A New Chapter
So, quick recap. Spring 2022. I had a deal on the table with Audi China, which required me to move to Beijing. In my mind, I was expecting to go, at least for the 2022 season. I had gone to extreme lengths in order to make travelling to China possible. Although my visa was pending, it was starting to look like I might actually get it thanks to my recent double-vaccination. But if I’ve learnt anything, don’t believe it until you see it. Also, by that time there was a hint of a chance to make a step up to the European racing scene already in 2022, and in a whole another ball game — GTE.
During that time, I was in Germany racing a Porsche Cayman around the legendary Nordschleife. Mind full of thoughts about my career, the future, everything. It’s amazing how some nice engine sound can wipe your mind clean of anything and everything else in a heartbeat. It's just you and the car...
While in Germany, I found out that I had secured the visa! As explained before, it wasn’t the ideal one, say for a full year, but still a decent one with a few months to work with. To be fair, the fact I had any sort of visa was quite the positive surprise, since I’d been pushing for it pretty much since covid began. So, departure to China was clear... right?
Pretty much straight after finding out about my visa, I got a message that would change the plan entirely. It was Ingo Matter of Absolute Racing.
“I’ve got good news and bad news. Which one first?” I see the message, which clearly tries to push me into expecting the worst. So, I think to myself, what the hell, tell me the bad news then, be what it may... Ingo answers “Bad news is that you'll have to carry some team polo shirts to Paul Ricard with you. Welcome to the team!” I read the message thinking to myself “this guy!!...“ as a wide smile appears on my face. I could quite clearly envision his grin on the other side of the screen as well. The news was golden, and I was exhilarated. In less than two weeks, I’d be racing the 911 RSR in Le Castellet in the French Riviera.
The tables had turned, entirely. And just like that, a new chapter, involving a mid-engined no-ABS Porsche 911, top racing tracks in Europe, an Indonesian, Belgian, and an Estonian, had begun.
With the situation finally clear, I spoke again with Alex and Andre from Audi Sport Asia about the move. They’d been aware of the recent developments, yet heard about my decision then. I wasn’t going to China this year. And even though this came after a lengthy stretch of continuous effort, struggle and problem-solving in order to get there, I really wasn’t sad or disappointed. Alex and Andre understood my viewpoint, and while losing their driver wasn’t the best thing to happen to them as professionals, they supported me and my choice as friends. Things had finally slotted into place. Season plan was clear. For the time being, Audi Sport Asia and I parted ways.
My initial view at adapting to the Porsche 911 RSR was that it was just another race car. A really nice one, but still, just another race car from the perspective of extracting out race pace. I thought to myself, I know how to drive a race car, this is what I do.
We had two days of pre-season testing at Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, Monday and Tuesday. This together with Free Practice of Friday and Saturday would have to be sufficient to properly get to grips with the car. In my mind, I saw myself more or less mastering the thing by Free Practice 2.
Actually, it wasn’t that easy. Far from it. I found out that a Le Mans GTE car behaves quite differently to a GT3, which had been my expertise until then. It took me time to adjust to the minimum corner speeds that it can do. The RSR has a big boy diffuser underneath it and more ground-effect changes things quite significantly, even in slow- to medium-speed corners. Basically, I could send more minimum speed through everywhere compared to GT3, though the speed differential was only slight in most corners. To me, the car felt more natural at high speeds, where I’d have the occasional rear axle snap to confirm to me where the limit is, and then adjust my driving based on that. But re-programming myself to the possible apex speeds elsewhere was quite the challenge. It was easy to over-drive. It was just as easy to go the other way and lose a bunch of time being under-limit. Furthermore, the car was generally more involved to drive with all its switches, buttons, rotaries and levers. I loved it though. Finally, the elephant in the room, no ABS. While I do occasionally miss my formula days, I have to admit that years of pushing GT3s, GT4s or other cars with ABS had left somewhat of a mark on my braking habits. Therefore, finding the 100% confidence to be on the car’s limit of braking capacity in every corner was clearly going to take a bit of time. Challenge accepted!
These were some of the main things to note about adapting to the car. There were definitely more things, but I’ll leave the rest for now. And if you’d like to know for yourself, go and drive one. You'll get a wide smile! Or you'll need fresh underwear after. One of the two, I reckon.
In the blink of an eye, pre-season testing, the Prologue, was completed. The race weekend was up next. And I was buzzing to get the six-round ELMS 2022 season started…
Until the next one.