The emotional rollercoaster of motorsport can work on both long and short timescales. Sometimes, a team’s transition in the rear of the area up to the podium can take weeks or years. The weekend just passed was one that had its ups and downs.
The group entered the weekend with three of its drivers in the top 5 of the tournament, and one, now leading it. The confidence in the car was at an all-time large, and reliability has been improving all year. The track, among the fastest in the country, should favour the back wheel drive BMWs, and the weather was looking good. This should be a good weekend. The leading driver was carrying maximum ballast as is mandated which was not going to help his chances, but shouldn’t cause too much of a problem. He is a talented driver who’s had ballast before – not a problem.
No true testing as such was done until the end of the session, but a brake bias error meant a spin under breaking coming into a greatly gravel-trapped hairpin. The time lost due to the red flag for retrieval, and the clearing out of the massive quantity of gravel, meant there was no time for any setup changes or refinement during the session.
The rollercoaster was on the top now.
Throughout Free Practice Two, multiple setup changes of varying achievement and impact were tried, but there was very little marked improvement in lap times. The problem was simply that our driver had two laps to check each installment change before pitting and trying the next thing on the list. Usually, these changes are spread out over two sessions. This weekend we had one. Not every change you make will improve the car, and unfortunately, as FP2 closed, the car was not on the pace we had come to expect by this stage of the season.
Down we go.
Given the natural benefit of rear-wheel drive in wet conditions, the ominous rainclouds were actually a welcome sight. Rain would equalise the pack a bit more and provide the BMWs a chance to make up any performance deficit. The first couple of laps were dry but the pace was not there. The rain was so torrential that the session was actually red flagged due to safety concerns. By the time the session restarted, the cars were suffering from water ingress in the electronic equipment and ended up at the very back of the grid for race 1. The back of the grid, 28th place, with 75kg of ballast in the vehicle.
Where is the bottom?
After the disappointing qualifying session, the weather worsened. Something not seen frequently in Blightly, but a tornado (yes, a TORNADO) came through the paddock. This freak weather caused terminal damage to the hospitality awnings and the whole group was out in the (now returned) torrential rain, angle grinding, cutting, hammering and spannerring to have the remains of the awning safe. The whole team, still reeling from qualifying, were drenched through, not to mentioned the harm done to staff property or to relationships with sponsors and VIPs.
Is this it?
The engineers and drivers sat down and discussed an action plan. What can be done to recover the weekend? Was everything lost? Absolutely not! Decisions were made and modifications to the automobile were done late in to the night. Everything adjustable was corrected. Gear ratios were altered. Engine maps were substituted. Like something out of a Hollywood blockbuster, the car was changed. Untested, yes, but transformed.
When can we go back up?
Race one started in glorious sunshine. The team and automobiles had dried out immediately, but the long walk down to the back of the grid was not something the team often had to do. The untested car seemed solid on the outlap into the grid, but that is never a true test of performance. Final checks done, 75kg of ballast on-board, 28th on the grid. The race started.
Finally, up we go!
He made up 18 places, an incredible result and better than anyone had hoped for. The overnight transformation had worked wonders and the speed in the car was back. 10th also meant no more ballast, as well as starting in 10th for race two. An superb outcome!
Things are looking up!
Race two started with a much shorter walk down the grid. No ballast on-board, and just a few minor tweaks to compensate for the 75kg reduced weight. And you know what? He just went and won it! He drove like the professional he is and put the car in the front of the pack, winning by nearly 3 seconds. Who would have thought after the dismal Saturday, that race day would include a victory. What is more, another of our drivers was third, so a double podium. An excellent result!
All that was left was race . Ballast back in the car due to winning race 2, and a reverse grid meant starting down in the middle of the bunch. The unfavoured hard tyres were required for this race. The end result was a solid middle of the pack finish. Not terrible, but not on the scale of achievement of races one and two.
Time to get off.
So the drivers leave the round with all three still in the top 10, two still in the top 5, and one still leading the championship. A result that although expected on Friday, appeared to fade away during Saturday.
The value in persevering, not giving up under hardship, and striving to win regardless of how the odds are stacked against you can’t be understated. A poor practice or qualifying session, doesn’t have to ruin your race. It doesn’t have to ruin your championship hopes. It doesn’t even have to ruin your day.
Keep your chin up, your head in the game and determination in overdrive, and as a staff, great things will happen.
Please remain seated until the ride has come to a complete halt.