The emotional rollercoaster of motorsport can work on both long and short timescales. Sometimes, a team’s transition in the back of the area up to the podium can take weeks or years. The weekend just passed was certainly one which had its ups and downs.
The group entered the weekend with three of its drivers in the top 5 of the championship, and one, now leading it. The confidence in the car was at an all-time large, and reliability has been improving all season. The track, one of the fastest in the country, should favour the rear 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 wasn’t going to help his chances, but should not cause too much of an issue. He’s a talented driver who has had ballast before – not a problem.
The rollercoaster reached its apex.
No true testing as such was done before the end of the session, but a brake bias error meant a twist under breaking coming into a heavily gravel-trapped hairpin. The time lost due to the red flag for recovery, and the clearing out of the huge amount of gravel, meant there was no time for any installation changes or refinement during the session.
The rollercoaster was over the top now.
During Free Practice Two, multiple setup changes of varying achievement and impact were attempted, but there was very little noticeable improvement in lap times. The problem was simply that our driver had only two laps to check each setup change before pitting and trying the next thing on the list. Normally, these changes are spread out across two sessions. This weekend we had one. Not every change you make will improve the car, and unfortunately, as FP2 closed, the car wasn’t on the pace we’d come to expect by this stage of the season.
Down we go.
Given the natural advantage of rear-wheel drive in wet conditions, the ominous rainclouds were really 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 few laps were dry but the pace wasn’t there. Then the rain came, and boy, did it come! 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 from the electronics and ended up in 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 entire group was out in the (now returned) torrential rain, angle grinding, cutting, hammering and spannerring to have the remains of the awning safe. The entire team, still reeling from qualifying, were now drenched through, not to mentioned the harm done to staff property or to connections with sponsors and VIPs.
The engineers and drivers sat down and discussed an action plan. What could be done to recoup the weekend? Was everything lost? Absolutely not! Decisions were made and changes to the automobile were done late in to the night. Everything adjustable was corrected. Gear ratios were altered. Engine maps were tweaked. Like something out of a Hollywood blockbuster, the car was transformed. Untested, yes, but transformed.
When can we go back up?
Race one began in glorious sunshine. The team and cars had dried out immediately, but the long walk down to the back of the grid was not something the team often had to perform. The untested car seemed solid on the outlap into the grid, but this is never a real test of performance. Final checks done, 75kg of ballast on-board, 28th on the grid. The race started.
In the end, we go!
Our driver finished 10th. He made up 18 places, an incredible outcome and better than anyone had hoped for. The overnight transformation had worked wonders and the speed from the car was rear. 10th also meant no more ballast, as well as starting in 10th for race two. An superb outcome!
Race two started with a much shorter walk down the grid. No ballast on-board, and only a few minor alterations to compensate for the 75kg reduced weight. And you know what? He only went and won it! He drove like the professional he is and set the car at the front of the pack, winning by almost 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!
I can see the end now.
All that was left was race three. 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 success 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 anticipated on Friday, seemed to fade away during Saturday.
The value in persevering, not giving up under hardship, and trying to win regardless of how the odds are stacked against you cannot be understated. A poor practice or qualifying session, does not have to ruin your race. It does not have to ruin your championship hopes. It doesn’t even need to ruin your day.
Keep your chin up, your head in the game and determination in overdrive, and as a staff, wonderful things will happen.
Please remain seated until the ride has come to a complete stop.