Finally this season the No. 05 Composite Resources ORECA FLM09 driven by CORE autosport’s team owner and founder Jon Bennett – and me – took an ALMS PC-class win in 2012. And it was at a very tough event – six hours at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
I cannot tell you how emotional it was for Jon and me. Despite all of Jon’s hard work last year and this year – remember CORE autosport won the team and driver championships in 2011 – he had never won an ALMS race. To be able to co-drive with him to make that happen was a thrill.
It wasn’t easy of course. We had a very tough PC field to contend with, including our sister No. 06 car, which had won Sebring and Long Beach. And at one point in the race our car was two laps down and running at the back of the PC pack. In fact I was a little depressed after I got out of the car from my first stint. I wasn’t sure we were even going to make the podium.
But Jon had a “feeling” as he told me at dinner on our first night in Monterey that we wouldn’t just be on the podium like we had been in the two previous races, but that we’d win.
He did his part by driving a very solid few hours. The strategy that our engineer Gary Davies used was very solid. Our car, built by Eric Van Bibber and Jay Ribas, was fast and the pit stops were done correctly and with precision.
Soon we were in second spot. And with less than two minutes to go I was able to pass PC leader Bruno Junqueira for the lead and get that checkered flag and the top spot on the podium. Those Michelin tires really stuck – the pass on Junqueira was a little tough and I’m glad the tires were able to hold on and make it through!
It was the first win for Jon, Gary, me and all the guys on the No. 05 car, and they deserved it. I told Jon I wanted to give him his first win as his birthday present, and I thank all the guys for allowing me to do so. And for all of the employees at Jon’s company Composite Resources, this win was for you too.
I was also lucky to share it with my wife Melissa and my mom and dad. My dad, Jeff, is an engineer at Level 5 Racing and they also won in the P2 class. So I guess for mother’s day both my dad and I got her a win!
I can’t say enough about the team though. CORE autosport is an incredible organization that Jon and team manager Morgan Brady have put together. In three races, both cars have been on the podium – one in the winner’s circle, and one in third place. It’s a really impressive feat in the ultra-competitive PC class and with three very difficult races – 12 hours at Sebring, a street race at Long Beach and six hours at Laguna – all events where the wear and tear of the race and the possibility of so much going wrong are such big factors. It just blows my mind how competitive and buttoned up this team actually is!
I’ve got to tell you that I’m really enjoying my first full season in the ALMS. And what I like the most is what I was most afraid of heading into the season – the fact that our PC cars are in the absolute middle of the five-class field when it comes to speed. It’s quite a challenge to be in the middle of traffic, having to pass slower cars while being passed by faster ones and not lose time in either situation.
ALMS got it right with the PC class. It seems like with the high quality of teams, the great drivers and cars, there are so many cars that seem to be able to win each race. For example, at Laguna it came down to the last lap to see who could pull out the victory – with four different cars in contention. It just makes winning even sweeter to me, knowing how tough it is.
Unfortunately now the ALMS season is heading for a big break, as our next race isn’t until Lime Rock in July. I haven’t been there in eight years or so and the last car I drove there was a Pro Mazda! It’s such an interesting place, it’s so bumpy and fast. Kind of feels like a large karting track. I know already though that traffic is going to be an issue and it’s going to be all about staying clean and not making mistakes. I have all the confidence in the world in my team and Jon that we’re going to do just that.
So what am I going to do over the next six or so weeks? Obviously working out and training, as well as doing some karting with Jon to keep our skills sharp, but it’s going to be about spending time with family.
First up will be a trip to southern California to visit my brother Travis. He’s a writer for the TV show “Criminal Minds” and he’s heading into a break as well. Then some cousins will be joining Melissa and I in Charlotte for a week or so. We get to show them around our hometown and have a great time.
But you know me, I’ll be on vacation maybe for a few days, and then my mind will be on the next track and our next win.