car had dehydrated me, despite having a two 2 litre drinks bottle with me. I was fine when I stepped out of the car and whilst my adrenalin was still pumping, it was only shortly after I started to not feel well.
Luckily I didn’t miss too much of the race. With an hour to go, and the safety car was out again, and John pitted for an extremely short stop. It put us in a position to just finish the race, and this strategy worked perfectly, as we were now in 3rd place. We knew the drivers in front were not going to make it on fuel, so with half a hour to go we were back in the lead.
The pressure was now on the 94 BMW who was in second place and slowly inching up. John drove amazingly well, and it was only until when of the prototype cars made a slow overtaking move on him that it allowed the 94 BMW to get up on the inside of Keyhole corner, nudging John and putting him off-position, giving the BMW the lead.
There were now just 15 minutes to go and the big question was would the BMWs fuel last. The last lap came; we were still in 2nd position, and that is where we finished.
For me the experience was a race to remember. The amount of action was fantastic. It was only afterwards that we discovered the BMW had to go onto reserve fuel for the final lap, meaning if there had been one more circuit to complete, we may well have won.
Either way, I was over the moon, and so was the SpeedSource Mazda crew. They had done a stunning job once again, and we were the top finishing Mazda, demonstrating once more that we have the speed, and pace to win more races and make it onto the podium.
I can’t wait for another action filled race like Mid-Ohio, but I’m looking to take one more step on the podium next time. The next race is on July 3rd at Daytona, Florida.