Gas Monkey Energy Driver, Don Yount, went from racing his IMSA prototype car in Le Petit Lemans at Road Atlanta one weekend to competing in one of the most historic races, La Carrera Panamericana, in Mexico the next.
In this Q&A, Don discusses his experience at “La Carrera”, his Indianapolis 500 winning driving partner and a crash that launched him and his navigator off a 300-foot cliff onto a house.
Don Yount – Gas Monkey Energy
- Thanks for taking the time for GasMonkeyGarage.com. You currently race prototypes in some big races like 24 Hours of Daytona and Le Petit Lemans Atlanta – why was La Carrera Panamericana on you bucket list?
It’s a very historic race and it’s very appealing because it’s a race that takes place on the open roads of Mexico. Names like Bill France, Carroll Shelby and Juan Manuel Fangio from days of old make it something to day dream about during a modern day hectic schedule.
- Your driving partner was 2004 Indianapolis 500 and 2009 24 Hours of Daytona winner, Buddy Rice – how’d you both meet?
Met thru Gas Monkey Energy. We are both partners in the company and we met because we sponsor a lot of motorsports.
- How did you both prepare for the race?
Not enough. The car was prepared – I wasn’t. I had just run Le Petit Lemans in a prototype the week before in Atlanta. Racing was very fresh for me running 4 hours in that race, but I realized really quick what a different type of racing and how new to me La Carrera really was.
- Did you feel with the amount of experience you both have – you had a chance to win your class?
Buddy can drive anything with wheels – and fast. I believe we had a very good chance to win. We were sitting second in class when I stepped back in the driver’s seat after some really strong racing from Buddy.
- Were there other drivers in your class with the level of experience you both brought to Mexico?
There were several world class rally drivers. I think Buddy and I brought various types of racing experience to the race and we are both confident in our abilities to not only drive, but to adapt to many different types of conditions. Buddy has done different types racing and the Baja 1000 so he knew what it was like having a navigator sitting next to him calling the corners and actually having to deal with normal everyday traffic during different segments of the race which is what we had to deal with during La Carrera.
- What were some of the obvious and not so obvious differences than the type of racing you’re used to?
In road and oval racing, you drive the same corner hundreds of times. You look at data to improve your braking, reaction time and you’re constantly making adjustments to the car. At La Carrera, every corner was different and to make matters worse – many of them were blind with an adjacent cliff. Obviously a very different racing experience and learning curve.
- In La Carrera, you have a navigator – did you and Buddy ever consider navigating for each other?
Just briefly. When we met our navigator, Ben Slocum, we knew we made the right decision because he is world class. He’s been in over a 100 different races of all types – from Dakar Rally to Baja 1000. He’s an experienced navigator at La Carrera and he competed several times so he was worth his weight in gold.
- We understand you crashed on Day 3 – can you tell us the circumstances around the crash?
Ultimately it was my fault we crashed. I was pushing very hard and wanted to keep our 2nd place standing so Buddy could make a run for 1st when he got back in the car. Corners are called by degree by the navigator, but the notes the race organizers provide aren’t always precise. Knowing that, I should have been more conservative. I pushed thru a corner which was supposed to be a medium corner. As soon as I entered the corner I knew it was more severe than the notes said it was and I knew we were going for a ride over a cliff.
View crash video and read Don’s article in Drive.com here – Crash at 2:40
- What was going through your mind the moment you knew you were going off the road – did you think it was going to be bad/very bad?
I knew it was going to hurt and you can only hope for a soft landing and no boulders at the bottom. I never thought I’d die at that very moment and I didn’t see my life flash before me, but I thought this is going to hurt!
- You ended up hitting a house – were you going so fast that you rolled over the roof? How come you didn’t go through the roof and into the house?
We believe we rolled 4 times and one of the last rolls we hit a house. Thankfully it wasn’t a direct hit and we just hit the corner of the house and rolled off the side. It ended up being just a little damage to the corner of the roof and water system.
- You and your navigator walked away unharmed – was there a particular piece of safety equipment that saved you or was it the entire system that saved you both from injury?
It came down to the fact that a Porsche is a very well built car. Although the roll cage was broken and bent in several spots, it was very secure and also very well built. The car and my helmet withstood some pretty hard hits. My Hans device also worked very well, but cannot be used again in competition.
- Would you ever consider going back and competing again?
100% – I can’t wait. A couple of days after we got back both Buddy and I were already discussing going back. Buddy said he’d been up all night thinking of how to do it better and be more competitive the next time out. Since I’ll be running a full IMSA season in 2017 it doesn’t look like it’ll be next year but we’re already making arrangements to get back out there for the 31st running 2 years from now. So yes, we’ll definitely be back.