Being the final race of our three week adventure, we were really pushing for a result. We finished the 24 in Barcelona, but due to a few breakages, we lost too much time to be a contender, even after a promising start. Coming to the Ring with Aston, we were excited for the VLN, particularly getting to race the new N430. Then the fog spoiled the fun and cancelled the race. Having made such a big commitment to bring the team half way around the world for three consecutive races, we really wanted to capitalise on the experience at the Nurburgring 1000.
Coming back to the team at Kessel Racing did feel like coming home. I know it may sound a little cliched, but the team really is like a family. Speaking to my fellow drivers Freddy and the Doc, they told us how the staff on the team have barely changed in the seven years they have been racing with Kessel. Led by the fiercely passionate Ronnie Kessel, the team work bloody hard, but still do it with welcoming smile!
Thursday was just a day for the team to set up and with our friend Ben Hennock travelling to see us, we took him for a few laps of the GP Circuit at the Race Room! I do use the sims for serious practice, but there was a little more bounce racing and destruction derby than usual!
It was also our first chance to see the new car, as after the incident at Spa, the team had to start again with our 458 GT3.
Friday provided our first day of testing and we have been working hard on the setup, trying to maximise the grip. It was getting tough to predict the weather conditions though, as we had beautiful sunshine, but with scattered showers predicted.
Getting back in the car for the first time since Spa, my thoughts were with my mate Marcus, who I’d managed to surprise just a few days earlier in the UK. I am delighted to advise that Marcus has now headed home to Guernsey. His fight has been an inspiration and his determination to recover has been nothing short of incredible.
The Ferrari 458 GT3 is an incredible car to drive. It is extremely well balanced and precise and as we have been dialing in the setup, it is very predictable. Let’s face it, she looks pretty amazing too!
On Saturday, we had practice and qualifying and this was a successful day for us. We qualified P4 in category, so were set to start up the pointy end of the grid. Our mate Ben Foessel was also over from Australia and he had to jump in the 458 to check it out for himself!
As we awoke trackside at the Dorint, our worst fears seemed to be coming true, as the thick fog once again blanketed the track. We didn’t even want to consider the possibility of another cancelled race. Breakfast that morning wasn’t as cheery as usual, as we were all apprehensive of the conditions and the possible outcome.
With the race due to start at midday, we had a few hours up our sleeves, so we just hoped for the best. The weather at the Ring can be unpredictable at best and it was determined to show us who’s boss! The support categories got underway and there was a touch of relief through the team. The fact that racing was actually happening was the best sign we’d had that day!
The cars rolled out to the start in preparation for the beginning of the race. As the signal was given for the rolling lap to commence, two things happened simultaneously. The 458 failed to kick over and the heavens opened up with a torrential downpour. Freddy was behind the wheel starting the race and the Ferrari decided she wasn’t too keen on turning over! As the cars drove past, he wrestled with car to try and kick it over. We lost place after place and soon we were the only car left on the grid. All of a sudden she fired to life and Freddy got on the gas to try and catch up to the rest of the pack. With our starting advantage well and truly gone, we started the race in last place.
Freddy has to be commended for his first stint as he really pushed hard to try and reclaim some ground.
As the hours pushed on, the rain continued to fall. The track was slippery and in places, there were rivers of water across the track. In the instant the cars aquaplaned over those spots you simply clenched up waiting for the car to find grip again!
Having raced with Freddy and the Doc at Spa, we had built a great team and we pushed together to edge the car back up the field in the challenging conditions. We all knew the job at hand are we pushed as hard as we could while still being cautious. Cars were regularly spinning off the track as aggressive overtake maneuvers were not always rewarded.
As we passed the five hour mark with less than 60 minutes to go, the team had done the seemingly impossible, having fought the car up into third position. To have had a position at the start of the field, then lost it to the back of the pack then fight our way back was an incredible achievement. Now the number one goal was to keep pushing, but with measured restraint. We’d come too far to make a mistake! The weather has also finally started to easy, giving us a small reprieve!
The last 15 minutes of the race in the pit garage were tense to say the least. All eyes stared at the screens, it is great to be is a strong position, but we all know too well how many things can go wrong. As we watched the minutes tick down, the team collectively held their breath.
On that final lap as the 458 blasted down the main straight, the team exploded with joy. Faces were plastered with ear to ear smiles as the team cheered and embraced, celebrating the fight back to the podium.
We may have finished in third place, but considering the battle we had fought that day, it felt like every bit of an outright victory. After a tough run of races, that sweet success was the most joyous occasion.
We wrapped up our epic three week adventure with some new silverware coming home to Australia and the most incredible experiences. With a small break in our racing schedule now, all eyes are now focussing toward our very own home-grown GT3 event, the Bathurst 12 Hour. We have some top secret plans in discussion, so if all goes well, we look forward to making some big announcements about our 2015 season. Thanks for your support following the team and we look forward to sharing our next big adventure!