• Alexander Rossi's ESPN column

Montreal to Le Mans

Alexander Rossi
June 18, 2013
Alexander Rossi was well supported in Canada during his FP1 drive © Sutton Images
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It's been a crazy few weeks for me as I juggle so many commitments at once, and it all started with my FP1 drive for Caterham in Canada. Obviously there was a lot of hype around the fact that I'm American and almost driving on American soil, so it was one of the free practice sessions that I was very much looking forward to as it's pretty much as close to a home race as I can get apart from Austin at this point.

Going to the track I was very excited about the opportunity, and while the conditions weren't awesome I still got to drive an F1 car so I obviously can't complain too much! I must admit I would have preferred that my first time driving the car in the wet hadn't been during an official session just because I've never driven on the F1 wet tyres or on inters, so I was struggling to find where the window of performance was.

My goal quickly became to just bring the car home in one piece, do the plan for the team and not take too many risks. The chances that something could go wrong were so high that it wasn't worth it, and I'd rather leave a little bit of time on the table than be remembered as the person that crashed the car in the free practice session! So in my mind it wasn't a very good session; I look back on it and in terms of performance would have liked to have done a lot more, but in terms of doing what I needed to do and getting the first one under my belt I couldn't have asked for much more really.

Having a few days to look back on it means I know it was a positive 90 minutes, but just being competitive I obviously would have liked to have been closer to Giedo. That's the way it is and I'll just have to wait until the next time I'm in the car to show that I can be just as quick.

Conditions were not great on Friday in Montreal © Sutton Images

I got 20 laps done during the session and I'd say you need another 10 to feel comfortable in those conditions for the first time, though it's difficult to say. I think it's more difficult because during a free practice session your running is very disrupted - you have to carry out the preliminary tests and aero maps and stuff - so it's not consecutive laps like you'd get on a test day. Normally in dry conditions you'd just fill the car up, go and do 20/25 laps to just get a feel for it and perhaps try a few things but I was only getting four or five lap runs and I had to make the most of it.

As it wasn't a fully wet track the conditions were changing every time I went out, so not only was I trying to figure out the car but the track was changing too. So I was always a little bit behind the eight ball, especially when they put the inters on. I'll admit I was a bit lost because I've never driven in any series that has had intermediate tyres, so when I ran those I had no reference so had to be a bit conservative.

Even when it started to dry out and the team put me out on slicks it was another kind of unknown to me. Tyre blankets in F1 are something you don't have in GP2 or anything else, and I was conscious that I didn't really know how much grip there was going to be but I have to push from the out lap or else I'm going to lose the tyre temperature and I'm never going to get it back. It was another one of those learning experiences which looking back I know I needed to have done A, B and C differently, but the team got all the information they needed and there was no mistakes so I can't complain.

On Friday evening at 8pm I left Montreal and landed in Paris at 8am French time the next day! I drove to Le Mans, got my seat fit done, had some time to understand the car as I had never seen the LMP2 car before and then spent Sunday driving. Basically because I've never done Le Mans before as a rookie I had to do 10 laps within a 107% rule as like a qualifying to allow me to race. That was the main objective and once that was completed we could play around with the car a bit but conditions were very similar to Montreal; 80% of the day was raining and I didn't actually get to drive the car in the dry!

Caterham was running its LMP2 car the same weekend as the Canadian Grand Prix © Caterham

I only got a few corners in the dry so I'm still going in to the weekend with a little bit of an unknown there. I'm not too concerned though, because I know the track and we get so much track time - starting on Wednesday - before it actually starts to count. It's a mix of daytime and night-time driving all through to Friday and, while it is practice, every lap is recorded so your best lap over those three days is your qualifying lap basically.

Le Mans hasn't been my only focus though; I'm actually doing this column from Naples. After practice last Sunday I flew directly to Naples to film a commercial for Kiton Menswear's Fall fashion campaign. Obviously my background is racing and not fashion or film, so this was definitely a learning curve, but it's a good laugh and takes your mind off racing for a bit. It's something different and with getting in to Formula One being so competitive the results on track mean just as much as the things you're doing off track, so if you can build a good brand image and have that package to be able to offer that will put you a bit higher than anyone else.

I'm pretty tired off the back of all of it but fortunately I'm still young so I'll survive! Attention has turned back to racing now and it may be my first Le Mans but the Zytek-Nissan package that we have is one of the strongest in the field. The team that I'm running for won in 2010 and 2011 with my team-mate Tom Kimber-Smith, so there's a lot of depth there. I think the car is quick; I'm not too sure about in the dry yet but in the wet we were right within a second of the top guys over a four-minute lap, so I think we'll be competitive and need to go in to it hoping for a podium.