Karim Ojjeh – Barcelona – when reality hits

Our engineer, Francesco, decided to implement his own agenda this weekend for the first time. (Francesco Pon is the former head of the Young Driver Academy at Ferrari F1, where he held the position from 2010 to 2017). He was very direct and made us work super hard – the first briefing lasted a good hour. We had a set plans for practice, bronze test, free practice, qualifying and the race.

It was simply great! I learned a lot – managing the turbo, why it was better to change the map settings prior to traction control, adapting to tire grip (qualifying verses race), different braking techniques depending on the corner, track elevation … the list goes on. It was very intensive work all weekend long to the point I had forgotten some basics, such as the pit speed limiter – it cost me five points on my racing license before the race started and as a result I was given a drive-through penalty at the start of the race.

As my co-driver was categorized “silver”, our car was categorized amidst the Pro-Am. We went through the testing ritual, super concentrate on the task at hand. Qualifying was on Sunday morning – 7th. The race started under a blazing Spanish sun at 15:00. It only lasted 9 corners before mayhem struck.

As I exited turn 9 full throttle to turn 10, a car had had an accident on the left side of the circuit with its roof on the ground! The car was upside down. The car was badly damaged. I learned after the race that the car had been slightly hit from the rear, turned around, rear ended the tire barrier and flipped! The impact was so strong that the car broke the concrete wall behind the tire wall! The inevitable happened: safety car. The evacuation of the car and replacement of the tire wall lasted 35 minutes by which time the race was supposed to start. But no! Because of the very warm temperatures and the reduce speeds, an engine on an Audi blew up. The safety car continued for another 10 minutes and the race finally started after 45 minutes. I only drove 15 minutes in my first stint. My co-driver then took the wheel. An hour later, I took over for my second stint. We were 5th in class and finished 5th. I only learned after the race that my co-driver had stopped during his stint by the side of the track due to a fuel-pressure problem.

Barcelona was never going to be a BMW circuit. We knew it from last year’s race. Just in the third sector the car was losing one full second to the other cars! Why? Because of the size of the car. It’s a big compared to the Ferrari 488 or Lamborghini. It takes a lot of energy, time, to rotate the car on turning. But that’s not the full story. The Blancpain GT Series it the most challenging GT3 series in the world. There is simply no doubt about it. Even the “Am” have tremendously improved, some only 1.7 seconds off the pros! I must be humble and admit that the level is very high. In qualifying I was 3.5 seconds off the pros. In race mode, during my 2nd stint, my pace was very good – only 1 second off. However, that was simply not good enough. This is when reality hits. When you realize that you are simply not fast enough for this series. Something needs to change next year. We are working on it and hope it materializes.

I would like to thank you all for your support and well wishes. We will see how the adventure continues in 2020.

I suggest you watch the highlights, as no one ever saw such tough battles in GT3: (incredible start)