Man, what an amazing event! I've raced just once before at Long Beach - 2001 in the CART Toyota Atlantic Championship. That was my very first Atlantic race, and what a race it was. I was blown away by the sheer magnitude of the event back then - the fans, the energy, the course - it was magical for a young driver like me. NINE years later, I'm back and I'm driving a Ferrari. Not a bad return to the beach!
We really didn't have much track time while we were there, but boy did we stay busy during the two days. My teammate Ed Brown had never been there before, so my top priority was to quickly make sure the car was drivable and relatively competative, and then get Ed the majority of the seat time to learn the course and get up to speed. He did a great job!
After the sessions it was all about data analysis, video analysis, track & car reports, debriefs with the engineers and coming up with our plans of attack. Add a few appearances for the 400+ friends and guests of Patron Tequila, some autograph sessions and some interviews - we were some busy boys!
I got to qualify the car, which was a blast... There's nothing I like better than qualifying, when the car is low on fuel, trimmed out with the setup, sticker tires and you go and just RIP off the absolute fastest time you can post. LOVE IT!!! And although we had gone considerable quicker than we did in practice, it was only good enough for 8th and 9th place for Scott (Sharp) and I. However, 4th place through 8th place were separated by less than ONE TENTH of a second, so we were still in great shape.
The race: just awesome. What a great time. Ed did a great job to start the race and ran really well in traffic - but given the nature of the course and how traffic spreads out and people get jammed up behind each other, the leaders begin to lap traffic very quickly and we ultimately wound up a lap down to the positions in front of us. We had a great pit stop though, and I was off! That stint was probably one of the most enjoyable stints I've had behind the wheel - just pushing the car hard lap after lap, chucking it through the corners as fast as possible but still trying to leave enough room on the table to ensure you won't stuff it into the walls on exit - and turning our fastest laps of the weekend while at it. Actually, I had turned the fastest race lap of all the Ferrari's - including Risi's Ferrari (who've been at this a lot longer than we have!).
We finished 8th, a lap down but right behind our teammates Scott and Johannes in 7th on track, and escaped without a scratch on the cars... VERY important for us right now...! 8th is still decent points for the championship, and I'm very optimistic about our progress and the rest of the season.
To say I had a good time would be an understatement. That may only have been round two of the championship, but this is all looking really good. The Sebring 12 Hour and the Long Beach Grand Prix as the first two of the season? You can't beat it.
I am one happy 'Guy', and I am READY for the rest of this season. I'm not sure if our competition is expecting too much from us right now... and I like it like that... but they are in for a surprise... ;)