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  • Writer's pictureR. Villeneuve

Petit LeMans 2010

It was so great to be a part of such a fantastic event. Record attendance, beautiful weather (except Thursday - See rain shot above) and a great team! The guys at 911 designs were stellar! Mike Fox and the crew worked tirelessly through the weekend and although we got through it all with no damage they were busy nonetheless. Doug and Loren, who have been running most of the ALMS season welcomed us with open arms and that in itself made for a great weekend. But there was more, my daughter Isabella was there with me and the car was great to drive. It was a slight departure from the Grand-Am spec #63 car I had driven earlier in the year and so it took a bit of getting used to but in the end I actually liked it better.

One of these days I will remember I am a racer and that I do my best work on the races. It had been a while since I last raced at Road Atlanta and it is not an easy track to master. As Paul Gentilozzi told me, “your lap times come from the downhill (turn 12) and the uphill (turn 1)”. Those words echoed in my head each time I tried to get the car turned in at the right spot as I crested the hill under the bridge and each time I waited just that bit longer to brake for turn 1 and then try to get back to full throttle earlier than the last lap.  Never one to take the selfishness of lap times over keeping the car in one piece, I built my speed progressively.

I am not the type of person to be star struck by anyone, except for that day I met Senna!!!!! But this years Petit was filled with guys I admire and have watched in F1 and LeMans. You can’t help but be excited to run into McNish, Capello and Kristianson at Starbucks on the way to the track or sit a couple seats away from Alex Wurtz and Giancarlo Fishicella in the driver’s meeting.

Speaking of the driver’s meeting, as you would assume from watching those mostly terrible racing movies Hollywood produces, there is always an edge to racing drivers when put in a situation of competition even in golf carts. After the driver’s meeting on Friday afternoon, as most of the spectators were making there way out of the track in there cars and on foot, there was a historical and truly hysterical situation taking place. I noticed the area outside, near the front gate was littered with golf carts parked every which way and in absolutely no semblance of order. As Andy Lally, Henri Richard and 3 others from the TRG team were getting in their golf cart, they asked if Liz and I if we needed a ride. Henri pulled Liz onto his lap on the back seat of the cart so the only spot left for me was sitting on the front dash of the cart in front of the passenger. At first, I thought is must look pretty funny. Much like those shots of an entire bomber crew, loaded onto 1 Jeep, heading to the hardstand for a morning mission in WW2!

Then as we pulled away and headed down the long hill in hit me and I guess everyone else. We now had the entire ALMS Petit LeMans grid plus a few, all trying to be the first one back to paddock! As you can imagine, a race broke out! The Jaguar guys led by Gentilozzi made a break to the front. We all started moving back and forth in unison trying to get the overloaded and under powered carts to gain a bit more momentum! That’s when all hell broke loose. After getting to the top of the hill and making the left over the bridge, there was a full out tussle amongst at least 12 carts in a single lane against on coming traffic to get to the front of the line. All I could think about, besides holding on for dear life as Andy sliced his way in and out of cars and carts alike, was the how these race fans, who spend good money to come to see these guys and cars race, where actually seeing their “heroes” flying past them and slicing through traffic, as they do on the track, with giant smiles and bursts of laughter in golf carts! The faces on these fans were priceless as they watched the mayhem unfold right in front of them. Sort of like that scene in Days of Thunder with the rental cars!

Race day was perfect weather. We knew what we needed to do and our strategy didn’t belong to only us. The name of the game was to stay out of trouble and avoid getting hit by one of the faster cars. If you have the race on your DVR you can go to lap 114 and watch me avoid contact with the leading Peugeot (driven by Sarrazin) in turn 3 by taking the escape road instead of trying to make the corner. Not the best way around the track but it preserved our car and that was the name of the game.

Doug started the race and did a fantastic job for the first 2 hours. When I got in we were in 4th and I wanted to keep us there at the very least. There was still a lot of race to run and as I said it was just as important to avoid contact as it was to put in good laps times. So I put my head down and focused on good clean laps and staying out of the way of the faster cars. For the record, the GT2 and LMPC cars aren’t much faster on the straights but they can go deeper on the brakes and their cornering speeds are also higher due to their downforce levels compared to ours. This makes for some exciting traffic jams down the straights. All we (in GTC) can due is get ourselves on the part of the track we want and fall in line with all the other cars regardless of class. It’s human nature (for drivers) to try and go as deep on the brakes as the next guy but you have to stop yourself from following one of the GT2 Corvettes or Porsche RSR’s all the way to their braking point. It’s a great way to end up in a gravel trap and spoil your own race.

I must say that although there isn’t much difference in speed between us and the GT2/LMPC cars, there is a big difference with the LMP1 cars and an even bigger difference between us and the Audi/Peugeot cars. Those cars are magical! You can’t hear them at all, one second there’s nobody in your mirrors the next it’s McNish in the R15 or Wurz in the 908 HDI FAP! By the way those guys were great! I as I mentioned I saw the Audi boys at Starbucks and they were so kind. McNish and Cappello stopped by our team transporter to say hello and they even took the time to ask me how my race went on their way to the podium! Alex Wurz  even signed a couple posters for Christine, Loren Begg’s wife in the paddock Friday afternoon. Good guys!

On track, all the guys in the fast cars were great. They were patient and gave us room. True, they were sternly warned by Beaux Barfield in the Friday driver’s meeting that contact with a “slower” car would result in a no questions asked, 60 second penalty! That would be disastrous for their race and most likely our race too!. All I can tell you so you can get an idea of what it was like at night is; imagine you’re on a busy freeway, at night going 60 mph while the rest of traffic is going 100 mph with their bright lights on while you try to navigate your way in and out of lanes and get to your destination! To say the least, it was very exciting!

I have to mention our spotter Keith Watts, a fellow Skip Barber instructor. He did an absolutely fantastic job letting us know about traffic, who was around us and giving us as much info as he could to help us make good decisions in the car. Well done Keith and thank you!

Doug and Loren did a great job in the car the and Mike Fox and his crew gave us a really good car the drive, so as I climbed in to do the last stint in the car. It was a thrill to be able to take the checkered but we narrowly avoided a bit of drama. About 50 minutes into my stint, Mike Fox came on the radio and told me to be ready for the “bobble”. That’s when the car gets low on fuel and the only way to know is when the car hesitates or “bobbles”. Once that happens, it is up to me to push the reserve button in time so the engine won’t starve. Well, he told me to be ready and a couple laps later, as I was planning for the fuel stop, he came back on the radio and said “white flag lap!”. I couldn’t believe it. I was so concerned about fuel that as I saw the white flag, I wondered what if it bobbles now? Will I make it to the checker? How terrible would that be to run out of fuel on the last lap after 9 plus hours of hard work by the whole team?Luckily, the car ran perfectly all the way to the end!

I know I said this already but It really was pleasure to be apart of that race. It was also great to be a part of the 911designs team! I think we all got along very well and everyone made Liz and I feel so welcome. That makes all the difference in the world. Thank you to Loren, Doug, Christine, Amanda, Mike, Rob and the rest of the guys! If you need Porsche repair or track support, go see them!

Last but certainly not last I would like to thank Linda Smith CEO and founder of FaceCake Marketing Technologies. Their newest product, FrameWizard is fantastic and is changing the digital picture frame market. Look for it in stores this Christmas, it makes a great gift! Linda has been so supportive of our racing this past year and I look forward to 2011 and continuing our relationship. Thank you Linda!!!

Finally, thanks to all of you who visit my website and read my blogs. A couple years ago, the idea of blogging seemed so ridiculous to me. I mean, anyone could just write whatever they want and put it on the internet and who would read it? Well, here is am blogging! I like to think that what I write goes beyond the normal “we had a great race” thing and I try to give a little insight into what is like for me driving in the race. Most importantly, I want everyone to know how great a sport this is and how privileged I feel to be able to be a part of it!

Anyone wanting to comment can always email me.

See you in 2011!

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