Dateline: Thursday, August 26, 2021

I’m back. Oh, I’m back.
Back in the saddle again.
Yes, I’m back. I’m back.

Q: I know you want us to believe that’s an original Haiku. But it’s not. It’s Aerosmith.

A: It’s actually both, so let’s call it Haikusmith. Circle back around at the end of the newsletter and let me know how it ferments.

Q: Regardless of what you call it, it sounds like you are pleased with the weekend’s results.

A: Amen! After a pretty tough season thus far, the team finally got the results they deserved. While Bill and I were fortunate to stand on the top step of the podium on Saturday, the whole team contributed to the effort. I wish they could have all squeezed up there with us, but I doubt they would have enjoyed the champagne shower.

Back on top again at Road America. This track can occasionally be very, very good to us.

Q: Au contraire. I guarantee you that the crew would have enjoyed the champagne shower!

A: You now, I bet you are right.

Along those same lines, after the race I found out that it was Daniel’s first win as a car chief in a pro series. That’s a big day! He had taken our poor results at our first three events kind of personally, so this was clearly a bit of redemption for him. He’s not one to smile spontaneously, but you could not wipe the grin off of his face as he sipped the leftover champagne in the tech shed. Maybe next time I’ll pour some down his back too, so he gets the full effect.

Daniel got his first win as car chief working with a driver named Auberlen. And some other guy nobody will recognize.

Q: It appears that you have teammates up there on the podium with you.

A: Yes, it was a great day for the BimmerWorld team. James (the other James) and Nick (we only have one Nick) brought their #36 BMW home in 3rd place, their best result of the season. There was much to celebrate!

Q: Any misbehaving from the car this weekend?

A: Thankfully, no. It ran like a BMW is supposed to run at Road America. We might not have the lightest car, the smallest car, or the best handling car, but that six-cylinder lump under the hood needs no excuses. It just ran and ran and ran all weekend long without issue.

Q: So, a little play-by-play. Did you get in some quality practice on Friday?

A: Negative. Our three practice sessions were punctuated by three separate storm fronts that moved through the area. The conditions varied from mixed to monsoonal. As such, there was not a lot of time to hone the setup or to knock off the rust. As you might recall, our last time out with the car was nearly three months (!) ago at VIR, and while Bill races these cars on what seems like an hourly basis, I clearly could have benefitted from a little more seat time to really get myself back up to speed.

Friday morning. Wet track. Rain tires. This is Bill putting on a clinic in Turn 6.

Q: How did you fare compared to the rest of the field? Seems like they would be dealing with the same predicament, right?

A: We were at the fast end of the grid, but it was hard to tell. During Practice 1 Bill was able to put down the third-fastest Pro/Am lap of the session, but the track surface was continually changing. Most everybody was about 15 seconds off of the typical dry pace. In Practice 2 the track continued to confound, but the lap times were significantly faster than they were in the morning session. Bill was again the third-fastest Pro/Am driver, but the times were completely scattered due to the varying conditions. Heading into qualifying the next morning we were not exactly sure where we would stack up.

Friday afternoon. Wet track. Slick tires. This is me needing a clinic in Turn 6.

Q: Did the weather clear up for qualifying on Saturday morning?

A: Let’s first talk about my hotel bathroom.

Q: Well, I didn’t see that one coming.

A: Not that I normally sleep all that well on race weekends, but this evening was extra special. After trying to turn in a little early (qualifying was scheduled for 8:00 the next morning), I was abruptly woken up around midnight by an incredibly loud noise akin to someone rapidly hammering on the wall in the bathroom. Quite confident that there was neither a person nor a hammer in the bathroom last time I checked, I roused my disoriented self out of bed to investigate.

As soon as I got to the bathroom door, the noise stopped. It had been so loud that the silence that followed was completely eerie. But thinking that the aberration had passed, I returned to bed only slightly annoyed.

It took me about 30 minutes to get back to sleep. I know this because the hammering noise returned about 31 minutes later. But louder. And with increased frequency.

When I got the bathroom this time, the noise continued, allowing me to poke around looking for the cause of the annoyance. It was very clearly emanating from inside the wall behind the shower control valves, so I turned on the hot water.

Poof – noise gone. Like magic.

When I turned the hot water back off again, the quiet continued. I confidently went back to bed thinking that I had somehow performed some great plumbing miracle (that’s a phrase that has never before been scripted into a team scR newsletter) and laid back down to sleep.

Video montage of my late-night plumbing adventures.

Q: Great. Are we done with this sidebar yet?

A: Oh, no. Roughly 31 minutes later, the cursed pipes inside the wall began their deafening vibration a third time. Cycling the hot water on and off controlled the pitch and volume of the sound, but nothing would…

Q: Ok, this is now going on too long. Why didn’t you just call the front desk?

A: Yeah, so that’s what I did next. And the nice lady on the other end of the line 1) had no idea what I was trying to say and 2) knew not a thing about plumbing. But she offered to “send somebody right up” to take a look.

Turns out that “sending somebody right up” means that “somebody” will knock on your door and wake you up out of a sound sleep about 31 minutes later. The kid was pleasant and all, and we really had a great little discussion about racing at Road America at two in the morning, but in the end, I am confident that he knew less about plumbing than the nice lady at the front desk.

Q: Can we go back to the racing, please?

A: Sure. Just wanted to make sure you knew the backdrop for why I didn’t really bring my A-game to qualifying a few hours later.

Q: So, qualifying wasn’t awesome?

A: It was one of those mornings where we just couldn’t tell which tires to use. It had been raining continually while the paranormal activity in my bathroom was taking place but was definitely trending toward dry conditions by the time we rolled out onto the track. Half of the 38-car field (by SRO’s reckoning, a record-setting GT4 grid) was wearing rain tires and the other half was wearing slick tires. It was anybody’s guess who had made the right choice.

Waiting on pit row for the green flag in qualifying. I’m on rain tires; Mr. Clay behind me is on slicks.

Q: Did you make the right choice?

A: Almost!

The initial conditions on track definitely favored the wet tires. And in spite of the fact that I had been visited by three ghosts the night before (I’m convinced they were the ghost of plumbing past, plumbing present, and plumbing future), the car and I made the best of the situation. So much so that with only two laps to go in qualifying I had put the car on the Pro/Am pole.

Q: That sounds like you made the right choice!

A: Like I said above, almost!

Had qualifying ended at that minute like it really should have, you would have been right. However, somebody tossed their car off the track and caused a red flag to come out with just a lap or so to go in the session. This unfortunately allowed the track to dry out just enough so that when we went green again, a few cars on slick tires were able to take advantage of the ever-improving track conditions. This moved us down to 4th place on the Pro/Am grid for that afternoon’s race.

Q: That doesn’t exactly suck.

A: That didn’t exactly suck. It was clearly my best performance of the season.

Q: Did Bill then go out and qualify on slick tires?

A: Absolutely. It’s amazing what a difference 20 minutes can make. With the entire grid now on slick tires, the lap times came down dramatically. Bill did what Bill does and put the car on the outside pole (2nd in Pro/Am and 2nd overall) for Sunday morning’s race.

Q: This brings us to Saturday’s race, right?

A: Yes. My 11th place overall starting position put me immediately behind Matt Travis (the season’s Pro/Am championship leader) coming up the hill for the start of the race….

Q: Press pause. Isn’t he the guy with the big cat on the hood?

A: Good memory. He also lives just down the street from me here in The Woodlands and we have become pretty good friends over the past year. So much so, in fact, that he invited me into his super-secret Bat Cave last month and showed me his most prized possession. Now, Matt made me swear that I would never, ever tell anybody about it, but I took this picture anyway when he wasn’t looking. It can now be celebrated by generations to come on the website (or at least as long as I continue to pay my web hosting fees).

I’m pretty sure this had to be custom-fabricated.

Q: I’m not sure how to respond to that. But I doubt you’re getting invited back to his place any time soon.

A: Oh, I don’t know. He has a pretty good sense of humor. And I might have embellished the part about him not wanting me to share it.

Anyway, back to the race. When the green flag flew on Saturday morning, I got a great start, but the problem was that the car in front of me did not (I’m looking at you, Matt). There was nowhere to go with my full head of steam, and after a bit of incidental contact (sorry about that), I was shuffled back a few positions.

That’s the World’s Fastest Accountant back there in the safety-vest-yellow Porsche.

Q: Were you able to recover?

A: Nicely, in fact. Although my stint was bifurcated (that’s a cool word I just learned and have been looking for a place to use it) by an extended double yellow, I was able to pass about five cars before I handed off the driving duties to Bill. This included passing Matt twice, although to be fair once was just as the double yellow flags came out, so that was properly frowned upon by the race officials and I had to wave him by.

At the end of my stint, I brought the car down pit lane 3rd place in class and in 10th place overall. We picked up a few additional overall positions during our near-perfect driver change (the data later revealed that we had the best driver change time of any of the teams on the grid), and Bill did the rest on track. With seven laps to go he moved into the overall lead, a position he would not relinquish.

Q: Sounds like Bill did most of the heavy lifting.

A: I won’t argue that Bill is amazing, but this was an all-around team win. If you think about it, I technically passed 27 cars before the green flag by outqualifying them. That didn’t hurt. And the whole team gets credit for picking up about four positions due to our great driver change. Of course, the setup allowed the car to maintain its pace deep into the race, but perhaps most importantly, the car didn’t flinch once during the entire 60 minutes.

This whole SprintX format has really taught me that there are about one thousand ways to lose a race, but on Saturday morning everyone did their part flawlessly to put the car in victory circle. Everyone got a taste of the champagne.

I just can’t rock sunglasses the way that Bill can rock sunglasses.

Q: Was it a repeat performance on Sunday?

A: Well, no, not exactly. But we didn’t miss the podium by much.

This is Bill about 10 seconds into the race on Sunday morning.

Q: Bill qualified 2nd overall for Sunday’s race, right?

A: That’s right. And at the end of his stint, Bill handed me the car in the same position. The top four Pro/Am cars were essentially nose-to-tail for the first 30 minutes, so when the time came for the Pros to turn it over to the Ams, it was anybody’s race. But unfortunately, that’s when things began to go a little bit sideways.

The handoff actually occurred during a double yellow, so our once-again-best-in-the-field driver change didn’t have the positive effect on our position that it normally would have. And then there was the whole debacle with the race leader, the safety car timing, getting waved BY the safety car, and a bunch of things that were never really explained to me in a way that I understood. But the entire double yellow fiasco resulted in the restart taking place with half of the field in a different zip code with only three laps remaining in the race.

Did that make any sense to you? No? Good. Because that’s how it felt to me at the time too.

Q: But you only had to hang on for three green flag laps at the end of the race?

A: Well, it started on the lap before the green flag. Because of the botched double yellow and restart, the race leaders (us included) had to haul ass around the track for an additional lap. Don’t ask for more clarification, because I still don’t really get it. But when the green actually flew, yes, we were already up to speed with three laps to go.

This is Bill about 33 minutes into the race on Sunday morning.

Q: So, what went wrong?

A: In the spirit of being transparent, I just didn’t have a great three laps. But I need to place at least partial blame on my hotel room plumbing situation which came back on Saturday night with a vengeance.

Q: No more bathroom stories, please.

A: That’s fair.

On the first green flag lap I was preparing to attack Sean Quinlan in the #119 BMW with everything I had, but after getting a good run on him heading towards Turn 1, I found that the car would not brake and turn quite like I was expecting. This resulted in an absurdly wide line around the outside of the track that allowed Tom Capizzi in the #52 BMW to easily drive by me on the inside.

On the second green flag lap, Bryan Putt in the #15 Aston Martin got the better of me in Turn 8 as I was simultaneously trying to fend off an attack from the #111 McLaren 570s being driven by Todd Clarke. I could not find the pace that these guys had, and they were coming at me from all directions.

Q: Isn’t Bryan that old guy?

A: Yes. But let’s not say that out loud since he is on this newsletter distribution list.

This is me two positions in front of the old guy. Yes, on Saturday.

Q: What happened on the third and final lap?

A: Thankfully, not much more. My mirrors were filled by Tim Pappas in the #54 Porsche Cayman, but after getting passed by the old guy the lap before, there was just no way I was going to let Tim by as well. So, I focused more on being wide than on being fast.

In the end the strategy worked, and I crossed the finish line in 4th place. But in retrospect, I probably should have used that strategy two laps earlier.

Now to be honest, 4th place was a pretty respectable result in a 38-car field, it was a bit of a damp towel moment watching the other guys spraying champagne on the podium without us. We absolutely had a podium car, but I didn’t put in a podium drive at the end.

Q: Stop being so hard on yourself. I think you did a great job.

A: Thanks, Mom. I might not be the World’s Fastest Engineer (people with names like McLaren and Donohue have that distinction), but I’m trying

On a positive note, we had the best driver changes of the entire field this weekend. So, that’s something.

Q: This weekend must have had a positive effect on your championship standings, right?

A: That’s the truth. We entered the weekend in 10th place. Our combined finishing positions netted us more points than any other Pro/Am team, pushing us all the way up to 7th place in the Pro/Am Championship. However, from a glass-is-half-empty perspective, had we finished in 2nd place on Sunday we would have moved all the way up to 4th place in the championship standings.

What this all really means is that with three weekends left on the race calendar we are now back in position to make a legitimate charge back into the top three by the season’s end. And given the horizon we had in front of us after our miserable experiences at COTA and VIR, that’s saying something.

Q: Remind me again when the last three events are, please.

A: Per the schedule posted on the team website, we finish our 2021 GT4 SprintX seasons as follows:

September 18/19 (Sat/Sun) Watkins Glen
October 2/3 (Sat/Sun) Sebring
October 14/15 (Thu/Fri) Indianapolis

You can use the links above to find more information about the schedule, tickets (if you are able to join us in person that would be awesome), and how to watch the races live online.

Q: Seems odd that the Indianapolis races are being held on Thursday and Friday. What’s up with that?

A: That’s because on Saturday and Sunday (October 16/17) there is an eight-hour endurance race being held at Indianapolis. While not a part of the 2021 GT4 SprintX Championship, there may just be a pair of BimmerWorld BMWs spending a few extra days in central Indiana for that event. And maybe, just maybe, I can convince Dana that I should be a part of that driver lineup…

Q: Before you close this out, I just gotta close the loop and say that the Aerosmith-Haiku fusion really isn’t doing it for me.

A: Noted.

See you at the track!

#34 GT4