Paul Ricard – finally!
We went testing with Philip Eng, BMW works driver, 10 days prior to the meeting and felt reasonable confident for the weekend. So when I entered the circuit on Friday morning, it was a great feeling being back so quickly. But, and there is a but, we were surprised that the lap times were 2 seconds slower. Was it the tarmac, the tires, the warm weather or the GT3 that had been on track before us? Whatever the reason, the track was slippery to the point that I lost the back of the car at 230 km/h going into Sign, a very fast corner! Lucky the runoff is super wide and I just span and span before the car came to a halt! I was able to restart the car and finish the first free practice. We started the second free practice with new tires. We were faster, regaining the good sensation we had during our test with Philip, finishing P2!
There is not much time at the Blancpain GT Sports Club between the free practices and qualifying. Only 2-3 hour break! So qualifying came very quickly. We decided to leave last to gain space. It happened to be a wrong bet due to traffic. At the end we had some free laps, but it was too late as the tires had degraded. For some reason the pace was not there! I tried everything, but finished P8. It was only when I entered the pits that I understood why I was slow! I looked at the dash and saw that I had done the entire qualifying in Map 6!!!!
We have a number of different settings on the car, one of which is a Map setting, which sets different engine power. Map 1, is the highest engine power Map, with the most performance from the engine. Map 2 is less power with less turbo boost. Map 3 and 4 are usually used for rain and Map 6 is used when behind the safety car, so the least power! The question than was how much time I had lost in being in Map 6. Once the data was retrieved, we calculated a loss of 0.70 to 0.75 seconds, which would have put me in either P1 or P2! The team manager was very unhappy, considering all the time and effort we had put 10 days earlier during our test.
For the qualifying race the objective was simple – try to finish at least P4! I had a good start and kept my position. After 3 laps I started overtaking. On the last lap, last corner, it was drag race between me (P4) and P3. The Ferrari having great acceleration finished in front by 0.20 seconds!
We were told at the end of the race that both P1 and P2 where under investigation for a false start. The car in pole had accelerated too early, and the car in second went behind him prior to the lights turning green. They both received a 30 second penalty which placed them P11 and P12 respectively, giving me P2!
The objective of the main race was to win! I was very lucky at the start. As the pole man accelerated I was at the top of my rev-limiter and had to select second gear. He was a little ahead of me. I accelerated to close the gap when at the same time the lights went green! I accelerate to full throttle and we entered the first corner together, but I exited the second corner ahead, P1. From there I just needed to focus and build a lead. I did and won by 11.2 seconds! It was a great race because I was in a zone! Fully concentrated. The race was over quickly for me. It’s probably the best race weekend I have had in a very long time!
Thanks to a great team work, my engineer that kept me fully updated during the race, and last but not least, Philip Eng!