A Cautionary Tale
Motul Petit Le Mans
Fox Factory 120
Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta
October 15-17, 2020
The formidable Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta played host to the fiercely competitive IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge field for the second time this season, delivering yet another gritty, edge-of-your-seat race for the Bimmerworld/Racing to End Alzheimer’s team.
The weekend started on a promising note. With the sun receding slowly behind the Georgia pines, a well-run qualifying stint earned the #80 BMW a respectable 7th place start position. Charged up for the race, driver Nick Galante rocketed out of the gate, successfully battling to hold his position coming out of a hotly contested turn one. Settling in, Galante made a run on the #56 Mercedes AMG on the back straight of lap five, laying claim to the 6th place slot on the treacherous turn 10 chicane.
Chess on Wheels
15 minutes into the race, Nick flew over the blind cresting hill of turn 11 to find a spinning car in his path. Quick reflexes prevented sure disaster for the BimmerWorld/Racing to End Alzheimer’s team, but the race had to be paused for a lengthy caution period as two cars were removed up front.
At the restart, the #80 was in 5th position, battling hard going into turn one. The 4th place driver cannily defended the inside, forcing Galante to take a chance passing on the difficult outside of the turn. After a high-speed drag race up the turn one hill, the looming turn three right-hander forced Galante to relent.
With one fight retired, another began. The #56 came at the #80 from behind, forcing a pitched side-by-side battle on Road Atlanta’s trademark narrow esses. After a hair-raising duel, the #56 yielded, and Galante held onto the 5th spot.
Bumped in Braselton
At 40 minutes, following another short caution period, the team decided to do a full stop, with driver change, fuel and tires. The crew executed a flawless pit, and Dillon Machavern re-entered the race in 7th.
10 laps into his stint, Machavern was struck hard from behind. Though the car seemed fine, the collision shifted the air jack inlet out of place. The mechanical issue, though virtually unnoticeable in the heat of the moment, would soon come back to haunt the BimmerWorld team.
Blissfully unaware that his car was compromised, Machavern suddenly found himself with a perfect opportunity to dive into the pits before the yellow flag came out for yet another collision on the track. Both BimmerWorld cars seized the moment, giving them the potential to capture the lead when the other teams had to pit for fuel in the final laps. The fortuitous timing, and the very real prospect of a straight shot to the finish, had the whole team seeing the podium.
But. Remember that shifted jack inlet? Turns out the collision had pressed it up against the carbon fiber trim and rendered it defective. It didn’t impact driving performance, but when the team pitted and tried to jack up the car, it got stuck halfway raised. After a frantic effort, the crew muscled the #80 back down to terra firma, but the costly delay dropped it to 14th position. Machavern drove a gallant final stretch to finish the race in a frustrating 12th place.
Despite the headaches for the #80, the day was not a total loss for BimmerWorld. Greg Liefooghe in the #82 BimmerWorld BMW executed the early pit strategy perfectly, exiting in 3rd and running a masterful last 8 minutes to pick off the second-place car just before the flag.
In the end, the difference between a podium finish and 12th place? A hard knock. A split second. A millimeter of bent metal. That’s the breaks. That’s the thrill. That’s racing.
The penultimate race in the 2020 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge will take place at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on October 30 – November 1.