I had an absolute ball on stage in the finals of the LetsPlayLive Project Cars ANZ Championship. I was having fun and driving fast, finishing both races in 3rd which put me 4th overall in the championship. Whenever I’m not winning there is always a feeling of it could have gone better but it’s still a mega result which I’m proud of.
Going in to the live finals at Sky City my mindset was completely about having fun, you might be able to tell by my walk out. I was sitting outside the podium positions in the championship with not much chance of catching up. It was also the second time I have been involved in a live finals on this very stage so I was much more relaxed than others going into it.
I flew up from Christchurch very early in the morning after a late night racing in the Gran Turismo FIA Championships. Throughout the day we completed media duties then got a chance to practice on the rigs. LPL did a great job of giving us plenty of time to get everything set up the way we like and do some full practice sessions. Going in I wasn’t so confident with my speed but during that practice I got very comfortable and with the new found confidence in my own speed my goals shifted to fighting for the top spots.
The LAN finals was the final round of the 7 round season so much of the championship was already settled. While 16 drivers had taken part in the pro league up to this point only 8 had qualified for the finals. The format of the finals was two 16 lap races around Mount Panarama in the Ferrari 488 GT3, the same car we had been using all season. Definitely a tough combination, one which had many of us predicting carnage over the top of the mountain during the race.
Qualifying for race 1 was the first test of who could produce under the pressure of competing on stage with the crowd cheering, lights shining, and camera crew buzzing around. I managed a mega lap to qualify on the front row in 2nd. Super happy with that my nerves started to build a little as I headed into the race. Unfortunately I didn’t get the start I wanted, losing positions. The battle was on the first couple of laps as I battled trying to get my position back. Again unfortunately that battle lead to me heading off road at the chase. I dropped further down to 5th. I was a bit frustrated but also confident I had the speed to come back through as there was a long way to go in the race. I did manage to put in good laps and move forward. One big off over the top of the mountain from a car in front of me gave me an easy position as I narrowly avoided the carnage. Then in 3rd place I was pushing with everything I had. Lap after lap trying to close in on 2nd with the gap seesawing around the 2 second mark. In the end I crossed the line to finish 3rd. On the podium WOOHOO.
Qualifying for race 2 and I was keen to repeat my ripper lap from the previous qualifying. Starting the session on cold tyres I was slowly building into it. A few minutes in I put a lap in that was not too bad but nothing special. The trouble was I ended up catching Sidawg ahead of me as I crossed the line to start a new lap. As we headed up the first straight I had his slip stream and was catching fast. Something you don’t want to do on a qualifying lap is get held up by another car or have to try and pass as it will just slow you down. I looked at the clock and was thinking I might have to back off for that lap and find a gap to complete one last lap at the end of the qualifying session. Then just as we reach the end of the straight Sidawg pulled aside to let me past. I was blown away. Knowing that he was a little slower he had sacrificed his lap to avoid interrupting me. I couldn’t let that sacrifice go to waste, time for full focus to nail this lap. With the slip stream I had received down the straight this should be a chance for a great lap. The whole lap I was concentrating to get the best out of the car but also conscious that I didn’t want to crash and waste this opportunity. When I crossed the line to finish the lap I looked up at the timing to see my lap pop up, just 1 tenth away from second place. A good lap but it wasn’t second. A million different thoughts ran through my mind. There was time for one last lap, it was time to throw caution to the wind, I was either going to beat that lap time or I was going to crash pushing too hard. Let’s go.
As the lap progressed the clock hit 0, next time I crossed the start/finish line the session would be over. I was throwing everything at it, taking maximum risk trying to find every tenth available. It came to the end of the lap and I crossed the line to hear the crowd erupt. I had taken second going half a second faster, WOOOOOHOOOOO!
Into the race and again I didn’t get a great start. Trying to hold my position on the outside of turn 1 I got pushed a little wide and lost spots. Again the battle raged for the first couple laps but this time it wasn’t me who ended up off track. Madzie had a big spin going into the chase. I was right next to him on the track so when I heard the crowd erupt and saw him take his hands off the wheel (he was in the rig next to me) I winced and almost closed my eyes scared that he would spin into and take me out. Thankfully that didn’t happen and I continued in third place. As the race progressed I was trying to hunt for second place once again. I made one big move which was the third time I noticed the crowds reaction behind me. The move didn’t last as I was again the hunter in third place. In the pit stop’s where the battled ended. I was trying to find every last tenth braking as late as possible into my pit bay but overshoot the mark big time and actually had to reverse up. When the pit stops resolved themselves I was over 5 seconds behind 2nd with not much race left to catch back up. I again finished 3rd, another great result.
At the end of the nights two races I still sat 4th in the championship. A great result but unfortunately just outside the prize getting top 3. Never mind that though because I had so much fun doing it. I also achieved my goal for the season of beating my friend and close rival Simon. The championship had been tough playing on Project Cars in the unforgiving Ferrari 488 but the live finals had made it all worth. I love live events, getting to meet all the other drivers, getting to perform on the big stage, and having people cheering you on through all the drama.
Seriously it was insane all the people I had supporting me. I’m still blown away that I had fans there who had put a sign together for me. My family were there cheering me on. I had so many kind words from people afterwards saying they were cheering for me both at the event and messages online. One person put the stream on their shops display T.V.s so they could watch while they worked and another let their kid stay up past their bed time so they could watch the stream and cheer me on from bed. Totally mind blowing and I can’t thank you all enough.
I truly felt like a superstar for the day and it made for an unforgettable event.
Full credit to the LetsPlayLive team and everyone who worked to put the production together, it really was an awesome event. I can’t wait for the next one.
The series in the media: