Gearbox problems deliver ALMS championship set back at COTA.
Racing at the highest levels sometimes offers great opportunities but it’s rare to be given the chance to drive for two Championship-leading, top-class teams in the same weekend.
The long-time Corvette Racing factory driver arrived in Texas with a two point advantage in the GT Drivers’ championship standings but the weekend never ran entirely smoothly for Olly and his team mate in the No.4 Corvette C6.R, Tommy Milner.
As with most of the field, the pair had not raced at the 3.2-mile track before and that, coupled with torrential rain on practice and qualifying day, led to a difficult couple of sessions. After a lot of hard work by drivers, engineers and Michelin, a plan was put together and Olly qualified 3rd in the GT class, just behind the No.3 sister car.
The race promised a huge amount but ultimately failed to deliver due to a rare gearbox failure, as Olly explains: “Tommy made a brilliant start and got us into the lead but, right from lap one, we had gearbox problems; it wasn’t upshifting from second to third properly.
It was great watching him go backwards and forward, fantastic racing, and what the ALMS has done so well in the last number of seasons in the GT class – different cars, different manufacturers, brilliant to watch. Unfortunately he was experiencing more and more problems and, after 58 minutes of struggling, the gearbox failed altogether and Tommy pulled up and parked the car.
“It was gut-wrenching from a championship point of view because it’s getting down to the business end of the season and you need to make every race count. It didn’t happen for us at COTA which was really bad, and we need to go back and analyse what happened. Unfortunately though we’ve lost the chance to score those points, whatever they would have been, and while the championship title is not impossible for Tommy and me now, it’s been made a whole lot harder.
On a positive note both Jan and Antonio drove fantastically in the sister car, particularly Antonio in holding off the BMW and the Viper in the end. In terms of the Manufacturers’ and Teams’ championships, Corvette Racing and Chevrolet are very close to securing those now so that’s one big positive to come out of the weekend.”
A pale blue weekend with Aston Martin Racing!
A chance encounter with AMR Team Principal John Gaw at the Goodwood Revival Meeting in the UK led to the chance for Olly to make his debut in the FIA World Endurance Championship with the team which, has for much of his GT racing career, been one of his biggest rivals.
The last-minute deal meant that Olly had a high-pressure, extremely busy weekend, with a lot to learn in a short space of time. However, he relished the experience, despite the ultimately disappointing result of retirement due to damage sustained when the high, F1-type kerbs bit Turner during his final stint in the car.
“I liked the car,” he noted, “and it was going well; we seemed to be chipping away at the lap times. Toward the end of my first stint the team was asking me if I could do a double and, at that point, I should have used my experience and said no because I hadn’t driven the car that much and didn’t know how I would be in a second hour.
“Due to the difference in our heights, the seating position was quite a big compromise for me and my knees were very high in the car. All completely understandable, as it was a last minute deal and we didn’t get the chance to test or anything like that, we just had to get on with it.
“Unfortunately I didn’t speak up and continued for a second stint and I started to get really bad cramp in my glutes (backside). After about ten laps I was radioing the team to say I was struggling and that I needed to get out, but they needed to get to the next fuel window and asked me to do another 6 or 7 laps. I did it but was in a lot of pain and when I got out I stumbled into the garage and then into the physio room which is managed by a great group of people there from Drive Performance.
They got fluids into me and started to stretch me out but I had to lie on the floor for about 25 minutes while being worked on. Unfortunately while I was in there I heard that Darren had had the incident with the kerb at Turn 4, and despite the team making a massive effort to try and get back out, that was ultimately the end of the race for the No.97.”
Reflecting on the weekend, Olly said: “It was great fun to be part of the team and experience driving for one of the best sportscar teams in the world, in the FIA WEC and in the same race as the extremely fast LMP1 prototypes from Audi and Toyota. It was quite different to being up against them at Le Mans!
“I already drive for what I know is the best in Corvette Racing, and I realise I am privileged to have been part of another team which is operating at the top of its game in the same class. Despite it being a disappointing weekend in terms of results, I feel very, very lucky to have been able to drive both cars the same weekend on the same track.”