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Simon Dolan: My Finest Race

Image Courtesy of John Brown, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of John Brown, flickr.com

Simon Dolan is owner of British motor sport team, Jota Sport, and a successful businessman. He built SJD Accountancy into the UK’s biggest independent accountancy firm, and is now a Partner in PHA Media. Throughout the season, Simon is giving a unique insight into the secrets of success on and off the track. In his sixth blog, he reflects on a hard-fought triumph:

Part Six: The Sweet Taste of Success

We celebrated our first European Le Mans Series victory of the season at the Red Bull Ring in Austria and I think it may have been my best ever drive.

The car felt good from the moment I started driving. I got straight into a battle, which meant I didn’t have time to think about anything else. Normally, you might have a lap when you can settle into the race, but this time I was battling from the word go: as soon as I got out of the pits there was a car right next to me, which was in the lead. I drove for one hour 40 minutes and it was a battle pretty much all the way.

When you’re in a duel like that it’s about being in the now, it’s all about that particular moment. You can’t think about going off or crashing, you are just in it for that second. If it’s not as intense and you’re not in a battle there are times in a race when you can catch yourself projecting forward. If you find yourself doing that you need to snap out of it straight away and think about the next corner.

We’d come from Le Mans, the biggest race of the season, where we came second, and, before we got going, it was an anti-climax. It was difficult to adjust. But, as soon as practice started, I forgot about Le Mans and just concentrated on one thing: trying to win the next race.

On a track like the Red Bull Ring you are on it the whole time. It’s a lovely track. It’s quite high up in the mountains, about 700 metres, and you’re going 100 metres uphill on Turn 1 and 2, then back down as you come round the circuit.

Image Courtesy of Nuno Miguel Dinis, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of Nuno Miguel Dinis, flickr.com

The ambient temperature was 31 or 32 degrees, but the track temperature was 55. You don’t really notice it when you’re going round, though it would be different if you were in a closed cockpit. We were on soft tyres all weekend – some teams were on medium tyres, but we didn’t feel it was quite hot enough. It’s a very fine margin. On soft tyres you’ll go faster, but medium tyres will last longer and so give you a quicker average time.

The safety car was out five times during the race, which was very disruptive. We decided against pitting while the safety car was out because we were worried about being stuck a long way back and then having to fight to get through the traffic from the back of the queue.

Our thinking was wrong, we should have pitted then. We ended up pitting later and making life more difficult for ourselves. But it’s like in business – you start with a business plan and a direction, then you get going and things change. How you get to the end destination isn’t always the way you expected to do it.

We got our strategy wrong, but no one was blaming anyone else in the team. Everybody knows that mistakes are made so the mentality has to be “We have done it, it’s happened and we’ll learn from it”.

Our team has been the same group of people for a long time now and that makes a big difference. We realise that we are all performing at a very high level, but sometimes things just go wrong. That’s humbling, it brings you straight back to reality no matter how many races you’ve won. The mistakes are the things that lead to improvements.

In the end, after 151 laps and four hours of driving, we won the race by 27.478 seconds. We are leading the championship, but there’s still two fifths of the season remaining and 52 points at stake. It’s really tight. Even if we win the penultimate race of the season in France and our nearest challengers come fifth or sixth we’ll still need to get a good result in the last race at Estoril in Portugal.

I’m going away on holiday for August, but I can’t switch off from racing. I’ll be thinking about it the whole time. I’ll go over last year’s race mentally and read the track notes. My team mate Harry Tincknell writes very detailed track notes immediately after every race – one turn of the steering wheel on this corner; use this bit of concrete on this one – and that means you arrive at the track properly prepared. You’re already visualising the way you’re going to drive the race.

I’ll be thinking about the remaining races, but I’ll also be able to relax with the family. Then I’ll come back refreshed and ready for the final push in the title battle.

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Find out more about Simon, Jota Sport and the European Le Mans Series

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