The 2017-18 Formula One campaign is under way, with the Australian and Chinese Grands Prix serving notice that Mercedes’ recent domination of the sport might be under threat from Ferrari.
But while much of the attention was on Sebastian Vettel’s contests with Lewis Hamilton, and on what F1 would look like in a post-Ecclestone world, for many the technical battle was just as interesting.
Daniel McKenzie watched events from Melbourne and Shanghai not just as a racer and coach, but also as the owner of CarbonWurks – designers and manufacturers of road-legal aero parts for car owners.
Here he gives his verdict on changes that have seen this year’s Formula One cars prove themselves faster and more challenging to drive – with aerodynamics and bodywork among the key changes.
He said: “The whole stance of the car is much lower and wider, and they have tried to get more performance out of them by gripping them up.
“This extra grip means they have effectively shortened the braking zones – drivers can brake later and carry more speed through the corner, making it harder to pass. You have to have some serious guts to sling it down the outside when you’re going so fast.”
He’s impressed by Ferrari’s early grasp of the regulations but cautions it’s too early to assume they’ll dominate.
“Obviously, Ferrari have progressed massively and this is where you see some of the funky bodywork come into play. Ferrari have hit the nail on the head while others have had teething trouble.
“The first race can be a bit of a lottery and not necessarily representative of what will happen. It reminds me of the Brawn era – they got on top of the aerodynamic package first and were doing interesting things. And we’re in a similar position now – the teams at the top now have a head start, but they aren’t who will necessarily stay at the top.”
What interests him in his dual roles as a driver who is also a manufacturer of bodywork is that Ferrari’s Formula One design seems to be converging with its road cars.
“At the moment teams are unsure what the ideal design is, and there are two areas that are interesting. Firstly, the bargeboards, where all the different teams are trying different things to catch dirty air from the wheels.
“What Ferrari are doing echoes what’s on their road car and the concepts they’re developing for future models. It’s getting to the point where what’s happening on the road cars is intertwining and we can see integration between the two aero packages.
“Road cars are using more of these parts. They remain road legal, but are more similar to F1 and LMP cars than they have ever been and you’re probably going to see more of this in the future.”
The second major change is the shark wing on the rear spoiler – another area with relevance to high-performance road cars.
He said: “On the new cars the wings are lower and wider, and the regulations have changed to allow that void to be filled. Teams are trying to channel the air so it’s not wasted – Mercedes have what is almost a second rear spoiler while other teams are using a shark wing almost like an LMP car.
“Similarly, our aim at CarbonWurks is to build parts that don’t just look good but also give you more grip and downforce. Even on a road car, a rear diffuser helps with air flow and holds the rear steadier through high speed corners – it’s exactly the same principle as F1 and GT cars where you can affect the handling through diffusers.”
It is unusual for me to get to drive many supercars outside the racing world – yes, I have driven some seriously impressive machinery on circuit, but rarely do I get the chance to drive something that is less sole-purposed (as a racecar is), and still a serious machine on the road. On this occasion I had the opportunity to take the new AMG GTS for an extended test-drive with Will, the Mercedes Benz of Poole salesman who – after a few nicely-poised slides on the way back to the showroom – would soon come to say, “yeah, you can drive”.
One ambition achieved: next up is owning it as well as driving it
I have been dying to drive this car since it was unveiled in September 2014 at the Paris Motor Show. I have to hold my hands up and say that its predecessor, the Mercedes SLS, was a car I’ve never quite gelled with. Apart from the annoyingly good straight-line speed of its GT3 version, which I discovered on-track against my Aston Martin Vantage GT3, the SLS just doesn’t quite have the flair that I’d come to expect from Mercedes.
However, the AMG GTS is in another league.
From a distance the lines and haunches, with its low, fat stance, look simply beautiful. The lower bumper intakes have a much more aggressive presence but remain fluid and smooth as the rest of the bodywork pursues. The overall size and dimensions of the GTS are squatter, being some four inches shorter, but surprisingly just as wide as the SLS. The GTS looks more purposeful with the cockpit set far back, plus optional meaty black forged rims and wing mirror stalks that are beautifully-crafted in their own right.
I wasn’t fortunate enough to sit inside the cabin of the GTS that had been lavished with carbon, bucket seats or Alcantara (other than the steering wheel). This said, the interior is a sight to behold. The centre console is shaped like the bank of a V8 engine, with four buttons on each side, and a stubby gear selector for good measure. The detail in general is to such a high standard that even the air vents wouldn’t look out of place in a Bentley Mulsanne. The cockpit is a truly lavish place to be – but always reminding you of the racing-inspired design.
However, visuals are only a minor influence on why I love this car. Powering the GTS is a 4.0 litre twin-turbo V8 producing a goliath 510PS and some 650Nm of torque; this powers the GTS from 0-100kph in 3.8 seconds and continues all the way to 310kph. It is not the traffic-light races that the GTS will be known for. It is the massive midrange punch that will make almost anything seem to select reverse gear by contrast when fully pinned at motorway speeds – this thing is just ruthless! Two cleverly-placed turbos in the “V” bank of the engine work together seamlessly to give immediate and never-ending power. I’ve driven a lot of quick cars but this would rank pretty high.
Fully fired up
Handling-wise, with all the dampers fully fired up, it’s almost a little too harsh for British roads. However, take these down a notch via one of the many buttons, and suddenly the GTS really comes into its own. The steering is more on the light side that could initially be interpreted as numb. But, after a little getting used to, the direction change is phenomenal and yet still manages to keep the car incredibly flat through hard cornering. A lot of this comes down to the 47/53 (front/rear) weight distribution of the AMG GTs and the fact that the entire spaceframe weighs in at 231kg. Even the driveshaft is made out of carbon fibre. The kerb weight comes in at 1570kg, which is only 15kg more than my own hatchback A class A45 AMG. Impressively for the GTS, the rearward-biased weight helps squat the suspension down nicely to offer fantastic traction in the early, generally over-powered, gears.
However, this animal becomes as much of a daily driver as a C-class diesel with comfort mode engaged. I’m almost convinced that, with the effortless power the GTS has, it could actually rival most of the Mercedes range for comfort and driveability. The main article that reminds you of the power that lies beneath is the burble of raw V8 notes with every slight depress of the throttle. On cruise, however, it is blissfully refined and quiet.
Saving the best
This finally brings me to the noise, of which this has a profuse amount – and I have saved the best aspect until last. I have really only experienced full-blown backfiring that can be felt in your chest with race cars. But AMG, the masters of engines and exhausts, have managed to recreate that same feeling. With sports mode engaged, and the exhaust valves open, the pops, bangs and thuds coming from backing off the throttle and downshifting gears are brutal. There is the capability to extinguish the flames and drive without all the fuss with just a press on the exhaust valve button – and yet you can be pushing on in sports mode with full use of the exotically-crafted metal paddle shifters.
Seeing the GTS ‘in the flesh’ and being at the helm has made me want one all that much more. I felt almost gutted walking away from it after the test drive, similar to that feeling you have saying goodbye to a group of friends after a holiday you’ll never forget. I had two boxes to tick with the AMG GTS; one was to drive it and the other to own one.
Hopefully my hand won’t be hovering over that other remaining box for too long…
Many thanks to Williams Thomas and Sandown Mercedes Benz of Poole.
In this website exclusive, Daniel takes us behind the scenes for the season-ending Estoril ELMS round, and talks about how his team JMW Motorsport upset the odds with every podium they earn.
For the final race of the year, Daniel and his JMW Motorsport team battled against sweltering conditions caused by a ventilation problem to bring home another podium and end the season on a high note.
The Estoril round of the European Le Mans Series proved a mix of the familiar and the new, with the return of gold driver Daniel Zampieri to the team’s Ferrari F458 Italia and a switch that saw McKenzie drive the middle two stints instead of his usual opening pair.
The change, which saw bronze-rated driver George Richardson open the race, allowed the team to try new strategies without risking overloading the tyres. It was only the second time in his GT career that Daniel had not taken the initial stints.
Daniel and George Richardson at Estoril
He said: “I’ve started all of my GT races apart from the Spa 24 Hours last year, so it was a weird experience watching it unfold before your eyes knowing anything could happen.
“However, it wasn’t particularly hard to adapt to the change as I now have a lot of experience with the car and GT racing in general. The biggest difference is that in the middle stints you can find yourself overtaking the slower GTCs while at the same time getting out of the way of the LMPs.”
The switch also brought a new perspective to driver changeovers, where McKenzie is used to emerging, exhausted after a double stint, into the flurry of a pit stop – but is less familiar with being the driver who has to quickly get into the car.
“We spend a lot of time in the garage during the weekend doing driver changeover practice,” he said.
“You’ve got a time you need to complete the changeover in, to allow the team to change the tyres without getting in the way – and if it’s a fuel-only splash and dash you’ve got to be in and out even quicker.
“It was a bit strange to be the one getting in – but it made me appreciate how much easier it is to be the one getting in rather than out after a long stint.”
With JMW’s customary efficiency at work, the change-arounds did nothing to disrupt the team’s challenge, and McKenzie believes that, had the drivers not been affected by a ventilation problem that made the interior of the car distractingly hot, the race might have been winnable.
He said: “JMW put in so much preparation and, at race weekends, they are one of the fastest teams out there for pit stops.
“It was also good having Daniel Zampieri back – he’s a great driver who works well with the team and always shows good pace in qualifying. He missed pole by a tenth of a second, which was a shame, but he gave George a decent starting position.
GTs and LMPs
“Once the LMPs had disappeared down the road George put his head down and did a very respectable job, setting us up well for a podium. In the end it was quite tight all the way down to fifth. First and second were only about 10 seconds away from us.
“It was a fairly respectable result – although it was horrendously hot because of a ventilation issue in the cabin, and that made it one of my hardest races ever.
“There was a real possibility of winning that race. If only driving conditions had been better, we drivers might have been able to keep our pace more consistent.”
The result meant the team had recorded yet another third place – a remarkable record of success for a small independent team in a highly corporate world, but still frustrating.
McKenzie said: “All year, it’s been it could have been a second or a win but, for everything to go right and get that win, you need a little bit of luck too and it just didn’t quite go our way. I think we had as many podiums as anyone, just not quite on the step that we needed.
“Third has been the bane of our lives this season. You get home and see your friends and family, and they say ‘how was it’, and you say ‘another third’.
“It’s not a bad thing to be disappointed by, though. It was a very successful year – if I had known at the start of the season that I was going to be third in the championship and on the podium four out of five times I would have taken that so, when I look at the trophies on top of the cabinet, I’m not too disappointed.”
Looking ahead to next season, he hopes that his role in driving double stints in a car that achieved such consistent success will create opportunities: “The silver driver is the guy that’s in the car the most, so the results do reflect more on me.
“There’s a lot that goes on in a four-hour endurance race, so managing to get 80 per cent podiums and always being there is a feat – hopefully it will open doors for me. It’s also been nice to race against the gold drivers without them pulling away.”
And he was full of praise for his team: “I’ve been very impressed with what JMW have done this year. They’ve given 100 per cent in everything they’ve done, and you can’t ask for more in a team than that.
“Most of what you see in GT racing is corporate teams with many cars in many championships – there aren’t many like JMW with one car in one championship. They’re the big underdogs – because they’re a small team they don’t have cars out every weekend gathering data, but it works.
“History tells us that generally the smaller teams with fewer resources don’t do so well, but JMW is one that proves you don’t need fancy garages and trucks for it to work and for them to be competitive. It makes it much more rewarding – much more personal.
“They’re a family team and I’ve felt very welcome as part of that family. I’ve loved every minute of it and, if something in the future does come up with them, I will be very receptive to it.”
All images courtesy of JMW Motorsport’s Flickr stream
GTs and LMPs
Round 5, Estoril
Round 5, Estoril
Daniel and George Richardson
Round 5, Estoril
Round 5, Estoril
Round 5, Estoril
Round 5, Estoril
Round 5, Estoril
Round 5, Estoril
Five races, four podiums
Daniel McKenzie and his JMW Motorsport team secured a fourth podium in a row in the LMGTE class of the European Le Mans Series at Estoril this weekend.
The team pushed hard in qualifying, narrowly missing out on pole by less than a tenth of a second, so started the final race of the season second on the grid.
George Richardson started the race for the team and lost a place early on but was always at the ‘business end ‘ of the race. Richardson had a longer stint than his rivals and by the time he pitted JMW were in the lead.
During the pit stop, McKenzie jumped in and took over and came out in fourth position. McKenzie looked quick from the off and was able to move up to third position. By the halfway mark McKenzie had gained the lead, however after the next round of pit stops McKenzie was back in third position.
With just over an hour to go, McKenzie finished his stunning stint and swapped with Daniel Zampieri, who was able to see the car home in third place. This added to what has been a brilliant end to the season for the team, as they finished on the podium in the last four races.
Following the race McKenzie said, “Coming away from the weekend with another podium place and being third in the championship is a great achievement. It’s been a successful year with 4 out of 5 podiums, the team have done a stunning job all season and it has been great to be part of the JMW Motorsport family.
The race was difficult with a ventilation problem in the cabin which meant it was extremely hot. Regardless we battled on and just missed out on 1st and 2nd place who were only a matter of 15 seconds in front of us after 4 hours of racing. Estoril is quite a technical circuit and I hadn’t been there for nearly 6 years but enjoyed the weekend as a whole and got stuck into some hard racing over my double stint.”
Another race, another podium – at first glance, the French round of the European Le Mans Series looked like ‘business as usual’ for Daniel and his JMW Motorsport team-mates. But earning the champagne celebration at the Circuit Paul Ricard was not as simple as it appeared, as Daniel explains in this website exclusive.
Daniel and James Walker discuss tactics. Photo: JMW Motorsport on Flickr.
… Continue reading
The penultimate round of the 2014 European Le Mans Series took place yesterday at Paul Ricard, with McKenzie and his team mates confident of a good result.
Qualifying got underway on Sunday morning from the South of France circuit, with a strong performance from the JMW Motorsport team to secure 6th on the grid for the 4h LMGTE series race on Sunday afternoon.
Daniel McKenzie was in the car first for a 2-hour stint behind the wheel of the Ferrari 458 Italia GT. With podium finishes in the previous two rounds and the team lying third in the championship overall, it looked hopeful for another strong weekend of racing.
Daniel made a great start to his session, driving well and gaining two places early on, bringing the car up to fourth, and eventually taking first place in the LMGTE class towards the end of his stint. Mckenzie brought the car back to the pits to change drivers in second place. A very solid drive from Daniel, laying the early foundations for his team mates later on in the race.
A good performance by both team-mates, James Walker and George Richardson, resulted in the British trio getting their third consecutive podium of the season, gaining a third place finish at Paul Ricard.
McKenzie and his team, JMW Motorsport, will be going to the final round of the 2014 European Le Mans Series at Estoril in Portugal on the 19th October and will be hoping to secure a top three finish in the drivers championship.
The challenges of motorsport require a driver to be at peak physical and mental fitness. As the European Le Mans Series prepares to end its summer break this weekend at Circuit Paul Ricard, Daniel explains how he meets the challenge.
“The right state of mind is something that varies for each individual,” says GT racer Daniel McKenzie. “It changes according to where you are from year to year.”
The European Le Mans Series returns this weekend at Circuit Paul Ricard, site of pre-season testing. (Pic: JMW Motorsport on Flickr.)
As he and his rivals in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) prepare to resume their battle, almost two months since their last outing, casual fans of the sport might well wonder how the drivers find their mental focus – especially after so long away from their cars.
According to Daniel, there is no single approach that works for every driver, every time. He says that every driver is unique and it all depends on their starting position come race day.
“If you are starting at the back of the grid you need a more aggressive mind-set,” he said, “but if you’re starting at the front of the grid you need to remain calm into the first corner. Personally I like to be calm, but it’s very easy to become overwhelmed and lose enjoyment.”
In an endurance racing format such as ELMS the mind-set of a driver can be affected by a number of variables – but the most challenging part may not be what you expect.
Daniel’s JMW Motorsport team-mates demonstrate the art of the rapid driver changeover. (Photo JMW Motorsport on Flickr.)
“The hardest part of this kind of racing is the changeover between drivers,” said Daniel. “After two hours of driving you don’t feel too much because of the amount of adrenaline flowing.
“Once you step out of the car your coordination seems to disappear and you feel drained like a night of heavy drinking – but for 30 seconds you have to remain focused to help the next driver get in and away as fast as possible by doing things like plug in their audio cable.
“Only after that do you know you’ve done your job and you can sit back and relax.”
Another misconception is that longer tracks require more concentration: “It depends on the layout,” he said.
“A shorter track requires more concentration as you’re out of one bend and onto the next one, but a track like Spa has some very long straights so you can relax and almost make yourself a cup of tea. But sometimes a track like Austria can be fun to drive around because of the nature of its sweeping bends and overtaking chances.”
Celebrations at the end of a long hot weekend
The previous round at Austria’s Red Bull Ring may have been enjoyable, and successful too as Daniel and JMW Motorsport earned a podium, but it was also hot – and that creates a challenge of its own.
He said: “It doesn’t sound like crazy temperatures when you say it’s 35 degrees, but the humidity and lack of breeze are what does it – you’re sweating and you just don’t cool down.
“The track temperature was closer to 40 and when you’re in the car for more than two hours it really does get to you. You really do need to be in peak physical condition to keep pushing hard all the time but, as well as that, often it’s mental concentration that’s the first thing to go.
“I was quite happy with how I coped – at first I thought ‘this is going to be a tough one’ but I found that, by the second stint, I felt OK in the car.”
With the locations on the schedule this year, one may wonder if a driver has to take on a larger amount of hydration for more humid races like those we’ll see in France and Portugal and if so how much.
But, instead of just taking on more water, he said the focus shifts before a race weekend as drivers work to adjust to the conditions.
Daniel said: “No matter where you race, the car itself always gets very hot on the inside. However, if I know it’s going to be very humid then leading up to the weekend I would change my training schedule slightly.
“I’m lucky because my gym room is next to a swimming pool room, so what I do is crank the heat up – it changes the preparation and you can get yourself used to it. Generally, though, preparation stays the same from race to race.”
Daniel’s racing career before GTs was spent in single seaters, and he said the two types require a different kind of physical fitness: “Single seater cars require you to be more physically strong because of the G-forces and lack of power steering – a strong neck is required.
Single seaters: in-built air con, but tough on neck muscles. (Photo: Formula 2).
“However in GT sports cars the races are longer and the temperature is much higher – in single seaters you have the air flow and the outdoor temperature consistently keeping you cool, whereas in the GT car you have hot exhausts and engines warming you up which requires more cardio fitness.”
The need for high fitness is consistently stressed to every professional sportsman. Some work with highly-regarded professionals but others prefer to work alone. Daniel has tried both approaches.
He said: “Gerry Convy is a personal trainer who I know. He works with teams and sometimes myself, and he used to work in Formula 1 to keep people at peak fitness, working with the likes of David Coulthard.
“Now, though, I generally work by myself because I understand about the muscle groups and requirements of exercise and have become a lot more in tune with what I need, almost becoming a one band.”
It’s a level of professionalism that keeps him training through the winter off-season: “I find having good discipline leads me to not sway away from my diet and training during the down season.
“I am always training but change it up over time. During the winter break a higher intensity is what I would work at exercise-wise, but you don’t have to worry about injuries as much. It’s lighter during the season as you just have to maintain your cardio levels between races, but over the winter you find areas you can improve on.”
Professionalism paid off with the British F3 National Class championship. (Pic: British F3.)
He stressed that a professional approach should begin from the start of a driver’s career: “When you’re building up to being a good driver, you have to learn how to get the best out of yourself. When I was younger and in Formula 3 I wasn’t too aware of how fit you could be, I still treated myself every so often to a Papa John’s pizza.
“I must admit when younger, coming up, there where times where during testing I thought ‘I can barely hold on to the steering wheel’. In a Formula 3 car after eight laps of testing I remember thinking ‘I’m fried’, so I have changed the way I’ve approached things over the past five years.
“We all have bad days, where you feel not quite physically ready even though you’d felt 100 per cent before the weekend. You’ve let yourself down as a driver if you do, but I’ve never had a point where I’ve wanted to give up and say I can’t keep my eyes open.
“I’ve always tried to go into the season and race in the best possible shape to absolutely make sure that I control my own variables.”
So, if you are ever watching Moto GP, Formula 1, Rally or even Nascar, and the pundits try to offer simplistic answers to the important question of driver fitness, just remember two things:
Each driver is unique in their own separate approach, but those who – like Daniel – achieve success do so by the professionalism with which they treat their mental and physical preparation.
In May this year Daniel and the European Le Mans Series arrived at Imola for the second round of the championship. The iconic Italian circuit is a place of history and legend at any time, but that month was special – it was the 20th anniversary of the crash that claimed a giant of our sport. Daniel tells David Ironmonger what it was like to race at the home of Ferrari, when the world was remembering Ayrton Senna.
Rossi, Earnhardt, Loeb, Fangio, Fogarty – all names that have engraved themselves on the hearts of motorsport fans around the world. But when we look at the influence and legacies of some of the greatest racers, none quite strike passion into the soul like the name of Ayrton Senna.
Considered by many to be the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time, history records how the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at the fabled Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari would see his triumphal career end in tragedy.
It’s a day that lives on in infamy. Despite the passing years, to many lovers of motorsport the memory is as raw as if it had happened yesterday and to race on such a emotional occasion is to experience the depth of that feeling first-hand.
For Daniel McKenzie, preparing for what would eventually be a class podium in his JMW Motorsport Ferrari 458 GT, the anniversary and the emotions it stirred up were obvious from start of the weekend.
A thoughtful Daniel during the Imola weekend
“It was eerie,” he said. “Being so close to the anniversary of Senna and Ratzenberger, on our cycle around of the circuit we could see all the tributes to both drivers – flowers, letters, pictures all stuck to the walls. All kinds of messages, people were walking around going to that.”
The tributes Daniel speaks of, laid out all over the track and especially around the bend where the tragedy occurred, Taburello, were the response of ordinary race fans in a period during which the whole sport remembered the past.
At the time Formula 1 was a very dangerous sport and deaths would happen far too often. Even though Daniel isn’t old enough to remember the day and the harrowing events, he still realises the sheer volume of history of the sport he now passionately loves: “It probably wasn’t until I was about eight years old that I got interested in racing, and I didn’t really start to look properly into the history of Formula One until later when I was getting into karting.
“Before then I was a footballer, and I could almost name every player in every Premiership team for the last five years. But when I had my injury and lost the chance of a professional career in the game I turned to motorsport as a way of continuing in competitive sport, and that was when I started to look seriously at the history of racing the personalities, the events and the dangers too.”
The nature of Senna’s fame – the strong personality, the ‘man of the people’ legend, the people’s champion of Brazil – is such that, no matter how much further away from his tragic death we go, his popularity never dies.
Ayrton Senna. Photo from senna.org.br [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
With the release of the Senna motion picture which documented his childhood, rise to fame and death, numerous documentaries by the likes of Top Gear and articles written yearly by the likes of Murray Walker online, avoiding him in the media was impossible at that time.
“The significance of the weekend was that it was so close to the 20th anniversary, and you couldn’t turn on the television without seeing a story about it. It was massively in the public eye. And of course there was the Senna film too, the weekend was something that had been built up to, and actually being in Imola for it was a big deal.”
One of the great problems of the Senna tragedy is that we sometimes overlook the death of Roland Ratzenberger because his name was never put up against the lights to be seen. But the sudden loss of someone who was only a rookie must equally never be forgotten – and Daniel was pleased to see recognition of him, too.
“It was strange turning up at the circuit to see all the tributes and memories and bits and pieces all around the circuit,” he said. “It shows how much he meant to people, but it wasn’t just Senna either, Ratzenberger was commemorated too and it was obvious that he also meant a lot to people.
“The circuit is very similar to Monza in that it’s in the middle of a public park. People drive their road cars on a public road 10ft from the track. So it was very easy for people to get into it to pay their respects, and people seemed to have come from all over Italy. When we were cycling the track, one person even shouted a question to us. People came to see the race, but also the tributes.”
Because Daniel was driving a Ferrari at the home of Ferrari you could imagine that the weight of expectation on his shoulders would have made many of us crumble. Surely the additional memories hanging over the weekend could only add to the pressure?
According to Daniel, after taking in the tributes at the start of the weekend, he and the team then had to focus so entirely on the race they had no choice but to put the subject to one side. Once he was alone in the car, though, it was a different matter.
“Over the weekend it wasn’t really discussed – but it was certainly in my mind driving around,” he said. “On the grid waiting for the start I was thinking what an odd experience it was to be there, and during the race of course I could see where they both went off. It was strange to drive past the places where they left us in this world.
“Probably if you race there regularly it’s something that you get used to and it becomes not such a big deal. For me though, being there for the first time on the anniversary, as well as being in a Ferrari in front of Italian fans at Imola, it was a big thing.”
Daniel McKenzie and the JMW Motorsport team earned their second consecutive podium in the blazing heat of Austria’s Red Bull Ring, putting themselves right in the mix for the European Le Mans Series championship.
Third place in the race puts the team and its Ferrari 458 GT third overall in the championship going into the two-month summer break before the next round at Circuit Paul Ricard in September.
And despite a driver change as the unavailable Daniel Zampieri was replaced by veteran Rob Bell, some minor race incidents and a tense last few laps, what struck McKenzie most about the weekend was how routine it felt – something which he sees as highly encouraging for the rest of the season.
He said: “It says a lot for the team that we can have a weekend that just felt good, and not sensational, and yet we still earned a podium. It shows that when we get everything fully hooked up we can realistically aim to win.
“We’re already in the middle of a five-way fight for the championship with two rounds left, and if we can win when the leaders have an off day we’ll be in with a real chance.”
The weekend started well, with a strong practice session and Bell fitting easily back into the team before qualifying the car successfully.
Daniel said: “Rob’s a JMW old salt who knows the team, the car and the championship – a man of massive experience, and a nice bloke too. We had a positive practice day. There was pace in the car and the session was productive.
“Rob then qualified us fourth in class, which was a very good result. He didn’t quite get the front row, but in a four hour race that’s not so important and we were all pretty happy.”
As usual Daniel opened the race with a two-hour double stint, stopping for fuel but not tyres after the hour. With temperatures on the track reaching 40 degrees, drivers and cars alike were feeling the effects but Daniel was able to keep pushing.
He said: “My time in the car was eventful. I got up to second place in the first lap and a half, behind the Aston, and we managed to pull out a bit of a gap. Unfortunately the safety car came out and the 15 seconds I’d gained over the faster guys behind quickly disappeared.
“When the safety car went in again I felt a problem with the brakes, which had got very hot and were fading, with the pedal getting very long. That concerned me as we were only half an hour into the race, so I decided to drive more conservatively and preserve them so they would last the entire race.
“Things were looking OK by the time I did my fuel stop at the end of my first stint, and the second started well. However I tangled with a GTC car that didn’t leave me enough room and turned in on me.
“I took evasive action but unfortunately he spun around and tagged me, doing a little damage to the rear. Worse, I lost a place while it happened and we never got it back.”
The remainder of his time in the car proved quieter and he handed over in third place: “After that my stint was reasonable, plugging away with not much to report. George drove a strong stint, mostly uneventful apart from a slight touch with an LMP car, but it was the same side as my impact so the damage was just cosmetic.”
Bell drove the final stint, with a podium in sight but one final challenge to withstand: “The last 20 minutes were quite tense as the car behind was catching up. We were running a conservative fuel map and the light was on for the last couple of laps, so our hearts were in our mouths, but he crossed the line in third place.”
Daniel was left reasonably satisfied by the outcome: “All things considered, I think the result was reasonable. I can’t help feeling a little disappointed not have second or even a win, but it was still a podium.
“Once again the team did a fantastic job – everything is gelling on that front. For example, we did pretty much the fastest pit stops of the GT guys. It wasn’t quite our day to get the win, but you can’t argue with back-to-back podiums and it’s just made us more eager to get on the top step.”
The next race in the championship will be on September 13-14 at Paul Ricard – a circuit Daniel knows well: “I’ve always liked it there – it’s so well maintained that it’s almost like driving into a country club.
“I enjoy driving the circuit too – it’s fast and flowing, and there is a lot of run-off which allows you to push to the limits without worrying about writing off the car if you make a mistake.
“It’s going to be exciting getting back into the car there – I’ve done well there in the past and had a couple of podiums, but I’ve never raced there in a GT car so it’s going to be a new chapter for me.”
All photos from JMW Motorsport on Flickr
The Red Bull Ring was a new circuit for Daniel
On-track temperatures reached 40 degrees
Wheel-to-wheel action at the start
Daniel made a strong start to the race
Daniel pushed hard through his stint despite the heat
JMW’s Ferrari F458 Italia
A summer Sunday drive…
Back-to-back podiums for Daniel and team
l-r Daniel, George Richardson and returnee Rob Bell
The team are aiming higher for the last two races
Celebrations at the end of a long hot weekend
Over the summer break from racing Daniel’s site will carry a series of features exploring behind the scenes of racing – starting with a look back to earlier in the season, when ELMS visited Imola on the anniversary of Ayrton Senna’s death there.
Daniel McKenzie’s first visit to historic Imola also earned him his first sports car podium as his JMW Motorsport squad brought their Ferrari F458 Italia home third in class and ninth overall.
After two rounds of the European Le Mans Series McKenzie and his team mates Daniel Zampieri and George Richardson lie third in the LMGTE team championship and are tied for fourth in the drivers’ standings.
The weekend always looked likely to be memorable for McKenzie, given the combination of location and car: “I was very excited to drive a Ferrari around Imola,” he said. “There are very few opportunities in life to drive a car at the home of its heritage.
“But it was my first time at Imola – it’s always a tricky one, going to a new circuit that you’ve never driven on. I went in a simulator beforehand to get a few insights, and was able to cycle around the track beforehand.”
The practice sessions proved useful, with the team putting in solid times, but multiple yellow flags caused problems for a driver looking for an uninterrupted opportunity to learn the circuit.
McKenzie said: “Imola is a little different because of its deep gravel run-offs. They certainly slow you down if you make a mistake, but once you’re in one you’re not coming out.
“There were a lot of yellow flags because the odds are that if you’re in the gravel you’re going to need to be towed out. So practice was very disrupted, which was a bit tricky if you have never driven there beforehand and are feeling your way into it.”
The team’s gold driver, Zampieri, qualified the car but was unlucky to have his attempts disrupted when the session was red-flagged. McKenzie said: “The plan was to go out and do three flying laps to set a time, then wait a bit while other people put times on the board. Unfortunately during his flying lap a red flag came out, which wasn’t ideal.
“You only get one set of tyres for qualifying, and you also have to race on them. Losing that lap meant his tyres had gone through a heat cycle for no result, and he was never going to be able to get the best out of them after that. He ended up in eighth position – it wasn’t bad, but there had been potential for more.”
As the silver driver, it was McKenzie’s job to take the start and cover half the race distance before handing over to bronze driver Richardson: “The rules are that the bronze driver has a minimum number of laps they must do, while the gold or platinum driver is capped at a maximum. What that usually means is that the silver driver spends the most time out on track – which is handy, because that’s me and I love driving.
“Our plan was for me to double-stint, which was bold on tyres that had done qualifying. The start was clean – with a field of professional drivers everyone is very polite and there’s no argy-bargy or issues with anyone being over-aggressive.
“I had a good first lap, overtaking a couple of cars, but then spent about 15 minutes stuck behind another. Once I did get past it was a case of setting consistent times, managing the tyres and driving smoothly.
“I came in for a splash of fuel, but apart from that the two hours just flew by and before I knew it I was battling for the class lead. I’d kept pushing throughout, driving cleanly and catching the leader. He pitted a couple of laps before I did, and that put me out front.”
The JMW Ferrari lost the LMGTE lead when McKenzie pitted to end his stint, but Richardson remained competitive throughout his time on track – which included a long safety car period – and when Zampieri emerged for the race to the flag he was second in class.
He lost the place to a rival Ferrari that had taken fresh tyres at its final stop, giving it the speed to charge through for the class win, but took a comfortable third a full lap ahead of the next finisher. For McKenzie, it was a success that owed nothing to good fortune.
He said: “Perhaps if events had gone our way a bit more we could have finished higher, but this podium was deserved. We finished third, only 26 seconds behind the leader after four hours of racing, and it was a well-deserved result – we didn’t luck into it.
“The team showed a lot of grit and determination, and it was a fantastic feeling at the end. The team and drivers are working together well, and we’re aiming for wins, regular podiums, and to be fighting for the championship. We’re now third, only six points from second. It will be a bit of work to catch the leader, but it’s a possible target.
“For me, I’m happy with it. It was my first podium in a GT car, and in only my sixth race. I’m building up experience and next time I’m on the podium my aim is to be one step to the right, up on top.”
The European Le Mans Series now takes a break – despite its name, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is not part of its season – and Daniel will be back in his Ferrari F458 Italia when the championship resumes at the Red Bull Ring on July 19-20.
He said: “We have a longish break now, seven weeks, or so. The time does go fairly quickly though, particularly towards the end. It’s Austria next – another circuit I haven’t driven on before but, if Imola is anything to go by, turning up somewhere I haven’t driven before may prove advantageous!”
A thoughtful Daniel during the Imola weekend