It feels so great to be back racing with Paul Miller Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Even though the off season was incredibly short this year, there was still plenty of time to get excited for Daytona and for the start of the new season.
There’s really nothing quite like this event because you put so much into one single race, I can’t think of many other events that are that way.
Sebring is special in its own right, Watkins, Petit, everywhere we go is special. But, just the mental and physical output that goes into Daytona, the preparation, everything is for that race.
Standing on the podium there is your reward for all of that effort put in and it’s so gratifying. But, it wasn’t easy for us to get there last Sunday.
Daytona was challenging from the very beginning. We started off at the Roar with a car that was extremely nice to drive and extremely well balanced, but we really lacked overall speed. We figured that as the race came around that as long as we had a good race car, that was the best option.
As the Roar ended and as race week began, it became clear that what we ended with at the Roar was extremely different to what we had started with, and not in a good way.
The car just wasn’t very good, the drivability was poor, and we lacked speed. All of those things we thought we had in terms of being nice to drive for 24 hours, were totally gone.
We didn’t really find a good balance until Friday morning, so when we should have been working on race prep and long runs, we were still trying to find a car that would be drivable for the race.
Luckily, it became pretty clear after hour four or five that the car was good to drive and would have some longevity and durability in its lap times.
We still didn’t have the outright speed to compete, so the race for us was going to come down to execution. We needed to do everything right to make sure we got the best result we could.
I really think third place was the best result we could have gotten.
We had a few problems during the race with contact that I would say was uncharacteristic for the group of us drivers, but even so, we were able to do enough to end up on the podium.
The result was really a product of everyone working together and no one giving up, maybe even more than last year’s. The staple of a good team is everyone you have behind it. You can’t have a good program if you only have good drivers; and you can’t have a good program if you only have good crew.
It has to be everybody together to make it work, and especially in situations where the car isn’t fast enough, everybody has to step up and you absolutely saw that with our guys during the 24.
We had a couple times throughout the race where, for example, the fuel stops would be really short, so the tires would have to be quick, and they nailed it. They continued to deliver all the time, no mistakes, no penalties, fast stops, the brake change was super efficient and we didn’t lose much time; that’s what’s important in these races.
These guys get overlooked for how important they are. It’s very easy if they make a mistake in pit lane to lose multiple seconds and it’s very hard to make that up on track, but what people don’t tend to get is that it’s also the other way around. These guys can gain a bunch of time in pit lane that we couldn’t as drivers, and they did that this weekend.
They were super fast, right on the money, every single time with the fuel and the tires and just the general preparation.
It’s 24 hours, any number of things can happen, but we didn’t have a single hiccup with the mechanics during the race.
As much as it helps to have continuity with the crew, it also helps to have continuity with us drivers. Because we only do one race together a year, it definitely takes time for those relationships to grow.
It took years for us to really get to know each other and for personalities to come out and to understand everybody’s role. But, what you learn over time is where everyone’s strengths are and what you can rely on them for, when to push and when to lay back, and that comes with comfort with each other.
One of the things that happens through the night that is extremely beneficial is just the open communication with all of us as the track changes and as the car changes. There’s no ego.
If I have a problem I can ask Andrea what he found, how the car balance was, and he would share. And it’s the same with everyone else on the team. It’s never about who can be the quickest, it’s about how we can be better as a program.
In a 24-hour race, conditions are always changing and the car is always changing and if you don’t have that comfort and that open line of communication, it is hard to stay on top of things.
Luckily for us this year, it really did pay off. We were right there in it for much of the race and were able to finish on the podium again this year, making podiums four in a row for Lamborghini.
The podium at Daytona is so special. While it is really hard to see other people accept the watch that you want so badly, if you can remove yourself from that for just a moment and look at what you accomplished over 24 hours, that feeling is what you do it for.
I’ve been saying that the feeling of winning at Daytona, or even just standing on the podium there, is so so sweet but when you don’t win, it is so sobering. It just keeps you coming back for more.