24h the real test for both car and drivers

Training time before the race

Two weeks before the race I trained in the simulator – getting back my marks, my sequencing and my focus.  To some the simulator might be nonsense or something of no matter, but I can tell you by experience, today, it is a must to be prepared!

5 days prior to the race, Tuesday, we had the bronze test.  It went fine until we got hit with heavy rain.  The car felt good.  Then came the “long” Thursday.  We started at 10:55 am and finished the next morning at 00:55!  We had a good qualifying session, finishing in the middle of our pack. We felt good for the race.

Time of decisions

We decide to have our pro driver start the race which at the end was a good thing, as all cars in our category did the same.  Everyone wanted to play it safe.  Unfortunately 10 laps into the race, the full-course-yellow (FCY) was deployed due to a very very heavy accident at the top of the Raidillon.  4 cars were involved.  Three cars were destroyed.  All drivers ended at the hospital.  Two left and were fine.  One was badly injured with a broken vertebrae and other broken bones and flown to the UK.  The other had minor injuries.  What happened?  The first car had a puncture going up the Raidillon and went into the wall, ending in the middle of the circuit.  Another car slammed into him and then another.  On the second hit the engine/gearbox flew off the car!  Luckily everyone is still alive.  The race continued under FCY for 40 minutes at which time the team brought me in the car.  The safety car was deployed and the race restarted 10 minutes later.  We had a good pace.  The weather kept on changing from dry to rain and dry – it was Spa!  All the drivers/mechanics/team did a great job until the next day at 12:00pm, at which point we had raced more than 70% of the race.  

A mad race !

The 70% is an important mile-stone in a 24h race as it means that you have completed the minimum amount of time/race laps which allows you to be classified.  Although we did not need to “finish” the race and take the checkered flag, we did.  20 minutes before the end, the car, having been repaired, left the pits for the last time and crossed the finish line.  It was the last time for the BMW M6 GT3 to cross the finish at the 24h of Spa.  We were also the ONLY BMW to have finished as the other BMWs had retired.

Why did we stop at 12:00 pm, 4 hours before the end, and then return at the end?  Because the car was “broken”, done with.  No, we did not have an accident.  We had a slight impact at night, but it did not affect the car’s condition.  The car was finished: suspension broken, dampers broken, anti-roll bar broken, headlights broken … etc.  The car took such a hit it could not continue.  The brutality/speed of the race is such that you need to go on every single curb.  The constant attacking, lap after lap, was too much.  It was not only the car that was impacted, but also the drivers.  We were constantly pushed, back and forth, our helmet hitting the roll cage, our bodies flying up and down within our seat belt, that it took me 48 hours to recuperate.  It was tough!

So we finished 32nd overall, out of 58, 8th in class, out of 15.  We said good bye to Spa.  We have two races left, Nürburgring (beginning of September) and Barcelona (middle of October), after which the BMW M6 GT3 will be retired.   

A big thanks to all of you for your support.  I wish you all a good end to the summer wherever you are.  Be safe.  Be healthy.