MINI Swansong 2012
The former British MINI Challenge champion turned up the heat in Monterey by producing a string of hot laps in the RSR Motorsports MINI R53 - despite having only ever "driven" the track on a computer simulator.
Chris - from Elderslie in Renfrewshire, Scotland - had walked the track as a kid and seen some YouTube footage but his test laps were so good that team boss Randy Smalley decided to give the young Scot the lion's share of the driving duties in the Continental Tire Sports Car Festival Powered by Mazda event in Monterey at the weekend.
After a string of mechanical and handling issues the RSR Motorsports MINI qualified in last place, 62nd on the grid. But Randy produced a battling stint then handed the car to the team's new young gun.
And Chris responded with a performance that attracted the attention of the whole paddock as he steered the MINI from the back of the grid into a top ten position in the ST class. Chris even pulled off a stunning overtaking move on the approach to the iconic Corkscrew to take ninth place on the final lap.
Chris - who also starred at Daytona International Speedway in January when he was the only member of the team to clock an average lap speed over 100mph despite never having seen the track before - is determined to make the most of the opportunity to forge a full-time racing career in the States.
He said: "We faced a lot of challenges, which wasn't ideal but the RSR team did a terrific job. They had to replace the clutch during one practice session and the car was a real handful during qualification. We made the decision just to park it up and go for it in the race.
"We were chasing the perfect set-up and we were struggling for pace but Randy and I were determined to put on a show for the MINI fans.
"We started last, but the team gambled with the strategy and it paid off for us. The first yellow flag caution came about 15 minutes into the race. The team took the decision to put me in the car then so I had two and a quarter hours behind the wheel.
"I caught the pack up, then we jumped a load of guys as they had to pit. It was a great call by the team. We started picking off the cars in front of us and I managed to into ninth on the approach to the Corkscrew.
"I was absolutely delighted to have got into the top ten, given the problems we had and the amount of time I had on track. I think I have shown what I can do. Daytona was special, but this was tough. I did the whole stint on one set of tires. The longest I have done before this was 45 minutes, but this was two and a quarter hours. It was the only way to make the strategy work, so I was glad I pulled it off because I had really bad understeer for the last hour."
Chris was also delighted to tame the famous Laguna Seca track and realize a childhood dream to race in California.
He said: "It was unbelievable. You can drive it as often as you want on a simulator or you can watch hundreds of laps on YouTube but it will not do the place justice. You won't get a true idea of the elevation changes. Even the front straight is so uphill. Everything about the circuit was a real challenge.
"The focus is on the Corkscrew and that is amazing. The first time I took it on, I was amazed at how little you can see. You basically aim for a tree - that is the only reference point.
"But it is not the toughest on the track. The left-hander before the Corkscrew as you come over the crest was a challenge because the car was a handful. You got a wheel off there and you knew you were in trouble.
"But the left-hander after the Corkscrew, Rainey Curve, is so hard. You expect to get a lot of grip but you had to fight the car to get it round and it was the same every lap. But what a buzz!"
The Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca event was the first of a stunning double-header to give the MINI R53 a sparkling send-off from the Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge.
The final race will be at Lime Rock, with Chris hoping to make another big impact. He joined forces with CruiseAmerica, RSR Motorsports, Motorwerks Magazine and Norman Nelson of Shasta MINIS to create the MINI Swansong. That fund-raising campaign attracted the attention of MINI owners, dealers and fans across the world.
There were more than 50 MINIS at the track as part of the Swansong and MINI USA brought the only pre-production new MINI JCW GPII to the track.
Many of those who supported the cause were at Laguna Seca to meet Chris and see the car. He added: "They were brilliant. I spent a lot of time with them and I am so glad they could be part of giving the car a decent send-off. They were all together watching the car come through the Corkscrew and I am sure I could hear them cheering every time I went past them."
(UK) 2 x Rolling Road sessions from Lohen
Olympic Velodrome Scalextric set from Scalextric
(USA) 1 x 1hr dyno run, 1 x air/fuel test run from Mce Racing www.mcedyno.com (California)
(USA) 3 x entry tickets for Mini Thunder IV (worth $199 each) at Thunderhill Raceway
more to follow!! :)