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Race Recap: 2019 COTA 24H USA

The finale of the 2019 24H Series season took place in Austin, TX for the third consecutive time. This was also the final round of the Champion of the Continents championship where we lead the GT4 category. When the season started in Dubai I was shocked to be standing on the grid in the UAE and had no intentions on chasing a championship in GT4. It seemed too unrealistic for someone like me I thought. However, when Olaf crossed the line in second place in Dubai it was too good of an opportunity to shrug off so the goal for 2019 was set. We would chase an international championship and I set out on the hardest year of my life putting small partnerships together and working to create measurable results.

Due to being the end of the season and a tighter budget than ever, my wife Haley and I decided to drive to the Circuit of the Americas from our home in Georgia. With stops, it was over a fifteen-hour drive! To save even more we camped out of our rental which was a Jeep so remarkably roomy. I wanted this championship badly for the team and drivers, so I was fine with this adventure! It sounds miserable but it was actually quite fun.

We were in good shape as a team for COTA. Realistically we just needed to start to get points for the team and for the drivers we all needed to meet a certain drive time to earn points for the championship. We got lucky in Spain when one of our closest competitors had an unfortunate accident so in terms of on-track competition we didn't have any immediate threats. We did however still want to end with a win. My teammates included my two German year long mates Olaf Meyer and Björn Simon but we also brought in two Texan natives for the race Jason Hart and Matt Travis.

On-track action started Thursday in wet conditions. While it was an optional test, we decided to all turn some laps to familiarize ourselves with the circuit and the damp conditions. There was a small chance of rain Sunday morning so wet laps would be beneficial. Luckily the rain subsided and there were opportunities for dry running later in the day.

Friday was a busy day and started with our first official free practice. We made numerous setup changes to the car throughout practice and up until qualifying. Jason Hart took us into qualifying with a fastest lap in the 2:18s but the lap was discounted due to a track limit violation. Either way we were in a super strong starting spot of third ahead of twenty-four-hours of racing.

Friday night served as night practice where all drivers need to do two timed laps. This ensures everyone is ok in the dark but also gives us the chance to adjust headlights or anything else that is not noticeable in the day. Luckily our car was well setup for night driving, and we had no issues adapting to the darkness of COTA which is quite dark!

Saturday was race day! We had time to eat breakfast and relax before the 11:30AM start time. Our goal was simple. We needed a clean start, Björn, Olaf, and me all needed drive time for points, and we wanted to challenge the win. That doesn’t sound so simple now that I type it. We elected Jason to start the car given his vast experience at COTA. We knew he’d be able to challenge for the lead early.

The green flag flew, and we were immediately on pace and chasing the lead. Jason managed to swap around with the leader for a bit before experiencing some type of misfire that was causing us to lose ground. Through pit stop cycles the BMW Motorsport engineers checked to try to decipher where the issue was coming from but for the time, we only knew it was fuel pressure related.

I drove the second stint and immediately felt good in the car. The misfire was not massive yet so when it would cut out a lift or shift would usually clear it out for a few minutes. My first stint was good, the track was still fairly clean and aside from the misfire the car was handling and driving fantastically. We had an amazing setup that was easy to drive and control especially with the massive bumps that COTA now has.

My stint lasted about an hour and twenty-minutes or so before coming in for a driver change, tires, and fuel. We were having a hard time getting a double stint on a set of tires, so we had to put a new set on at every stop. This seemed to be primarily down to the track surface as it is very abrasive.

The fuel misfire issues continued and seemed to be slowly getting worst. The team decided it was more than likely a fuel pump. Things got worst when Olaf was in the car and the car stalled and would not restart. We had to push the car into the garage for a few minutes where the team worked quickly to get it running again and on his way. It was then decided the likely choice would be to change the fuel pump but if we could get it to the end of the first portion of the race we could do the work outside of parc fermé conditions and take a ten lap penalty. This is a lot but the team could do anything they wanted versus if we chose to do it during the race ten laps would probably still be lost and we’d be very tight for time.

Back on track Olaf continued a smooth run and the car seemed ok minus the misfires the rest of us experienced. Matt Travis started his stint and once again another hiccup, this time on track, where the car stalled. He had to stop on track and eventually got it restarted with a hard reset. The hard reset however seemed to fix the issue for the remainder of his stint and he said the car ran great. More confusion as to what the exact problem was since it wasn’t always consistent nor was how each driver managed it.

The plan after the reset was to just keep driving and pushing. We’d make the final decision as to what we’d do as a team towards the end of the first portion of the race. The car was running well and while it had the misfire still it was manageable however if we kept running too lean during this period, we risked engine damage. The important part to us was to finish of course but also for Björn, Olaf, and myself to ensure we got the minimum driving time required per the rules to score points for the championship. Needless to say, it wasn’t a stress-free time for anyone.

The final stint of the first portion of the race was mine and things started off well. My pace was good in the dark and with the misfire I still managed to turn decent lap times. I had a fun battle with one of the other M4s for a bit but would lose out down the back straight when the engine would break up some. The checkered flag came out and we went into parc fermé conditions on the front straight for the night. This means the cars are parked, shut off, and they cannot be touched by the teams. We decided with how the car was to just continue driving as is, not lose anymore time, and keep pushing. We went to bed in third place and would be ready for the bright and early continuation.

Sunday morning came and the restart was bright and early with cool conditions. Jason would take the start again. At the start, the misfire was non-existent, so we were running quite well. We continued our cycling through the driver order until all three of us in the championship running were locked in for points. The race continued and with some luck we managed to move into second place in GT4 still chasing the leader. We needed a miracle to makeup laps though even though we were turning faster lap times, there just wasn’t enough time.

The misfire eventually did shine again, more than previously in some cases and then some laps not at all. We drove around it and one thing we tried was to save fuel to avoid one extra stop. Even driving very conservatively it was difficult to match the fuel goals the team wanted, either due to the circuit layout or the fuel issue we had could have been burning more than we had hoped.

Jason and Matt drove the final two stints and eventually the checkered flag flew. We finished second in GT4 but more importantly we won the team and drivers championship in the Champion of the Continents championship in GT4. This was a special finish with a lot of hugs, a lot of emotion, and a sense of relief.

It is still hard to realize we just won an international championship. We were fast, consistent, and always finished where we needed to. It’s hard to not go back and reflect on Dubai and our last lap second place finish. That moment sparked the fire for the season to chase a championship. It’s still unreal as I type this and by a long shot the pinnacle of my racing career so far. I couldn’t be happier for Sorg Rennsport, BMW, and my teammates and everyone who has helped me or worked with me this season. Please be sure to checkout all of my partners and support them when you can!

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