Steel Valley Lifts Racer

I traveled this past month to Europe to race outside of North America for the first time! My first race was in Italy at the famous track of Monza, or as I found on the navigation, “Autodromo Nazionale Monza.” Since it was my first weekend racing in Europe I had expected there to be some hiccups here and there… But I didn’t expect those to start so quickly!

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!

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