Filipe Albuquerque

Uncategorized

Watkins Glen International

🇺🇸

01 – 02 July

Watkins Glen International

IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship

Wayne Taylor Racing

3rd Place

Between the previous race and this one, the entire team stayed at Watkins Glen, at the same hotel. We usually stay in Corning, a small village 20 minutes from the track. On those days, me and the team, we did a bit of teambuilding and went to a lake to surf. It was a day well spent, it’s always fun to be together and do different activities, outside of racing. The atmosphere in the team is good. I also spent time with Ricky, we went running and we were always thinking about how we could be faster. Alex had to leave, he had a race in Indycar.

Maybe it’s a driver’s thing, we are always motivated because we always find the smallest detail to be able to make a difference. This time we knew that we had taken pole position and that we had a problem with the car, so we could improve for this race. But  we also knew that our opponents would improve their cars, that’s how it works for everyone.

The first and only one-hour session should have been used to experiment with settings in the car, but it was chaotic because it rained a lot and we had to go with wet tires. I adapt well in the rain, I always drive well in the rain, I have no problems but of course there is more risk, more unforeseen events and when we have a car that is very fast in dry conditions and we are leading the championship, we want to reduce the unforeseen events – but this is beyond our control. We prefer dry tracks, no yellow flags and the most monotonous race possible because that way we just depend on our pace. When we have a slower car, we are at the bottom of the pack and have little to lose. These conditions are ideal for any driver because we can take risks because we trust that things can turn at that time. We are more open to risk to gain positions.

Ricky qualified again, took pole position, now 4 tenths of a second ahead of the 2nd place, we were all happy with that lap and with our pace, it was a good start for this Watkins Glen 240 sprint race.

The race started dry but it had just rained and dried, the weather was very unstable. Ricky started first, got off to a good start, led his stint, although with the Mazda coming from 6th on the grid to 2nd, completely glued to our rear, it was on very good pace. We changed drivers, I got in and I had some fights with the 31, which was in a completely different strategy from everyone else, and also with the Mazda, which was very competitive and which ended up passing me. So far so good but it started to rain a lot in half of the track and the race direction decided to put a yellow flag and then a red flag for half an hour due to weather forecasts that pointed to a strong thunderstorm.

We returned to the track with 4 very wet corners and the rest dry. There was a pit stop where I was third, they opened the pits for a last yellow flag stop and where the 31, despite being 5th, was ahead because it had stopped two laps before the red flag happened. I returned to the track in third, behind the 31 and the Mazda. Luckily the Mazda spun at turn 8 and dropped to fifth. In the first restart I kept my second place, but soon after, not one lap later, another yellow flag came and in that restart I lost a position to car 5 in turn 1 because I had a moment and I didn’t get out of the corner well and he passed me. Those first laps were very difficult for me and for everyone because three corners were very wet and we had to manage the risk of going fast but not crashing. Since Mazda was last or second to last, I couldn’t risk too much because I was already thinking about the championship points.

I had no pace  for the Cadillacs, which made the task more difficult, but I survived, that’s what they say in these conditions.  Once I had the car back in a good working window, I started attacking forward. Despite dropping to 4th place, I still managed to regain one position and ended up in 3rd, ahead of the Mazda.

The outcome of these two races in Watkins Glen is positive since our car scored the most points over these two weekends. Even though we had two pole positions we wanted to win races which didn’t happen but we will work hard to change this trend and to come back stronger. It’s always important to emphasize that even though we are leading the championship and even though we won Daytona, we continue to learn about the car and how it performs on different tracks. It’s been a joint work with Ricky Taylor, Brian Pillar and the whole Wayne Taylor crew, it’s been an interesting process, it’s great to work with them, each one of us with our own ideas about how we can be faster or where we should invest more. That’s what challenges us, to see how we can reach the maximum potential of the car we have.

I don’t feel frustrated with these results, I just interpret them as a learning phase of a new car. It is very important to remember that we already won the most important race of the year, Daytona, that victory alone marks a great year. As we are ambitious, we want to win everything and we always work towards that goal.

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6h of Watkins Glen

🇺🇸

25 – 27 June

Watkins Glen International

IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship

Wayne Taylor Racing

3rd Place

Watkins Glen is always a hot, fast and demanding track. The spirits were high because we tested the car there, it’s a track that suits our car, very fast, very aerodynamic, without bumps like other tracks. We were naturally optimistic for this race and the next one.

The weekend started well, we took the pole position and showed our progress but we knew the race would not be easy and that a lot could happen in six hours.

We started first but the pace of each car changes during the race. There are also different team strategies and some setups are designed for the race and not for qualifying, everything could change. We were just waiting to see the real pace of the Cadillacs and Mazda during  the race. At an early stage of the race, we were surprised by the other Acura who was really fast. We started having difficulties with our setup, the car started to slip on the front, but in these situations, during the race, there’s not much to do because we have more to lose than to win if we’re going to analyze and try to change something in the car. We had to finish the race like that.

Ricky started and did a great job, followed by Rossi who also did well and finally it was me. We were constantly in the fight in the first three places. The final part of the race was difficult for everyone because of yellow flags. The race was based on fuel management until the chequered flag, as it happened in Mid-Ohio. We were all more or less on the same strategy, I was third and quite honestly we had a good pace but not as good as Mazda and Acura who finished 1st and 2nd. I was happy with our  third place, one of those surprises that reminds us that nothing is taken for granted even if you took the pole position.

It’s the second consecutive podium after our third place in Detroit, and we got good points for the championship despite Mazda’s win. Our rivalry with Mazda is pretty chilled. I know Oliver Jarvis and Harry Tincknell well because I’ve raced with both of them. Olly is a friend from my Audi era in DTM and LMP1 and Harry was my teammate at Jota, when we did ELMS together. We respect each other a lot.

Afterwards we went to analyze all the data and noticed that, in the middle of the race, we had a problem with the car which explained why we were a bit slower. For this reason, we were optimistic for next weekend’s race, knowing we had more in our pockets and more to show in the race.

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Detroit

🇺🇸

11 – 12 June

Raceway at Belle Isle Park

IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship

Wayne Taylor Racing

3rd Place

We went to Detroit with little expectation because it’s a track that is very winding, it doesn’t favor us so much because of the bumps and it has few fast corners. In addition to not handling the rebounds well, our car has more aerodynamics and adapts better to high speed corners and smoother tracks. Detroit is also the home of Cadillac, there is a lot of attention and a lot of involvement from the GM group in this race, the spotlight wasn’t on us. We were aware of that and we went to Detroit with the desire to make the best of what we had, to try to win, but we wouldn’t be upset if that didn’t happen.

We started the free practice well, with Ricky Taylor running quite well, although we were all close. I did the second part of the session which was more complicated because of a red flag. I didn’t drive as much as I would have liked but  it’s  what happens in city circuits. In the second practice session, we were more motivated because of the progress of the first practice but things started to get complicated. We finished fifth and were just the best Acura on track, it was a position that wouldn’t take us very far.

In this race Ricky qualified, he made a good effort and was just two tenths and a half off pole position. It was very good, but still it was 5th. We were only the best Acura but it’s an ungrateful result when we’re so close to pole on a city circuit. The pace was good, but starting from 5th place is kind of bittersweet.

We went into the race fully aware that it was difficult to overtake and we knew that starting from 5th was not the best position. We took some risks and made some changes to the car, Ricky was having trouble generating tire temperature and was not feeling confident at all. Being on the outside, I started thinking about the changes we’ve made and wondering if we  took the right approach, but once the race starts we have to finish it with what we’ve got. Five or six laps later, Ricky started to have a very good pace, being one of the fastest on track, and we started to fight for third place. The team made a very good strategy and when I entered the track, in 3rd, we passed a Cadillac and a Mazda that was our direct rival. Everything happened at the pit stop.

I felt good in the car right away, the Mazda came close but I had it under control. When I started to gain distance, I felt that there was something strange in the car. I said on the radio that something wasn’t right and I waited for the next corner but I started to feel a lack of power. I asked the team to analyze the car’s behavior but I didn’t really needed their confirmation as one corner later, I confirmed my feeling 100% because the car didn’t come out of it fast, we didn’t have power coming out of the corners. The team confirmed our problem and there was nothing to do but hold third position for the rest of my stint – and there was still about half an hour to go until the end of the race.

It was important to stay ahead of the Mazda that was fast and glued to my rear. On top of that, with Oliver Jarvis, a driver I know well and who is very good, I knew I would be passed on to the slightest mistake. I had to race to my limit, especially managing the traffic very well.

I was able to hold my position, but 12 minutes from the end, a yellow flag appeared. If there wasn’t a restart, that was fine, but, in the good American way of racing, the  restart came with a lap from the end. My fear was exactly that moment because I didn’t have the same power as the others. I decided to focus on my position because I knew it was impossible to attack the top two and I managed to make a good start, despite Oliver Jarvis almost passing me at the entrance to corner 1. After that corner I didn’t get any more traffic and I continued to manage any possible mistakes to the end of the race.

We finished third, ahead of the Mazda, we went to the podium on a track that was difficult for us and in a race that was even tougher because of our engine problems. Both I and the whole team, we were super happy because we knew we made the most out of what we had. These times you almost feel you won the race because of all the challenges that made it so hard to get this result.  

We left Detroit very happy and the next day I went with the team to spend a day at Cedar Point, at a theme park full of roller coasters. It was my birthday and it was a good team building between engineers and drivers. It’s important to spend time off the tracks, laughing a lot.

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6h of Spa

🇧🇪

30 April – 1 May

Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps

WEC FIA World Endurance Championship

United Autosports

1st Place

PROLOGUE

It was great being back at Spa and United Autosports, after a long pause since Bahrein, last year. It’s been too long since I last was with the team, with Phil (Hanson), my engineer and the mechanics. It’s that feeling of coming back to a place where we were once very happy, where I first won the World’s Championship and Le Mans.

This championship is always very competitive and I don’t feel the added pressure of having to defend the title. There’s no shame in not winning it again; if that happened, it would only show the level of hardship of this championship, but of course we want to show that it wasn’t pure luck. We want to win.

The free practices were promising, we were constantly in 1st in three sessions and the remaining one we finished 2nd. I continue to be the most experienced driver (platinum) and Phil Hanson has an added responsibility because he became a gold driver. Our most recent teammate, Fabio Scherer is very competitive, especially compared to his competition (the other silver drivers), which is a good feeling for the championship. Of course we know that he has to learn how to deal with the traffic and he may make some mistakes that can impact us but that’s all part of the game.

In this first official test, the hardest part was to deal with the new championship’s regulation that became effective this year and has a tremendous impact on the future of the main endurance category. It didn’t start with the right foot because the forecast was that the LMHs (Le Mans Hypercar) would be faster than they are now. From now on we’ll need to know if they’ll slow down the LMP2s and GTs or if they’ll make the LMHs faster. At this moment there was a chance that an LMP2 could win both its category and the overall grid.

They all got the balance of performance because of the new LMH and we’ve been readjusting the car, doing a new setup. It’s a challenge for all teams because now we can only drive with the Le Mans downforce, we have an additional 20Kg and less 70 horsepower in the car. So we maximized everything we could possibly balance in the car, we see if it slips at the front or on the back, if we have a good car for the turns or straight lines, if we add aerodynamic charge, etc. Because I have plenty of experience, I could make those decisions and identify the challenges ahead of the problems. It will be at the race, where we’ll see who opted for the right track. Until then it’s only opinions and ideas.

Racing in pandemic times continues to be an adventure. I had to have a negative test and present authorizing and justification letters to leave the country and fly to Belgium. I traveled sooner to Spa to be able to do a second covid test for the championship’s organization – two tests within the span of just 2 days, one to travel and one to get inside the track. I quarantined at the hotel while I waited for the negative result so I could finally pick up the bracelet that gave me access to the track because there is a tight and effective control. After five days we had to do another covid test to have another bracelet so we could go back to the track for the actual race.

6H SPA

Spa is an iconic track, one of the world’s biggest, very complete because it has fast turns, slow turns and chicanes. It’s hard to do a perfect lap throughout those 4.5 miles. The mythical turn is called Radilon/Eau Rouge and is impossible to replicate due to its fast descent and ascent. Even nowadays with all the added safety, we’ll go 150 mi/h, the car is constantly hitting the ground and every year two or three cars get completely shattered there. Puon is a double left downwards, also very fast, where we’ll arrive on a 5th and we’ll go a minimum speed of 120/130mi/h.

We started the free practices leading the three sessions, with some advantage against our direct competitors, and we realized that we were only going to have one or two cars capable of challenging us during qualifying but yet there are always surprises and you should never take the fastness of the day prior for granted.

I was responsible for qualifying and wanted badly  to make pole position. The car was great, we went with a strategy of leveraging two sets of new tires, one lap each. My first lap was good but it was the second one, with the other set of tires, that was perfect and I gave half of second to the second place and a whole second to the third place. Then I saw that the first lap I did would also make it to the pole. This confirmed our domain of all week until that moment.

We were calm and serene for having led almost all sessions but it’s in the race you’ll see everyone’s true pace. There are drivers and teams that are stronger on the race, that are more focused on the race setup and don’t make such a good qualifying.

Starting in the front reduces the chance of accidents on the first laps, it gives us a very good margin for racing smoothly with a good car without hitting or damaging it. Phil Hanson started and got even to lead the overall race, overtaking two Toyotas at the end of turn 1, he even talked on the radio laughing that moment, saying that he was leading the race and we all laughed at the box. The first laps were impressive because the major pace of all weekend was accomplished. Phil gained a big distance from everyone else. The race itself was calmly managed, without fuss and in total control. At each time we’d change drivers we were also gaining more advantage. We had a very comfortable margin against our opponents and that allowed us to deal with the tire wear or predict any other potential challenge.

I think we have a very strong team. Fabio Scherer, our rookie, drove really well. Unfortunately he had a penalty during FCY (full-course yellow) that cost us a drive through, but even that happened at a good time so he learns what endurance actually means.

Yet we won with great distance. I think Fabio will be a very good silver, he fitted the team really well, we had a good environment going on and we all want the same thing. The other drivers listen to me and trust my guidance, due to my experience. We really are at a perfect pace between the 3 of us.

I’m sure that was key to such a big domain of the field, in a time where we’re all looking for new setup strategies, because the regulations changed since last year.

It wasn’t one of the hardest races but I never relaxed because if a safety car came in, it would group everyone together. I used this race to better figure out and improve the new tires (Goodyear). Maybe for the fans it was an uninteresting race because it seemed to be won from the start, but it was a pleasure to cross the finish line and accomplish that victory.

At the end I hugged my teammates, we were able to trust each other. That is really great because it motivates the whole team, for all the important races such as Le Mans. To Fabio it was very important, he hadn’t won a race for 4 years, I feel proud because I pushed hard for him to join our team.

I congratulated the team for its excellent car preparation, my engineer Gary Robertshaw because everything was impeccably tuned, the mechanics and everyone  else. As always, at the end I called my wife Joana, Nuno and Pedro Couceiro, who are always there supporting me in everything I do.

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Mid-Ohio

🇺🇸

14 – 16 January

Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship

Wayne Taylor Racing

1st Place

After a weekend that didn’t go so well, in Sebring, we went to Mi-Ohio, a track in which the Acura won for the last three years (2018, 2019 and 2020). The will to win and go back to the podium also came from everyone who told us we really needed to win.

In fact, Acura has a factory in this state, so all its bosses were there at the race, which is why it was called the Acura Sports Car Challenge presented by the TLX Type S, a new model presented by this manufacturer during that race weekend. There was a lot of pressure – but there always is, by ourselves.

The track is small, in the middle of Ohio’s wheat fields and meadows of grass. On my way to the tack, always back and forth with Ricky, I noticed the fields, the lonely roads, the farms and the barns. There was audience at the track, events were open to the public, with the proper social distance. It’s been too long since the last time something like that happened.

The team culture was good, we were focused on learning more about the car, doing different setups, exploring additional ideas, mainly because the gap between races was long, which allowed the engineers to learn and study more about the car through telemetry.

The plan for this race was for me to qualify, start the race and take the car to Ricky, so he would finish it. The free practices went well although it’s always hard to really understand everyone’s true pace but it seemed like the qualifying was going to be disputed amongst ourselves, cars #60 (the other Acura) and #31. I really wanted to make pole position, especially because I’ve never made a pole position at IMSA and thought I had good chances. At one point I led the qualifying session but was overtaken by Mazda, who surprisingly did a better lap than we did. I say surprisingly because it was just .095 seconds faster and they haven’t shown their speed during free practices. It just shows how competitive this championship is. I was still able to qualify 2nd place, which is still the first row on the grid, even though I knew the start would be extremely hard at turn 1 because I was going to be on the outside and it’s a turn where many accidents happen, mainly for those starting in 2nd place.

I used the warm up session to practice the start and turn 1. This decision made a lot of people confused because they thought I was having issues due to the fact I was slowing down in the middle of the straight, after turning from the outside. I was already practicing and thinking about the race, not the warm up. As drivers, we prepare for a million different outcomes for the start. Even though I raced twice in Mid-Ohio before, it is always important to know new limits.

The start ended up to be terrible, probably one the worst as of recently. I immediately ended up fighting my place throughout that straight with Pipo Derani (p3), but I was prepared from that earlier practice of mine, turn 1 was under control and I was able to keep my place simply because I knew that turn well enough to go through it with cold tires.

On my first stint I was expecting to have the same pace as Mazda’s but that car was much faster and I had to manage my own pace. This lack of pace was a result of our race strategy, because we decided to kick off with qualifying tires, when most of the other drivers started off with new tires. At the pit stop, when exchanging the tires for the second stint, we put new tires in and my pace drastically improved, to everyone else’s level. 

I handed off the car to Ricky when we were 3rd, he did half the first stint comfortably well, with good pace, until that yellow flag came in and changed everything. Everyone had to improvise the race’s strategy and it was at that time that we came to the boxes while the safety car was going and left after #31. The Mazda came down from 1st to 3rd.

At the restart, Ricky had an amazing sense of opportunity because #31 made a mistake at turn 4 and Ricky managed to place himself well enough to overtake him at turn 6. 

We started leading the race we weren’t sure we would get through the end with the same fuel tank. All the cars were on the same strategy, to save fuel, only we were the ones defending the first place.

The #31 was going well and even seemed to have more fuel than the others. As at this point, our engineers were calculating at each lap the amount of fuel we had until the end of the race, without ever knowing if we would end it up midway through, like it happened to me at Petit Le Mans in 2019, when I ran out of gas on the last turn, after 10h of race.

We believed that all the other cars were facing the same challenge and stretching their boundaries. In fact, there were cars who stopped to add just a little over .5 gallon of fuel because they didn’t have enough to finish the race.

We decided to take our chances and run for victory, knowing the risk of literally getting stranded in the middle of the track and losing the race. It was all or nothing. I won’t deny, I was pretty nervous because I am used to doing all the last stints but it felt good to trust my teammate and to know that he was able to manage it – and if he didn’t, it was because it just wasn’t possible.

At the end it paid off and we won a race of skill, strategy and some faith. This was the fourth time the Acura won in Mid-Ohio, my first victory and Ricky’s third in 4 years.

Of course, when we win we’re all heroes, mainly when we have the big Acura bosses present and after having heard that Acura always wins at Mid-Ohio. Once again we matched the expectation but keeping in mind it was only our third race with this car.

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24H Daytona

🇺🇸

27 – 31 January

Daytona International Speedway

IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship

Wayne Taylor Racing

1st Place

ROAR

This year I’ll be doing the entire championship with Wayne Taylor Racing (WTR). After such a great 2020 I got many offers from various teams and amongst them was WTR. I had no idea they were looking for drivers and this was a new and winning project for the team because WTR was going to handle the Acura for the first time. For what I was told, while at the Paddock, they got advice from the engineers, drivers and teams about my profile and my skills before they reached out to me. It was good to be given this opportunity.

This move of mine to WTR caught many people by surprise who thought that Ricky Taylor and I wouldn’t be on good terms  after what happened, back in 2017, in the last lap of the Daytona race. It’s fair to say that we did have our quarrels on the track and, at the end of it I still believe he should have been penalised. However, if I were to blame anyone, I’d put the responsibility in the race director and not the driver. Back then we cleared up the air: he called me and I told him: “Listen, we’re going to be fighting over the next 5 to 10 years. This time you came out on top, next time it will be me.”. I never had any problems with Ricky Taylor and thus why I decided to join WTR. Actually this is a funny story because it really shows how much this is a small world and why we should never close any doors. Respect is the most important thing.

In the last few years I feel the new year starts when I am packing for the official 24h Daytona test, also known as the Roar before the 24. I went to Daytona highly motivated and looking forward to measuring our pace while also understanding how the championship would balance the cars. The Acura had never won in Daytona, not even an endurance race and, as such, there were some fears regarding possible  mechanical issues. Truth is: being fast is not everything. 

This year there was a twist as the qualifying session turned out to be a qualifying race: the Motul Pole Award 100. The results of this race defined the starting grid for the 24h Daytona. That race was thought through to even out the performance across all cars. It wouldn’t be that bad if our car wasn’t indeed the best because the race’s organization  analyzes everyone’s telemetry in order to balance out the cars with more weight or less power, considering the retrieved information. However, at the end nothing changed and our car remained the same. We didn’t feel defeated, rather we just focused on the race and doing our best with what we had. We knew we had to be the best Acura on track, we had to stand out. Our first competitor is the other team with the same car.

24H DAYTONA

The races in the US are different from the WEC (World Endurance Championship) or ELMS (European Endurance Championship) ones. The tracks are more narrow than the ones in Europe, as they are also older and have not been yet rebuilt or updated. The grid has around 50 cars, there are more incidents and the constant yellow flags regroup the cars and make it possible to recover and to fight until the end. It’s quite frequent to see several cars fighting the victory until the very last few minutes.

Truth to be told, in the US and in Europe the passion is the same, what changes is the way the audience experiences the race. In the US, the paddocks are used for people to camp on and bring their motorhomes, even on the interior side of the track as in Daytona. The boxes are completely open, so the teams cannot hide anything and fans can get close enough to the drivers. In Europe, the fan base is tremendous, many people camp out and spend a whole week having fun in Le Mans but there is a tendency for exclusivity and secrecy, even though the championship’s organization have been getting close to providing a wider offer of paddock passes so that fans could see the drivers and the cars up close. This is all about cultural differences with their own advantages and disadvantages on both sides. 

Racing during these pandemic times lacks the enthusiasm of the people at the starting grid, wishing us all good luck. The environment that the audience brings to the track is special. But as soon as the practice sessions or the race starts, we get abstracted from everything else.

One of the first people I met once I entered the paddock was my former engineer, Iain Watt, to whom I wished good luck. I have great respect for him, as well as the whole team where I raced with, over the last few years. We never know what tomorrow may bring, today is where destiny brought us. Many drivers do not share this vision but I like to always end things on a good note, I never go home with something unsaid, what they will hear will always come directly from me. Everything is resolved up front with sincerity and that is how you earn respect. The name I built in the paddock comes from that respectful attitude towards everyone. 

Daytona got to be my first contact with the team and my new teammates, Ricky Taylor, Alexander Rossi and Hélio Castroneves. When there is respect for one another, when each driver is talented and there are no egos to deal with, automatically everyone is aligned, there is friendship and mutual admiration. I like to bring in that attitude to the team this behaviour.

The team is very organized, there is room for the drivers, the clothes are taken care of, they invest in the team’s marketing and communication, and physiotherapists to make sure nothing is missing. WTR invests in areas where other teams try to cut costs. The car preparation is also very good.

When I arrive at a new team I like to watch how everyone operates, how people think and how they see me. I like to relax and let the environment loose by using a couple of cheesy words like “honey” and “sweetheart” to break the ice. These small gestures have a goal, I bring my attitude to the team. Throughout the week we spent the whole time together, it was good to get to know each other better.

When we kicked off the race we soon realized we had no pace against the Cadillacs. We would be on the defense all the time and depend on the other teams’ pace who, on top of that, were 4 very competitive cars. But the truth is that the quickest cars do not win all the time, rather strategy plays a decisive role, etc. My colleagues and I did our best to hold our place during the race, always playing our cards right but not feeling too much pressure because we had time to recover, just like the other cars.

In this race I managed to sleep a lot. We are not superheroes but we can maximize our strengths. In the beginning I spiralled, pushing hard to improve on each lap, doing more and giving everything I had in the first 3 stints to come to the conclusion that what we needed was luck to win. I slept right after my first stint until midnight. At 4am I managed to sleep another 4 hours until 8am and then I stayed in bed until it was time to get back in the car, at 11am. The other drivers were all very good, they all had really good pace so I felt at ease. By the end of the race I was feeling fresh and energized for all those final stints. This is the outcome of deep focus and sleep discipline: if it is important to sleep, I’ll go to sleep.

When I wake up, I get dressed but I don’t usually like to head down to the box to watch my teammate driving. If I start following the race I start to feel nervous and that, for me, is a waste of energy. I like to be called when they need me: I get there half an hour before entering the car, I put on my helmet and gloves, I get in and I do what I have to. I do not need to understand what is going on, only the necessary information. This is how optimize myself.

The final rivalry with Renger Van der Zande for the victory was intense. I knew things were going south for me when I saw that Renger was going to try a crazy and aggressive overtake, since he was waiting for the final laps in the final stage. I was ready for it, I knew it was bound to happen and we could eventually hit each other. I was fully focused and I also knew his opportunity would only come if he got close enough. That would only happen if I caught enough traffic that could cost me time. On his first attempt, at turn 4, a GT stood in the way but I managed to hold my position. Then I managed to get some distance from Renger because I did not catch more traffic and got 2 seconds of a head start. In this final phase my engineer told me through the radio “come on sweetheart, you can do it.”. We got to that point when he could not do anything but believe in me. That detail was the result of that one week of team bonding.

When Renger blew up his tire, I realized we had a big chance to win the race but in that moment I was the first one to call out on the radio for everyone to keep cool. “This isn’t over yet, there is still a lot that can happen, we have another 6 or 7 laps to go”. I was already thinking about all possible scenarios like a yellow flag, where all cars could regroup and everything could happen. It is when we relax that we make mistakes and I only feel relaxed when I flat out on the finish line. Only in that moment I embrace the victory. Once I crossed the finish line I felt a massive joy. It is a clichê but so true: it felt like pure happiness after so many hours of hard work and such a competitive and tough race. The other Acura finished 5th, just one minute behind us.

I offered the Winner Daytona Rolex watch to Nuno Couceiro. We had previously kind of agreed that this watch would be his. He kept asking me: “When are you winning Daytona? It seems like I won’t be getting my Rolex any time soon”. I always replied that he had to have faith in me. It felt so right handling him this watch since Nuno did a lot for my career and in my life in the past. When my father got sick he was the one that supported me and guided me as a young adult. His role in my life is priceless. Beyond work we became friends and I ended up being like a younger brother to Nuno and Pedro. I even got to put the pacifier on Nuno’s youngest child, João – that is how much of a family we are to each other. They guided me, they told me the hardest truths, they have always been there for me, I grew up with them.

After this result I was invited to go to the Belém Palace, the official residence of the President of Portugal. That special visit took place on February 4th 2021, alongside those who I love the most in my life, my wife Joana and our two daughters Carolina and Maria. I was awarded the Commendation of the Order of Merit by the President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. I felt incredibly proud and also an added responsibility and sense of duty to honor this award and my country. I had never thought about this up until that moment.

Brian Cleary
Brian Cleary
Brian Cleary
Brian Cleary
Brian Cleary
Brian Cleary
Brian Cleary
Brian Cleary
Brian Cleary
Brian Cleary
Brian Cleary
Brian Cleary
Brian Cleary

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12h Sebring

🇺🇸

17 – 20 March

Sebring International Raceway

IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship

Wayne Taylor Racing

4th Place

Sebring is known by its track. It’s a mythical track, well-known for its bumps. There is actually a social media hashtag #respectthebumps. Every driver drives less than in Daytona because this track is really demanding and it is also harder to overtake here. In Europe, the FIA rules demand an 8-meter width track, there is room for everyone, the run-outs are great. In the US  the run-outs are not big enough to avoid incidents. It makes racing very different, the way we approach each race, the decisions each driver takes. They are very beautiful and old school races that people love to watch. If drivers make mistakes they will pay for them. There is risk, there are incidents.

Sebring had a big audience. The US were already more advanced regarding the Covid-19 vaccination and I got into a restaurant where no one was wearing a mask, just me. Sebring is also known for having the craziest fan base of the season. A lot of people were camping on the inside of the track, which was nice to see; see them carrying the long year tradition. Someone put a couch 6-10 feet high just to be able to watch the race, only there you’ll see crazy things like that. Turn 10/11 is the area where you’ll feel this more extreme atmosphere from the fans. When drivers go by that turn around 8pm at night, they can smell the barbecue. All the rookies think it’s  mechanical failure.

I stayed at an amazing motorhome and was well settled but that detail doesn’t change the result, nor does it take me further. In this race I was also able to sleep well between stints. The mindset is always the same: eat, sleep, race. I don’t get less tired because it’s a 12h (as opposed to a 24h) race; it’s like a runner who can either do 1mi, 10mi or 20mi and end up equally tired if he knows how to manage the effort for each of the distances.

Ricky Taylor was the one who qualified and he did it very well, I dare say. He was very close to pulling off the pole-position. The rules say who qualifies must start the race. The start went smooth: Ricky let Renger Van der Zande attack Pipo Derani and he just watched it all from the 3rd place. After the first 2 hours we were leading the race but most importantly we were among the leading pack.

When I came in, I was relaxed and focused on avoiding the typical race pitfalls. It turned out to be a good decision since I almost had an accident in the first stint: an LMP2  spun right in front of me, I nearly hit it, so close in fact I even scraped my front wing. It is important to not always flat-out and have safety margins for these moments, so even if I have 30 or 40 seconds of a head start, when a yellow flag comes up, it all goes away in a blink of an eye.

Alex (Alexander Rossi) caught a drive through due to a problem that we had during the pit stop. With that penalty he became last, 30 seconds away from everyone. Once again it wasn’t the time to panic because the race was long and Alex recovered the whole distance and did 3 really great stints. Ricky came in smoothly and I entered in a phase where we were getting ready to place ourselves for the final part of the race.

I was fighting the first place and things didn’t pan out for me when leaving the box. I tried attacking the leader, with cold tires, while defending myself from a Cadillac that came in hot. In the middle of the three of us there was a GTD whom I bumped a little, damaging our car. I went down to last, all of this because I wanted to be first and stay at the right place for the end of the race. It didn’t go well, it was a race situation, looking retrospectively it could seem like an unnecessary incident, but that wasn’t the time to be conservative. At the end of the race I replayed the critical moments and I think we were all to blame for that incident. I took it as a learning experience, I always learn something from these situations and that is why I got so far. If that GT driver didn’t learn that he has to look at the mirrors, then that incident will happen again, it may not happen with me again, but with someone else.

I pulled into the box to fix the wing, we were many seconds behind the first place: I tried pushing but we were very slow and I couldn’t figure out why. After a few laps my engineer asked me what I needed to go faster and I told him the car was great but I did notice that we were lacking engine power at the end of each turn. With the help of the engineering team we realized that we were having engine cooling problems and later we were told that it was caused by the bump with the GT.

Later on, after identifying the issue, the safety-car came in and because I had stopped a few laps ago, I was the only one that didn’t pull over at the box, kept going and found myself first, leading, exactly like I wanted, but the engine wasn’t right, we didn’t have all our strengths to pull it off. From that moment on we did the best we could, the goal was to get us through the finish line.

The Ganassi overtook me right before the finish line and I also let the #60, an Acura, pass me by, so I wouldn’t block his chance to fight for the victory. I held my place third for a long time. Initially Ricky was supposed to be the one finishing the race but then the engineer decided that Rossi should do it.  He was driving at a good pace. It’s a luxury to be part of a team with such three talented drivers because we all know what we have to do.

Alex did what he could, we finished the race in 5th simply because of our lack of pace in these runways. We knew that #48 had a penalty for exceeding the maximum driving time by a driver and we ended up 4th with mixed feelings: we didn’t win the race and the incident compromised our pace, but every car had their own problems and #5 won, even after two massive accidents and a broken tail. That was another great example of Sebring’s unpredictability. So many things can happen throughout these races, everything can change and nothing can be taken for granted. We had to be happy for achieving a 4th place with a car that just wasn’t at its best. Now we need to see what could have been done better and get ready for the next one.

I know that incidents will happen to those who are fast and leading the race but I’ll only be able to manage my frustration regarding this race when I do the next one and win. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is settled, I have to go back to that level that people think it’s easy to be in. It’s easy to think I’ll be in the car and I’ll be first but everyone else is really good too, it’s never easy. I have to face this result naturally, the same way when I win because afterwards comes the constant quest to be fast. I never quit.

Truth is that IMSA races are very competitive: we have the 5 first cars in the leading lap only 2 seconds apart; that doesn’t happen in Formula 1 nor any other sprint race. It shows the level of competitiveness of this championship and the difficulty around winning these races.
Back in Portugal, on March 25th, 2021, I received the Vote of Congratulation from the Assembleia da República, a very special moment and a great honor to see the people that run the future of my country, doing a standing ovation and congratulating me for my career.

2021 – Brian Cleary
2021 – Brian Cleary
2021 – Brian Cleary
2021 – Brian Cleary
2021 – Brian Cleary
2021 – Brian Cleary
2021 – Brian Cleary
2021 – Brian Cleary
2021 – Brian Cleary
2021 – Brian Cleary

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