Last weekend saw the third round of the ELMS (European Le Mans Series) season - and the continuation of an amazing season for me with the Murphy Prototypes team.
On the back of my experience in the first two races in Silverstone and Imola, as well as lots of hard work on fitness and in the simulator in IZone driver performance centre in Silverstone on the weeks leading up, I felt more confident than ever that I could deliver for the team. I'm part of the Murphy Prototypes Young Driver Programme, so it was a great honour to be part of a strong driver line-up including ex Formula 1 driver Karun Chandok and Guglielmo Belloti. There was some great teamwork shown by the team of talented race engineers and mechanics, and the Murphy Prototypes Oreca 03 scored a solid 8th place and ran faultlessly through the race.
Indeed, it was big week for the team, starting the on the Monday and Tuesday before the race weekend. Murphy Prototypes ran the debut test for the new Ave-Riley LMP3 car on the Red Bull Ring circuit. It was fantastic to see the car getting out on track. Straight out of the box, the Ave-Riley was quick. I didn't get a spin in newest LMP3 car just yet, but the owner said it felt fantastic to drive and it showed in the lap times - running comparably with other LMP3’s on circuit. Murphy Prototypes had already announced a deal to run the Ave-Riley in the ELMS this year. The car will be ready for the latter half of the season.
My team mates for the weekend were two great guys. Guglielmo Belloti is the GM of well-known Italian helmet maker, Stilo. Their carbon fibre helmets are so light that Guglielmo reckons that they are worth a hundredth of a second for Formula 1 drivers. Guglielmo is a great guy and top gentleman racer - he has won 12 and 24 hour Races across Europe in a Wolf CN.
My other team mate was former Formula 1 Driver and current Channel 4 F1 Technical Adviser, Karun Chandok. As befits a driver with his experience, Karun is great at understanding the car dynamics, and it was fantastic to have his insight on tweaking our set-up during practice for qualifying and race set-up. He has also had a great media profile, with the TV crews coming to the garage to seek his opinion.
During the test days on Monday and Tuesday, I took the opportunity to go to some of the corners and get a glimpse of what the LMP2 drivers were doing on approach and exit. I also did a full track walk on the Thursday to get a real feel for cambers and elevation. The first practice session was Friday morning. It was a chance to get going, get comfortable and get in the rhythm of driving. I went out second in the car after Karun with a full tank and used tyres to get a feel of the car on full fuel. I had a good session and my times were competitive but we still had some changes to make to the car, in the debrief after the first session we all sat down with a track map and wrote down where we think we needed to improve the car.
Practice Session 2 was early Saturday Morning, I was first in the car for my section of the 90 minute session. Overnight we had made a couple of changes to the car to help dial out some of the understeer we were suffering with, and it worked as the Oreca 03 was much nicer to drive through the fast corners, the middle and last sector.
After a long week, we were ready to go for the race start at 14:00 on Sunday. The buzz around the track is incredible: the grid walk, the music, the grid girls - its lots of fun. But, the time had come to race. Guglielmo started the race for the team; it was clear that the Murphy Prototypes Oreca O3 LMP2 had the race pace to deliver a good finish.
Both Karun and Guglielmo drove great stints for the first couple of hours. With 1 hour and forty minutes to go, I took the car over for a double stint to bring the car to the end of the race. The car was great through my double stint and I felt the most comfortable I had ever been in the Oreca O3 LMP2. Driving the 500 horsepower race car is demanding both physically and mentally. Just as demanding are the drivers you are up against: Formula One drivers like Guido Van Der Garde, Le Mans Winners, Harry Tincknell and Nicolas Lapierre, multiple Formula 2 and Formula 3 champions', and even a Football World Cup Winner, Fabien Barthez. I was delighted to hold my own against this level of talent: my lap times were consistently in the 1:23 region - the same as the front-runners.
We were in a strong position at the end where we so far ahead of the cars behind us we were unlikely to be caught, so, it was a case of not making any mistakes and bringing the car home for the team. After 1 hour 40 minutes, I was very proud to bring the car home in 8th position. Great pace, great race! Thanks to Team Principal, Greg Murphy for such a great opportunity, to all the guys in the team for all their help and positive teamwork.
Till the next time!