This season treated us well. We had great success with numerous track records, pole positions and wins. But, it was not dissimilar to 2011 or 2010 – when I didn’t finish in the top three in the championship. So, what made 2012 a championship-winning year?
Sometimes it all comes together when you least expect it. In my short time in racing, I’ve learned that, similar to pursuing women, success usually comes when you’re most relaxed and when you put the least amount of pressure on yourself. Almost no one works well under pressure, so isn’t it logical that the idea of trying to win a championship from the get-go is a step backwards for any race team?
This year, I was very up front with my crew. I told them the championship was not the goal and it was not something we would focus on. I explained the stress of trying to win a championship not only takes the fun out of racing; and, when bad luck occasionally strikes early in a season, it can demoralize a team. It can make the team feel like the entire season has been a waste and focus and determination is lost. Did I mention it’s also not much fun?
I explained to the guys that 2012 would be what it would be and we would enjoy the season and have fun no matter what. This was not an excuse by any means to be less prepared or to skimp out on proper checks of the car or organization and fabrication of spare parts. That was not the intent of the message to the team. Instead, I wanted everyone to focus on what they could control in the present – not six races from now or two races ago.
It worked. Our team played a pivotal role in the championship run, even though we weren’t trying to win it. The focus my crew had this year was incredible. The guys found things on the car that could have cost us positions or finishes and we were always able to fix them well before the sessions began. We always prepared the car for the weekend or the race ahead with the mindset that we had a winning car and expected nothing less than a winning performance.
Naturally, as the season progressed and we captured more of a lead in the championship, the outlook on the season started to shift. The crew began to feel the championship was “ours to lose” and that we had it in the bag. I will admit that, at this point, conservative decisions were made on my part during some races to save the equipment. For example, I would shift at a lower rpm and not smash as many curbs if there wasn’t a chance of catching the car ahead. I took more interest in the spares that were being packed to ensure that no matter what object might hit the race car, we would be able to fix it.
But, the message to the crew (myself included) would remain the same – we want to go out there and win races.
Of course, our championship win this year was not only thanks to psychology. In the Canadian Touring Car Championship (CTCC) the points are structured in such a way that you need to finish every race. You get so many points just for finishing that you can’t afford NOT to finish.
Because of that, testing and preseason development is so important. You can’t be trying new things on the race car during the season; and, since we had a full development year in 2011, we were lucky to have a powertrain that was reliable. We kept a list of all previous failures with the cars and made sure we took steps to resolve them, but also to have the parts on hand to quickly resolve those issues if they did reoccur.
Let’s not discount luck, which was definitely on our side this year. When you add up all the good luck, it works out to about three races. We had an axle failure after qualifying at Montreal; the throttle cable broke in the middle during practice before Calabogie; and, my personal favourite, a little good luck after some bad:
There was some oil at the top of corner two at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park during Grand Prix weekend and I was the first car there on the second lap. I lost it at over 170 km/h and, by the time I hit the tires nose first, the car had only slowed down to about 80 km/h. I went more than two metres deep into the tire barrier and was then shot out like being fired from a cannon. Miraculously, I was able to drive away. Hood in the windshield and front tires smoking, I made it back to the pits, the crew repaired the crash bar, changed the tire, taped the hood down and I was able to finish the race. Just being able to finish was incredible considering the magnitude of the impact.
The last puzzle piece that made the championship possible was racing against great guys. When you race against competitors that are respectful and give each other racing room, you don’t have the DNFs we see in a lot of other series'. For a series like CTCC, with the points structured the way they are, this is huge. If it were a smash-up derby out there, then it would be the guy that got hit the least often that won.
The point I’m making is that it all can’t come together every year. If you put too much pressure on yourself and your team each year to win the whole thing, when your time finally comes you might be so jaded and frustrated – because of failed prior attempts – you could miss the golden opportunity that’s right in front of you!