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UDELL: Monterey Debrief

Alec Udell files his final Sportscar365 column of the year…

Photo: Rick Dole

Landing in SFO, the smoke from the fires devastating California had made their way down to San Francisco. It’s such a tragedy for the Northern California areas affected.

I’m not sure I have the words to describe it; all I can say is I hope that those of you affected by the fires are able to return soon. It’s been quite a hard year with disasters: the hurricanes over the summer and now the fires. I pray all of you out there stay safe.

Wednesday night I met up with Wolf [Henzler] and Sven [Müller] at the track. Sven hadn’t been to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca before so he took the opportunity to go on a track walk.

Endurance racing isn’t something I’m too experienced with, only having done three professional endurance races in my career to date. I was excited coming into the weekend to show what we were capable of.

For this race we had our usual supporters at Euroworld Motorsports and GMG, however a new partner was brought on board, Hybrid Kinetic Group (HKG).

HKG fielded two Porsches; our 911 GT3 R and a Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR. HKG was debuting their endurance racing program, which is expected to continue growing in North America.

The HKG Porsche has to be prepped a bit differently by GMG for these long races. Since three drivers will be sharing the car you end up sacrificing a bit of comfort in the seat in order to make each driver comfortable enough for a one to two-hour-long stint.

In addition to adjusting padding, the seat belts have to be bungeed back. By this I mean attaching surgical tubing to the buckles of the lap belts in order to pull them back to the same positions. That way the next driver hopping in doesn’t lose them in the bottom of the seat.

This is crucial when making driver changes. If you lose a belt it’s several seconds lost in the pit. Pit lane is one of the places where time is easiest to be gained or lost. Three seconds in pit lane can be the difference between a win or loss. Because the cars are pushed so hard and lap times are usually within 2- 4 tenths of each other, time gained in pit lane is free time on track.

I think this is what makes endurance racing so exciting. I know plenty of the crew we work with at GMG likes this format because it truly shows what a team sport racing is.

For me this weekend was about getting in the car and having fun. The Pro-Pro teams that showed up were second to none. Full factory teams from Porsche, Audi and Acura set on the grid.

I was paired with two of the best Porsche “works” pilots with Wolf and Sven, which can be a little daunting at first.

When you’re going up against the guys you’ve been watching on TV since you were a kid it’s a whole mix of emotions. On one hand you’re a bit nervous because of the comparative experience levels. On the other, it gives you the opportunity to show that you’re meant to be at this level of the sport. Once you get in the car, all you’ve got to do is drive.

For qualifying, I was in the No. 17 car. The general rule for IGTC is that the highest ranked driver qualifies, but I’m a “silver”. We got an exception for me to do the qualifier under the special circumstance that I was the American in the car.

I started out strong, holding a top-three spot for the first 10 minutes of the session. However, in the last five-minutes, the hammers went down. Ultimately, we ended up in eighth starting position, just under three-tenths out of third-place.

Knowing there was at least a tenth of a second left on the table, I went into the race hungry.

Sven took the green flag. After an hour, I was in for my first stint. Our strategy involved double stinting tires and I was the first to do so.

I was amazed at the fall-off of the tire after about 40 laps. The Pirellis we run on are a great tire, however, we’ve not got much experience with them over the one-hour mark so this was uncharted territory.

We had a good thing going, the GMG crew executed perfectly in pit lane, we just struggled to get the lap time out of the HKG Porsche necessary to make the double stinting work to our advantage.

Between Wolf, Sven and myself, we saw a race-high of third, and a finishing position of sixth. Ultimately not what we were expecting with such a strong team and driver lineup, but that’s what keeps you coming back for more in this sport.

This has been a tremendous first year for me in the GT3 class. I had some great successes in the Euroworld Motorsports Porsche GT3 R in the Pirelli World Challenge Sprint series and with Calvert Dynamics in the SprintX.

With HKG, I’m excited to see where the future goes. I think it was a strong debut for the endurance program, seeing a second-place finish in the GT4 class with Carter Yeung, Andy Lee and Jon Miller, and nearly a top-five finish in GT3 Pro-Pro.

I look forward to fixing some little things and going back at it next year.

That’s it from me! Thanks again for following along this season. I cannot believe it’s already over. Before you know it we’ll be back at it again.

Be sure to keep up with off season testing on my Facebook and Instagram pages! In the meantime, I’m going to get some schoolwork done, Go Tigers!

Alec Udell (@AlecUdell) is the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge GT Cup champion, driving for GMG Racing and Calvert Dynamics in the 2017 PWC GTA and SprintX Series. Udell is a Clemson University student, majoring in engineering.

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