February 2/14 through 2/18 marked FCP Euro’s return to Road Atlanta for the first race of the 2018 season with American Endurance Racing. Road Atlanta is like a homecoming for our Mercedes C300. It’s where we debuted the Mercedes for the 2017 season and came away with overall wins for Saturday and Sunday in Class 3 with a fresh build. It’s the first race car we built in-house and we did it in a few short months. Road Atlanta this year also marked another first for FCP Euro as it would be the first time Nate and Michael would be testing our new Volkswagen GTI TCRs on Thursday's test day. The TCRs are our entry into professional racing with Pirelli World Challenge. Needless to say, it was going to be a big week for us as a team.
I met up with Nate and Michael at Michael's house by Bradley Airport. We got to the airport about 40 minutes before the flight. Naturally, out of three TSA lines, I was in the slowest most thorough line. I nearly was fortunate enough to qualify for additional screening because of a camera microphone in my backpack (sarcasm). Regardless, we made it to the terminal and on the plane on time. After a short flight to
Our logistics partners for the season, Heinlein Racing Development (HRD), had picked up the TCR’s from Atlanta the following day and were up near Road Atlanta in one of the industrial parks going through the car. We arrived at their location around
We were up early and at the track before the sun came up. Michael and Nate spent time with the cars and I took on whatever role with HRD that needed to be done. Part of getting the TCRs ready for the track was fueling them up. Scott our race engineer wanted to run 70 pounds of fuel in each car (roughly 43 liters) in order to determine fuel burn which is a critical piece of information for our success in the rest of the season.
After getting the TCRs ready they hit the track and started to rip off some solid lap times. There is an adjustment period that Nate and Michael went through from driving the Mercedes for the last season. After a while lap times started to come in at 1:31-1:32 mark which is a pretty quick lap time around Road Atlanta.
In the afternoon I turned some attention to the Mercedes to get it ready for practice and qualifying the following day. A concern we had was clearance between the caliper and the inner barrel of the new RPF01’s we are running. After some testing in the paddock area, I determined the caliper crossover tube on the front left was running the barrel of the wheel on hard right turns due to wheel flex. I had to bend this tube slightly to clearance the wheel but was able to resolve the problem pretty easily.
At one point I hopped in the passenger seat and went out in the Mercedes with Rob. Our TC’s were on the track at the same time and we got a flyby from Nate just past turn 10B headed downhill past the bridge to turn 11. Trust me when I say that these GTI TCRs stick in the corners like glue. The morning practice came to a close at noon and I went ahead and swapped new front rotors and PFC11 pads that we would be using for the race. I’ve done so many rotor swaps and pad swaps with the AMG brakes at this point I can do it without paying attention it seems.
Once lunch was over Rob, Nate, Michael, and Tom Suddard (from Grassroots Motorsports) went out onto the track to qualify. While qualifying was going on I helped get the TCRs loaded into a trailer to head back north that evening. After qualifying was complete we prepared for Saturday’s race which was supposed to be wet. During the off-season, we removed the stock heater core and replaced it with a bilge pump to save some weight and reduce the possibility of a coolant system leak. We made sure this system was hooked up, reinstalled the wiper transmission, as well as the switch housing.
The weather was going to start off wet and cold which was going to make the track a skating rink. The race started at 8 AM and would go until 5 PM for a full 9-hour enduro. We started off in the middle of the pack and throughout the day worked out way up to P1 in class while battling the elements and the competition. In the afternoon the weather cleared and started to dry. Tom Suddard from Grassroots Motorsports ran his stint with us and did well running solid, consistent laps while keeping us in a prime spot to go for P1 at the end of the finish.
In the last hour and a half of the race, we had a great battle with 321 which is a SpecE46. We were behind them in P2. With 15 minutes to go a full course caution came out which grouped the field together. We went from 40+ seconds behind to only 11 seconds behind. At the time we saw this as an opportunity to possibly catch up to the lead. However, a handful of cars were waved around including the car we were looking to chase down. This effectively put us a lap down after the full course caution and we would inevitably end up in P2 in class 3.
The race started off with a major incident on the opening lap which caused the track to be red flagged. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt in the three-car incident. The red flag changed our stop strategy and we brought the car in on the full course caution to get the required stop out of the way. Of course, everyone flooded into pit lane which was chaotic. We didn’t need to add fuel to the car so we fixed a loose fastener on the steering wheel instead quickly.
After this stop, we were pushed back pretty far as a lot of cars on class 3 did not take advantage of this opportunity to complete the stop. At the end of the morning session and as other cars made their required stops we moved back up to P2 in class 3. During the 2-hour quiet
When the track went hot again afternoon we had a fight with RRT’s silver/red E36. They were faster than us down the back straight and were capable of running low 1:40 lap times which we were running 1:43 and 1:44 lap times on average. Just before the last stint, there was a full course caution. RRT came in to refuel at the beginning while we waited until the end. Rob got in the car and we fueled the Mercedes to the very top. Fuel consumption would be an issue for everyone in the final 15 minutes of the race. With three laps to go Rob indicated to me over the radio the light was on but I assured him we had enough fuel to make it to the end. On the final lap on the front straight Rob got a run on #72 and was able to make a pass to put us into P1. This pass was exciting to see from pit lane and also exciting from the in-car footage.
For the weekend we ended up taking P2 in class on Saturday, P1 in class on Sunday, and P1 overall for class 3 for the weekend. Not a bad start to the season.
Gareth is the BMW Catalog Manager for FCP Euro and has been with the company since 2012. Gareth's BMW obsession started with a hand me down E39 528i when he was 17. From this car he learned how to do his own repair work while also learning more about BMW. When Gareth was at CCSU studying Marketing he had the opportunity to go to SEMA with the college car club. This is where he developed his love of the automotive industry. Since joining FCP in 2012 Gareth has sought out to develop one of the broadest and most accurate BMW replacement parts catalog. he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org