The emotional rollercoaster of motorsport can work on both short and long timescales. At times, a team’s transition in the rear of the area up to the podium can take weeks or years. The weekend just passed was one which had its ups and downs.
The group entered the weekend with three of its drivers in the top 5 of the tournament, and one, now leading it. The confidence in the car was in an all-time large, and reliability has been improving all year. The track, among the fastest in the nation, should favour the back wheel drive BMWs, and the weather was looking good. This should be a fantastic weekend. The top driver was carrying maximum ballast as is faked which was not going to help his chances, but should not cause too much of a problem. He is a talented driver who has had ballast before – not a problem.
No true testing as such was completed before the end of the session, but a brake bias error meant a twist under breaking coming into a greatly gravel-trapped hairpin. The time lost because of the red flag for retrieval, and the clearing from the massive quantity of gravel, meant there was no time for any installation changes or refinement throughout the session.
The rollercoaster was on the top today.
Throughout Free Practice Two, multiple setup changes of varying achievement and impact were attempted, but there was hardly any noticeable improvement in lap times. The problem was simply that our driver had two laps to check each installment change before pitting and attempting the next thing on the list. Normally, these changes are spread out over two sessions. Not every change you make will enhance the car, and sadly, as FP2 closed, the car wasn’t on the pace we’d come to expect by this stage of the season.
Given the natural benefit of rear-wheel drive in wet conditions, the ominous rainclouds were really a welcome sight. Rain would equalise the pack a little more and provide the BMWs a opportunity to make up any performance deficit. The first couple of laps were dry but the speed was not there. The rain was so jarring the session was actually red flagged because of safety concerns. From the time the session stopped, the cars were suffering from water ingress from the electronic equipment and ended up in the back of the grid for race 1. The back of the grid, 28th place, with 75kg of ballast in the vehicle.
Where is the bottom?
After the disappointing qualifying session, the weather worsened. Something not found regularly in Blightly, but a tornado (yes, a TORNADO) came through the paddock. This freak weather induced terminal damage to the hospitality awnings and the whole group was out in the (now returned) torrential rain, angle grinding, cutting, hammering and spannerring to have the remains of the awning safe. The whole group, still reeling from qualifying, were drenched through, not to mentioned the harm done to staff property or to connections with sponsors and VIPs.
The engineers and motorists sat down and discussed an action plan. What can be done to recoup the weekend? Absolutely not! Decisions were made and modifications to the automobile were done late into the evening. Everything adjustable was corrected. Gear ratios were altered. Engine maps were substituted. Like something from a Hollywood blockbuster, the car was changed. Untested, yes, but changed.
When can we go back ?
Race one started in glorious sunshine. The team and automobiles had dried out immediately, but the long walk down to the back of the grid wasn’t something the team often had to perform. The untested car seemed solid on the outlap into the grid, but this is never a true test of performance. Last checks done, 75kg of ballast on-board, 28th on the grid.
In the end, we go!
He made up 18 places, an unbelievable outcome and better than anyone had hoped for. The overnight transformation had worked miracles and the rate from the car was rear. 10th also meant no more ballast, in addition to beginning in 10th for race two. An superb outcome!
No ballast on-board, and only a few minor alterations to compensate for the 75kg reduced weight. He just went and won it! He drove like the professional he is and set the car in the front of the pack, winning by nearly 3 seconds. Who’d have thought after the gloomy Saturday, that race day would have a victory. What is more, another of our drivers was third, so a double podium. An superb outcome!
All that was left was race . Ballast back in the car because of winning race two, and a reverse grid meant starting down at the middle of the bunch. The unfavoured hard tyres were required for this race. The end result was a good middle of the pack finish. Not terrible, but not on the scale of achievement of races one and two.
So the drivers leave the round with all three still in the top 10, two still in the top 5, and one still leading the championship. A result that although anticipated on Friday, appeared to fade away during Saturday.
The value in persevering, not giving up under hardship, and trying to win regardless of how the odds are stacked against you can’t be understated. A poor practice or qualifying session, doesn’t have to ruin your race. It does not have to ruin your championship hopes. It doesn’t even need to mess up your day.
Keep your chin up, your head in the game and determination in overdrive, and as a staff, wonderful things will happen.
Please remain seated until the ride has come to a complete halt.