The FCP Euro motorsport team is in sunny Sonoma, California for rounds seven and eight of the TC America Championship. A new circuit for the FCP Euro crew, Sonoma Raceway provides breathtaking terrain and, of course, the associated challenges with an unfamiliar and unique circuit.
As a second test day, traditionally, Friday is usually the most easy-going during a race weekend. Load-in is complete, the cars are ready to go (barring mechanical failures the day before), and the drivers now have a basic understanding of the circuit itself. Today, thankfully, this statement held true.
Friday Morning: Breakfast and Practice Session Three
Trevor Potter, VP of Business Development at FCP Euro, took over the role of "Trip Mom" from Michael Roselli for the second day in a row—cooking enough eggs, bacon, toast, and hashbrowns to feed a small army. On top of this, Trevor was kind enough to go out of his way to bring breakfast sandwiches to the track to make sure the HRD team was fed and ready to tackle anything the day threw at them. Trevor has been on top of his game, making sure everyone stays fueled up, and keeping enough cold-brew pumping through our veins to get us through the long race day. We can't thank him enough for it.
Since the cars were prepped last night, there wasn't much to do to get ready for the first practice session of the day. All that Gareth Foley, our BMW Catalog Manager, and HRD (Heinlein Racing Developent) had to do was do the pre-session inspection and warm up the cars.
While that part of the team was prepping the cars, Nate Brown, Andrew Johnson, and Raul Ortiz were busy getting the booth set up. Both of our tents had to be assembled, the SWAG laid out, and the vendor display wall was set up. Since we're staged in the GT paddock rather than the TC/TCR paddock, we expect to see a decent amount of foot traffic come through the booth throughout the weekend. At about the same time, some of our partners began arriving. Representatives from Corteco, Akebono, Bosch and ZF got to see how we set up our booth, as well as the interest from the public that comes through. Most of them ended up straying off, finding spots along the track to take in the sights. From the looks of their Instagram feeds, they seemed to be enjoying themselves.
The first practice session went off without a hitch. Both Michael and Nate took to the track to put everything they learned from yesterday's track time and data to the test. Unfortunately, a portion of the session was under red-flag due to oil on the track, limiting the amount of time at proper race (or slightly under) pace. During that session, Nate found out dramatically that the toe link on his car was pretty worn out, causing him to perform his best impression of Richard Burns.
Since a race weekend can't happen without a little drama, the tire on our tire cart blew out spectacularly. It sounded like a gunshot under our tent, and from that point on, not a single crew member needed more cold brew. Trevor, like magic, somehow found a wheel and tire locally that fit our cart perfectly in almost no time at all.
Friday Afternoon: Lunch and Practice Session Four
Monica Heinlein knocked lunch out of the park with salmon, jambalaya, and fresh salads. Our partners and the entire crew devoured it, refueling for the remainder of the day. Nate, Michael, and the crew used this lengthy break between sessions to go over data from the last practice session and prep the cars for the one upcoming. Mechanically, there weren't many issues to address. Both cars had the brakes completely gone-through—I had mentioned in yesterday's update that this track was going to be hard on brakes, and so far that statement is remaining accurate. Gareth and the HRD crew have the process down to a science, being able to inspect, replace, and bleed the brakes in mere moments.
If you were following along on Instagram, blown-out shocks needed replacing too. The only other issue to take care of was the worn out toe link on Nate's car which was also easily replaced.
The fourth and final practice session, unfortunately, didn't go as smoothly as everyone would have liked. One of the Audis found itself upside down on track, causing a red-flag for roughly half of the session (thankfully, everyone involved is safe). I had a chance to speak with Nate immediately after getting out of the car about how he felt going into tomorrow's qualification and where he feels time is being left on the table. He commented, "Out of everywhere on the track, turn 6, the "carousel", is the toughest to figure out. I've tried every possibility of line through the corner, and no matter what, the car wants to push on exit." He added, "Time is definitely being left out on track in this corner. I'm going to have to go through the data and decide where 'risks' are worth being taken." Tomorrow during qualification, we'll find out if the data analysis helps with Nate's decision, or if it even warrants a change to the car's setup.
While I was speaking with Nate, Nathan, Raul, and Andrew had already begun disassembly of the booth. The consistent strong wind here in Sonoma means that everything has to come down every night. They have the process nailed down, with everything being torn down and packed away in under an hour. All of it will be reassembled first thing in the morning for the bustle of the paddock during a race day.
Friday Evening: Dinner, Work, and Debriefing
Before the rest of the team left the track, Trevor, being consistently on the top of his "Trip Mom" game, headed back to the Airbnb early to get his beer chicken on the grill with the help of Raul and Andrew. His eagerness to help and his culinary skills are truly impressive and extremely appreciated after long days at the track by everyone involved.
Just because we're done at the track doesn't mean work's done yet. Many of us took to laptops and phones going through a backlog of emails and the normal day-to-day work. Nate and Michael are still reviewing in-car and external footage, maximizing the use of every resource available. I had this update finished, and then due to internet complications, lost the entire thing. So essentially, this is the second time I'm writing it.
Tomorrow is a big day with qualifying on this completely new track. Every lap is further learning, so I predict that as long as they get some clean air ahead of them, their lap times will come down one lap after the next. If you want to follow along in real time, make sure you follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube as we post updates regularly. You can also find a full photo gallery here. And if you want to watch qualifying and race one live, you can do so on race.fcpeuro.com at 1:20 PM and 7:20 PM on the East Coast.
Writer/Editor at FCP Euro and owner of a daily R53 MINI Cooper, a track-built R53 MINI, and a 1997 Dakar Yellow E36 M3 Sedan. ••• Instagram: @evan.madore