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Continental Tire IMSA Driver Spotlight: Michael Marsal

This week’s Continental Tire IMSA Driver Spotlight, Michael Marsal…

Photo: Turner Motorsport

Photo: Turner Motorsport

Driver Spotlight: Michael Marsal
Driver: No. 97 Turner Motorsport BMW Z4 GT3
Follow: @michaelmarsal

Stepping up this year from the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge back into the TUDOR Championship full-time, how have you enjoyed your season to date?

“It’s been a great season, and I’ve really been happy this year. I would have loved to have won a couple more races! It a big adjustment (to come from Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge to TUDOR).

“There are two big things that I would highlight:

“Having done five seasons in the top class, I never had to manage traffic being the slower car. I’d always just driven around slower cars.

“It is a new and significant challenge, effectively being the slowest car on the track, not only keeping your eyes on the mirror, but also learning how to still make the most of your own racing within all that traffic. There are definitely challenges surrounding that part of racing in GTD.

“The second big thing is qualifying. In Continental Tire [Challenge], the compound is much softer, so the temperatures come up a lot faster than they do with the slicks on the GTD car. Managing that to be able to find the optimal lap has been a big difference as well.

“Overall, I’m happy with the results, to win and now come back with another podium, I’m pretty satisfied with the results.”

Although you won at Lime Rock, how good was it to finally bank a podium this past weekend at COTA with your regular season teammate Markus Palttala? What have you learned from Markus this season, in a line of other strong co-drivers you’ve had like Joey Hand, Boris Said and Bill Auberlen? 

“Having Markus as a full time co-driver has been great. He has obviously driven a lot of BMWs, and has so much experience in the Z4. He’s really impressive. He is also very good with the data analysis and video, honing what we get from those tools to work with my driving style to fit the Z4. This podium with him was sort of a cap to the season.

“Our strategy guy [Don Salama] pointed out COTA was a drivers race. It didn’t come down to strategy, didn’t come down to just one car having the best BOP, it was really up to the guys running those stints out there in the heat. We did just about everything right.

“With the heat, and the high speeds we run through the esses, for a lot of the guys in the AM part of the stint at Texas, I felt like my fitness level made a big difference. For me to be able to run that full 90 minutes really played to our advantage overall and I was really happy with the run. I feel like I’ve come into my own a little bit, driving this Z4.

“That kind of long stint, with the track getting worse and worse and making it really easy to make mistakes, I was happy to avoid any problems and just keep my head down. I didn’t have a radio so I really didn’t know when I was getting out of the car but I have raced with this team for long enough that I was able to pretty much know what we were going to do even without them being able to tell me on the radio.”

What do you like about the BMW Z4 GT3 as a chassis? What are some of its strengths and weaknesses?

“It is certainly different from the E92 BMW M3 I had so much experience with. Adjusting to it was a challenge in the beginning. In the slow speed corners, it pretty much just drives like a sports car and that part I was comfortable with right away.

“It was learning about how to drive a car, and how to race a car, that relies on aero in the mid to high speed turns. Learning to keep air on the front of the car was an entirely new thing for me that I feel like I’ve learned a lot about this year. It doesn’t have the power that some of the other GTD cars have, so that makes keeping that momentum that we have in the those corners all the more important.

“It was also of course different to drive a car that didn’t have ABS, and the speed differential between classes was another very big adjustment for me.”

Looking ahead to 2016, what do you want to do next year?

“I’m excited for the new M6, and I am looking forward to 2016. Right now, it is my intention to be back in GTD but that is not set in stone yet. I’m really loyal to BMW and very excited to be in the [WeatherTech Championship] next year, I think it will be a fantastic car and hopefully that will be where I am racing next year.”

What are some of your favorite off-track hobbies and/or things to do away from the track?

“My fitness plays a big part in what I do away from the track. I like to travel, and so Ali (girlfriend) and I do a lot of fitness travel events, if that is a half marathon somewhere, or last weekend we were in Colorado for Tough Mudder. It is a great way to stay in shape for racing. Generally, I like traveling a lot and of course my job (commercial real estate) keeps me busy when we aren’t racing.”

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