Monza - The fastest, most revered circuit on the F1 calendar and the only visit abroad for the Lordes Porsche Carrera Cup Team in 2018. Once a year the Championship visits a European circuit for one of its rounds; 2017 was Le Mans, 2018 was the incredible Autodromo Nazionale Monza.
I’ve not had the opportunity to race at Monza before so for me is a dream come true. Virtually all of my racing experience over the last 25 years has been on UK circuits, but have always longed to race the fast-flowing technicalities of Monza, and what better than to race it in a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Car.
After several simulator sessions I was ready for the challenge. The first few laps of Monza – [a circuit with many scalps to its name] is quite evocative; you can feel the ghosts, history you can almost taste. On the Thursday I spent 30 minutes sitting on the old circuit banking.
It’s flat through many high-speed corners and definitely not for the faint hearted. Curve Grande is 160mph on the exit of the corner. When the driver coach told me I’ll be flat through here on the track walk, I looked at him like he was nuts, but he’s right, 2 laps in and I was flat, but wow what a ride”.
Confident with the performance in testing the [SlideSports] team analysed data overnight making some subtle changes to make the car quicker ahead of my first ever qualifying session at Monza.
Data showed I was braking a few metres earlier than I needed to into the famous Parabolica corner, so that was the key for qualifying session...brake later. Even though it felt like I was going off the circuit the first time, I did what Jonesy the driver coach suggested and waited to brake, gaining an extra 3 mph into the braking zone. This combined with a few other marginal time losses translated into a 2s better lap time, good enough for 4th.
Data showed a staggering 176mph into the braking zone at Variante chicane which is then scrubbed off to just 40mph in less than 200 metres. Such is the chassis and brakes on the new generation 991.2 911 Carrera the car responds beautifully to these dramatic changes.
With a show of strength, qualifying had netted the Lordes Carrera Cup Team a decent result starting from 4th - first time ever at Monza. The 3 ahead had all raced the circuit many times, but a podium finish was definitely possible from here, but this is Monza, anything can happen.
Getting a good start is critical at Monza to secure track position. The race into the first chicane was always going to be difficult with 25 Porsche 911s all charging for the same piece of road. Problem is that it ‘s single file through the apex of the Variante chicane. As predicted one of the front row cars out-braked himself causing a multiple accident with several cars badly damaged.
In avoidance I had crossed the grass losing a place to Eastwood whilst 4th placed Fairbrother spun on the grass. After 3 safety car laps with the bit between my teeth, motivated by a podium finish I charged after Eastwood eventually out braking him into Variante chicane. However the top 3 had already opened a gap ahead as I fought to pass Eastwood whilst defending from the recovering Fairbrother. Positions stayed the same finishing 4th bagging decent points.
Our first race was on Saturday afternoon when temperatures were high, however Sunday’s race was early so the air and the circuit were both much cooler so setting the right pressures was critical. We definitely had the race pace to finish on the podium in this race, that being the primary goal.
I had got a great start off the line which is largely controlled by how you engage the clutch at 6500rpm. Thankfully I had got away cleanly. However, ahead there were cars spinning everywhere as Kyle-Henney and 3 or 4 other cars were involved in a big accident. Smoke had filled the circuit with zero visibility, I just aimed the car where I thought there was a gap. With so many charging cars behind had I eased off the accelerator pedal we would have become part of the mess. Luckily in true “Days of Thunder” style I emerged from the smoke unscathed. For the next 25 mins I pushed hard to pass the experienced Porsche racer Jennings with pressure from team mate Fairbrother behind.
It became a real attack/defend race which as drivers, we love. I was edging ever closer to Jennings in the closing stages as it looked like my attack had caused him to work his tyres too hard. As we approached Lesmo 2 I teed him up for a pass into the desperately needed 3rd position and podium finish. As a I turned the car in c90mph I nibbled a little bit too much kerb over-rotating the car into the corner. The Porsche snapped right, then left – I fought but maintained control avoiding the very close-by wall, but as the rear wheel just touched the grass it threw me round in a 180 degree turn. With that Fairbrother nipped past and sped off into the distance. By the time I had re-selected first gear and pulled away with 5 minutes remaining 5th was to be where I would finish my last race at Monza – not on the podium, but what an absolutely incredible weekend.
Driver / Director