Return to Zandvoort
Last week was the fifth weekend of the SRO GT4 European series, this time – and for the first time – I traveled to a familiar place: Circuit Zandvoort! If you recall from my first post this year, I traveled to Zandvoort in March before the season to meet and test with the MDM Motorsport team. For those of you joining in a bit late, here’s a recap of the circuit: Zandvoort is a beach town in The Netherlands on the North Sea. You might recognize the name now as it has been added to the F1 calendar for next season as the home of the Dutch Grand Prix! The track itself is an awesome old school circuit with blind corners and lots of elevation changes. If you go off, you’re really punished as there are walls and gravel traps all around the circuit! (Like you need any more motivation to not put a wheel wrong). The circuit is nestled right in a park in the town surrounded by beautiful sand dunes and mountain biking trails. It’s a 30-minute drive from the Schipol Airport, making it an easy trip. From Houston, I grabbed an overnight direct flight and was at the track by 10am on Wednesday for our setup day. While we sweated our tails off at Misano, Zandvoort had the typical Dutch summer weather… 60 degrees Fahrenheit and rain! True to the fashion we had nearly everyday.
On our testing day, Thursday, we had an hour and a half session to get the car dialed-in. Luckily for us the rain happened earlier in the day and the track was nearly dry when we went out allowing us to run slicks the whole session. We got the car tuned-in for the drying track pretty well, which turned out to be a blessing later in the weekend as the rain circled the track seemingly teasing us all weekend. Friday we had two Free Practice sessions. In Free Practice 1, we began the session with wet tires, instead of running around tearing rain tires up we opted to do practice pit stops, an important exercise as we were pitted close to the pit exit and would not have any margin of error for our stop.
I don’t think I’ve explained this before, but in our pit stop we’re given a minimum pit stop time, this means that we have to spend a minimum of that time in pit lane. Going too quickly yields a stop-and-go penalty for the amount of time gained in the stop. This still allows for error, leaving too slowly from the box and you’ll lose valuable time out on track. The track dried-up midway through the session, however a red flag in the middle of the practice saw us lose a bit of track time. Ultimately, we ended up in eighth overall. In Free Practice 2 we had another drying session. We started out BMW M4 GT4 on wet tires and by the end we were on slicks. We timed it well and were able to get a relatively quick lap in putting us in third-place overall for the session. The decision to move from wets to slicks is a tricky one, you’ve got to balance the risk of rain returning or the track drying. Making the wrong call can yield terrible results. The driver and engineer have to be in sync on the risks at hand and neither can second guess the decision of the other
It turned out running in those conditions was valuable as qualifying on Saturday morning also was on a drying track! The rain threatened all during my run in Quaifying One (Q1), but it held off as I was able to get a quick lap in to put us in the third starting spot for Saturday’s race. My co-driver Simon Knap’s run in Q2 wasn’t as lucky. A couple cars got laps in before the rain started but we weren’t as fortunate. The MDM crew was ready for anything and got Simon in and out in no time, giving him the chance to get back out and run a quick lap on rains, putting us in the fourth starting position for Sunday’s race. For the home circuit of MDM, we were encouraged with the strong performances in qualifying!
I’m not sure why, but I was a ball of nerves getting into the car on Saturday for Race 1. Usually, I’m calm and collected but on Saturday that wasn’t the case. The start to Race 1 was not one of my best of the season. I had one of the KTM’s ahead of me, a Camaro next to me and an Audi ahead of the Camaro. The BMW M4 has very good torque, but if you’re boxed in there’s not much you can do. I think the outside line at Zandvoort is a good line to take in Turn One (T1), I just couldn’t make my way out there on the start. Getting slowed up in the mid corner I ended up losing a spot. After a bit of bumping in the first lap. I settled out in fifth. A wheel off track at the exit of T8 was enough to drop me back one more spot which I got back the next lap. I ran in fifth till the pit stop and passed the car off to Simon. He had quite a scrap in the race and ultimately brought us home in sixth-place.
Simon and I both seemed to struggle with the race pace of the car, losing the rear as the race wore on. It showed in our lap times. We were consistently 0.3s off the leaders in the long runs. In these GT4 cars, there’s not much adjustment. They are directly based on road cars so that leaves us with fewer tools to use to tweak them than say a GT3 car. This ensures that teams don’t have to spend several test days mapping out all the suspension changes in the car. Additionally, it means that any small changes made actually make large differences in the handling of the car. The MDM team thought long and did quite a bit of data homework overnight to identify what we were struggling with. They discovered some interesting things in the data overnight and were able to pinpoint a reason for the lack of rear grip. A few minor tweaks were made and we got ready for Sunday’s Race 2.
Race 2 saw a huge wreck on the start of the race that brought out an early red flag to clean it up. Once the six cars were cleaned up and buckets of kitty litter were dumped all down the front straight, the race was re-started and Simon was off on a mission. We really needed to finish ahead of two cars… the cars that started on the front row. Simon drove an aggressive and smart first stint. He made a few beautiful moves, one down the inside of T7, a downhill high-speed sweeper, as well as an outside move into T9-T10. He brought the car into the pit lane for us in first-position! I took over and left the pit lane out front. As the pit stops cycled through we kept the lead. I had the Ekris of Ricardo Van Der Ende in hot pursuit of me through the whole second-half of the race. Luckily, I had a car I could push with thanks to the changes made by MDM overnight. I managed the pace and brought home a win at the home circuit of MDM Motorsport!
It was an emotional win for us as we struggled in Race 1. The team had a very long week with late nights every night and this made it all worth the while! It was especially great as we had a lot of local fans, supporters, sponsors and family out for the event. To show well in front of your home crowd is all you can ask for! We have a bit of a break now, about six weeks till the final rounds of the 2019 SRO GT4 European series at Nurburgring Grand Prix circuit at the end of August. Sitting second in the points’ championship now, we’re poised for a shootout at the last events!