After winning our class at the Daytona 24, I felt that I'd caught a cold. It was one of the not-so-convenient flights when you get sick. Actually, I should have felt quite good with a Daytona Rolex in my pocket, but at this stage, I didn't expect to be in bed with a cold and a fever that took a week to recover.
I returned to Florida to prepare with Magnus Racing for Sebring, the next "big one" in the U.S. The test was good and we got things sorted out and felt good about our chances.
After that, I was in a hurry to get back in time for the opening test at Paul Ricard for the SRO Blancpain Series. I was there with the German Team Rinaldi-Racing.
We tested there with last year's 458 GT3 Ferrari since we had to wait for the new 488. In Padova, Italy, they work extra shifts to get the new cars delivered. There are more orders than expected, and that's why we are running late. I look very much forward to that one because what I saw during the Sebring test (and even more what I saw in the 12 hours later on) makes me quite confident and curious to get it out on the track on my own.
Before I traveled back to the States, I had a meeting at Porsche for a new project. This gave me a real tight schedule for the flight to the U.S. I really was lacking sleep when I arrived in Sebring for the race, but as I arrived early, I had time to recover, adjust to Florida time, and remain fit for the 12 hours.
All of our competitors were strong for the race—the Viper, Porsche, Ferrari, as well as the M6 BMW. The BMW made a way better impression at the test in Sebring compared to its previous performance at Daytona. The Viper had the highest possible angle on the rear wing. So everybody could see—they just didn't want to let us know how quick they really could be. Porsche tested a lot before at Sebring and we knew that they would be sorted.
We had decent practice sessions but were very much focused on the race setup and performance. Due to the rainy weather forecast, the decision was made to get John Potter his mandatory driving time, which was to be three hours. This meant that John had to qualify. We started in 13th I think, and expected the first showers after high noon.
We were totally wrong as the rain came way earlier, and John was the one who was out under the hardest conditions. But he just did great. With all the chaos created by the pouring rain, we found ourselves (I think 1 lap down on P13) when red came out to stop the race due to too much water on track. Dirk Mueller in the new Ford GT went off in Turn 1 and Townsend Bell went badly off in Turn 17; both had aquaplaning.
The worst happened to the team during the red flag period. The race director made a call that the mandatory driving time for the Am drivers will drop down a certain percentage because of the shorter distance. John was just 8 minutes off his actual 3-hour driving time. All the teams who started with their Pro drivers had a clear advantage now. So it is. That's racing and we had to deal with it. John had to be in the car for the restart. But on the first suitable situation, our engineer Lars Giersing made a call to get John in and send Andy Lally out to his first stint. From then on, we were fighting to get back in the race. Andy did a double stint, or even a double and a half. Then it was my call. While Andy had still to deal with the wets before he went to slick tires, I had a good stint with just slicks on. I did as well a double-and-a-half stint. In my first stint, we got our laps back and crawled up the chart. I even think we had been leading for a little while in my outing. After more than 20 years of racing experience, I was in a fight for positions in a sandwich of female drivers. And I have to say, they were putting the pedals down—especially Christina Nielsen in the new Ferrari 488, who was catching up. I was able to work through traffic and open up a gap. The second stint was a little harder—it was the black of night with some heavy drizzle, but not enough for wets.
Andy took over for the final session in the race and once more, it was crazy with yellows. The last 40 minutes were the race. The BMW in front of us came in for a splash and dash. We had two more full-course yellows and so the BMW could save enough fuel. But then the Aston had problems and on top of that Andy made, to me, the move of the race at the very last lap in the very last corner. It was Jens Klingmann, Mario Farnbacher, and Andy Lally on P4 tail to tail. Andy sneaked inside Mario and did it. Third at the end was just great, another podium finish in the U.S. with Magnus Racing. I think I have never raced with another Team where I had such a successful rate of starts/podium ratio than with Magnus. I am really happy to be part of the team and left Florida at the top of the drivers' championship with Andy and John.
I got home on Monday and then headed for the Circuit Paul Ricard in the South of France for the ELMS test with Proton Competition with a Porsche 991 RSR. The lineup will be Mike Hedlund, Renger van der Zande, and me. I think we will be good to fight consistently for podium finishes.
Now I am on my way up to the Nurburgring Nordschleife for the first run of the VLN championship. I will drive for AMG-HTP racing in the new Mercedes GT. It feels good to go back to the Nordschleife, and it's very funny since I know one of my teammates, at least for the first race, will be again a guy called Renger van der Zande who I had just shared a seat with in South of France in a Porsche.
Soon I will let you know how it went in the Green Hell...