Or how to win at Laguna Seca, then have a touring car make you feel like a beginner again....

After the ALMS win at Laguna, I was feeling particularly good about myself and my chances in the Australian V8 Supercar Sandown 500. I was looking forward to racing with the Dick Johnson Shell Helix Racing team, and also driving with their Brazilian regular Max Wilson.

However, when I got back 'down under', I soon remembered that it was winter in Australia, and that there was no better place than Melbourne to feel the bite of a real Aussie winter. The cold wind that blows across the Bass Straight would make any brass monkey sit up and take notice!

That first night, I got chance to have a VB - and Aussie beer - with Dick Johnson, who is a legend in Australian motorsport. When I was learning the trade in the junior ranks, Dick was already an icon, and his one liners are still repeated around the Aussie racing paddocks today.

Max Wilson, meanwhile, was as I remembered from when I first met him in another part 'warm' of the world, Silverstone, back in the mid '90s - short! When I got into the V8 to try the seat for the first time, I started to laugh as my knees where tucked up under my chin, and I thought 'Oh my God, what are we going to do about this?' However, after some serious brain bashing form the guys on the team, we came up with a compromise - they started to get the hacksaw out and take four inches out of my legs....!

Of course, I thought that this was a good deal, as my ALMS Ferrari team-mate Jan Magnussen would be happy with that as well. He is also a short-arse! In the end, however, common sense prevailed and I decided I would drive like a monkey in a cage.

I was licking my lips to get in these monster V8s - until I drove one. I felt like I had to go back to driving school, as I was as slow as a slug crossing a wet floor. I just
couldn't get it right at all. All those years of academy training with the beautiful Jaguars, BMWs, McLarens, Panozs and Bentleys seemed to have been wasted. The V8s are so heavy and their tyres are like rocks - they are more like a NASCAR than a normal racing car. I thought, because of the Ferrari experience, I would adapt much quicker, but I only had three sessions to get it right before race day and, when I went to bed the night before the race, I was still scratching my head.

Fortunately, Max and Steve Johnson - Dick's son - qualified the team's two cars twelfth and sixth respectively, but the times are so close in the series that a second covered the top 18 cars.

Despite being more than a touch concerned about my performance in practice, I can at least say that I pulled myself out of depths of depression in the race, and performed much better. Instead of being two seconds off the pace, I was a only few tenths off instead.

Things didn't go exactly to plan, however, and Max and Steve got punted off the track and into each other on lap four. Steve came into the pits to change a puncture, while Max got going again in last place. He was then driving like an angry man and had charged up to 14th when it was time for me to get in.

After a wet start, it was starting to dry by this time, and the team put me out on slicks. I was praying that the track was pretty dry because I still didn't have the normal amount of confidence in the car out there. However, to my delight and the team's, I found that I was holding my own out there, but I quickly found out that the guys' etiquette in racing was very different to what I was used to.

Eventually, I got pushed off the track by a green car, I think, and into the wall. I had to go back to the pits to change the tyres and so we lost another lap to the leaders. Then, guess what....? Yep, the pace car came out and we lost another lap.

Then it started to rain. Shit! Again!

I had never driven the car before this weekend and it didn't rain in practice, so I went back out onto the track with absolutely no knowledge of the car in the wet - so I thought to myself 'go for it!'

I found that I was passing cars for the first time in the race, and I remember thinking that the team should be looking at this, as my reputation as an international superstar had taken a real beating up to that point.

Then the hail came and the track was covered in ice.... That's Melbourne for you. The last time I saw ice on a track was in Lapland when I went to see Santa with my son, Sam.

At least the whole field was suffering equally, as we found that we could hardly keep the cars on the track - we all looked bad out there. Eventually, we got going again in earnest and, this time, I was starting to really enjoy myself out there. I was starting to feel part of the car and not being a (water)skier being towed from behind.

When the chequered flag fell slightly earlier than the specified number of laps, we had finished 19th or something, three laps down. Dick Johnson Racing had had a bad weekend all round, but I went away from this meeting a better driver because it gave me a renewed determination not to get my arse kicked again.

And, after a taste of the cold and wet in Oz, I was heading to the supposedly warmer climes of Miami to make amends.




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