A Tricky Homecoming
SRO GT4 America Sprint X
March 5-7, 2021
15 years ago, the legendary Sonoma Raceway birthed a partnership between two men with a shared love for motorsports. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, newbie driver Nick Galante and sponsor Phil Frengs ran their first race together at this forbidding track set amongst California’s gentle hills. After a decade and a half of high-speed triumphs and heartbreaks, the pair once again descended upon their old stomping grounds to kick off the SRO GT4 America series with the rest of the BimmerWorld/Racing to End Alzheimer’s team.
As expected, these notoriously difficult confines provided anything but a warm homecoming. BMWs tend to struggle on Sonoma’s famously slippery and technical surface, opening the door for nimble Porsches and Astons to excel. Coupled with a new racing format that includes short 60-minute races, one mandatory pit-stop and no fuel or tire changes, the hallmark raceway of California’s wine country presented a daunting challenge for the BimmerWorld/ Racing to End Alzheimer’s team.
A Tale of Two Qualifiers
In this new SRO GT4 America series, each driver runs a separate qualifying lap to determine pole position for each race. The team opted to have James Clay run qualifying for Saturday’s race, and Nick Galante for Sunday.
During Clay’s 15 minutes of qualifying, he was able to find some clear track and lay down a blistering lap of 1:46.8. Good enough for a 4th place start on the grid of the 32-car field. The track filled in for Galante, however, and he was unable to find a clear lane during his qualifying run, settling for a 14th place starting position for the race on Sunday.
Bug and Windshield
The first lap of Saturday’s race was all James Clay. He rocketed up through the field, skillfully maneuvering the #36 BMW M4 GT4 into second place. From that position, Clay defied the conventional wisdom and put 8 seconds between him and the third-place car. With momentum and confidence on his side, James pitted in during the mandatory 10-minute pit window midway through the race, handing the car off to Nick Galante.
After a clean driver exchange, the BimmerWorld/Racing to End Alzheimer’s team got a gut-punching lesson in the disastrous toll of seemingly minor mistakes. Miscommunication led Galante to peel out of the pits a mere 1 ½ seconds late, missing his window and almost causing a collision with another car. (You can see it happen at minute 34:45 in the Race 1 video here — tap the Video menu.) Despite the fact that Nick’s quick reflexes prevented a crash, the race director was forced to levy a drive-through penalty, bumping the #36 back to an almost insurmountable 14th place.
A Second Shot
Though the end result of Saturday’s race was frustrating for the team, a glimmer of greatness in the first half of the race was more than enough to keep them hungry for Sunday.
Showcasing his never-say-die attitude, Galante led off the second race of the weekend by picking up 2 places in the same number of laps. As the race progressed, however, the Sonoma Raceway revealed its true beastly nature. The extremely aggressive asphalt compound made tire grip a constant struggle, forcing the drivers to take fewer risks just to stay on track. The game plan, it seemed, would have to be about holding on and driving smart.
With this in mind, Galante did a great job keeping the 12th position, putting James Clay in a promising spot for the second half of the race. Sure enough, Clay roared out of a perfect pit stop, hunted down three more cars, and brought the #36 car home for a top 10 finish.
Old and New
The Sonoma Racetrack is a storied one for the BimmerWorld/Racing to End Alzheimer’s team, and it felt fitting to have the first installment of the SRO GT4 America series on its asphalt. Our team has a moving history on this track, and this weekend proved that Sonoma still has plenty to teach even the most experienced among us. That’s why we love racing so much. It’s as humbling as it is exciting, and it gives us a lifetime of lessons that can’t be learned anywhere else.
Thanks for joining us again. We’re very excited about navigating the high-octane twists and turns of this new season, and we’re looking forward to sharing it all with you! Stay tuned!