There has been only two hours of free practice today (Friday) in preparation for tomorrow’s 3 Hours of Red Bull Ring, so optimisation of that time has been all important.
All four drivers have quickly learned the layout of the track – Johnny Mowlem was the only one of the Ram Racing line up to have been here before but it was 15 years ago so he had to re-familiarise himself too.
At the close of the second one-hour practice, the No.52 Ram Racing Ferrari 458 Italia was third in the super-close LMGTE category with a best time of 1:30.818 (0.3s behind the fastest in class), while the No.53 was in P8. The positions, however, belie the level of competition as Gunnar Jeannette was only two hundredths of a second away from fifth in class. The session was slightly disrupted for the American when one of the LMP2 prototypes cut across his nose and almost pushed him off track, but fortunately the damage to the Ferrari was only slight.
“We’ve been p3 and only a few tenths off fastest in both sessions. I feel we need to make a bit of a radical step and are taking a gamble on set up for qualifying which I hope will pay off. Right now I don't feel we are in a position to challenge for pole like I did at Silverstone or Matt did at Imola, so you have to try for something different don't you? Whether it works or not, we can always put it back for the race and it’s a long one so we’ll see what happens.”
Reflecting on what has been learnt in today’s practice sessions, Matt Griffin said: “This place is very unique and what we’ve found is that the lap times are super close. At one point in the second practice there were four tenths of a second separating the top 8 cars so the margins are very close between us all.
“On top of that, I’ve not been here before whereas I knew Silverstone and Imola well so we’ve lost a little bit of set up time so maybe the car’s not exactly where we like it. Having said that, we are right on the pace and we’ve focussed more on long-run pace rather than qualifying so I think the work we’ve done today will pay dividends tomorrow afternoon.”
Gunnar Jeannette, who is making his return to the cockpit after an off-track injury to his leg, said: “It’s been great being back in the car; this has been the highlight of the last two months, first of all sitting in a hospital bed wondering how it was going to turn out and then all the recovery period and the pain. I am super happy to be here and to have driven. The leg hasn’t been an issue – it takes a couple of seconds longer to get in the car but it’s not a big issue and luckily I have a strong co-driver to help yank me out of it!
“Today has been a good day. Frankie and I both learned the track and are happy to be in such beautiful countryside. We are learning every session, and improving the car, but the grid is really, really tight. I think I was three and a half tenths off Johnny and there were five cars between us. Qualifying tomorrow will be very exciting, as the race will be too.”
Three races and three new tracks: Frankie Montecalvo is now very familiar with finding his way around some of Europe’s most celebrated tracks and talked about his first impressions of the Red Bull Ring: “I like it so far, it’s a smaller track and a very quick lap so it’s a little easier to learn than Silverstone or Imola. The conditions have also been better as we haven’t had any rain (I don’t want to jinx that!) and hopefully it will be dry for the race tomorrow.
“It’s not one of my favourite tracks because it’s a little short and not as technical as others, but it’s very hard to pass. You go out on the scooter and you see these long straightaways and you think there are some nice passing zones but it’s very difficult and challenging to pass, with tight corners. It’s going to be challenging to stay out of trouble here. To prepare I watched some videos from the DTM race and it was on the simulator so I had some laps in that which at least helps you know left from right when you get here.”