This year is turning out to be quite a bit different to what I’ve been used to. I’ve raced in America for a long time and that’s always been my main programme but this year I’ll be doing the FIA GT1 World Championship with Sumo Power GT. Doing a new championship, learning new circuits with a new team throws great challenges towards me, which I enjoy, so I’m very much looking forward to it.
Of course, I’m also at Sebring with Highcroft Racing in the new HPD car and doing two V8 endurance races, Phillip Island and Bathurst, in Australia with Stone Brothers Racing. What I thought was going to be a fairly quiet year has turned out to be a full programme for 2011, which is great.
First up is the opening round of the American Le Mans Series at Sebring and the first outing for the HPD ARX-01e. With the new car we return to the LMP1 category, which is one I enjoy a lot because it means we are up against the big boys, the Peugeots and the Audis, while working again with Highcroft, HPD, Wirth Research and Michelin. It’s a group of people we all know very well – we know how we operate and we have a very strong desire to beat the big guys.
Driver chemistry is really important and we proved last year’s line-up of Simon Pagenaud, Marino Franchitti and I, is a really good partnership. We work very well together, with the team and its partners. Duncan [Dayton] has done a great job maintaining the team we needed and everyone is really pumped to go out there, get the job done and win races.
We’re lucky enough to work with Wirth Research and use their state-of-the-art simulator where we’re able to do a lot of testing and development before we even hit the track. We certainly have done a few miles in preparation and here at Sebring we’ve already shown that the car is fast straight out of the box. What we’ve learnt on the simulator is starting to show – that we got the numbers right and the homework was done well. That work will continue throughout the weekend.
The biggest thing to learn is the Michelin tyre, as it’s a different tyre to what we are used to. The car is different, it’s heavier so obviously in P1 spec it’s got more power, and at Sebring we are running with more of a Le Mans aero set-up than a traditional aero package with more downforce. There’s a hell of a lot we need to learn but the DNA of the car has shown it is fast. If we make 5-10% gains every day then we’ll be in great shape.
It’s a small industry and you work with the same mechanics, the same engineers and the same partners all the way through your career. I’ve worked with many manufacturers and Nissan is one of them. We had great success together winning the Spa 24 Hours, which is a big race for them, back in 1991.
Of course racing for James Rumsey in the Nissan GT-R has brought all that back together. It’s a new team and new environment for me and it’s a great time in my life to have that.
I’m really pleased to be driving with Jamie Campbell-Walter. He knows the car and the team, he knows the series and he’s an exceptional driver. Jamie is one of those guys who we don’t hear a lot about but we should because he’s a talented guy and I’m looking forward to working with him and the other Sumo Power GT team drivers.
It was good to get in the car at Zolder. I’ve not been there before so I learnt the track. Each driver got eight timed laps to shake down and get to know the car and everyone. It was a good day, to get in the car and see what it is like. I didn’t really want to go to the first round at Abu Dhabi and not only have to learn the circuit but the car as well.
You would obviously like more testing time before the first race but it is what it is and at least it’s not too foreign for me and I can focus on learning the circuit. It’s going to be a great challenge.
I’ve driven on a lot of circuits around the world but I haven’t driven on all of them. With this World Championship, it’s taking me to places I’ve never been and it’s always great to be able to do that. It’s important to go and see new places as it opens you up to new things and, as a driver, it pushes you to the limits of learning a track quickly and getting on with it.
The goal is obviously to be World Champion. Like I’ve said before, I remember sitting on the main table at the FIA Awards, with Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Loeb, seeing the 2010 FIA GT1 World Champions crowned and thinking how cool it would be to win that title. Here I am now in the competition so clearly that’s my goal.
– Emma Spearing – Photos by David Brabham
19.03.2011 / MaP