eRacing Magazine Vol 2. Issue 9 - Page 40

It’s October 2014. Within 48 hours of beating Corvette’s Antonio Garcia to win the inaugural Tudor United Sportscar Championship at the season-ending Petit Le Mans, Chrysler drop the ultimate bombshell; they would be withdrawing funding for the SRT Viper GTLM programme with immediate effect, leaving newly-crowned Kuno Wittmer on the side-lines. Now an integral part of the TRG Motorsports family, James Newbold spoke to Wittmer, the man behind Christina Nielsen’s surge to the GTD class points lead.

Few could have seen it coming. At a time when Viper’s stock ought to have been at its most marketable, with a title defence and a return to Le Mans on the cards for 2015, instead there was only regret for the opportunity missed.

“It definitely hurt a lot,” Wittmer admits. “When you become teams champion and drivers champion in Atlanta, then Monday

morning you get the call to find out that all of a sudden the journey that I’ve been on for the last five years with Chrysler was over and done with, it’s heart-breaking.

“The five years I had at Chrysler were five of the best years in terms of my career. We pushed hard, we delivered on track, we delivered off-track, both my team-mate [Jonathan Bomarito] and I, and of course my two other team-mates on the 91 car [Marc Goosens and Dominik Farnbacher]. But it wasn’t just the drivers that got hurt in this whole thing, it was the team itself, Bill Riley and all his staff, everyone was affected by it.”

Aside from taking GTD honours in a one-off outing at Daytona in Ben Keating’s privately-entered Riley Viper, Wittmer’s outings in 2015 were limited to a few appearances in the Continental Tyre SportsCar Challenge. Although spending time with his young family was appreciated, the 33 year-old Montreal native was eager to get himself back in a competitive ride, and leapt at the chance to join Kevin Buckler’s TRG Motorsports, who needed a new co-driver to partner GTD title contender Christina Nielsen.

“You definitely never want to stay inactive for a long time, you want to always stay active as much as you can and always keep yourself going,” he says. “In the time I had away, I had around six or seven months to reflect and look at where I should go with my career. Yes of course spending time with family and staying physically active was good, but to align myself in my career was the most important thing.

“It’s not something you want to go crazy about, sitting on my couch all day long looking at my phone and waiting for it to ring – I’m not like that, I always try to stay positive and I knew something was going to come up. The deal with Christina was a really great option, she gave me a really good opportunity to help out.”

Once it became clear that James Davison would be forced to miss two rounds due to prior commitments in the Pirelli World Challenge, Wittmer was parachuted into the Aston Martin Vantage GT3 for Watkins Glen and quickly immersed himself with the team. Coming off the back of three-straight podiums at Lime Rock, Road America and VIR, Nielsen now leads the championship by six points heading to the Lone Star Le Mans at COTA, with only the Petit Le Mans to follow. If they can get it over the line, would it come as some form of redemption?

“Absolutely – my main focus is to have her win this thing, that much is plain and simple,” says Wittmer. “As much as I’m not on the top of the charts with my points, that’s not really necessary for me; I’ll still feel very accomplished as a driver that I’ve helped out the team and hopefully her secure the championship.”

Nielsen’s upturn in form isn’t just down to Wittmer’s driving efforts however. Attending PWC races as her driver coach has helped Wittmer form a bond with the Dane, a vital component of any successful partnership, and the fruits are already beginning to bear.

“I would say the biggest improvements I’ve seen in her is in the way she applies the things she learned from one series to the other, Pirelli World Challenge being a sprint series means you’ve got to get on top of things quickly,” says Wittmer. “It’s just little things like that, where she improved her outlaps as far as getting up to speed, attacking right away and defending aggressively and she’s brought that over to the IMSA side as well.

“I think she’s got it all going for her. You just have to see in the last five or six races, the consensus in the paddock is ‘hey, we don’t want to mess with this girl on track, she can really race.’ People are really starting to notice her talent, which is really great.”

The one thing missing thus far has been a win, but that’s hardly unusual this season, with the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of

Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler at VIR the

only winners amongst the top four in points. Wittmer feels the elusive first win is not far away, but rightly points out that it is of secondary importance at this crucial stage of the season.

“We’re absolutely due for a win, we’ve had three podiums and we’re right there, but priority always has to be the end game,” he says. “All through my career it’s always about where we want to be at the end of the season. If the second place championship contender is running P1 in COTA or Atlanta and we’re running second, we’re definitely going to go for it.

“We absolutely can’t take anything for granted, there’s nothing won yet, we need to stay humble and treat every round as just another race weekend. We can’t be thinking about what ifs and start putting strategies in our mind. All we have to do is stay clean, race hard and make no mistakes.”