Street Courses And Lady Luck

Courtesy of Panorama Magazine – September 2013

A crisp ocean breeze, two-lane beach board walk and 100 yards inland from this coast line was… A race circuit? Now visualize 45,000 spectators relaxing on the sandy embankments while listening to 38 Porsche GT3 Cup cars roar down the main straight and you’d find yourself in Zandvoort, Netherlands.

During my stay in Europe so far this year, there was never a location that had felt so similar to my hometown back in California. As funny as it seems, it actually felt like a ‘home race’ in a way, especially with the surprise visit from some neighbors back home. Coming into this race weekend, my expectation levels were very high after a promising test day just a few weeks beforehand and I felt it was time to finally climb onto the podium.

As Friday practice got itself underway, the weekend started out just as everyone had told me beforehand. The track felt like an ice-rink and the car was sliding in every which direction. “Are you sure we don’t have Fred Flintstone tires on this bad boy Frank? I can hardly keep this thing on the track!” After a few laps, I quickly understood why my engineer kept calling this track “Sandvoort”. When the wind speed rises, so does the amount sand that is blown onto the race circuit and that created some very tricky driving conditions. Towards the end of the session, the track conditions continued to improve and we then changed to our best set of used tires. In the final 5 minutes we managed to post the 6th best laptime and our used tire pace was quite promising compared to the competitors on new tires ahead of us.

With 38 cars on a 2.6 mile track, it was every bit chaotic in qualifying as we expected. Posting a fast lap right away was crucial, but once again the red flag was brought out only 5 minutes into the session. The track was quickly reformatted to a sandbox and our qualifying session was definitely one of the most challenging in my career. Being on point and 100% focused had never been so important and if you missed the one or two laps when the track was clean your race weekend would become very difficult. After the brutal session we found ourselves with 8th and 10th place starting positions, which was far away from my expectations going in. The qualifying results were far from what I expected, but I logged a lot of new knowledge from the tricky session.

“Take the outside line in turn 1. I can guarantee you that everyone will get stacked up on the inside.” As I processed the final words of my Porsche Junior Program driver coach Sascha Maassen, I knew that I had to be fully on the limit with aggression at the start. The red lights went out and I had a very good launch into turn 1. Braking late and staying on the outside of the banked right-hand corner, my plan worked and the inside line did exactly what I thought it would do. Smashed radiators littered the track with fluids on the exit of the corner and cars began spinning in every direction. After the turn 1 mayhem I managed to get around several cars, but then the race was red-flagged due to a very scary crash from my Porsche Junior colleague, Alex Riberas. With a heavily damaged crash barrier, our race was then postponed to Sunday and we all had to regroup for the next day.

Our red-flagged race was then restarted by a rolling start the following afternoon, and we found ourselves in fifth position. A few strong few opening laps and I managed to get up to fourth position and I was on full attack to get into that podium position. My competitor was blocking quite aggressively and several times we made contact in the middle sector of the circuit. With 5 laps to go I received a radio message from my engineer that my main rival for the rookie championship was out of the race and to just bring home the result. Sometimes, as a competitor, that is the hardest thing to tell yourself. Continue to fight for your first podium in a Porsche, or risk getting a DNF and get no result at all? In the end, we brought home the car with our best result of the season and a fourth place finish. A bit disappointing to be so close yet so far away from the podium, but in the end that is part of the game.

Merely five hours later I was in Stuttgart after a long-drive from the Dutch coast to the south of Germany, but this time in a different type of “suit”. The following day we had a media event with journalists at the Stuttgart Wasen for Oktoberfest. “You drive for a German car company Connor, you must own a pair of Lederhosen.” All of the journalists had a great time teasing me with my new look that I freshly purchased off of the Internet. A great evening filled with historic German tradition. Now onto Hockenheim. —Connor De Phillippi 

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