Back on the Track
The Advent Health 120
Sebring International Raceway
Friday, July 17, 2020
Since the season opener of the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Daytona in January, unprecedented events have forced the world to confront new challenges and adapt to new realities. For the Racing to End Alzheimer’s/BimmerWorld team – and every team returning to the track this past weekend after a long, anxiety-filled hiatus – the second race of the abbreviated season would test their mettle in entirely new ways.
Shorter season, less practice, smaller crew
Because of coronavirus-related rescheduling, the race in Sebring, Florida was being held much later in the season than usual. The r2endalz team knew from experience that the unrelenting July heat could cause problems for their #80 BMW M4 GT4, jeopardizing their chances of bouncing back from a disappointing finish at Daytona.
During Thursday’s practice laps, the team’s fears were realized as the finely tuned M4 GT4 started to overheat. Normally, this wouldn’t be a huge problem, but with a limited schedule, reduced crew and very little practice time available due to the pandemic, success depended on figuring out how to make the car run cooler before the next morning’s all-important qualifying session.
The BimmerWorld crew kicked into high gear, working deep into the night to trouble-shoot the temp problem. They had no way of knowing whether their efforts would pay off until the car took to the track on race day.
One delay leads to another. And another.
Friday morning’s blazing heat put the crew’s efforts to the ultimate test. Nick Galante set out for qualifying with his eyes on the temperature gauge. Much to everyone’s relief, the #80 weathered the heat, and Galante was able to qualify in 11th, just behind BimmerWorld’s #82 BMW driven by James Clay.
The obstacles brought on by Mother Nature did not end there, however, as a thunderstorm loomed on the horizon just before the start of the afternoon’s race. Despite the threat, Galante started the race fast, moving up a few spots heading into turn one. He gave a couple back in turn 5, forced to pick his way through a collision. The next 10 minutes saw Galante sitting right behind his teammate James Clay, the two drivers making steady progress through the field, moving from 10th and 11th to 7th and 8th respectively.
The action came to an abrupt halt around the 15-minute mark, as lightning in the area forced a red flag scenario, and all drivers reported to the pits. Safety concerns for corner workers dictate a 30-minute break after each lightning strike. During the subsequent hour-and-twenty-minute delay, a downpour soaked the track, completely changing the dynamics of the race.
A challenging race, but a race nonetheless
Galante finally rolled out onto the track for a restart in semi-dry conditions. Again, he started fast, getting by the #82 BMW and pulling into 6th place past Jeff Mosing’s #56 with a good run down the back straight and tactical late braking into turn 17. The challenging conditions proved beneficial for Galante, who was running the fastest laps on the track and closing in on the five frontrunners.
The team elected to do a full pitstop with 40 minutes left in the race. After a quick turnaround, co-driver Dillon Machavern pulled back out onto the track with a fresh set of tires and full tank of fuel. Over the next 20 plus minutes, Machavern expertly held off fierce pressure to keep the 6th position, giving the team a shot at the finish they were hoping for. But the unpredictable Florida weather had different plans.
With 17 minutes remaining, lightning once again flashed in the area and the track went into a full course caution. All flag and corner workers were instructed to take cover while the cars finished out the race behind the pace car, putting an end to the team’s push for the podium.
“The car, the crew, the team – everything was running great despite all of the obstacles this weekend,” Galante said. “It was frustrating only being able to run an hour of a two-hour race under green flag conditions, but it sure felt good to be back out on the track!”
The next race of the 2020 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge series will take place on Saturday, August 1st at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Stay tuned!
All photos ©2020 Halston Pitman