February 4/18 through 4/22 marked FCP Euro’s return to Watkins Glen for the second race of the 2018 season with American Endurance Racing. Watkins Glen is such a historical track with history absolutely everywhere. It's also typically the largest AER race weekend of the year, this year hosting 96 cars.
Below is our video recap, a motorsports documentary series we've created called The Paddock. It's a first-hand account of what happens before, during, and after a race weekend. Click here to subscribe to our YouTube page to stay up to date with the latest episodes.
I spent most of the morning loading up the truck and trailer. The plan was to hit the road from our headquarters in Milford by 2PM with Michael Roselli, our Content Director. We left a little later than intended (thanks, Roselli) but overall were able to get out of Connecticut before rush hour. On the way up we hit a truck wash to make sure our truck and trailer looked top notch. This of course ended up being a complete waste of time but I'll get into that later. Out of all the road trips we take Watkins Glen is one of the easier drives and we ended up pulling into Watkins Glen a little after 8PM. We unloaded the trailer and the car and went back to our condo we rented for the weekend.
Thursday is a PTT day which we planned to use as a test day. However, the weather at Watkins Glen (or upstate New York in general) can change at any given moment. On the drive up on Wednesday the weather was sunny and warm. That was not the case at all on this Thursday. Instead it was snowing and the track was wet. We didn't really run our C300 on the track all that much so instead we did some hot laps with our MK7 GTI project car. In 2017 we couldn't run at all during the PTT day since the fog was thick and you couldn't see any more than 10 feet in front of you. So in a way, I guess the snow was a better option. I can say however, running laps in the GTI in the snow, at Watkins Glen, was a very interesting experience. We left the track relatively early, got some dinner, and in general relaxed. Later in the evening the rest of the crew showed up.
Friday is the official start of the AER race weekend with practice in the morning session and qualifying in the afternoon. However, that is not exactly how it went down this year. The snow and moisture from Thursday turned into a solid sheet of ice for Friday. The temps were below freezing which made it impossible to get the track safe for laps. I knew it was going to be a rough day when I pulled through the gate and could barely make it up the hill to the track in our F350 in with four-wheel drive engaged. Around noon the track finally opened for a 1 hour practice session which would immediately go into qualifying. Fortunately, during the 1 hour session we were able to give a few ride alongs. At the end of the practice session the track was nearly dry and the temps were now in the 40's so we were finally able to get a feel for the new differential and how it was performing. The biggest change the differential offers in gearing is gear selection for the transmission. Instead off being forced into redlining in 2nd gear like we had to do with the 3.07 differential we could now ride comfortable in 3rd gear in the meat of the power band. We qualified 3rd in class three and would find ourselves among familiar competition. We prepped the car for the race on Saturday and left the track early.
Race day was upon us. Pit lane opened at 7:30 and we were one of the first cars on the grid. Generally speaking, we get the car 100% set up the night before so we don't need to scramble in the morning. As we figure there is no need to add additional stress to a race day. Based on our experience from 2017 we knew there would be full course cautions with such a massive field. Our strategy was to take advantage of the full course cautions to pit and get our required stops complete. It's always a good thing to go into a 9 hour endurance race with a game plan and strategy. This way drivers are on the same page as the crew and vice versa.
After three formation laps the race started shortly after 8AM. Almost immediately we had our first full course caution of the day. This solidified our pit stop strategy and overall game plan for the day. We made our first stop of the day shortly after 10AM getting the car in and out in 3 minutes and 5 seconds which we consider a good stop. As the day went on we found ourselves battling our friends in car 202, popularly known as Team Krabby Kraut, in the MKIV Jetta. We were running the same relative pace all day long but we found ourselves about a half lap down towards the end of the day where we lost a lot of time during our 3rd stop of the day when we got held up at the end of pit lane for an extended period of time. It's hard to account for this sometimes and it's part of racing. The gap was too big to make up at the end of the day and we ended up finishing P2 in class 3. Overall, it was a solid effort where the car ran flawlessly with the new diff. We stuck with our after race routine checking everything over on the car, bleeding out the brakes, and getting the car fueled and setup for Sundays race.
We decided to change our pit stop strategy for Sunday's race by waiting until the last possible moment to come in under full course caution. Due to the one pit stop on Saturday that cost us over two additional minutes over a regular stop we determined the best way to avoid this was to communicate with the driver in the car, figure out how close we would be to the full course caution ending, and bringing the car in at the last possible minute.
As usual, we were one of the first cars on the grid and we all waited to get the race underway. Shortly after 8AM the green flag was dropped and the race was underway. The race on Sunday had fewer cars starting due to break downs that occurred during Saturdays race so we expected fewer full course cautions. As the day progressed we had a few full course cautions which were able to pit under but the day had fewer incidents and overall was going much smoother on track. As the race progressed into the afternoon we found ourselves P1 in class with close to a lap lead over P2 due to our updated pit stop strategy. At one point we were able to pass P2 to gain a full lap lead headed into the late afternoon. Michael got in the car for the last stint and he was able to bring it home for a P1 finish in class 3.
Overall, we finished the weekend with a 1st overall in class 3. The team worked together and we were able to go through the entire weekend incident free. We'll be taking a break from AER skipping NJMP and NCM but are looking forward to competing at Calabogie Motorsports Park August 3rd-5th.
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