The penultimate round of the 24H Series Champion of the Continents championship took us to Barcelona this past weekend. The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is the current Formula One track in Spain and hosts the winter test for F1. Situated in Montmeló just outside of downtown Barcelona, the circuit is nestled in a hilly region with gorgeous mountains filling the background. The circuit looks fairly straight forward on paper but demands precise driving lap after lap to get the most out of the car. With a great combination of high-speed corners, heavy braking zones, and slower chicanes, the course would keep us very busy for twenty-four-hours. This also marked the 21st edition of the 24 Hours of Barcelona.
We flew out of Atlanta directly to Barcelona on Tuesday evening and landed in Spain on Wednesday morning. We did not have any on-track activity scheduled for Wednesday but there was a course walk that evening that I wanted to partake in considering I had never been on the circuit aside from my sim at home. We did the course walk and took numerous notes throughout, comparing tips that one of my co-drivers sent to us and taking notes on any visuals I saw such as curb height, runoff, etc.
Thursday was our first on-track day with the private test. We had an amazing driver lineup for the weekend which included Björn Simon, Olaf Meyer, Stephan Epp, Torsten Kratz, and me. My first laps out I took easy just to see the track from the driver seat. I was more focused on looking for reference points and getting use to the car again more than anything. After the test was done, we all sat down and Torsten helped review some data to compare where time could be gained throughout our lineup. Friday would be the first day that counted.
Friday was a busy day which included another private test, first official practice, qualifying, and night practice. All of us were similar in speed by the end of first practice and for qualifying the team elected Torsten to put in some laps on new tires. We ran our race setup for qualifying and managed third in GT4 but a decent amount of time was between P1 and P3. We assumed during the race however our pace would be competitive over the course of twenty-four-hours.
Night practice came and I went out first to do the minimum night laps required by the organizers. The course was decent in the dark especially compared to Dubai which was like driving blindfolded. With only a few laps in night practice, you must quickly find your reference points for in the dark. For example, some small marker signs off the course or a paint mark on the wall is not visible in the dark, so you must quickly adjust and find what works and what doesn’t.
When night practice ended the team went to work on preparing the car for the day ahead and the drivers decided to get some rest. The race would start at twelve on Saturday, a little earlier than some other twenty-four-hour races including Dubai which started late afternoon.
Race day arrived in Barcelona and we were ready. The biggest concern was the heat. The temperatures were in the high eighties Fahrenheit which is like home but with the BMW we have fixed windows, no cool shirt system, and no air vents. Luckily the M4 GT4 does come with air conditioning but it’s a little different than what you would get in a road car and does not blow ice cold air. There’s also only one single vent but also a nice duct to the seat which helps cool your body.
With the heat being a problem for drivers, the machines also had to contend with these high temperatures for twenty-four-hours. With that said, the team told us all to keep the revs lower and avoid drafting cars so we could ensure air was always flowing into the radiator and intercooler for the turbos. Other wear items like tires and brakes take even more of a pounding when the temperatures are high and the track temperature was in the one-hundred-twenty-degree range.
Torsten took the green flag and on the opening lap one of our main competitors was taken out by an overly ambitious Porsche Cup car. With their lengthy repairs we could build a gap and had a back and forth run with the new Aston Martin GT4 car. We eventually took the lead and problems hit for the Aston when they had to go into the garage for an engine change. This put them well out of contention as it took many hours to finally get back on track.
We weren’t trouble free either though and problems continued to plague the GT4 class cars. Torsten handed the car over to Stephan who needed to pit soon after with an electrical issue. The team got the car back on track in a timely manner and eventually it was time for me to gear up for my first stint in Barcelona.
The first stint in any big race is exciting. You see your car coming down pit lane and your mind is racing through everything to do during the driver change. It’s almost like slow motion watching and waiting as the car crawls down pit lane at 40 km/h. Finally, the car is in the box, I open the door, undo the window net, help pull the harness out of the way, then before I know it I am sliding in and Stephan is doing up my belts, radio, and drink hose. In under a minute the door is shut, and I am alone in my small cocoon. It’s now quieter than it was outside with the windows shut and I wait for the signal to go after the mechanics are done changing the tires.
My first lap out was good, and I waited for heat to get into the Hankook tires which didn’t take long given the track temperature. Then I had an issue. I had the air blowing but noticed it was aimed high and wanted it aimed at my face. So, I reached to move the vent to aim it at me, did so, then a moment later the fan went silent. No more air. I cycled through the switch to make sure it wasn’t faulty or something of that nature but still nothing. Within a minute the cockpit was an oven.
You know in the middle of summer when you get into your parked car and it’s so hot it’s hard to breathe? It was like that but then as if you also decided to do some light cardio along with it. I race in very hot temperatures here in the southeast, but the big difference is we have no side windows which means we get some airflow into the car. It’s not cool air but it’s something. Secondly, I train on my bike in the Georgia heat. I even trained with limited water at times to simulate the size of our water system. So, although I was sweating like crazy and wasn’t comfortable, I wasn’t dying and could stay focused on turning quick laps. For a while the biggest issue was finding times to wipe my eyes as I was getting sweat dripping into them and onto my glasses which was annoying.
My stint continued and the heat took more of a toll on me. I had no water to replenish any fluids during my stint so that was also a problem. By the end I was in pretty rough shape and was quite relieved to finally get out. I immediately stumbled to our small team pool we set up earlier in the week. I actually had to go to medical to get an IV and a checkup. The medical team even had to label me unfit to drive for some hours as I recovered. Now the embarrassing part. Apparently, I closed the A/C vent when moving it and doing so cuts the fan off. Since it wasn’t instant, I never looked down at it or thought maybe I somehow shut it off that way. Lesson learned!
My final stint would come in the morning. I still felt a tad weak from the problems before but quickly got up to speed. I started to feel pretty good in the car and was enjoying the drive. The air made all the difference and I was quite comfortable. After forty minutes the team called to ask how I was, I said I felt ok, so continued with the stint. I ran the entire fuel load, boxed, and got out. This time in much better physical shape! I had to have a small laugh at my mistake of having the vent closed. I pretty much sabotaged myself in a way!
By this point there was not much time left in the race and we still sat second though the gap was much closer. There wasn’t anything we could do so crossed the line Sunday afternoon in second place in GT4 just as we did in Dubai. Celebration was in order because with second place we once again gained valuable points for the championship. We now lead GT4 in championship points, sit fourth overall, and I am sixth overall in the driver standings and leading GT4 with my teammates in the drivers points.
Our championship finale is in November in Austin, TX which will surely be an exciting race. Thank you massively to the entire Sorg Rennsport team and drivers. Also thank you to all of my partners.