Drayson Racing has been preparing throughout the winter for what it knows to expect at the 57th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida on 21 March: a punishing, bone jarring, physically and mentally draining 12 hours of sports car racing. The Paul and Elspeth Drayson-owned operation has explored every likelihood and endeavoured to ready its No. 007 Aston Martin Vantage GT2 for almost any eventuality. However, it is the unexpected that can play the difference between the team's first American Le Mans Series podium finish and a disappointing flight back to the United Kingdom for drivers Paul Drayson (London/Gloucestershire, UK), Jonny Cocker (Guisborough, Yorks, UK) and Rob Bell (St. Helens, England). For 2009, the Official Partner Team of Aston Martin Racing has brought in experience to help it overcome the unexpected.
Motorsports rewards experience. First-hand knowledge of what has come before will payoff with results. In 2008, Paul Drayson, Minister of State for Science and Innovation for the UK, and Cocker arrived in Sebring, Fla. with a new car, a new team on a track they only knew by legend. However, one year later, Drayson Racing has made the move to make experience the centre of its 2009 assault on the GT2 class crown at the American Le Mans Series' season- opening event. The effort arrives at the Sebring International Raceway with a sorted Aston Martin Vantage GT2, former Sebring class winning team manager Dale White (Bozeman, MT., USA) overseeing a veteran crew, two-time defending Le Mans Series GT2 champion Rob Bell driving and Michelin tyres. All eyes are focused on reaching the chequered flag. The centre of the team's experience comes from White who made his first appearance, as a driver and manager, at Sebring in 1998. As an owner, White captured the GT2 class victory in 2005 after podium finishes in '03 and '04. Overall, White's efforts have won every major endurance event included the 24 Hours of Le Mans ('03. '04), Petit Le Mans ('05, '06) and the Rolex 24 At Daytona ('01).
Every lap turned is valuable at Sebring. Adding to the level of experience, Bell came to Sebring and earned a hard-fought 7th in GT2 after leading the early stages of last year's contest. Drayson and Cocker also made their driving debuts at Sebring last March scoring 15th after an accident removed them from the running. Michelin's domination of each class podium for over ten years adds valued experience while many of the new team members at Drayson Racing have class victories in the world's great endurance races already on their resumes.
While every endurance race demands a level of expertise, few are more serious than lapping the 3.7- mile, 17-turn Sebring circuit for 12 hours. Sebring is often described as more torturous than the world's most famous sports car race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, despite lasting half the time. In anticipation of the strains the former WWII airfield - which comprises the bulk of the Sebring track - will have on man and machine, Drayson Racing has undergone exhaustive preparation of the V8-powered, front-engined British sports car. A season of lessons as well as a recent two-day Le Mans Series test at the Paul Ricard Circuit in France has pointed Aston Martin Racing (AMR) engineers, manager White and crew chief Ted Higgins to a series of changes to chassis, suspension, engine and gearbox since the car's debut appearance in April, 2008.
Drivers Drayson, Cocker and Bell have also put emphasis on physical and mental preparation. Each has continued, or increased, their regular fitness regime in order to be physically strong and mentally sharp over the course of their multiple, hour-long driving stints in the heat, dirt and bumps of Sebring.
Paul Drayson has pioneered "green", environmental causes in motorsports since the start of his career. As such, the Vantage GT2 is the very first GT car to be designed at the outset in a bio-ethanol fuelled specification. Having successfully competed in 2008 running the latest 'Second Generation' cellulosic E85 Bio-Ethanol fuel, the team will again fuel the Aston Martin V8 with E85 at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Among the 2008 achievements, Drayson finished second in the inaugural Green Challenge at the Petit Le Mans highlighting the team's efforts to advance environmentally responsible automotive technologies. Drayson Racing has again placed equal importance on winning the Michelin® Green X® Challenge Award at Sebring as it has on taking its first international race victory.
SPEED will televise the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida live from 10 a.m. to noon and 2-11 p.m. EDT. American Le Mans Radio and Live Timing & Scoring will be available at www.AmericanLeMans.com .
QuotesPaul Drayson, Owner/Driver:About lessons learned since ALMS Debut in '08: "Everything was new last year: new car, new series, new tracks and in the most competitive sports car series in the world. So I've learned a huge amount about racing at this level; in particular coping with the high speed prototype traffic. My main lesson is to remember these are long races; it's all about consistency and bringing the car home in one piece. But also, as the year has gone on, I've felt more at home in the car and had fun, which in itself, is a big factor in delivering a good performance. The car felt fast at Paul Ricard and a lot easier to drive. The understeer we had struggled with last year has improved and the car is working well on the Michelin tyres."About his preparations before a race: "I worked hard during the winter months to ensure I was fit enough; lots of running and rowing, etc. Mentally, I learned a lot from sword fencing over the years about calming the mind down when you are under pressure, about to go into a fight. Mostly, the process uses breathing techniques to reduce your heart rate when the adrenalin kicks in; very useful before answering questions in Parliament too."
Jonny Cocker, Driver: About Sebring: "The whole event is a spectacle just like Le Mans or Spa 24! For me the part that stood out the most was the last free practice during our practice qualifying run. The lap felt great and we posted a really great time for a GT3 Aston! I'm really looking forward to driving with Rob. We all want a great result from the weekend and I'm sure that working together as a team we will be able to achieve that."About the objectives for Sebring: "12 hours of racing round Sebring is extremely hard on the car, the bumps are very aggressive, and that really takes it out of the car. It's also a lot more physical to drive round Sebring than Paul Ricard for example; slower speed corners, big bumps and plenty of gear changes! 12 hours is a long time, so I think we will be approaching the race with the focus being to finish. The guys have done a fantastic job to have the car prepared! With the consistency of the Michelin tyres and the reliability from the car, I think we could be in for a really great result!"About lessons learned since ALMS Debut in '08: "Obviously, last year racing the ALMS championship was a fantastic experience for myself and Paul. We have learnt a huge amount in that time. We're now familiar with the track which will be a huge advantage over last year. Returning to Sebring in the Vantage GT2 should be great. I have a good feeling about things!"
Rob Bell, Driver: About joining Drayson Racing: "I met Paul, Jonny, Dale and the team last weekend at the Le Mans Series' test at Paul Ricard. It was good to meet the guys. They made me feel very welcome strait-away. The Aston looked pretty sharp in that test so hopefully I can bring a bit to the table. I feel good about it."About Sebring: "Sebring is different than any other American Le Mans Series race. For a Le Mans Series guy coming in it is not so bad. I have done the Le Mans Series for three or four years now and most of our events are six hours; plus the 24 hour races like Le Mans. So the distance is not a problem. The challenge in Sebring is the heat and the bumps. The biggest challenge is keeping your concentration up. At some places Sebring is relatively narrow. You have to keep your wits about you in those areas with the Audis and the Peugeots racing hard. We know we aren't going to go for fast lap time. Our goal is to make the finish. The most important thing for us is to keep our nose clean and get the Drayson Racing Aston Martin to the chequered flag."
Dale White, Team Manager: "We are at the mouth of the funnel now. We have poured everything in and we're waiting to see how it mixed. Sebring is always a big challenge. You have so many things that can impact your race; it is the first event of the year, it's 12 hours long and the track is one of the most difficult of the season. If you can put it all together here you know you're in for a good year. We weren't able to come here and test but we had a very good test at Paul Ricard earlier this week so everyone at Drayson Racing is very confident. We've had a busy winter and we're all eager to get out there and get racing."