After several years competing in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, Nick Galante is opening a new chapter to his racing career this weekend as he enters his first season of Pirelli GT4 America with BimmerWorld Racing.
Galante, 43, drove for BimmerWorld in the Pilot Challenge GS ranks last year and will continue to pedal the team’s BMW M4 GT4 in SRO America competition.
But while the team and the car offer some familiarity, Galante is expecting to make plenty of adaptations as he discovers a new championship and a different style of racing.
How are you feeling heading into your first Pirelli GT4 America season?
“I’ve been in IMSA for so long now, it’s been 60 races in a row that I’ve run! And I got used to knowing every aspect of how the series runs, who the personnel are, and how the officiating goes.
“I usually don’t get nervous at all before a race, but I definitely feel a little buzz going into this one because there are so many unknowns.
“Even though I’m not worried about one second on track, I’m just figuring out all the nuances: how the weekend flows, restarts and race starts, what they consider to be blocking, and the new pit stops are all going to be way different.
“I’m just trying to wrap my head around all these thousands of things while trying to keep a cool head and have a great race with James. I think we’ll have a great chance at the championship here. I’m already thinking about the championship, and that’s what I’m fighting for.
“I’m not just trying to go out and get a couple of top fives, I think we’re going to come out swinging and give it a run.”
What was the rationale behind the switch to Pirelli GT4 America?
“I don’t think it was one major force pushing it in that direction. I think it was just a natural flow.
“There’s a lot of factors, some of them financial and some of them related to the strength of the series that was attractive. I think it was a combination of a lot of different entities coming together.”
How much are you looking forward to sharing a car with James Clay, the BimmerWorld team boss?
“Finally! We’ve been trying to for years. What an honor to finally get to drive with him. Usually he’s one of my fiercest competitors, battling door-to-door on-track.
“He’s so crafty that he’s one of the toughest guys to pass and one of the greatest guys to get passed by. It’s going to be nice looking in that rear-view mirror and not seeing him, or not staring at his rear bumper for a whole race!
“It’s going to be nice that we’re going to be working together rather than working against each other.
“I’m excited to be with BimmerWorld. The team is so awesome, from the mechanics to the drivers to the truck driver. James is so great, and it speaks volumes to the good guy that he is.”
What might an experienced IMSA driver need to be aware of when entering the SRO America environment?
“The main thing I’m trying to get my head around is the shortness of the stints and the races.
“I’m used to four and two-hour races where you can take your time and take 10 laps to work on somebody and make something happen. But given the timeframe, I’m already trying to decide how to approach some of these races, whether I’m starting or finishing.
“When you know you have a four-hour race, for the first half you’re just trying to keep the car alive. You might not take these risks. But now, when you’re looking at a 25-minute stint instead of an hour stint, you’ve got to get stuff done.
“Now we’re going from a 10-race championship to a 14-race championship. You’ve got to roll the dice a bit and maybe make some moves that you wouldn’t have made in a different series.”
Have you done much pre-season testing, particularly with the Pirelli tires?
“Luckily we just snuck in a test a week and a half ago in Austin, Texas.
“We arrived on the Friday and the place was covered in snow. The state was almost shut down, so the test almost got canceled. But we persevered and waited it out.
“Finally on Sunday, when the track was cleared from snow, we were able to get some runs in and get some heat in the tires.
“I did try the new Pirellis, so it was nice to try them through a couple of heat cycles and see how they react. I like the tire, it was pretty good. So I’m feeling good about that.”
Based on that experience, how confident can you be of your own preparations and those of the BimmerWorld team heading into Sonoma?
“I feel very confident. Out of all the racetracks in the world, I have the most laps at Sonoma from coming up through the ranks in formula cars, and it’s where I’ve instructed for years.
“So I feel confident about equating what I learned about the tire in Austin, even though it was cooler, and bringing that to Sonoma.
“I’m definitely comfortable there, even though I’ve never raced a sports car at Sonoma. It’s all been formula cars and go-karts.
“I know we may have to work really hard for the BMW to stay towards the front area at Sonoma. Some of the Porsches and Aston Martins are probably going to set really well.
“So we’re going to work twice as hard to be up in fourth and fifth. A podium would be great and we’re shooting for a couple. But getting some solid points for the year, if we can score well in the top-five I think that’s going to be good for the BMW.”
In addition to the team and car, another constant in your move to SRO America is the association with Racing to End Alzheimer’s. Could you tell us a bit about the project?
“This is our fifth season. It’s really taken off and been really successful. My main sponsor, Philip Frengs, had a document services company. But his wife has Alzheimer’s.
“He puts it as: ‘in business and in life I’ve always been able to fix or achieve something I put my mind to, but with the disease my wife has there was nothing I could do’. Because there was no cure and no way to help.
“So he said, ‘instead of sitting back and watching this, I want to actively create this charity and make a difference in a disease in which I had little I could do’. She’s still fighting, and he’s out here raising hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for these great charities.
“We do the racing and raise the money. People all over the world nominate a loved one and put the name and their hometown on the car.
“For $250 that goes directly to one of the charities of their choice that we donate to at the end of the year. Every year we’ve broken the record of how much we’ve raised.”