Showed up Wednesday in London with considerably less issue getting to my destination this time (no delays or lost baggage.) If you want to know what I mean, you must have missed my most recent blog so go back and check it out at www.alecudellracing.com. I got in an extra day early this time in case there were any issues. From the rental car park I headed straight to the Brands Hatch, where I was greeted by beautiful countryside and an awesome looking track.
I started by walking around the facility. There was a bike event going on at the track when I arrived but I wanted to get to know the place before hand (side note: they had comfort food for any Americans making the journey out there) I found a race sim shop called Race Room that had some simulators setup for the track so I got a bit of extra practice to get a better feel for the track… I set the fastest cup car time on their sim in the process. Even if you’re just going as a spectator there’s still a way to get the rush of being on track! I also found out there was a track event going on Thursday that I might be able to hop into so I worked on a plan to do so. I got a seat in a little Peugeot 208 to do an hour’s worth of track time beforehand on the GP circuit. I think that time proved to be valuable.
After the track time I had the afternoon to explore. I found a pub called Black Horse Tavern not too far from the track and the wonderful staff there suggested I visit Igtham Mote, a typical English castle. Which was quite hard to find. If you’re going to Brands Hatch I definitely recommend having a car and be prepared to go down what would be a one-way road in the US but is actually a two-way road that someone will be flying down from the other direction! After getting some touristy stuff out of the way I went back to the track and began setup for the weekend with my MDM teammates.
Friday was another day of just setup, driver briefing and the track walk. Having gotten to explore the track on Thursday in the Peugeot, it was nice to be able to actually take a closer look at the track. The only thing that sucked was it was raining and cold! I can’t get away from it this year, same as in Monza! When walking a track you really get a feel for the elevation changes in the course. In the car they seem less drastic and TV definitely doesn’t do it justice. The turn they call Paddock Bend, for example, drops off probably 50-feet from the beginning to the end of the corner, and you’ve got to turn-in before you can even see the apex curbing! The whole track is filled with turns like this, so the time walking it to really get a feel was welcomed.
Saturday was a busy day. Brands Hatch reminds me a lot of Lime Rock. There’s noise restrictions on the track so that it can only have loud days every so often which is why all of
our testing and racing was squeezed into two days. It also reminds me a lot of the Connetticut track because if its surroundings: from the greenery surrounding the track to the steel barriers glaring at you around the whole track.
Back to the competition. So we had Free Practice One (FP1), FP2 and qualifying all on Saturday. For me this meant: 1. I had to be on my game and up to speed in my first two laps, 2. We had little time to get cars sorted and 3. We didn’t have time to make mistakes.
FP1 and FP2 went alright. We struggled a bit for pace partly due to not opting to run new tires for either session and partly due to the balance of the car not being exactly what we were looking for. We improved in FP2, so going into quali we felt a bit more confident. Theeeeennnnn it snowed. Yeah, snowed. I had just left 90-degree sunny Houston and was greeted by snow in England… go figure. Nevertheless as the engineer told me, we race in any conditions so be ready. Luckily the snow was short lived and turned to rain quickly which then turned to sun. The track was mixed conditions for us in quali, drying every lap so the focus was to stay out and get in every lap possible. My co-driver, Simon Knap, was to start Race One so qualifying one was his. He went out and the track was quicker each lap due to the water drying up. Ultimately, he put the car P12 for us for the first race, not a bad spot to start from. Qualifying two was my turn. To be honest, it wasn’t much to write about. We had two red flags, session got cut short and I only had one decent lap put in which put me P25. It’s tough coming to new places and getting weird conditions that cause you to lose track time. I was pushing hard into T1 and missed the brake point by 12-feet, put two wheels off in the grave and it sucked me all the way off which was enough to mess the one lap I should’ve had up. We had our work cut out for us! Luckily the weather was more cooperative and stayed dry for the race.
Simon started and he had an awesome first stint. He was up to sixth-place before the pit stop. The way the stops work in the SRO GT4 Europe series is you have a target time you’ve got to be in the pit lane for, too fast and you get a penalty, too slow and you’re losing time on the track. Our pit stop was damn near perfect! The target pit time was one-minute, 38-seconds and we hit it in 1:38.1, picking up a spot in the pit lane along the way. In my stint, I fought hard against an Aston Martin for fifth-place which I couldn’t hold off until the end and we finished the race in sixth. Up six spots from the start, not too bad!
I started the second-race. Like I had said before, I had a lot of work cut out for me. To me though, some of the most fun races are the ones where you’re passing a bunch of people. My goal was to bring the car back in the top 10, meaning I’d need to pass 15 cars. The start of the race and the first three laps are the most crucial in this respect. This is when all the cars are bunched together and you have an opportunity to make up some ground. In the end though you’ve got to have a car to give to the teammate to finish with so you can’t be a battering ram. Again, it’s about the fine line of aggression and conservation. By turn one I figure I’d picked up about 4 spots, then into turn two there was a lot of commotion ahead of me, all I did was look for a clean way though and from there picked up another 4-5 spots, maybe more! After the first few corners the grid about settles out into single file racing and you’ve got to setup passes rather than look for open places to put the car. This requires a bit of mental chess. Our car has good torque, straight line speed and cornering through the high speed turns, so our best passing option was from turn 4 to turn 5. The idea was to show the nose into turn 4 to get the car in front on a defensive line. This means they run a narrower entry into the corner which hurts the exit speed onto the long straightaway as it will take more steering angle and slower speed to get through the corner. From there you run a normal line through turn 4 to get a good exit, draft up to the rear of the car on the straight and go inside into turn 5 if possible. I was able to do this a number of times along with a couple passes into Turn 2 and was able to pass the car off around 10th or 11th depending how you look at it with pit stop cycles. This is exactly where we were shooting to be when we did the driver change! Unfortunately, our great pit stop from Race 1 wasn’t replicated and we came out of the pit in 20th. Simon did a great job picking spots up and brought the car home in 12th. Up 13 spots from the starting position, so I’ll take it!
My lasting memories of the track will definitely be snow right before qualifying and the rollercoaster of a back half! It’s an old school style fast flowing track with large consequences when you go off. We didn’t quite get everything out of what he had for both races but it was a strong weekend and gives good momentum going into the middle of the season. Off to Circuit Paul Ricard in France next, if we can’t get sun and nice weather in the South of France I don’t know where else to go!
I arrived at the Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport on Tuesday Morning, April 9th. Originally I was expecting to leave from Houston at 2pm on a flight to Newark Liberty, then from Newark onto Malpensa Airport outside of Milan…. sounds simple right? Well it was anything but. My first flight out of Houston got delayed. I had a bit of wiggle room in my layover, about two and a half hours, but this was quickly eaten up by aircraft maintenance issues. If you’re asking me (and you are cause you’re reading MY post) this should’ve been taken care of in the six hours that the plane had between the first flight it had taken in the morning and our flight. OK well easy, just get re-booked, right? Well. Sorta. There’s only one flight out of Newark each day to Milan, it takes off at 6pm and lands at 9am in Italy. If I missed my flight to Milan I’d be stuck in New York for 24 hours and would miss the first on-track session at Monza. That wasn’t going to fly (ha, pun intended.) Luckily I was able to call United and get a seat on a flight from Houston to Munich and could catch a connection from Munich to Milan. Perfect, this would get me over the pond and at least shooting distance to my destination. I board that plane (now the second plane I had been on that day) take my seat and get ready for a nice 9 hour overnight flight in economy… the plush life of racing drivers. Anywho, as I’m playing Super Smash on my Switch I hear the captain come over the intercom and inform us that THIS plane now has some maintenance issue and they’re going to de-plane us from this flight. How lucky could I be?! Two flights, both delayed. Well the plane was going to be delayed for only God knows how long. The initial estimate for service put me in too late to make my connection to Milan. I called United again and got re-booked on yet ANOTHER flight. This one went from Houston to Frankfurt then Frankfurt to Milan and went off without a hitch.
Once in Milan I made a claim for my luggage (which didn’t arrive for another 36 hours) and headed for the track. I figured my bad juju for the weekend had to be out of the way now. The team was at the track setting up the tent and everything for the weekend. I did the bit I could to help with setup and got prepared to do a track walk. The track in Monza is pretty neat. Built in 1922 it was the third purpose-built race circuit in the world, following Indianapolis and Brooklands. Notably, the circuit features a high speed banking added to the circuit in 1954 which was used to hold a 500 mile race deemed “Monzapolis” which aimed to pit the American Indy cars versus the F1 cars against each other for an outright battle of speed. Very fitting for my first race in Europe. The track walk was cool. If you’ve ever watched Monza on TV you’ve seen the massive curbs that cars bounce, no launch, off of. I checked those out along with the famous Ascari and Parabolica and got ready for some sleep.
The first day was all just testing, which was nice for me as I needed time to get acquainted with the track. What wasn’t so nice was that testing all day Thursday, four sessions, was completely in the wet. Very wet in the morning and semi wet, still not dry enough for slick tires, in the afternoon. Friday looked to hold a similar fate, the first session was all wet and then the second session we began on “rains” [rain tires], but were able to switch to dry’s for the second-half of the session. Myself and Simon, my co-driver in the No. 25 MDM Motorsport BMW M4 GT4, switched-off driving duties in the middle of the session. We went pretty well in the practices, consistently being the top BMW, until the last session when we opted to do a race simulation over taking another new set of tires to set an outright time.
Saturday came around, similar to the GT4 America series there are two qualifying sessions. One for the day that I start the race, Saturday, and one for the day Simon starts the race, Sunday. This race weekend for me was about getting experience under my belt with a new team, new car and new racing series. The competition in the series was awesome. We had 37 cars in the GT4 class, with probably eight cars that were capable of fighting for the top three spots. We were able to get a strong qualifier in and start race 1 from fourth-place. Simon’s session was plagued with red flags and on his fast laps he was passing cars (easy to do when there’s 37 of them!) and he ended up seventh for Sunday.
In Saturday’s race I was nervous! I feel like for the most part I don’t get nervous for many races anymore, but I felt it that day. There were a bunch of new things to keep in mind, some procedures for the race series, some sequences on the car. Additionally, I wanted to show well for my new team along with not get into any trouble with my new competitors. Well, I forgot one of my procedures. I began the race in the most intrusive TC mode while I usually run with the TC off. This wasn’t too much of an issue up until turn 4 where as I come out of the 2nd chicane and accelerate the car shot sideways and all power to the engine shuts out… ooops! I lost 3 spots. Starting the race a bit down, I had to regain my composure, get the settings right and focus on getting ahead. After making a few passes I was able to bring the car in to the pit lane in fourth again. This was a hard fought fourth-place as I had to battle from as far down a eighth, back into that position! Luckily the BMW was fairly strong at Monza and we were able to make some moves to the front. After the pit stop switch, we came out again in fourth with Simon chasing down third-place. A late caution was something we weren’t hoping for… but worked out all right in the end as Simon was able to secure the podium finish in our debut race!! We were extremely excited and I was relieved to have had a strong result in the first race!
The second race started out promising… We were fortunate to get clear weather Saturday, but Sunday that luck ran out. I went to Italy expecting weather of warm sunshine and clear skies. I was greeted with cold rain! Typical European racing if I do say! We soldiered on, with Simon starting. Simon did an awesome job, bringing the car in to the pit lane in fourth; we looked to have an awesome shot. I hopped into the car and was greeted by a wall of rain and spray. Getting more confident in the car each lap and pushing forward, I made a mistake. Going into Parabolica I was behind three cars, the spray made it difficult to see, I missed my brake point and had contact with one of the cars in front of me, damaging the steering rack. I drove the car into pit lane and that was it.
This sport is very sweet in the victories and heartbreaking in the downs. I’m extremely fortunate to have a good group of people to work with in MDM Motorsport. We win and lose together. Ultimately I made a small error that cost us points at the event, I’m not happy with that, but it’s something to learn from and move forward from better and ready to compete at the next event, Brands Hatch in May, stay tuned!