This past week I traveled to the Adriatic coast of Italy for the fourth weekend of the SRO European GT4 Series. This time we raced at the Misano World Circuit. Flying from Houston I took a flight to Munich then Munich onto Bologna, Italy. After a short hour and a half drive to the east I found myself in the towns of Misano Adriatico and Cattolica. If you remember from my first post, the last time I traveled to Italy it was cold and rainy (Monza)… this time it was the complete opposite. It was upwards of 96 deg F (40 deg C) and sunny the whole time. All of Europe in fact was experiencing a heat wave last week. I was fortunate enough to be there for it. Funny enough though, me being from Houston, I felt right at home.
We were able to get a track walk in on Thursday night when I arrived. A few notes about the circuit, it’s a motorcycle track so there’s few straightaways and a lot of tight switchback turns and almost all high speed braking zones are done on a radius. It also has a decent bit of excess runoff so track limit violations are fairly common and something to watch out for. On the other side of that, this opens up opportunities for passing which makes it an interesting circuit to race on. The layout doesn’t exactly fit our MDM Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 well, as we tend to perform better on circuits with flowing high-speed sections and tight hairpins. Knowing this going into the weekend, we aimed to gain as many points as possible to stay in the championship hunt. In addition, we had the heat to deal with this weekend and it definitely would play a role in the weekend as tires, engines and drivers would be pushed to the edge of performance in the blistering heat.
Our weekend started out with a three-hour paid test session on Friday morning during which we made plans to get myself familiarized with the track in about three laps then start working on car balance. We made some good steps in the session, took some information and put together a run plan for the afternoon session, Free Practice 1 (FP1). For FP1 the heat was intense. It was good for us to see the power stay consistent all the way through the session as well as test some cooling measures the driver could take in case the car needed to cool off. I do have to say the M4 is great in that the cockpit has an AC vent aimed at the driver as well as an AC cooled seat… making it a breeze (ha, pun intended) to drive in the heat. Coming out of FP1 I was not where I wanted to be with the car so we talked within the team and came up with a good plan for the last practice session the next (Saturday) morning. In FP2 we made some good steps on the car for overall lap time and were confident in the car going into qualifying.
Qualifying brought an interesting show. A full course yellow flag came out in Simon’s session which screwed up his new tire run. That effectively put us P11 on the grid for Race 1, and in my session I wasn’t quite able to get the lap all together due to some traffic encountered. For Race 2, we started P7.
We had to evaluate within the team whether we thought the car would be viable to run through the whole race. I think the heat was greatly affecting the performance of the tire causing it to drop off dramatically across a stint, let alone a full hour of running. Sometimes you have to change the car based on the performance you want out of it: single lap or consistency. One of the difficult things in the GT4 series is that there’s not many changes we can make because of the homologation. After putting our heads together we opted to see what the car would behave like in our current trim and run the race knowing in my stint I might have to be holding on for dear life.
Race 1: Simon drove a great first stint, picking up a few spots on the start and then a couple more through his run. We opted for an early stop in the pit window to try and gain an edge. The leading two cars had to take drive through penalties and we had a great stop effectively putting us back into the race in fourth-place overall. Not bad starting from the 11th spot! I came out on track just behind the championship leading McLaren and just in front of the second-place (in points) Mercedes. The McLaren was tough to pass as it had great torque and a bit higher straight line speed so I just couldn’t quite get it in the high speed. I knew to get by it’d have to happen in the slow speed sector 1. I was consistently gaining on the car in Turn One/Turn 2. Knowing this, I set myself up to run around the outside of T2 giving myself an inside line into T3 and the inside line into T4 and T5. With the inside line, I had the corner and a clear run in front of me, which was great for the engine. About mid-way through my stint I could feel the car starting to drop off. The rear of the car was tending to oversteer on the exit of slow speed corners so I had to change my driving style a little bit. In addition to dealing with a changing car, I had a train of cars behind my just waiting for me to make a mistake! In my head I knew all I had to do was keep myself on the racing line and get a better run than the guy behind me out of the turn even if it meant over-slowing into the apex. I ran like this for what seemed like an hour but really was just 15-minutes to the finish. We secured the third overall spot and second-place in the Silver Cup class! For a car I think was capable of a top-five, we can consider this a win!
Race 2: Going into the second race of the weekend, we knew that the car needed to be improved over the long run and so a few adjustments were made in order to help fix the balance issue we were having at the end of Race 1. We got to start a little further up Sunday, P7, and had the same goal in mind as the day before… take what we can get points wise. The race start saw me jump up into P6 immediately then two laps in I was able to make a pass on a Ginetta for fifth-place. As the stint wore on, the car started to overheat a bit as I was running with my grill in the tailpipe of a Camaro. I dropped back a bit to conserve and hopefully bring Simon a car to fight with at the end of the race. A full course yellow brought us into pit lane early and put Simon out right behind the cars running second through fourth-place. He was able to quickly make a move on the GT4 Camaro, but lost it back a few laps later as it seemed our change had not improved the longevity of the tire. We were able to still bring home a fifth-place finish. For a place we considered to not be “our track” we had a very strong points weekend! Happy with the results from the weekend we have a short break then onto Zandvoort the second weekend in July. I’m excited for Zandvoort as it’s the first track on the SRO GT4 Europe calendar that I’ve previously driven… and in this car nonetheless!
This trip also brought a neat treat. I was able to go have a visit with BMW Motorsport in Munich. There I got to have a tour of the facility, see where the F1 team was based out of, the current motorsports development shop, take a look at a past DTM car as well as check out some of the neat stuff coming to the BMW world just around the corner. It was a treat and I’m thankful to BMW Motorsport for the invite!