What a treat it was to spend Labor Day weekend at the storied Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain.
The 24 Hours of Barcelona, although having been around as an event for many years, was the also the 5th event in the 2016 International Endurance Series run by the Dutch Creventic organization.
A current F1 facility, the circuit offers a wide array of slow or fast corners, elevation change and forces drivers and engineers to adapt to a wide array of changing conditions.
Last week was a scorcher in Spain and, as we learned through the first practice sessions, our team engineers and drivers collective experience of sweating it out for years at hot American tracks left our No. 78 MRS-GT Porsche with a chassis set up that was well balanced, easy on the tires, and a great compromise for the hot, greasy track conditions.
After a 3rd place finish at the last event at Paul Ricard, myself and co-drivers Charlie Putman, Charles Espenlaub and Xavier Maassen were quietly confident leading into the Saturday noontime start.
After much fine tuning of driver changes and pit stops, the early hours of the race unfolded flawlessly as Charles eased into an early lead and, with every pit stop, our Porsche creeped off into the distance. I transitioned from sunset into darkness as we continued to pull away to a multiple lap lead.
It’s worth noting that the Spanish fans were absolutely fantastic, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and seemed to function without any sleep! Finishing up night time stint around 3 a.m., I noticed the paddock and even the grandstands were still filled.
Early in the morning, we began to notice some not-so-nice crunchy sounds in the gearbox and so spent the next couple of stints experimenting with different gear choices for certain corners in the hopes of minimizing the decline.
We ended up opting to use pretty much 4th gear only for the first half of the lap and then short shifting for 3-4 gear on the 2nd half. Even with this compromised situation we were able to hold what had become a six lap lead on 2nd place.
With five hours to go and fingers still crossed we adopted a super conservative mode in traffic and held our breath. But beware the Curse of Expectation!!
A TCR class car had a brake problem at the end of the infield straight and ended up pounding the No. 78 from directly behind, damaging the water pump pulley and spitting the serpentine belt off the motor. Cruel luck indeed.
A dip into the garage and the MRS guys quickly assessed the situation and effected a repair which saw us end up rejoining and finishing out the race to finish in second place.
It’s funny, there are some races where just making the podium is a huge achievement to be celebrated. In this case we ended up having an amazingly well set-up car, perfect pit work, perfect strategy, no mistakes, led for 22 hours, and then finished second. Grr. So I do feel we are due a tad of frustration.
Still, it was an amazing opportunity to be competitive and enjoy a world-class race track with some of my best friends!
There’s one race left in the season. Looking forward to Brno next month and will report back!