Finally, The top step!

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For those of you that know me, you will be expecting this report. For those that don’t then sit back, grab a coffee or if you’re from Benelux grab a beer and take a few minutes out of your busy lives and humour me by reading all about the greatest day in the short life of my sim racing journey.

Remember the date, 06/10/2018 because I will never forget it.

For 3 years SRW have entered almost every GT3 based iRacing special event. Bathurst 12 hour, Sebring 12 hour, Spa 24 hour and the Petit Le Mans 10 hour at Road Atlanta with varying degrees of success. 6th place at Spa 2018 and 4th place at Road Atlanta in 2017 being our best results. On those occasions they were amazing times and amazing hours spent with great friends. The highs the lows and the frustration of poor drivers around you during these special events make them exactly what they are, Special.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, iRacing is the best sim in the world, whether you agree with me or not doesn’t matter, but in my opinion not only does it give you best immersion and the best organised online multiplayer experience, it gives you memories. I can pretty much say hand on heart that I have never experienced multiplayer the way that this sim provides. Driver swaps for endurance events give me the buzz like nothing else in the sim world can. Sharing that experience of a long event with friends and team mates is the icing on the cake.

Some of you in the group may have come to realise that sim racing is not a just a hobby for me, it’s possibly a way of life. I’m passionate about what I do and over the past 12 years arcade racing on console has become sim racing on PC but behind the scenes nothing has changed. I used to run PS3 leagues on Race Driver GRiD and now 12 years on I’m organising the DynamiXX Simracersworld Series and we are happily into season 2. Motorsport for me IS a way of life. I’ve grown up around cousins who raced short circuit oval hot rods and I’ve watched motorsport as a paying fan all my adult life. Sim racing is my way of becoming part of that one thing I always dreamed about, Becoming a racing driver. and for me it was always top of my wish list as a child. Today I feel like a racing driver and it is fantastic.

Yesterday began with morning warm up with Greg and I final testing of set-ups in the official server with race weather. It went well and we soon realised we were fast. Fastest in our server for morning warm up is all you need to boost the confidence for the coming race. With tyre pressure set and set-ups agreed we just waited for the clock to tick down to the green flag.

Before the server opened I had to make the obligatory trip to the local supermarket for chocolate pizza and soft drinks! A race drivers diet has never been so good!

Time ticked away and Ben made sure he was around to register the team. Team SRW looked very different from previous years and I’ll explain. Deano was unable to race this time, but Team Red consisted of the usual guys, Senad, Stuart and Seb who stepped in for Deano as captain for the first time. Team yellow this time around was myself Greg and a guest driver Ben. Ben not an official Team driver (yet) but drafted in to complete a 2 car line up for the first time at Road Atlanta. 6 drivers and two teams both with their eyes on the prize of a podium finish for the first time. On paper and after the 30 minute warm up session it was a distinct possibility that it was going to happen. The hype was real and the realization that we had 2 very solid line ups and running well. We landed in the same split no.5 of 9.

It is the Team Captains role to ensure all drivers are aware of their stint times and to make sure there is cover at all times if things go wrong on track. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. Illness, PC problems, iracing issues and family commitments, or even just drivers falling asleep! Team captains make sure this impacts the racing in the smallest way possible, so it’s quite a responsibility. In my opinion you can never just wing a special event. Preparation is the key to success.

With Team Yellow and Team Red not qualifying and both being ranked dead last on the grid, it worked perfectly and it meant we didn’t need to start from pitlane but way off the back of the grid so to miss the 1st lap carnage. It’s inevitable and a guaranteed certainty.

The green flag drops and away we go and I drop in behind Seb and follow him for about 8 laps, I get frustrated because my laptimes are 4 seconds off my warm up times and go for a move in turn 1 on an Audi and we clip doors, he slides off into the gravel and I head for the wall on the inside of turn 1……BRAKE!!!!!!! The car slides and misses the wall by millimetres! Phew got away with that one but I’m now stone dead last 48th and playing catch up. 46 laps later I pit and we are 7th out 16 in class. 1st stint done 9 to go.

Stint 2 started as the first hour finished and I was making progress but by lap 50 I was lapped by the leading GT3 car!! WTF!! How?

I soon realised my average laptime was down, way down on where it should be. The car felt crap, understeer and snap oversteer and was beginning to think we had loaded the wrong set-up? Then my spotter told me the temps were rising? WTF I thought this was a static weather server and it now seems it is dynamic? Surely not? But he told me it was now 43 degrees and rising? Tyres. The tyre pressures we tested were now wrong. One click lower was the decision at the next stop, and we hoped this would solve the problem.

A special event wouldn’t be a special event without some massive moments that would alter the course of the race for 1 or maybe several teams. And yes, you guessed it. I was in the middle of it!! Final corner carnage on lap 52 and I had nowhere to go except take avoiding action on the grass and try and miss the flying spinning GTE cars. I was just about through the mess at 150kmh when I was clipped on the front right, the bonnet bent up and how I kept it straight without hitting the wall to my left I don’t know. It was just instinct. I changed down through the gears and rejoined the track and floored it. By the end of the stint lap 92 I knew the car was in a bad shape. It was slow down the straights and losing top end speed. Aero damage is usually the reason for this. Gutted. Yet another year where the challenge of reaching the podium was slipping through our fingers. Lapped by the lead GT3 car as well. 2018 was passing me by and again we hadn’t achieved the dream.

Ben jumped in the car and said we had optional repairs of over a minute. We took the decision of not taking them at that time, and little did we realise this would have a major effect on our overall race result.

With tyres reduced to 148 all-round Ben left pit-lane and quickly settled in a great rhythm. In fact he astonished me with his pace. The tyres were now great and although we were down on pace on the straights the lap-times were there. Less than a second off the leaders pace with 8 hours to go. Now, 8 hours at Road Atlanta feels like 16, especially in a multi-class event where the GTE drivers are as impatient as an expectant mother! Ben had a small spin at the bottom of the esses, but hit nothing and re-joined with very little drama and no places lost. 3 hours down and climbing the leaderboard. 19th overall and 5th in class, not bad considering we started 48th overall and 16th in class.

Now, you’re probably wondering how Team Red are getting on. Well, Seb drove a great opening stint and were way ahead of Team Yellow after the first hour. Stuart got in the car and in my opinion drove the best endurance stint ever and after have pre-race nerves and not wanting to do it proved to me and himself that he can hold his own against stiff competition and his place on the team is definitely justified. He bought the car home with no drama and was making places up as well and constantly in fights for position in the whole hour. Seb got back in the car and was maintaining pace and still looking as if they were going to beat us, although with 8 hours remaining at this point it’s a long way to go and anything can and will happen. And it did!

Going into turn 1 he allowed a gaggle of GTE cars up the inside, he pulled back across to the racing line to be faced with an unseen Porsche. It was too late, they touched and both hit the wall head on. Nothing he could have done, no blame. It just happens. And it can happen to anyone at any time. With 25 minutes of repairs and a car that would not reach 5th gear on the back straight after all the repairs were made. the decision was made to call it a day and retire. Gutted for them. Seb was understandably feeling bad for the team and I know that feeling oh too well. Sebring 2016 and Spa 2016. Same happened to me and you feel like you let everyone down. You haven’t it happens, but that’s how this sim make you feel. It’s a game and it shouldn’t have that effect, but it does. That’s Team endurance racing for you.

Kudos to Seb though, with 8 hours remaining he could have switched off the PC gone and done something else but he didn’t. he stayed around to support Team yellow and for that, I thank him.

So, Team Yellow are still going and making up time on the leader, by hour 4 we have un-lapped ourselves and now on the lead lap. My third stint was the best stint in the car for me, uneventful, fast and dipping down into the 1:21s and being told by my crew chief that I was the fastest car on the track made up for the incidents and slow first two hours. I got out of the car very happy and could see that something special was beginning to unfold even with 6 hours remaining.

During my third stint Ben got the call from Greg that he was going to be late back from football so was ready to step in and do another stint. This is where, as I mentioned earlier, anything can and will happen. You have to be prepared for the worst and be flexible as a team driver.

Greg arrived back from football with seconds to spare and I was on my in-lap when he got himself in his rig. He jumped in the car as if it was a Sunday drive to the beach and blew me away with his consistency. Lap after lap after lap he bangs in the same lap time, a robot. In traffic he loses very little time and how he manages this in hot sweaty VR is beyond me. By the end of his first stint and with 50% of the race done we sat in 5th. A podium was within reach but we just needed lady luck to smile on us, as we knew with each pitstop the car was getting better with 10 seconds of optional repairs ticking down when the tyres were replaced. The straight line speed was slowly coming back to us with every pitstop.

Ben got in the car for hour 6 and just flew, words cannot describe how well he drove. To be honest I think he shocked himself. He has gelled with the AMG over the last few weeks in the SRW series and its beginning to show. 5 hours down and we are 4th in class and 16th overall! Amazing, and I think he even enjoyed it!!!

With each passing driver change the overall picture was beginning to emerge with the leading trio. They were beatable. We were faster than them on average lap-times and we dealt with traffic better.

By hour 8 it was obvious we had a podium on our hands if we stayed out of trouble.

Time began to tick away and by the time the 9th hour was over we knew we had top 3 in the bag for definite. Stay clean stay fast and lap consistent was the key. We realised that the top 2 teams were on a very similar strategy to us and that all three of us would have to stop for a splash dash at the end and it was going to come down to the shortest pitstop fill that would win the race.

Going into the final 1hr and 13 minutes we lead the race but knew we had to stop and the only way to win was to go all out and make up enough time to jump the second place team during the pit-stop phase. It was decided after much debate that Greg would jump back in the car instead of me as he was faster by a few tenths per lap and I would sit and make the timing and fuel calculations as crew chief. This was new for me as I have always done the last stint in every special event I had raced in. But, I also knew it the right thing to do for the team. So my racing was done for the day. I had played my part and I was now needed to do the maths. Get this wrong and our race for the win is over. I think I would have rather been In the car!!!!!! Not much pressure!

Ben and I worked it out many times, Greg was saying he wanted lots of fuel, we were saying he needed only 30 litres. He wanted more. We gave in.

The Audi team pitted with 30 minutes remaining. They needed 17 minutes more fuel than we did. A longer stop. We were ahead on the track by 1 minute. A full pitstop with tyres is 1 minute 10 seconds roughly. We didn’t need tyres and only 33 litres of fuel. Greg had pulled out all the stops and made enough of a gap to make the stop and get back on track ahead of the second place team.

My nerves were shot! it was ours to lose. Greg pitted for fuel and pit entrance to exit we lost only 32 seconds. The audi team were 30 seconds behind us. We had done it. With only 13 minutes left to run it was a formality. Stay safe stay sharp and the win was ours.

In the final minutes the overall leader passed us, this meant one less lap for us when the white flag came out. Making victory even sooner.

Do you remember me telling you about the optional repairs after the second stint? Well, if we had taken them at that time we would have finished 2nd. I said it was important didn’t i!

So, there we have it. The highs, the lows, the poorly performing car, the moaning driver (me) the robot (Greg) the superman (Ben) Had achieved the seemingly impossible. A special event endurance win for SRW.

We all remember that first win in the Mazda and quite a few of us will remember that first win in the GT3 solo series but as the special events come round only 6 times a year not many people have the memory of a special event win.

Well, now I do!

I’d like to thank the extended community of SRW for the support during the race, the texts of encouragement, the banter in the chat, because without this it would be boring and meaningless.

I would also like to thank Ben and Greg for pulling us through a poor first 2 hours and giving the Team the result it’s deserved since 2015.

Team SRW Yellow Petit Le Mans Champions 2018

Sounds great doesn’t it.

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