When I decided to try and compile a review of my racing year, I found that it had been one of change, but also one filled with a considerable amount of success.

If I go back fully twelve months, I find myself out of a job and looking for a new adventure. I was let go by Panoz at the end of the 2002 season, haven driven for the team the past six years, and it was like leaving a family. In that time, I saw many team members come and go and was one of the last original team members to hang around. I remember having mixed emotions at the time, and thinking how sad it was to leave the people I had got to know and respect. However, I also thought that it was time for a new beginning.

The timing of the departure worked for me - although I didn't really know it then. How many times does that happen in our lives? Job security is gone and you are put into the unknown for a little while. I suppose this is the time that they say 'ye must have faith', and I knew something would come up - because it always does.

My name was thrown around the teams in the hope that a good drive would come up, but the one I was really desiring the most was Bentley. I felt that this car was going to give me my best ever chance to win Le Mans, and I started to use all my little mind games to help it happen. I would visualise myself driving the Bentley down the Mulsanne, passing all those Audi R8s that I been trying to beat for the last four years. Then I started to tell myself 'I am a Bentley driver' - which, of course, gave me the believe that it would happen....

My first race of the year was in a prototype - but it was not the Bentley that I had been praying for. Instead, I found myself driving the #88 Multimatic-Ford for my pal Larry Holt at the Daytona 24Hrs. Larry and his team had built a beautiful Daytona Prototype for the new Grand-Am rules, and winning the watch, as some of you know, was becoming something of a priority.

I was driving with Scott Maxwell and Dave Empringham, two Canadian hotshoes, and the whole event was just great. We won the race, I got my watch, and driving with 'Max' and Dave was a real treat. The Daytona Prototypes were only a bit quicker than the Porsche GT cars, which made for a tough race, but my first race got the year off to great start.

I am not sure if my mind games made the difference but, not long after Daytona, I got the Bentley drive, and I was over the moon. I was going to be one of only a few 'Bentley Boys' - and it was a great feeling.

At the press conference in London, I kept looking at the car I was going to drive, and I was in a state of heaven. The car, as you know, looked so beautiful and sleek and, with all the people involved in the project, it was going to be really quick. I remember getting in the car at the first test and, after years of having driven the Panoz, found myself thinking how strange it was sitting up front where the engine should have been! The sensations and feelings I had developed over the last six years went out the window and I had to start again.

One thing that did strike me was that the amount of people involved in the Bentley programme. The team had over a hundred people involved in the project at the track alone - compared to the 15 I was used to at Panoz. It still amazes me that we did as well as we did in the Panoz.

The Bentley programme got off to a great start at the Sebring 12Hrs. We finished third and fourth overall, despite having to start from the back, and the cars showed their potential around a really tough track. Both Speed 8s were quick and reliable, and we even stayed on after the race to do another 13 hours of testing to prove that they would cope with double the distance at Le Mans.

We also did three 24-hour tests with the Bentley, which went really well, and we were really looking forward to Le Mans as we knew we had the quickest cars. Pre-qualifying proved this as we were easily the fastest thinbgs out there, and even the Audi boys knew that we would have to breakdown for anyone else to win.

When we got to the race, the British fans were out in force, and the drivers parade was just manic. Thousands lined the streets to cheer us on, and I became a Brit for the day - I even wore the British flag at Bentley's request. Some people asked me if this bothered me, but it didn't. I think we have separated ourselves too much as a race, and I just see myself as another human being sharing this planet. I would rather wear a pic of the world next to my name, to be honest.

Qualifying went well for us, as we were first and second. Both Johnny [Herbert] and I missed out on pole because of traffic - the team gave me the data from my Q attempt, which showed I was quicker than Tom [Kristensen]'s pole lap until the Porsche Curves. Still, second was okay, as qualifying means little in such a long race.

The race went according to plan for the #7 car of Tom K, Guy [Smith] and 'Dindo' [Capello], but not for us. We had too many little problems along the way, while car #7 had none. That in itself was amazing and they deserved to win the race. We had the quicker car, but you have to be on the track and not in the pits if that is going to count for anything.

So, Bentley did what it wanted to do and won Le Mans. It was bonus that the team got a 1-2 result, and it was an amazing experience being part of that programme. The dinner parties after Le Mans were something else, and I was sad to hear Bentley announce that it wouldn't be going back to Le Mans to defend its title - as I am sure that there are a lot of other people feeling the same thing.

After Le Mans, I was looking for something to do when a 'phone call came asking if I would drive a Ferrari 550 in the American Le Mans Series with Prodrive. I thought that this would be good to do, as Prodrive always do things well, and the future of the GTS class looks good.

When I first drove the car, I thought 'shit, what have I done', as going from the Bentley to the 550 was a real culture shock. It did take a little time to get comfortable in the car, but the speed soon came. My old Panoz team-mate Jan Magnussen and I were there to help Care Racing win the teams' and manufacturers' championships, as we had only joined the programme part-way through the season, and that also meant helping our team-mates, Tomas Enge and Peter Kox, to chase the title.

We did the first race at Sears Point and finished third, but it was obvious that the Corvettes were very strong and that it was going to take a little time to get on top of them. However, Michelin stepped up to the plate and the team introduced some developments that improved the car. Everything came together and we won the last four races. I got enough points to finish as 'best of the rest' behind the co-champion Corvette crew, and we only just missed the teams' title by a few points. I really enjoyed driving the Ferrari and working with the whole Prodrive team. Thanks guys - and Fi!

I also managed to fit in three races back home in Australia, although none went that well. I did two Aussie V8 races with the Dick Johnson team without success, and the Bathurst 24Hrs with the same result. I drove with Max Wilson in the two long-distance V8 events, and we got on very well together, and the team was great to work with too. They maye have been crap results, but it was nice to have the chance to get back and see old friends and family.

I planted a tree for Formula Green at Bathurst when I went back for the 24Hrs, so I would ask you have a look at the website www.formulagreen.com. I hope that racing around the world is looking at what Australia is doing in regard to the enviroment. If everyone followed suit, it would make a better world for our future.

Incredibly, every car I drove this year had the number eight in it somewhere. At Daytona, it was the #88, and, at Le Mans, it was the #8 Bentley. My ALMS Ferrari was #80, the Aussie V8 #18, and the Bathurst 24Hrs Ferrari 360 #48. To cap it all, when I attended the Autosport Awards, I sat on table 18. I am not sure that will ever happen again.

I hope that your festive season is a happy one, whatever your beliefs are, and that your New Year will be what you desire.

Speak to you again in 2004.




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