Atlantic Crossing - Robin Liddell on racing in America
Back in the early spring it was looking like 2004 was going to be an extremely
tough year in motorsport. At the end of 2001when economies on both sides of the
Atlantic were looking a bit dodgy, all the old hands were talking about the next
couple of years in motorsport as being “lean” years. Having just won the inaugural
European Le Mans Series GT Class I was naturally a bit disappointed on hearing
this as I was rather hoping that my win was going to help propel me into the
sportscar “bigtime”! Not surprisingly, motorsport does follow economic ups and
downs particularly as it represents big spend for not always the best returns. As
companies tighten their belts naturally motorsport is one of the “luxuries” which
can often be avoided.
So having struggled my way through the last two seasons picking up odds and
sods, albeit with some success here and there, I found myself with a ride for the
Daytona 24 Hours with longtime Porsche team, Orbit Racing. We had a strong
driver line up including myself, Johnny Mowlem, Mike Fitzgerald and father and
son duo Joe and Jay Policastro. In Roger Hawley we had a level headed team
owner who had a real sense of purpose about him. Imagine our joy coming away
from a horrendously wet and miserable weekend with a class win, second overall
and more importantly a Rolex Daytona swinging from our wrists! Great start to the
season. Shortly afterwards I was signed to drive the official entry from Honda in
the 24 hours of Nurburgring I Germany; our mount none other than a Japanese
GT NSX. Although the programme held much promise, it was not to be, the car
retiring after just seven hours due to diff failure.
So here I was, middle of June, having had two of the best drives of my career
under my belt already this year and suddenly I’m thinking about the rest of the
season. The problem was though, there quite simply were no drives out there.
Not without bringing sponsorship money anyway, and what with a glut of
professional drivers on the market where do you start? I really got my head down
and was chasing all over the place trying to arrange a test, meet a team or car
owner or whatever and open some doors.
I decided I had to go to Mid Ohio to the first ALMS race after the Le Mans break.
Sometimes you have to make your own luck. One thing I have always strongly
believed in is that people will not come looking for you, you have to find them. I
mean as a racing driver you are no different to a small business; you are selling
yourself, so you have to get out there and talk to people and convince them they
need you or you are a great guy or whatever. So as you might imagine this can be
Action Jackson to the rescue
Anyway Jack Gerken at Pirelli had told me about a possible ride at Mid Ohio in
the Le Mans class wining Lola B2K/40 sharing with Clint Field. I have to say I have
a lot to thank Jack for and this time Pirelli came up trumps again. They persuaded
the Fields to run me and having never sat in an LMP car let alone drive the Mid
Ohio course we promptly went out, won the race and I got the fastest lap!
The championship then went on to Sears, (sorry Infineon Raceway), then
Portland, and then back east for Mosport and Road America. I was also lucky
enough to be invited to drive the AXA Porsche by Jon Groom at Road America,
which was great fun and involved such novelties as a standing start (not seen
since UK Formula Renault in 2000!) racing without pitstops and driver changes. I
made a cracking start but then embarrassed myself by falling off on the opening
lap although I did get back to 6th from 18th and Speed seemed reasonably
impressed and I guess AXA did too because I’m out in the car again at Road
Meanwhile in ALMS I had bagged another three wins and another three fastest
laps, although we got disqualified at Road America when Clint had the throttle
cable break and drove straight into the paddock for repairs.
Back in old Europe
I also picked up a drive with the new Jordan Warnock Racing team in the Le
Mans Endurance Series, the rejuvenated ELMS but without the old characters at
the helm like John McDonald of RAM F1 fame and I have to say not the slick
organisation either. What it does have a though is a quality grid of LMP1 cars, a
legacy of the dead and buried FIA Sportscar Championship and now giving
European teams a four race 1000 km format in which to try and impress the ACO.
What a shame McDonald didn’t get another year out of it; I am sure it will flourish
anyway, but no doubt with plenty of dramas along the way.
I digress. The point is that coming into the final two races of the season I have
undoubtedly had my best and probably busiest year to date; over the last two
months, eight weekends, seven races, four LMP class wins in ALMS, a 24 hour
class win (at Daytona) and a “factory” drive at the Nurburgring. I also made my
debut at the Spa 24 hours in a Seikel Motorsport Porsche sharing with my 2003
team mate Alex Caffi in the car owned and driven by Gabrio Rosa, an event well
worth a visit. I have kept my dreams of making a living out of driving racing cars
alive and I believe made a silk purse (5 class wins) out of a sow’s ear (2004), so
to speak. Now I believe I am better positioned than ever with a more diverse range
of abilities to hopefully capitalise when the climate improves.
Feats don’t fail me now….
Looking forward for the rest of ’04, I will again be on double duty at Road Atlanta
in the Intersport Lola and the AXA Porsche. My teammates will be Clint Field and
Milka Duno. I have asked for a driver change assistant, as without it I can see
myself getting arrested after the race! I must say I am really looking forward to a
battle in the World Challenge again, and can hopefully make up for my
misdemeanour at Road America. The Audis have a bunch of restrictions and
weight after finishing 1-2 in the last umpteen races so hopefully we can fight for
So roll on Road Atlanta and Petit Le Mans, and then we can all look forward to
enjoying the last race at Laguna Seca in wonderful Monterey in October. How
civilised… even though Kerry Morse will be there.