Travels with Robin Liddell
Well, Laguna Seca, what can I say? Great track, great place, great food, great
weather. Surely there must be something bad I hear you ask. Well as a matter of
fact to all you cynics out there no there wasn’t. We even got our best finish of the
year aboard my PK Sport Pirelli shod Porsche GT3-RS. The season has held
some promise up until now having qualified 3rd at Trois Rivieres and run in the
top three in several races but for various reasons we have not finished well.
My weekend began with meeting my new engineer George Robb Main, a local to
Laguna and a new addition to our team. George really helped the team over the
weekend and with his experience on the Alex Job team working with Porsches in
the past he did a great job of setting the car up. My teammate for the weekend
was Italian driver Alex Caffi, someone with loads of experience in just about all
categories from 4 years in F1 with amongst others Arrows, to Super Touring cars
and GT’s. Alex and I met about 2 years ago when I was trying to get his seat in the
Riley and Scott in the FIA Sportscar Championship and now we were to be
sharing the same seat! We got on great and the good thing about working with a
more experienced guy is that normally they are more mature and recognise they
don’t need to be quickest in every session i.e. you don’t end up battling with just
your team mate.
On an ALMS weekend you have an hour and a half practice Friday, two one hour
sessions Saturday followed immediately by qualifying and race Sunday. The first
session we just concentrated on race setup, George trying to get a feel for our car
and making some radical setup changes along the way. We were running the car
a lot stiffer than normal which gives the driver more feel but as we discovered the
problem we had was the car doesn’t ride the bumps very well particularly as our
dampers (shocks) are not valved for that kind of setting. The first practice saw us
just inside the top ten with me doing most of the driving as I was learning the
track whereas Alex had been there on two previous occasions in a sportscar.
After a thorough debrief Day 1 we managed to make some improvements to the
car on Day 2 and gradually worked our way up to 5th by the end of the 2nd
session on Saturday which was much more promising.
Understeer, Oversteer, Traffic……pick one from three
Into qualifying then and I went out in the car on new rubber and a low fuel load.
We had opted to run on a soft rear tyre, which with the benefit of hindsight was not
the best decision but all will be revealed! On my first run I was third quickest but
inevitably would drop down the order as all the cars took to the track. In the first
run I did my quickest time on my second flying lap, but unfortunately had a little
too much understeer in the car through the infield section. We then made a setup
change and on my second run matched my lap time on now worn tyres but found
I had a little too much oversteer! Racing drivers are never happy it’s true! This
second run Johnny Mowlem held me up a little on an in-lap but the whole lap I
was on a knife edge so I was quite happy with my own performance. My time put
us 7th on the grid so not great but the times were pretty close.
Race start Sunday saw another bright sunny day with lots of pretty girls wandering
around in Lycra spandex! Naturally I was far too busy to take it all in since I am a
professional driver and was focussing on my race ahead. Right. Anyway race
start saw a real carve up with cars spinning and tyre smoke into Turn 2, which is
really the first corner. This presented an excellent opportunity for a brave
Scotsman so round the outside I went and into 3rd. Thank you very much!
The safety car came out straight away but on the restart I had a great battle with
the Petersen Porsche with Craig Stanton at the wheel and the Risi Ferrari with
Anthony Lazzaro driving. Eventually I started to struggle through the right-handers
as we had one of those soft rear tyres on the left rear. (You have to start on three
of the four tyres you qualify on so we had opted to change the right rear for
durability, most corners at Laguna being left handers, but were stuck with the left
rear). The tyre went off initially causing some oversteer and eventually Lazzaro
lined me up through turn 10 and made the pass into 11. I should say at this point
that Pirelli have been fantastic. Our tyres have been superb and the service we
have received from them throughout 2003 has been second to none.
Brave Sir Robin
Anyway I then got my head down and gradually started to catch the Petersen car. I
could see he was struggling into turn 1 with a locking brake but was unable to
capitalise as I was slow out of turn 11 which is the last corner and very slow. We
were running our Le Mans diff so the revs were quite well down there. As a result
my exit speed was compromised out of 11 thus I couldn’t get a run into 1. I was
quicker into the corkscrew though and on the downhill section after the exit
managed to slip by into Turn 9 for third place and then eked out a gap of 12
seconds before pitting to hand over to Alex.
It was a Gas man……….
It should be noted that I pitted early due to running out of fuel, which was a
surprise as the team had calculated that we could easily run to one stop but it
became clear we had a fuel feed problem. Alex quickly got on the pace but Johnny
Mowlem was now in the Petersen car and catching us for third, which he duly
took. We stayed comfortably in 4th until about 10 minutes before the end he
started (predictably) to run out of fuel. By this time there was some serious lip
biting in our pit and the gap between Cort Wagner in 5th and Alex in 4th was
dropping rapidly. In fact the gap dropped from 20 seconds to half a second and by
some stroke of luck he managed to hang on. The winning Audi came past on the
last lap and as a result the flag fell and we held onto fourth place, our best finish
of the season so far behind the winning Alex Job McKenna Porsche, the Risi
Ferrari 360 in 2nd and the Petersen White Lightning Porsche in 3rd.
I am now looking forward to the ALMS Miami street race. Trois Rivieres was my
first time on a street track and I qualified 3rd, our best of the season and only half
a second off the Alex Job pole time. You need to be committed but extremely
precise and clearly there is no room for error. Our car seemed to be better suited
to the streets so I want a result at Miami!