Dateline: Thursday, August 27, 2020

Veteran subscribers and first-time readers alike, welcome to the next chapter of the 2020 GT4 SprintX rollercoaster.  Please keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times, place all loose items in your pockets, and remove your hats and sunglasses.  You had better hold on, this is about to get interesting.  God bless Road America!

Not bad for a pair of guys whose ages add up to something greater than 100.

Q: So, no poetry this time? (first-time readers should click that link to bring themselves up to speed)

A: No, that was like Haley’s Comet. Not going to see that again in this generation.

Q: Thank goodness. Remind us, is Road America one of your favorites?

A: That depends on the specific year. Or actually, the specific day. Most of the significant historical scR motorsports exploits at Road America were pretty thoroughly documented in our 2017 Ferrari Challenge Road America newsletter that you can enjoy again by clicking on this link. You really should take the time to go read it – it’s one of my favorites. But if you’re in a hurry, here’s the summary:

7/28/98 – Finished second at the June Sprints and broke the SSC track record (love it)
9/12/99 – Blew up our brand-new race motor in our inaugural ITA outing (hate it)
4/21/12 – The left-front wheel came off during a ChumpCar race (hate it)
Later on 4/21/12 – The Hello Kitty duct tape phenomenon was launched (love it)
4/22/12 – Catastrophic transmission failure following an all-night ChumpCar repair job (hate it)
8/12/17 – Had a complete electrical failure while leading my first Ferrari Challenge race (hate it)
8/13/17 – Won my first Ferrari Challenge race (love it)
9/19/19 – Just a generally forgettable TCR weekend in a car that didn’t like me (hate it)

Q: Oh, that’s right. It’s that love/hate thing with you and this track.

A: That’s right. Only 22 years in the making.

Q: Not to jump to the end, but did anything about this weekend change that?

A: Absolutely not. My already-strained relationship with Road America was amplified tenfold. The two of us are going to need some professional counseling after this weekend.

Q: So was it more love or more hate?

A: On Sunday I would have told you it depends (there are about 20 engineers on this distribution list laughing out loud at that answer). But now that I have had a day or so to sit back and reflect, it was clearly a net-positive experience. We kicked ass even though at the time it didn’t exactly feel like that.

The BimmerWorld Racing team displays its deep sense of mask fashion. Vote for your favorite!

Q: Let’s unpack this day-by-day. How did things start out?

A: You know, not so bad. Things didn’t start to suck until late on Thursday.

Q: That’s not a very descriptive answer.

A: You’re right. Between our two test sessions on Wednesday and our two practice sessions on Thursday morning, both Bill and I were leading our respective fields of peers. In the Pro category, Bill’s 2:18.4 was close to the track record while my 2:20.2 was fast enough to cover the Ams on the grid. So, there’s some love for you.

But then the pendulum swung.

Q: Did it swing a lot?

A: It depends (more laughter from that same group of engineers). On the fourth lap of the Thursday afternoon practice session, Bill ran a little bit wide coming out of a turn known as “The Kink.” It sounds innocent enough, but The Kink is likely one of the sketchiest turns in all of North America. If you’re at full song, you’re running about 130 MPH in a GT4 car as you turn in. And with so little room for error, a small miscue here usually ends up with someone buying a new racecar. That is, unless your name is Michael Hurcyzn (you really should click on that link when you can turn up the sound).

Q: Oh crap. Did someone buy a new racecar?

A: Amazingly, no. But after the left-front, left-rear, and right-front corners were done playing a mild game of tag with the SAFER barrier and tire wall, Miss Red Line Oil needed a good bit of loving from The Twins and Company before she was ready to go into battle again. This did not help to endear me to Road America in any way, shape, or form.

This is everyone watching Dave work. He’s pretty good at it, as it turns out!

Q: Did The Twins and Company get it back together in time for qualifying?

A: You mean in time for yachting?

This is me in front of three cars that were somehow slower in the rain than I was.

Q: I see. Is that what the picture above is all about?

A: No, it actually got worse. See below.

Picture taken about 30 seconds before the session was red flagged. Good timing, Halston.

Q: Did you qualify in the rain? I thought you liked the rain.

A: Yes and no. I went out first in the recently-repaired car. And while mechanically it held together just fine (props to The Twins and Company), I proceeded to be incredibly slow. This was completely unexpected, as we had tested in the rain at VIR and I loved the car in the wet. And I’ll say with some pride that I was modestly fast as well. But on Friday morning I simply could not do a damn thing that resembled qualifying. I was just hanging on to a car that didn’t want to go, stop, or turn. Not surprisingly, I found myself starting Friday’s race in 16th place and starting Sunday’s race in 14th place. I am confident that anyone that qualified behind me must have been on foot (but no offense if you qualified behind me and are reading this now, as that was just a little hyperbole for dramatic effect).

Q: How did Bill do in the wet stuff?

A: He wasn’t even given the chance. It was raining so hard when he left pit lane that he never got into the throttle more than 50 percent. His partial lap was already 30 seconds slower than mine when they canceled the session. In the end, this actually turned out to be in our favor, as the grid for Saturday’s race was subsequently set based on Bill’s best Thursday afternoon practice time. His 2:19.2 would ultimately have him starting on the outside of the first row in 2nd place.

Q: So you’re loving Bill’s qualifying result, but hating your own?

A: You’re catching on. The rollercoaster was just starting, though.

Q: Uh-oh. Should we talk about Friday afternoon’s race?

A: Oh yeah, we should. Because it was likely the single best race of my 23-year racing adventure.

The weather conditions improved slightly for Friday afternoon’s race.

Q: Well then, let’s talk!

A: Actually, the Position Chart below tells the story better. In case you forgot, we are car number 82 (highlighted in gray for your convenience).

From 16th to 1st in 16 laps. There’s a nice bit of symmetry in that.

Q: At least give us a little narrative, please.

A: Only because you said please. At the green flag I was sitting in 16th place overall, 10th place in our Pro-Am class. I got a great start and managed to get around four cars on the opening lap. And then the car came alive. Over the course of my nine-lap stint I moved up to 6th place overall and 1st place in Pro-Am. You can watch the run from 3rd to 1st by clicking here.

When I handed off the car to Bill we were about 3.5 seconds ahead of our closest Pro-Am competitor and about 5.2 seconds behind the overall race leader. And it was fun beyond measure.

Q: And then Bill did what Bill does?

A: Exactly. By lap 16 Bill had moved into the overall lead, a position he would not relinquish. And just like that, everyone forgot about The Kink. In fact, in his post-race interview, Bill joked, “Maybe I should crash in practice more often.” For the record, exactly nobody thought that was a good idea. But we sprayed champagne and celebrated our win nonetheless.

Can you hear me thinking to myself, “No, Bill, I don’t think you should crash in practice more often.”

Q: I hope you carried that momentum into Saturday’s race!

A: We sure did. At the start of Saturday’s race, Bill won the drag race into Turn 1. With the cars now in 2nd place and 3rd place battling away behind him, he surgically laid down laps to distance himself from the rest of the field. When he handed me the keys (the car doesn’t really have keys, but work with me here) on lap 14, he had built up a 7.8-second gap to our next closest Pro-Am competitor.

Bill hustling through Turn 6. At least I think it’s Turn 6. Even if it’s not, pretend it’s Turn 6.

Q: Is the pendulum about to swing?

A: Yes.

Q: Boo. Can we skip this part?

A: No. We have to tell the story. That’s how we learn.

Upon entering Turn 1, I immediately recognized that this was not the same racecar that I had driven at the start of Friday’s race. Which wasn’t surprising, since the tires had already been through 35 minutes of hard living. But I never could come to grips with it and my lap times suffered as a result. A lot. The best I could muster was something in the high 2:23’s.

For the next 25 minutes I had Dave and Bill in my ear counting down the interval to the #21 Aston Martin driven by Michael Dinan that was charging up through the field behind us. While my pace was sufficient to cover every single other car in our class, Dinan was absolutely on fire, laying down consistent 2:21’s.

Q: I suppose he caught you at the end, didn’t he?

A: On the last lap, in fact.

Q: So you finished in 2nd place on Saturday?

A: Yes, but it was a strong 2nd place. Forgetting for a minute about Dinan, the next closest Pro-Am car was the #15 Aston Martin driven by Bryan Putt who was 18.5 seconds in arrears at the checkered flag. So that’s something. But to be honest, it was deflating to have been so close to a repeat victory.

Yea. Second. Can we go now?

Q: Shouldn’t you be a little more…appreciative of the situation? Second place in this field doesn’t exactly suck.

A: You’re not the driver who just broke Bill Auberlen’s recent three-race win streak. But yes, you’re right. Which is why I came out on Sunday morning fired up and looking for redemption.

Q: Is the pendulum about to swing?

A: Yes.

Q: Good. Because we need to end on a high note. Remind me, where did you start on Sunday morning?

A: Don’t feel bad, it was forgettable. Because of the rain qualifying debacle, I was starting the race on Sunday morning from 14th overall, 7th in Pro-Am. Which was better than on Friday, but not by much.

Q: And then?

A: I got a great start and managed to get around one car on the opening lap. We kept on charging, and over the course of my nine-lap stint I moved up to 6th place overall and 3rd place in Pro-Am. It was a great drive up through the field, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. But then the pendulum swung again.

I would pass all but one of these cars over the next 25 minutes. It was awesome.

Q: Oh no. I thought we were ending on a high note.

A: When Bill hopped in the car for the cleanup routine, he immediately recognized that this was not the same racecar that he had driven at the start of Saturday’s race. Which wasn’t surprising, since the tires had already been through 25 minutes of hard living. But in spite of his best efforts, the car could only muster lap times in the 2:22’s as the race went on. One by one he was sniped by the competition, ultimately bringing the car home in 10th place overall, 7th place in class.

Bill in The Carousel on Sunday morning.

Q: If I am correct, you still got some points for that. I was expecting something worse from your tone.

A: Yes, we got points. And yes, I probably made it sound more hateful than it really was. Sorry about that.

Q: So, what’s the ultimate takeaway here?

A: The BimmerWorld Racing team had a fantastic weekend, plain and simple. There were ups and downs, but (warning: incoming cliché alert) that’s racing. We came out of Road America with serious hardware, collected more points than any other SprintX Pro-Am team, and moved up from 4th to 3rd in the Driver’s Championship standings. Which, frankly, is amazing given that I continue to learn so much each and every weekend.

Q: Sounds to me like you ended on a high note after all.

A: I suppose you are correct. Let’s go with that. We really need this momentum to carry us through the final two weekends.

Q: You only have two weekends left, right?

A: Exactly. We were supposed to be racing at Watkins Glen next, but COVID scratched that venue from the calendar. In its place, we are going back to COTA September 19/20. We will then close out the season in Indianapolis on October 2/3. Mathematically we can still win the whole thing, but we need to be perfect at every turn.

See you at the track!

#82 GT4