Eleven races, on three continents, competing for four separate titles in two (or three if you're being pedantic) different cars. All in a little over seven months.
I guess it's fair to say that 2009 has been a busy year for Jonny Cocker.
The 23 year old spent his third season with Drayson Racing, partnering the team's co-owner Paul Drayson in driving duties as the team began the season campaigning the GT2 class Aston Martin Vantage.
It's a season the driver himself describes as “tough” and “testing”. “We had a hard time again with the reliability and ultimate pace of the Vantage”, explains the driver as the team struggled against the more established Porsches and Ferraris that dominate the class.
The team started at the 12 Hours of Sebring in March, where the car ran well. However, the reliability problems that Cocker describes, his teammate Rob Bell parking the car with engine problems at two-thirds distance.
The team then moved to Europe, campaigning a second Vantage for the full Le Mans Series. “Splitting our season [between the US and Europe] only helped our racing,” said Cocker when TCF asked him what affect this 'world tour' had had on their season.
“The two cars were very well prepared by the Drayson Racing team and the people involved were consistent so it did not distract from our programme. We only ran the one race in the ALMS with the Vantage. It was the same car we raced there all last season so I felt comfortable. For me, the chance to race both in America and Europe actually added to the season. It was exciting and everyone was very focused and tuned-in to the challenge.”
A debut trip to Le Mans for the team served to lessen the frustration of the team, though once more the team were dogged my mechanical problems during the race, but as the season drew to a close came the biggest news for the Drayson team – the purchase of P1 Lola coupe chassis and Judd powerplant.
It was a change both Drayson and Cocker had to come to terms with, with neither having driven a prototype class car. “I think the biggest thing has to getting used to just how fast [the P1 car] is,” says Cocker. “That takes a bit of time, especially when you consider that I had never driven anything with proper downforce!”
However, even as the team were shaking down their new machine on the Stowe circuit at Silverstone they were determined to give their old car, the Vantage, the team had run since they entered ACO rules racing a proper send off at the final Le Mans Series race of the year on the Northamptonshire venue's Grand Prix track.
The team qualified sixth in a fourteen strong, super competitive class. Jonny, takes up the race view; “I got up into P2 in the first 30 minutes.”
“We had been making really good progress with the Vantage GT2 all year and… I was catching the leader by half a second a lap and I was confident that when I caught-up I would be able to make a pass.”
But once more bad luck was play its role Cocker and Drayson Racing's season. “I felt a soft rear tyre and had to pit with a puncture,” he continues. “That was just really heartbreaking to think that we could have been leading the race and been real contenders for a podium position!”
But if Silverstone was heartbreak, then Cocker and the team were to fall in love again, as the P1 Lola made its competitive debut at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, where the team showed themselves more than capable with running with their new P1 peers, before first a loose wheel, then the weather intervened. Worse still was to come at the ALMS finale at Laguna Seca when an early race accident all but destroyed the car and the team were faced with a lengthy list of repairs just to make the grid for the team's final race of 2009 – the inaugural Asian Le Mans Series at the Okayama track in Japan.
“The event was fantastic. It was a really brilliant end to the season,” says Cocker, and if it started well, it soon got better, the young driver taking pole position against opposition from Aston Martin, ORECA, Pescarolo and the Kolles Audis. “That was a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life!” he enthuses when we ask him what he considers to be the best moment of the season.
Unfortunately, the ultimate pace of the opponents saw Drayson Racing take a sixth, followed by a fourth place finish in the two races over the weekend, but Cocker takes the positives from a pair of performances that must surely rank among the team's best.
“Okayama was the first time that I felt completely comfortable in the car,” he says. “Now I have made that step I think its just going to be a case of chipping away each time I'm in the car!”
“The switch to the LMP1 Lola has changed our fortunes. With the result at Okayama it's really brightened up the whole year!”
“We had great pace all weekend and really established ourselves as contenders for 2010!”
Photo Credits: Regis Lefebure