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Miami Nice

Plus ca Change

As you probably know Scotland isn’t renowned for its sunshine. There’s a
saying there that goes something like, ”if you don’t like the weather in Scotland
hang around for ten minutes, it’s bound to change!”  Well the same might have
been said of Miami for the Grand Prix of Americas ALMS race last weekend. We
arrived in brilliant sunshine and left in brilliant sunshine but much of the time in
between was spent skulking around the paddock in waterproof jackets with wet
feet. Not that I’m complaining of course. Being a Scot obviously meant I had a bit
of previous experience when the heavens opened on Friday morning for first

Slick Pickup
With the track looking just a little damp Mike Pickup decided to let his drivers
practice some car control and sent me out on slicks. After a few laps slithering
around between the barriers (street tracks are not generally well endowed with
run-off areas) I decided to pit for intermediates. The problem was the that the
racetrack which has been constructed through the streets of downtown Miami
consists of various types of surface each offering a different level of grip from
zero to very low. In addition to that the section running between turns six and the
hairpin, (which is also the narrowest part of the track), sits under the trees and
offers a sprinkling of leaves just to test a drivers character.

Not another Brick in the Wall
The Pirelli intermediates are renowned for their usable spectrum by which I
mean that they can be used in quite wet conditions and survive in quite dry
conditions. However we soon discovered that the track was drying very quickly
and within several laps slicks were needed. In these situations mechanics start
having a sense of humour failure as they go from one tyre to another and so on
but really it is simply a question of testing the different solutions to understand
which tyre will perform best in various conditions. I came in just after half way
through the session and swapped to my team mate Alex Caffi who finished the
session on a drying track. Save for the small window when we were on the
intermediates our times were not very impressive but at this stage we were just
looking to learn the track, get a basic feel for the car, gather some data and
above all not stick it in the wall. Something told me this weekend was going to
be a tough race and the name of the game would be to stay out of trouble.

Casualty List
In every session throughout the race weekend at least one car ended up in the
wall which concluded with Kelly Collins’ unfortunate off in the morning warm-up,
the results of which precluded them from taking the start. Great shame for the
drivers and the whole Corvette team but especially Ollie Gavin who looked very
fast on the Friday. We had the good fortune to be positioned near pit in which
coincided with the last turn and ”the bump” which seems to have been quite
well documented both during and since the weekend.

Things that go bump
Let me explain. As you exit the hairpin the car naturally wants to run toward the
right hand side of the road due to the adverse camber but you need to keep the
car just left of centre in order to position the car correctly for the last turn which is
a right hand kink leading onto the start/finish straight. This kink could just be
taken flat but with a big bump right on the entry to the turn it proved to be highly
entertaining to both drivers and spectators alike. You could stand on the inside
of the fence right on the apex of the turn and get a real close up view of action
and I have to say the cars looked really impressive through there. I would
actually go so far as to say it was without doubt one of the most spectacular
displays I have seen in motor racing and you could get within three feet of the
cars and watch them leave the road completely as they turned into the corner.

Bump ‘n Grind
Imagine my horror then when the organisers announced that they would be
grinding the bump away ready for Saturday. Anyone would have been forgiven
for thinking it was an F1 race. ”Everybody seems to be enjoying the track, lets
remove its character so we can make it easier for everyone”. The ironic bit of
course was the grinders broke half way through the job which resulted in
making the bump worse for the car but not as much fun to drive.

Solid Alex
Anyway back to the point. Session number two started off really wet and I went
out (on wets this time) and really enjoyed my drive making a couple of changes
to the car and when I got out the car we were 2nd quickest. The track was now
drying again and Alex got the best of the session finishing up in 4th in the dry so
that was quite promising. We decided it was smarter to let Alex qualify as he
had driven in the dry and I hadn’t; clearly it is important to get the best from the
new tyres in qualifying. He did a solid job which would see us line up 6th on the
grid for the race start.

The warm up on Saturday saw a dry track and at last I could get some dry laps. I
scrubbed two sets of tyres and Alex one and he drove quite conservatively
although I pushed harder to get a feel for the car in the dry. After the warm up I
felt that the car needed a little change to improve the traction out of the slow
corners which we duly did, but unfortunately that change saw us suffering from a
little too much understeer in the race through the fountain section where the
track is laid to concrete.

Smart food strategy
Raceday saw a really hot day and everyone getting a little hot under the collar.
After a superb lunch courtesy of the Italian team Rafanelli (Italian teams always
eat well) we lined up for the start. We opted to take the windows out of our car for
the race to allow a bit more airflow and hence had to fit a window net for safety. I
started the car and our strategy would allow us one stop for fuel, tyres and driver
barring any safety car situations. Naturally we all expected safety cars so in the
event that would most probably dictate the strategy but in these situations you
need to be flexible.

Wild Bill
All was going according to plan until about 10 laps into the race Bill Auberlen
who was driving the BMW M3 behind me decided to have the lunge of the
century into turn 6 and hit me hard enough on the left rear quarter to knock me
into a spin.  I thought he was an experienced sportscar driver but he’s obviously
been racing Touring Cars for too long and has forgotten how to finish an
endurance race. Fortunately he damaged his radiator and retired shortly
afterwards! My car was okay but it took a bit to get going what with cars whizzing
by between walls and myself! I rejoined about tenth place and began to charge
back up getting up to sixth before the first major safety car came out after one
hour to recover the Orbit car of Marc Lieb who had hit the wall at the Fountain as
a result of contact with a slower car.

Bye bye Johnny
At this stage we opted to stop as we could run Alex to the end of the race. The
pitstop was good and we rejoined in fourth ahead of Johnny Mowlem in the
Petersen car. As racing resumed it looked like a good battle developing
between Alex and Johnny although Alex was getting the best of the traffic and
was holding the gap constant before contact between Johnny and one of the
JMB cars saw him pit with a puncture and drop out of contention.

Podium place
So there we were cruising round to a solid fourth place when boom (!) Jorg
Bergmeister in the lead Alex Job car clips the wall at, you’ve guessed it, the
Fountain and suddenly we are on for a podium. Alex gave us a bit of a fright
when he locked up on some water at turn six and brushed the tyre barrier but
with no damage done we were able to continue to our first podium position of
the year. This result was a long time coming. Things have been looking good in
some of the previous races only for a failure of some sort to prevent us from
getting a good result. Naturally we enjoyed the podium celebrations and that
continued into the wee small hours of the morning on South Beach. That can be
the subject of another story though!

Robin Liddell

Alex Caffi and Robin celebrate
Pirelli pair
Miami skyline
In the Pits
sportscarpros Across the Border

Features on or from Guests
Robin and Alex pose with Peter Tyson and Mike Pickup