Reprinted with permission from the April 29th issue of Autoweek.
I've been racing sports cars for years and today am a factory Cadillac driver in the Pirelli World Challenge Series, but my first racing experience was aboard a Kawasaki 500cc motorcycle in my home country of England. I really enjoyed and still enjoy leaning motorcycles over in corners, dragging knees and driving out of turns. Barber Motorsports Park -- host of the most recent World Challenge races, on April 26 and 27, would be a fun track to take a great-handling motorcycle around.
Neither my teammate Johnny O'Connell nor I had ever raced at Barber before. I did get a look at -- and a few laps of -- the track for the piece I did recently for Autoweek (March 24, 2014) with Chevrolet's new Camaro Z/28. In the Camaro, a production model, I turned a lap of 1:36.29. In my Cadillac CTS.V.R race car, I qualified seventh on the grid with a time of 1:24.837. That Camaro Z/28 was impressive.
On the way to our season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., we took the opportunity to get the cobwebs out and tested at Barber for two days. It proved to be a good test prior to heading to the first two races at St. Pete and Long Beach -- both street courses. After our test, we went away with the thought that Barber would be a good track for the FIA GT3-spec cars in the Pirelli World Challenge. Our Cadillac adheres to the World Challenge rules, while every other car on the grid this season is an FIA GT3-spec car, each one built to a common world standard. Our Cadillac is heavier, doesn't have the aerodynamic downforce and we run a smaller tire. However, we did get a little more horsepower compared to last year.
In practice at Barber, we struggled a little to get the power down, and with some understeer. Then, in qualifying, the track had soaked up a lot of heat and was real slippery. I ended up qualifying seventh, with Johnny right behind me in eighth. At least I had a friendly face next to me for the standing start.
The most exciting aspect of the Pirelli World Challenge Series is the standing starts. We get a 10-second warning, the red lights come on and then when they go out we launch off the starting line. We spend a lot of time practicing them, as it is critical to stay ahead or make up a few spaces as the races are only 50 minutes long.
Based upon our qualifying times, Johnny and I started next to each other on the fourth row. When the lights went out to start the race, the two McLarens in front of Johnny both stalled; out of the corner of my eye, I saw a waving yellow and instinctually lifted -- it cost me a couple of positions. Johnny, on the other hand, made his way from eighth to third by turn one. The yellows on the side of the track for the start are to warn the cars toward the back of the grid, including the 20 GTS-class cars, that there is a stalled car on the track.