Dateline: Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Bricks, final litmus.
Victory without winning?
Yes! We finish proud.
Q: Just couldn’t help yourself with the Haiku, could you?
A: No. No, I couldn’t. It was a special weekend worthy of more (bad) poetry.
On the podium at The Brickyard. Because that’s now sort of a normal thing here at scR motorsports.
Q: But apparently you didn’t win.
A: That’s true. But we did what we needed to do. We had a script, didn’t make any mistakes, and didn’t need any excuses for our performance. The team worked through the challenges that came our way, and we never lost sight of the end game. As a result, the weekend, and entire 2020 season, culminated with BimmerWorld Racing placing a third-place 2020 GT4 SprintX Championship trinket in their ever-growing trophy case.
In the words of team owner James Clay, it was a “solid” showing for a team that is now a little more…decorated. Winning may have sweetened the deal, but then again, maybe not. I can say with conviction that I personally learned more from the weekend’s storyline than I would have predicted based on the finishing results alone.
Q: That sounds like something you stole from a motivational poster.
A: Doesn’t everything when you’re trying to cover up the fact that you really, really, really wanted to kiss the bricks at Indy and fell short? But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Racing with a guy named Andretti. Because that’s now sort of a normal thing here at scR motorsports.
Q: Do we get a race report at some point?
A: Sure. Let’s go!
For the final round of the 2020 GT4 SprintX Championship, we headed to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Racing Capital of the World. At least that’s what it says over the front door. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t get all caught up in the history of these places, and I’m not a walking encyclopedia of my racing forebearers, but I totally got a case of the tingles as I drove across the paddock on Wednesday morning. The tingles increased as I walked the circuit shortly thereafter, and I am pretty sure I choked up as I took a selfie with the fabled “Yard of Bricks” at the start/finish line. I’m glad I was wearing my sunglasses for that shot because my eyes were clearly watering a little.
BimmerWorld, blipshift, and bricks. Brilliant!
Our two practice sessions were largely spent learning where to turn left and where to turn right. I had never been to Indy, and Bill had not raced there since 2012 or so. But the track was pretty simple to figure out, and our lap times seemed competitive, if not outright fast, as the day went on. Bill managed a 1:31.6 and a 1:31.8 between his two practice sessions while I cranked out a 1:33.6 and a 1:32.8, respectively.
Considering I was coming up to speed at a new track, I was pretty happy with those times. Being that close to Bill after two sessions at a track I had never seen before was a reason to celebrate, so naturally he took me to, you guessed it, Outback Steakhouse for dinner. When you hang out with Bill Auberlen, things are pretty predictable.
I’m only in the grass because I can’t see over the steering wheel. Honest. This is a small problem.
When qualifying took place on Thursday morning, we both found a little more speed. But not a lot. I went first and laid down a 1:32.3, but it was far from a perfect lap. There was a 1:31 in me, but I just didn’t put it together. And while I was the fastest Pro-Am BMW on the grid (small moral victory there), my time was only good enough for P6 in class and P12 overall. If you want to watch that lap, just click here to view it on our world-famous YouTube channel which now boasts a whopping 31 subscribers!
Bill unfortunately didn’t fare much better than I did. While his 1:31.4 was the fastest time set by any BMW that morning (another small moral victory there), it had him starting P9 in class and P13 overall behind the…
Q: Sorry for the interruption, but what’s up with that?
A: Well, that’s just how it was. At this point in the program I could take the bait and complain about the miserably unfair Balance of Performance (BoP), and how everyone else had such an “awesomer” car than we did, but I’m not going to go there. It’s just the hand we were dealt, and we had to play it out. This was not going to be a weekend where the car would drive itself to victory circle.
Bill, caught qualifying by Halston Pitman in the dawn’s early light.
To be clear, David did a great job of giving us a platform that was both stable and nimble (a rare combination), but we just lacked outright pace. There was nothing particularly bad about the car, it simply was not well-suited to the track and the conditions. Sometimes that just happens, and Bill and I had to adapt accordingly.
Q: Where did qualifying put you relative to the other Championship contenders?
A: Not in a good place.
Coming into the weekend, we were tied for third place overall with the #2 Porsche driven by Jason Bell and Andrew Davis. It was helpful that they qualified for Race 1 behind us P9 in class and P15 overall, but for Race 2 they were starting up front, P3 in class and P4 overall. Just by the math they had the theoretical points advantage as the green flags flew.
And let’s not forget about the fifth-place #15 Aston Martin driven by Bryan Putt and Kenton Koch. They were sitting back looking to play the spoiler. All they needed to do was finish well on both days and the final spot on the year-end Championship podium would belong to them instead. They were starting Race 1 just behind us, P11 in class and P14 overall, but in Race 2 qualifying they leapfrogged our M4, starting P6 in class and P7 overall.
We clearly had our work cut out for us.
“James, why are you lifting there? It should be flat. Every lap.”
Q: It sounds like your focus was beating the #2 Porsche outright and staying within reach of the #15 Aston Martin.
A: Exactly. The #47 Porsche of Matt Travis and Jason Hart and the #21 Aston Martin of Michael Dinan and Robby Foley were going to be battling it out for the top spot in the GT4 SprintX Championship, and unless they took each other out in Turn 1 we didn’t have a shot of catching either of them. Which is why we were sincerely hoping they would take each other out in Turn 1.
Q: Did you go to Outback Steakhouse after qualifying?
A: Funny. No. We had to race later that afternoon. Outback would have to wait seven more hours.
I started Race 1 and really didn’t do much worthy of mention until Turn 10 of the opening lap. And then, for the first time this season, I (sort of) hit somebody. I’m not proud about it, but there you are.
Me barreling into Turn 1, nowhere near the front.
After a lackluster start, I found myself directly behind the #19 BMW M4 of Sean Quinlan. Following him around Turns 7, 8, and 9, I was eating his lunch and made a great (translation: late) move to the inside heading into Turn 10. It was a pass that required both drivers to be aware of the situation, but apparently only one of us (translation: me) was aware of the situation. Without knowing I was there, Sean drove down to the apex and the cars came together. Nothing dramatic, and no real harm done, but it sent me spinning around backwards off the track as I watched the entire field go by.
For the record, at this moment, while facing backwards, I was still in front of Matt Travis.
Between some decent driving on my part and some fortuitous yellow flags, I was able to move the car up from P23 to P15 overall by the time I handed the car over to Bill for his stint. I entered the exit road for the driver change about three inches behind the #2 Porsche and nearly pushed him all the way down pit lane.
Changing seats with a guy named Auberlen. Because that’s now sort of a normal thing here at scR motorsports.
Bill then did what Bill does and put in an awesome run that culminated with a P6 overall finish, P3 in class. Had it not been for my opening-lap incident the car may have been capable of a stronger finish, but even coming home in the final podium position was good enough for us to maintain our third-place Championship standing heading into the final race of the season on Friday.
If you missed the live stream of the race, you can click on this link and watch it while you pretend that you don’t know the ending.
Q: And then you went to Outback?
A: And then we went to Outback.
Q: Have y’all thought about bringing them on board in 2021 as a sponsor?
A: My lips are sealed. But maybe. I need James Clay to make a few strategic phone calls.
Q: What exactly does dinner with Bill look like?
A: A Diet Coke leads off the meal. He will order a Victoria’s filet, the six-ounce version, done medium, with steamed veggies as a side. If he’s in the mood he will start with a small house salad, but the vinaigrette dressing had better be on the side or else he can’t tell it’s there. And that bread they bring to the table? Best to bring two loaves.
Once the meal is ordered, we will discuss all of the ways I managed to screw up that day. We were probably doing this before we ordered the meal, but now we get the extended version. While waiting for our food to arrive, there will be at least three or four text messages sent to the team with Bill’s suggestions as to how to make the car better for the following day, and it’s not unusual for a short phone call or two to sprout from said text messages.
Since Bill eats so incredibly fast, dinner itself takes about three minutes. This is helpful, though, because as I am finishing my meal it gives Bill more time to discuss all of the ways I managed to screw up that day. The team has usually texted back by now and he will spend a few more minutes discussing setup with them while I try to scarf down the rest of my meal.
No dessert, as Bill isn’t above stopping at a Dairy Queen on the way back to the hotel for a little sweet treat. On the way to the cars in the parking lot, he will focus me forward and congratulate me on a job well done. There is usually a pat on the back followed by him reminding me that there are so many ways to improve tomorrow. You got this, James.
And that is dinner with Bill Auberlen at Outback Steakhouse, revealed. A rare peek behind the green curtain. These 60-minute intervals are the most intense of the entire weekend. I love every second of it.
Q: Back to the racing. Race 2 was the final event of the year, right?
A: Correct. And as Bill took the green flag on that cold Friday morning, I felt a little bit more of that tingly thing I had experienced on Wednesday.
Bill, stuck in rush hour traffic early on Friday morning.
Bill quickly found out that our car just wasn’t that strong (this is where others might complain about the BoP again, but I’ll resist). Nevertheless, he did his best to move it forward a few positions during his 33 minutes of driving. After a seamless driver change, I entered the foray P11 overall, but most importantly, several positions behind the #2 Porsche and the #15 Aston Martin.
Q: Is this the part where you have a season-ending heroic drive to the front?
A: No, it’s a little more real than that. But it was one of my better stints behind the wheel this year. Doing nothing particularly special, and leveraging a few miscues by others, I simply focused on the car ahead and drove as Bill had been instructing me since March. Slowly the field came to me, and without putting a wheel wrong managed to work past both the #2 Porsche and the #15 Aston Martin as the clock wound down. It wasn’t perfect, but it was effective.
Bringing it home, one lap at a time.
Crossing the Yard of Bricks for the final time, we finished P8 overall and P4 in class. It was a small disappointment not quite getting back to the podium to close the season, but still a great result considering where we had started just an hour earlier. We did exactly what we had to do.
If you click on this link you can watch the race in its entirety. But you already know how it ends.
A final team dinner followed at…a really, really good German Rathskeller. Bill was way out of his comfort zone, but everyone else was able to kick back and relax. Fitting 22 people around a table designed for 16 wasn’t the most effective way to socially distance ourselves, but nobody really seemed to mind all that much.
It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A! Especially after too much beer and bratwurst.
Q: So, how do you feel about finishing third place overall in your first season of GT4 SprintX Pro/Am?
A: I suppose the right answer is that it was freaking awesome. Objectively, when you look at just the raw data, it’s pretty darn impressive. In 15 race starts we compiled three wins and seven trips to the podium. We showed pace to run with anybody in the field and never had a mechanical DNF. The car ran like a Swiss (German?) watch, the crew never missed a call to grid, and our driver change ballet was downright graceful (after the COTA debacle back in March, that is). So yeah, it’s pretty much a success by all counts.
Q: Looking in the rearview mirror, what were the biggest learning moments of your 2020 campaign?
A: Naturally we start by remembering that we should never, ever, go to the bathroom before our stint with our balaclava laying on our shoulder. As they say, that’s a “high-risk move” without any real upside.
Come to think of it, Bill told me specifically not to look in the rearview mirror.
Q: But seriously, now.
A: Ok, but I warn you, this might sound hokey.
Essentially all of my learning this season took place while chewing over-seasoned steak. That’s not meant to downplay the countless golden nuggets I collected from the rest of the team all season long, but my dinners with Bill taught me a very different way to think about this all-consuming hobby of mine. Quite simply, it’s no longer a hobby.
Getting inside the head of a true professional is a little bit intimidating, as there is stuff rattling around in there that I can’t quite grasp. Nor am I sure that I want to. But his willingness to bring me in, slap me around, pat me on the back, and invite me back for the 2021 season has changed how I look at and approach this sport from every angle.
Q: Wait a minute. They are inviting you back for 2021? Did I miss something here?
A: Spoiler alert: third-place is not enough. For 2021 we are putting the band back together. And this time, I’m not peeing on my head sock in the opening round. You can click here to hear all about it in our semi-official video press release.
Give it a bath and change the oil, boys. Bill and I are going to need it again next year.
A: Really! Mark your calendars now, as hopefully this COVID mess will be behind us and we can get back to racing with spectators in the stands once again. The 2021 race calendar is shaping up quickly, and we would love to have you come share in the excitement with us.
Q: So, no changes at all in 2021? Same recipe?
A: Well, maybe we bring back a small dose of Hello Kitty Duct Tape. It’s been too long. And perhaps we will be sporting number 34 on the door. But all of that sounds like content for our next newsletter…
See you at the track!