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PREWITT: Zolder Debrief

Hal Prewitt makes his Sportscar365 debut with a look back at Zolder 24…



I am half way through a two-week racing jaunt. My wife thinks I should give up racing and hates to go to the track. Only solution I’ve found is to bribe her with travel and to stay at great places. So far, this still works.

Arrived today in beautiful Barcelona, Spain for this weekend’s 24 Hours of Barcelona at the challenging Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

I will be driving a Lotus Evora GT4 in the SP3 class and a MARC Focus V8 in SP2, hoping to improve on my top-10 driver position in this year’s International Endurance Series (IES) Championship in Creventic’s 24H Series.

Wise men have spoken about the value of learning something new every day and, more importantly, never forgetting what we have learned. Racing in the 24 Hours of Zolder last weekend was a reminder.

Famed Dutch driver, Cor Euser, and I decided to run as a duo while 60 other teams had three to five co-drivers. My wife thinks we are nuts for doing this. She may be right, but I will let others decide for themselves.

For Cor, Zolder has a special history. He won a 1982 race there, part of the European Formula Ford 2000 Championship, beating Ayrton Senna. I asked him about that race, which was part of that weekend’s Formula 1 Grand Prix of Belgium, in which the legendary driver, Gilles Villeneuve, was killed in qualifying.

“I remember it like yesterday,” Euser said. “We were watching qualifying, standing over the hill in Turn 6 with Senna and some other drivers and we see the Villeneuve crash. He flew through the air in his seat. The car broke into pieces and he flies as a rag doll landing on his face in the quick right hander. Senna was in shock. He was emotionally broken.”

Euser immediately spoke with his friend and competitor. “I told him, ‘this is racing, it’s dangerous,’ and the next day I think Senna was not mentally ready to race. I won this race from him.”

I asked Cor if he was impacted seeing Villeneuve’s death?

“I never thought about it,” Euser answered. “I was maybe too busy or it was not allowed, it would be too sensitive for a driver coming up but, of course, it was a shock in F1 as he was one of the bravest.”

For Zolder, Cor selected his BMW 120D for us to race, a 2-liter diesel that is not fast but able to run for four hours on a tank of fuel.

We have won races in the 120D but, unfortunately, we were not going to be competitive in our assigned class at Zolder. Even with a perfect race, it was impossible to win unless most of the class severely broke.

We shifted our focus. The race would be a contest of endurance, skill and pushing the limits of our capabilities. When it was over, we certainly did that and more.

Race day last Saturday dawned dry and hot with temperatures set to soar into the 90s. Extreme summer heat was added our list of challenges as the race started. I steered clear of trouble and stretched our race-opening stint to just minutes before the three-hour mark.

Cor jumped into the lead in his opening shift but 45 minutes in our BMW had its first mechanical issue. We lost valuable time repairing a drive-shaft rubber shock plate and later a failed fuel rail, which stranded us on track for a bit.

Then the BMW began to overheat near the halfway point. The immediate fix was to turn on the cockpit heater to lower engine temperatures, which made for temperatures approaching 150 degrees inside the car.

We had to drink water constantly to replace what we were losing in sweat.

That became a greater challenge near the end when the driver drink pump failed and I drove the final hour with no water at all.

The crew suggested I come in for a drink, but I chose to stay out, was doing great laps and feeling fine. The temperature was not as bad as the many Florida summer races I have been in, but I did tell the team I was considering stopping for an ice cream with the fans near Turn 9.

We finished 32nd of the 61 cars that started the race and fifth in the T-3 class. We ran 629 laps with Cor’s fastest at 1:55.0, had 16 pit stops for total of 2:41:46 off track and lost about 90 minutes due to mechanical failures.

When the race was over, I pulled the BMW to a stop in “parc fermé” on the front straight, congratulated a few teams and met Cor.

Walking to the pits, I was feeling very tired when a track doctor noticed, grabbed my arm and asked that I sit down. Within seconds there was a needle in my hand connected to an IV bag, and I was on my back and surrounded by medical staff.

For the next 30 minutes they poured cold water on me and watched my vital signs. After three IV bags and many cans of fluids I was released.

Even though I experienced no problems driving, I had clearly reached human limits. Next time I will not go without water for so long.

Stay tuned for my update from Spain. Hopefully our luck and the shopping will be much better…

In an international driving career that will surpass 200 races by the end of the 2015 season, American sports car racing driver, Hal Prewitt, has earned 73 first-place finishes and 115 total podiums. He has competed with Dutch-based Cor Euser Racing since 2009 and is currently the top ranked U.S. driver in the International Endurance Series (IES) Championship in Creventic’s 24H Series.

A native of Daytona Beach who now splits his time between Miami’s South Beach and Park City, Utah, Prewitt is a computer hardware and software technology pioneer and also an emerging fine-art photographer. He is opening a new gallery in Park City this year and always takes time to hone his fine-art photographic skills while traveling to races around the world.

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