Bri­tish GT cham­pion Jonny Adam won a seat in Amer­i­can show­piece. By Rob Lad­brook

Motor Sport News - - Headline News -

Jonathan Adam was think­ing he had a shot at mak­ing his­tory. He was just a few hours away from a dream re­sult of stand­ing on the podium at the Day­tona 24 Hours. Only one win­ner of the Sunoco Day­tona Chal­lenge has ever achieved that. Then Bri­tish For­mula 3 cham­pion Felipe Nasr – now of Sauber F1 fame – fin­ished third in the 2012 edi­tion of the Amer­i­can en­durance clas­sic. Adam was well within a shout of be­com­ing the se­cond, and pos­si­bly the best finisher, in last month’s race.

Then, just be­fore 0900hrs lo­cal time, with Adam in the num­ber 31 Ac­tion Ex­press-run Coy­ote-corvette Day­tona Pro­to­type run­ning fourth over­all and clos­ing on the tight lead pack, sud­denly, bang… noth­ing.

As Adam rounded the fi­nal cor­ner, the drive­shaft sheared. Revs hit the roof, but wheels didn’t turn in sync. Adam crawled back to the pits, and the Ac­tion Ex­press team worked a mir­a­cle to get the ma­chine patched up and back into the ac­tion. But by that point the crew had lost 13 laps. The dream had gone… or had it? Not for Adam.

The 31-year-old Scots­man was re­warded with the fully funded Day­tona drive through win­ning the Day­tona Chal­lenge con­test, which is run by the An­glo Amer­i­can Oil Com­pany’s Sunoco brand and Whe­len En­gi­neer­ing. The con­test awards driv­ers points based on their re­sults across their re­spec­tive Bri­tish na­tional cham­pi­onships. Adam’s con­sis­tency along­side An­drew Howard in the Beechdean As­ton Martin Van­tage GT3 in Bri­tish GT landed him the na­tional ti­tle, and also the Sunoco Chal­lenge chance.

But this wasn’t Adam’s first ride at the Florid­ian track. He was for­tu­nate enough to land a seat with the TRG As­ton Martin team to race a Van­tage GTD in the 2014 event. The out­ing didn’t go to plan, but at least served as a foun­da­tion of sorts.

“The As­ton deal was a bit of a com­pro­mise as it didn’t of­fer the best seat time,” says Adam. “I was shar­ing the car with four other driv­ers and we had a gear­box is­sue in the middle of the night so lost loads of time to re­pairs and fin­ished well down the class or­der. But it did at least give me a knowl­edge of the track, where it went and what to look out for.”

Through his role as an As­ton Martin Rac­ing fac­tory driver, Adam is used to join­ing new teams reg­u­larly to pro­vide help with their com­pe­ti­tion Van­tages. He’s used to work­ing with dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties and dif­fer­ent styles of rac­ing, but there’s al­ways been a com­mon theme at the cen­tre of it – the Van­tage. A car he knows in­side out.

Adam says the Day­tona chance was an en­tirely dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion. With no knowl­edge of the car, the team or his team-mates Si­mon Pa­ge­naud, Dane Cameron and Eric Cur­ran.

“It was a to­tally dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Adam. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the sit­u­a­tion of go­ing in to some­thing all-new and hav­ing to adapt. You learn how to blend in with a team be­ing a fac­tory driver, but the dif­fer­ence is in that sit­u­a­tion the team usu­ally looks to me be­cause I know the Van­tage. This time I was the un­known quan­tity, not the known one.

“I spent a lot of time lis­ten­ing to Eric, Dane and Si­mon, as they have the ex­pe­ri­ence. They gave me tips and tricks and a lot of in­for­ma­tion. But more im­por­tantly they gave me seat time to learn. The prize al­lowed me to join the team for the Roar be­fore the 24 of­fi­cial test, and it was mas­sively use­ful. They gave me runs in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions – such as on warm tyres and high fuel in case we had to do a splash and dash stop, or on to­tally cold tyres to feel the dif­fer­ence in the car.

“It also gave me time to work with the en­gi­neers and form a bond and most of all learn how the rac­ing works in Amer­ica. It’s very dif­fer­ent. Things like not turn­ing the en­gine off dur­ing a pit stop and then be­ing al­lowed to light the rear tyres up when you leave your box. You’d get a penalty for do­ing ei­ther in most Euro­pean se­ries, but ac­tu­ally it’s very im­por­tant at Day­tona to get the tyres up to tem­per­a­ture as fast as you can.”

Adam also had some adapt­ing to do to the Corvette DP, al­though he says it wasn’t as alien as he first imag­ined.

“The Corvette to me felt like a big GT car in a way,” he ex­plains. “I’m glad I went into it from a GT rac­ing back­ground and not some­thing like an LMP2 World En­durance Cham­pi­onship one where you’re used to be­ing ag­gres­sive with a pointy pro­to­type. You have to be very pa­tient with the car, es­pe­cially through the slower in­field sec­tion. The Con­ti­nen­tal tyres were very con­sis­tent, but you couldn’t over-drive the front end of the car or they’d get trashed.

“Pa­tience was the key with it, just like a GT car. You’d fol­low the same trail­brak­ing style and wait for the front end to set­tle be­fore eas­ing onto the power. I re­mem­ber the first time I came out of the pits at the test, I put my foot down and the thing just took off. There’s so much raw power. But the pit lane exit feeds out to a shal­low chi­cane, so it’s so easy to be too ea­ger, spin the wheels up, even though you have trac­tion con­trol, and have an ac­ci­dent and lose the race there and then.

“The high-speed stuff is very dif­fer­ent, es­pe­cially on the bank­ing. You have much more aero in the DP and the bank­ing is so steep it’s scary at first. When you’re go­ing slower and bring­ing the tyres in you can feel pretty nau­seous due to the an­gles and forces. You end up look­ing al­most through the sun strip to see ahead. There are a few rip­ples in the sur­face, but mainly the bank­ing is su­per-smooth and it’s easyflat as the car hun­kers down and has so much grip.

“The car is very solid. You can feel that. Dur­ing the race we had a few scrapes on the side and there was zero dam­age. They are very well built for en­durance rac­ing.”

It’s a good thing that Adam racked up the test mileage, be­cause the build up to the race week­end it­self was a trou­bled one. Free prac­tice was blighted by heavy rain, as was qual­i­fy­ing, mean­ing Adam and the en­tire Ac­tion Ex­press team had min­i­mal run­ning be­fore race day.

Adam en­joyed just three fly­ing laps be­fore his first race stint. He was se­cond in line to jump into the car, fol­low­ing qual­i­fier Cameron, who had started the car in sixth place. By the end of his open­ing stint, the Corvette ran se­cond, and the pres­sure was on Adam.

“I was watch­ing the tim­ing screens and clock­ing Dane’s lap times and saw we were in se­cond and I was up next, that was real pres­sure,” he says. “I def­i­nitely wouldn’t have pre­ferred to be lower down the or­der for my first stint. The pres­sure spurred me on when I got in be­cause there was an ex­pec­ta­tion of me. No­body re­ally knew what I was

ca­pa­ble of. I could have spun, crashed, or been slow in race con­di­tions. There were some nerves in the garage I’m sure.

“I was sup­posed to only drive for one hour 45 min­utes, but I ac­tu­ally ended up do­ing three hours 15 min­utes as my pace was good and I was hav­ing a great fight with Bren­don Hart­ley [in the Chip Ganassi Ford Ri­ley DP] to hold on to se­cond. The team changed strat­egy to keep me in longer but it was tough as my drinks sys­tem failed dur­ing the first few min­utes so I had no fluid in the car for three hours. I was start­ing to cramp up a bit near the end but adrenaline got me through.”

The ex­ten­sion of that first stint kept Adam in the race head­ing into the night hours. He set the fastest lap of the race at the time dur­ing his stint. The Scot says rac­ing at night at Day­tona was a strange ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s not like Le Mans be­cause you have flood­lights over the en­tire track, but it’s a strange ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Man­ag­ing traf­fic at night is tough be­cause driv­ers get tired and mis­takes can hap­pen eas­ily. We’re told to stay high on the bank­ing and close to the wall to pass but it’s nerve-wrack­ing when you’re com­ing up to lap a GT car at 160mph and you’re just think­ing ‘God, I hope he’s seen me and doesn’t come across’ as you’re scrap­ing the wall next to him.

“A big dif­fer­ence was hav­ing spot­ters in the grand­stand. Do­ing this event with­out them would be near im­pos­si­ble as the vi­sion out of a DP isn’t the best. I never checked my mir­rors once be­cause they are so good. The guys usu­ally do NAS­CAR spot­ting and they be­come a con­stant voice in your ear and your best friend dur­ing a stint. When you pass a slower car they’ll tell you when you’re clear and can re-take the lines or when there’s stuff around you on track.”

Adam and crew snuck into the lead dur­ing Pa­ge­naud’s stint in the early hours, but lost time due to a flash fire dur­ing a rou­tine pit stop. Some fuel splashed into the cock­pit of the car as the team were re­fu­elling and re­fresh­ing the drinks sys­tem at the same time. It was ex­tin­guished within sec­onds, but caused a de­lay in Pa­ge­naud hand­ing over to Cameron. It also meant a full tank of fuel wasn’t de­liv­ered, forc­ing an ex­tra stop and drop­ping the team down to sixth and off the lead lap.

Adam took over again around 0600hrs, and set­tled in for his se­cond stint. It was all go­ing smoothly as he pulled the lost lap back and bat­tled into fourth place. Then came the fail­ure.

“I’d just passed a Ganassi car for fourth through Turn 1 when I could smell burn­ing and the team ra­dioed me to say there was a fluid loss and to keep them posted,” says Adam. “Then the next lap it lost all drive com­ing around the fi­nal cor­ner. It was lucky it went then as I could coast into the pits, but the fail­ure was un­known and it took a while to di­ag­nose a drive­shaft had sheered and get the re­place­ment parts ready and fit­ted.

“I knew it was a trans­mis­sion fail­ure, but the team had never had this type of is­sue be­fore. I was gut­ted and felt aw­ful that it went when I was in the car but there was noth­ing any­body could have done.”

To com­pound the is­sue, Ac­tion Ex­press’s sis­ter car crewed by Felipe Al­bu­querque/joao Bar­bosa/scott Pruett/chris­tian Fit­ti­paldi lost the race lead with three hours re­main­ing to the same is­sue. Adam’s car lost 13 laps and dropped back to 14th af­ter the time spent to di­ag­nose the prob­lem. The sis­ter car lost only six.

Adam and crew fought back to fin­ish sixth over­all, 12 off the win­ning Ex­treme Speed Ligier-honda LMP2 car of Scott Sharp/ed Brown/jo­hannes van Over­beek/pipo Derani.

“I feel we got robbed a lit­tle as the team de­served more,” says Adam. “But re­gard­less of the re­sults it was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and it is an ex­pe­ri­ence not just a prize that Sunoco and Whe­len are of­fer­ing.

“It’s the full pack­age. From at­tend­ing the Grand Mar­shal cel­e­bra­tion din­ner be­fore the race and min­gling with greats of the sport like Tom Kris­tensen, Al­lan Mcnish, Bobby Ra­hal and Chip Ganassi, to do­ing the test­ing, the PR and me­dia events and then the rac­ing it­self.

“I’ve got a great pic­ture that Anders Hilde­brand from Sunoco took for me that shows ‘Adam P2’ on the big leader­board at the track and un­der­neath mine are names like [Rubens] Bar­richello and [Tony] Kanaan. That’s spe­cial.

“I’d love an­other go. I feel I showed my pace and what I’m ca­pa­ble of and if the phone rang next year I’d love to have an­other shot.” ■

Adam shone in the Ac­tion Ex­press Coy­ote-corvette

Bank­ing was flat out, but dif­fer­ent

This was Adam’s se­cond Day­tona 24 Hours ap­pear­ance Spot­ters helped hugely Night rac­ing was en­joy­able Oliver Gavin se­cured the vic­tory for Corvette GTLM team, just... Kim­ber-smith P2

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