Circuit of the Americas
ST Started: 11th
ST Finished: 4th
GT Started: 17th
GT Finished: 11th
Austin race weekend started on the Monday before the race, when I received a phone call from a team owner other than my own, asking if I was interested in helping them out with their second car (the #22 Burton BMW 128i). The current driver situation had some changes, and they wanted to fill the hole by adding me to the roster. Once I cleared this with my current team, Scuderia Corsa, I started to prepare mentally (and physically) for driving on one of the hottest weekends we’ve had this season…twice as much as normal.
This was a goal of mine, to pull “double duty” and race in both the Continental Tire Sportscar Championship as well as the Tudor United Sportscar Championship, or whatever multi-syllabic name they go by these days. As a driver/independent contractor, it’s important to talk to everybody and develop relationships for opportunities just like this. If there were a Racecar Driver 101 course in college, the first topic would be networking and what it can do for you. You never know what can happen from relationships or introductions, even if it’s intangible immediately, a year or two down the road your name could come up, so I view every opportunity as a potential new network of contacts and opportunities both in the motorsport business and out.
Tuesday for me was a burn day, which meant I got to move some of my stuff out of my apartment in SF to my new place in San Mateo. This move would be ongoing during the month of September between my races, coaching jobs, the final planning for my wedding in October and honeymoon, as well as sorting out racing programs and partnerships for 2015. I was supposed to test my time attack Subaru (the 1000+hp monster seen earlier in the thread) but the team had an issue with the tow rig, so we rescheduled my test day to evaluate the new engine package and chassis set up. Although moving is a major PITA, having such a small apartment helps because frankly, its less crap.
Wednesday was a travel day, 0600 departure from SFO to arrive in Austin just before 2pm. This was selected strategically due to a track walk at 1700-1900, and for me, an intro/logistical planning with Burton Racing and the BMW over the next 4 days. Not only would I need to manage being at the right trailer at the right time in the right suit, but also have my equipment pulling double duty as well for all supporting meetings, debriefs and sessions. This would prove to be more mental stress than I originally anticipated, but ultimately was manageable in that both Burton Racing and Scuderia Corsa were very accepting of my timetable being tight at times.
The caveat to this situation is that though the new Austin track is glamorous and new, it’s also VERY spread out, as are the two paddock spaces. Not a walk away, as it’s more of a 5-minute scooter ride. Nonetheless I was able to get everything set up, mapped out and learn the dials, switches, dash, and nuances of the BMW before the first intimate drive on Thursday morning before the track walk with my engineer for the Ferrari. 3.3 miles and 1 hour later of scouring the surface and 20 corners, we head into the truck to pack our stuff and grab BBQ at a local spot that is pretty famous called The Salt Lick, then head to sleep.
Thursday was the first day on track for the BMW and the Ferrari, with two practice sessions and a qualifying session in the BMW just before the 1st practice in the 458 GT with a 0730 arrival. The plan was to get my full season teammate comfortable in the BMW before I got my time, so I would do a maximum of 50% of the practice, but probably less. Then I would qualify the car at 1630-1645 before I had to change outfits and jump in my Ferrari for practice at 1700-1800.
This meant I would have to learn a new car, a new tire and the respective characteristics of both in less than one hour of track time, then be ready to qualify. Luckily for me, three years ago when I met Victor from TNVC, I was racing for a BMW team called Insight Racing that was affiliated with Dinan, and this Burton Racing BMW 128i is not so different from the BMW 328i I drove for Insight/Dinan.
It’s a bit shorter, and taller, but otherwise it’s similar. It has four tires and a little blue/white roundel on it. Working with a new team, teammate and engineer is a challenge, but something I was ready for, and kept my ego checked at the door to help expedite the car’s progress on track with handling, as well as my teammate and I progressing together.
You can’t force the sort of “gelling” that takes place with a good team structure, which is essential for success and lack of mistakes. Ultimately all worked out though, as I prepped for qualifying sitting in the BMW on false grid thinking about running over to the Ferrari truck after qualifying and If I would make it on time, I was able to find some clear track during the 15 min session and put a lap together that would have us start the race from 11th, a season best for the #22 BMW as well as being the fastest BMW of any team.
This was an uplifting result after working diligently to cure some handling imbalances the car has in the first 2 practices. We had a small amount of understeer (lacking directional grip from the front tires) that stifled the momentum the car was capable of around the slower corners, and an oversteer (lacking lateral grip from the rear tires) in the high-speed corners, mainly the esses. We made some changes to the car, and the car responded well. Yet I am a perfectionist, which is why racing still keeps me so interested, it’s the constant pursuit of perfection without the possibility of ever achieving 100% perfection.
I jammed over to the Ferrari and sat in for Practice 1, putting in about 25 minutes of laps in the much higher powered, bigger tired, and lighter red car. What a difference!!! About 20 seconds or so per lap, boy what aero, grip and horsepower will do for you. There was an abnormally loud whine from the gearbox, which after the session we diagnosed as a piece of gear material floating around the gearbox case that eventually found the big 1st gear and ejected itself shown below.
Otherwise, the hardest thing to adjust to was actually the braking, the braking power from the 458 versus the ABS system in the BMW, and optimizing both. ABS is a nice tool to have in the pocket, however it’s not the MOST efficient way to slow down. Most street ABS systems detect lock up, then release the brakes momentarily to let the tire spin, and re-apply the requested pressure.
On a scale of 1-10, it goes from an 11 to a 9, then back to an 11 if your foot hasn’t moved on the pedal, which in a panic stop it usually hasn’t. This is great to avoid locking the tire for 100 yards, yet it’s not the most efficient way to stop. The most efficient way is to put the braking system at 9.99 and keep it there, or in other words not to go beyond the threshold of the tire to stop in the shortest distance possible. But the ABS sure is a nice human error safety net! The Ferrari team and I debriefed after the 1 hour practice, and then ran to the catering tent at the track for a bite at 2000 before driving back to the hotel. My family did fly in today, but I was so wrapped up with everything I forgot to eat lunch, so come dinnertime I was wiped out, and called it an early night.
Good thing I got 8+ hours of shuteye, because a 0745 meeting at the track to welcome the new race director and staff had all of the drivers wiping the sleep from their eyes with an informational, yet quite dry meeting that lasted 30 mins. Then it was time to pre-brief practice 2 in the Ferrari, and get in the car. As I pulled out of pit lane, I felt a significant amount more of confidence in the grip of the car, and left pitlane in a flurry of V8 acoustics.
After this run, of which I improved my lap time in, I got changed and ready for the start of my Continental tire race in the BMW just 1 hour later. With the pre race festivities, fan walk and grid it actually was full throttle for me 15 minutes after the Ferrari practice. Time to switch gears, get my head around shifting the car with the clutch and actually moving the shifter, having ABS, way less HP and less grip. My teammate meets me on grid with the #22 car, some 15 minutes before the anthem and the cars roll off to discuss the driver change which we forgot to practice, one of the casualties of my busy schedule this weekend.
After that was ironed out, I got comfortable in the 90+ degree day with nearly 90% humidity in my suit and helmet, aboard the #22. One last look at the switches; “ignition, starter, wipers, defrost, diff cooler override, engine fan override, ABS reset, ECM fuse, alarm reset, page change, pit speed limiter, radio” got it, all the essentials I might need.
Sure enough, after a jumped start by a few cars around me, it was a good idea I knew where all the ancillary controls were. As I worked my way forward, a rainstorm started to fall on 3 sections around the track. Not enough to need wets because 70% of the lap is dry, but wet enough that I needed to KILL my rolling speed in the corners where the storm was happening.
Racing on slicks, door to door with weather that’s changing like that, is a blast. Other cars were cautious down the back straight with a torrential downpour, yet the rain stopped at the 150M board which was good, because I brake at the 100M board in the BMW. So I could stay flat out, door to door and confidently out brake the others since I knew that I would have dry grip once I hit the brakes, or at least I knew it last lap ;)
After thinking, man this sure is along time in the car, I get the call that it was within 12 minutes of the pit window. In this class of car, the strategy is a one-stop race, meaning one pit for tires, fuel and driver change. Almost immediately after that radio transmission, boom, there goes the grip from my rear tires, oversteering into many of the corners around the lap, especially the long 4 apex right (turns 16-18).
I hang onto the car for 5 more laps and pit under green. As I am rolling down pit lane and loosening my belts, I am going over all my responsibilities I needed to do for Conor to get in and going. It was at this point I realized just how hot I was, my brain was having trouble recounting all the tasks I needed to do. So I would be doing it by the seat of my pants more or less, going off prior experience.
Speed limiter on, foot to the floor, belts are loose, find the pit board, keep the car on once stopped, disconnect my radio, stop, seat back, window net off, GET OUT! Next, help Conor get belts aligned as he buckles them, move for the jack man, get his window nets, shut the door, ahhhhh, nailed it.
I got back to pit lane and put down 2 water bottles and one Gatorade, then proceeded to walk down pit lane to cool off. I had driven the car up to 5th place, and we only lost 1 spot during the pit stop, so Conor sat a strong 6th, still the first BMW in the field. Through the remainder of the race (just over 1 HR), Conor made up 2 spots with rain that became heavier as the race progressed and brought the Burton Racing BMW home in 4th place, almost a podium and a 2014 season best.
Job well done, now I have 15 minutes to change and get into the Ferrari for our last Practice before the race.
Alessandro drove his tail off, but with the current BOP (Balance of Performance) or as I call it Balance of Points, the Ferrari just took on more weight for this race, so the best we could qualify was 16th……of 17th. Everyone was in shock just how bad it was for our car, since they gave the Porsche less weight, and a 55mm front splitter (bigger), and dive planes, AND vented front fenders to create more downforce.
It was truly ridiculous; we are not even close to competitive on a single lap. Both Ferrari’s were 1.5 seconds from the pole time. This meant he and I would have to focus on the long run, and make headway on track over many laps, not just a single one, with good pit execution to overtake cars on pitlane as well. The team all soaked in the reality of our fate from the series, and talked about productive ways to get them to revisit the regulation change, otherwise we are dead. This night I was able to wrap up with the team and enjoy a meal with the family in town, which was a nice break from the guttural hurt that was our situation with the car. I found a great new place on South Congress street and I refilled the tanks for the big Tudor race tomorrow.
Saturday…the TUDOR United Sportscar Championship Race
Saturday morning, 0700 drivers meeting, warm-up session, autograph session and pre-grid all within three hours, a VERY compressed morning that was so hectic I almost forgot a “nature break” before the race start. Amidst all the rushing, racing two cars for two different teams, surprisingly I was the most calm I have been on pre-grid, able to just soak it all in with a jovial attitude.
It was hotter than the day before though, a moment of “oh sh*t” in the mind before we actually get started since this race is longer, the cars are faster requiring more focus, and they produce more heat. I climb into the #63, and head out for the 2 recon laps before the green. As we pack up and line up double file, I hear the call for the green right before I arrive at the last corner, except my message is “YELLOW!”
No start was given, so we all sorted ourselves out in the following lap for a second try. Bingo, we got the green, and I was able to make up a few spots immediately. Then in the next 30 minutes, I was picking off one car at a time, and having a long dragged-out deal with a faster Audi from Flying Lizard. I was MUCH quicker than the driver in the #45, yet the Audi had a better straight line than us, so even though I could get close, it wasn’t close enough to control the corner for the pass. So I started to fill his mirrors, looking left, looking right, watching him start to react to me, and lock his tires under braking.
Eventually he would make an error big enough for me to get by, and he did in the form of a decision to go around a car that was spun out at the exit of turn 12. He hesitated, then went the long way, I went the short way and was able to get along side him on the outside, but far enough ahead that I could start to slowly squeeze him and get him to concede the position.
“YES, finally!” I thought to myself, and began to pull away from him about 1 second per lap. 8th place from 17th all in an hours work, ready to hand the car over to my teammate for the remainder of the race (1.5 hours). We had a debris caution for a bumper that was sitting in the middle of the track, and on the tail end of that I was summoned into the pit lane for the driver change.
As I got out of the car, I realized how hot I really got in the car. I actually had a hard time forming my words to my engineer about the car over the stint. I took one water and one Gatorade, and once I started to have my heart rate slow I grabbed some food, a sandwich to be exact.
Just a scant 30-minutes later, after Balzan pit with a flat tire, he called in reporting heat stroke. Loss of vision and loosing the head’s ability to focus. My engineer turns to me and gives me the “Suit up” gesture. “WHAT!? I literally just finished my food and my Pellegrino soda, I hardly think this is a good time to get BACK in the car for 50 minutes more. But it didn’t matter, the point is that the #63 needs to get in and out of pit lane as FAST as possible, then turn laps for the remainder of the race.
I left pit lane on old tires, and noticed that I had significantly less rear grip than I thought, and these tires needed to last me just under an hour more, which would be a tall order! I pushed as hard as I could while fighting the heat, and limiting my wheel spin exiting the corners, actually feeling queasy at some points, like I was about to loose control of my gut.
Nonetheless, there are far more people that have it worse off, so I suck it up and charge on. After about 40 of my 50 minutes I feel my feet getting really hot, and my heart beating very fast, gut still feels odd, and I almost could pee myself for relief in the stomach yet I had nothing to expel as I was sweating out like crazy.
I hear the radio message, “5 more laps bud, hang in there” and in my mirror I see a Porsche catching me. NO way do I want to yield my position that I had gained to the Porsche behind, but in the next 4 laps I watched him get closer and closer, every braking zone.
Hindsight, I always feel like there was something MORE I could’ve done, but when the Porsche caught me with it’s less restricted engine, 286lbs less weight and more down force, my used up tires were no match for his machine. I could’ve blocked him hard for two laps, but my guess is when we hit the straightaway on the last lap I was a goner anyways since the Porsche has a trap speed 3-5mph better than our Ferrari. The current balance of performance is very frustrating, and I hate to blame it but there really is a gross imbalance currently, which makes the competing side of it as a driver a daunting task to still perform.
As I crossed the checkered, my mind was filled with thoughts, thoughts about the next race, how our car would fare, how many more seconds in this heat do I need to endure before I can get out, what would the team say, I wonder what I am going to have to drink tonight… At the end of the weekend, I had a cautiously positive feeling moving forward since it was a good effort from me in both cars, regardless of the results. Yet I am a team player, and am sore about our P11 finish in the Ferrari. Oh well, on to the next one!