After a busy couple of weeks preparing for 2021's first special event, the team spent a lot of time practicing and racing in ESS and IMSA in their respective weeks that they ran Daytona. The European Endurance Series ran for one hour and fifteen minutes giving the drivers plenty of time to learn traffic patterns and pit entrances.
In terms of the race setup; Virtual Racing School uploaded some very quick, yet stable sets in which we did not adjust apart from our personal preferences of brake bias and traction settings.
We were very excited to be able to compete in the LMP2 category for 24 hours. This is how we lined-up for race day.
Saturday 23rd January 2021 was the day we had been preparing for...
We all jumped in Discord one-by-one as sign-up time approached and very much looking forward to the event.
As the sign-up deadline had passed at 13:00 GMT, we patiently waited for iRacing to assign us our splits. We waited, and waited, and waited. We had noticed qualifying was due to start at 13:30 yet no one on the service was in the sim. We checked the forums and discovered that there had been problems that led to "unique technical issues with our race scheduling" in which "exposed a flaw in our race scheduling implementation" (Greg West, iRacing Forum).
Because of this, the scheduled 13:40 race did not go live. After ~4 hours of technical issues, we, just like the other 9,981 participants sat impatiently waiting and debating whether the whole race would be cancelled. Update after update from staff members, we finally got the news we had been waiting for, the race will go ahead and immediately after that, the sign-ups opened up, again.
17:00 GMT was the new time slot which meant a lot of tinkering had to be done to the stint timetable before we got going. We ultimately got there and were all assigned splits.
We shall begin with High Calibre Autosports #832 who of which were placed in split 15/47.
Rich was the driver that had been scheduled to start the car, but with the delay and rescheduling of stint slots, Rich was unsure if he could make it. After much debate between the himself and Milo (who nominated to take his place), Rich was going to be the one qualifying and taking the green flag.
A 1:33.419 meant the #832 car was placed in 12th position out of the twenty LMP2 entries. A mid-field start isn't always the best place to be going into turn one, but the start of the race was fairly clean. The only bit of trouble happened at the first horseshoe as one LMP2 got turned around. Good wreck avoidance from Rich meant he just missed the front end by a couple of millimetres. Our main objective was to stay out of trouble and pray our competitors had the same mindset.
As we witnessed an LMP2 get spun on the infield on lap one, come lap two we become the victim. We sat in P10 and saw four to five cars in front jostle for position going into turn one. With there being a huge slipstream advantage on this circuit, there was quite the train behind us. With Rich trying to steer clear of a potential hazard in front, he backs off and steadies the car towards the apex. The real hazard was actually behind us. Our left rear got caught by the #10 Podium Racing Team resulting in us losing the rear end and spinning out. This wasn't the start we'd have hoped and were now at the back of the field. Only two minutes of the race had gone-by and already encountered problems. Solid lap times were to be expected to get nearer the front runners.
With the problems we had encountered by iRacing's services prior to the green flag, we did not expect to come across anymore. That was not the case. One hour and five minutes into the race, we were grinding away in 15th position.
We approached turn one and the #832 car slammed on the brakes mid apex until it come to a stop. Immediately after that, Haydon Gullis of Veloce Domeheads ploughed into the back end of us causing us to go airborne.
Our race in the #832 car was short lived. We asked Rich what happened because the way he come to a halt looked like he had come across hardware issues. He explained that the iRacing's User Interface had popped up on his screen meaning he could not see a thing. There was absolutely nothing Rich could have done to avoid this. He posted in the Discord "my view into T1" [Image Right].
He explained how he tried to get the car off of the racing line, but had no time to react, and as you can see would have been an impossible task.
A real shame. The #832 pilots didn't have the best of luck with official races leading up to the event and this was the final straw. The pace was there to be battling with the guys up the front and it is very unfortunate to end the first special event in this way. Onwards and upwards.
High Calibre Autosports #831 managed to get into split 5/47. An incredibly competitive field and the highest we've ever been in a special event. A pretty good accolade to have before we went green. Having the same issues as #832 and many other teams, driver time slots had to be rearranged. Simon qualified in third place with an incredible time of 1:32.755. Only two tenths off pole position. It was a tight field!
A pretty good start and we were keeping tabs with first and second position. Fourth place wanted the position so we let them by and decided to start fuel saving. Many teams opted for triple stinting the tires from the start. We only noticed that VRS Satellite Racing White double stinting. On top of that we consistently managed 24 laps per stint with every other team only completing 22-23 laps per stint. We thought we'd have the upper hand and eventually catch those ahead of us later on in the race. Strategy looked promising and we needed it against these immensely quick competitors.
On the downside of this strategy we lost a bit of time per lap due to our fuel saving. First and second place were starting to create a gap and Huttu/Alfalla Racing were in third meaning we sat not far behind in fourth.
The 3.8-4.5k drivers of VRS Satellite Racing White ran away with it into the night and lapped the entire field. We eventually went two laps down from the leader and one lap from second place EvoSR #107 (our rivals whom we have had good battles with at 24 Heures du Mans). The reason behind us losing so much time didn't help with a couple of spins and scraping the walls by Tom and Dennis.
Dennis also had a incident in the night which resulted in him punting a GTD car off into the barrier. He has now been nicknamed the GrimReaper. No real dramas and only a few optional repairs here and there. The car was in good condition and the guys kept chugging along through the night into the morning.
Fast forward to three hours left on the clock, #8 Huttu/Alfalla Racing ran out of fuel on the backstretch. We enjoyed that moment and relished being back in third place... for the time being. Shortly after their fuel mishap they were putting in good lap times and were closing in on us, fast.
Over the course of the race we had eliminated a few stints by pitting later than our competitors. With #8's pitstops being significantly earlier than ours, we were able to gauge what their strategy was going to be. Track temps had been rising quickly throughout the course of the morning. We had triple stinted the tires the whole race, but with the track temperature sitting around 25-26 Celsius, we weren't sure if the tires would last for triples.
Come to pit rotations they kept with the old tires and were going for the triple stint. Five or so laps later we saw that our tires were also in pretty good condition, at least enough to carry on. We stayed ahead of them exiting pitlane, but only just.
A few laps into our stint they were four seconds behind us. They were pushing hard, they wanted 'their' third place back. Simon had managed the tires and pace very well considering the pressure from behind. Huttu/Alfalla Racing did not look after their tires and ultimately they cracked and lost the rear coming out of turn one where they found themselves in the wall with some pretty severe suspension damage. We were quite relieved by this.
For the final two hours we kept it on track with consistent lap times and Kyle brought the car home in third place! If we had not gone 1-2 laps down in the night, our strategy may have paid off against the front runners. Unfortunately we will never find out. But to start in third and finish in third in split 5 of 47 is an impressive achievement.
A brilliant drive from, Dennis, Kyle, Simon and Tom from start to finish. Surely not a result they'll forget anytime soon. Congratulations on the podium finish!
On the downside, it was really unfortunate for the #832 to not get their race going, but there is not anything we could have done differently.
It's going to be interesting to see what we can do at Daytona next year. We still have lots of great special events coming up for 2021 and we look towards them with great anticipation.