High Speed Halloween
Nov 14, 2020

SM 8869 960px

Hyundai Monterey Sports Car Championship
WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca
Oct 30 – Nov 1, 2020

With the bulk of this strange IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge season fading in the red glow of their taillights, the Racing to End Alzheimer’s/BimmerWorld team headed west to Nick Galante’s home track, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. The penultimate round of an improbable season, which would play out on Halloween, promised enough thrills and chills to keep even the most seasoned team on edge.

Switching Gears

After years of competition at Laguna Seca, the team came into the weekend knowing that an effective setup for the BMW M4GT4 would be tough to find. Because of IMSA rules, gearing in the transmission is set, and performance often comes down to how compatible the track is with a car’s set gearing.

When the shift timing is right, drivers come tearing out of turns in the right RPM range for maximum torque and power. Not only does this translate to faster times, it also provides one of the purest feelings of satisfaction racing has to offer. When the timing is slightly off, however, drivers spend lots of time between gears, coming out of corners in sub-optimal RPM range. The team knew from experience that this would be the case for them at Laguna Seca.

Tricky Traction

And that wasn’t all they had to worry about. Despite what its name indicates (“seca” means dry in Spanish), Laguna Seca is an unusually slick track. The low-grip surface impacts traction just enough to make everyone a little uncertain of themselves.

“You just have to remind yourself that everyone else is going through the same thing and stay positive and sharp,” driver Nick Galante said.

After a few unsatisfactory practice laps on the tricky track, the crew found themselves scratching their heads, trying to knock loose a revelation about how to set up the car. They tried a few aggressive changes in shocks, springs and sway bars. No dice. There was still no clear path to grip.

Risk it for the Biscuit

In a year – and a track – like this one, gumption is the name of the game. Head engineer Wayne Yawn stepped in just before qualifying and suggested the team take a bold chance. The setup change, though justified by data from previous seasons, was a risk for everyone involved. Ideally, drivers have some practice time to test new setups, but the approaching qualifying session would force those behind the wheel to trust their teammates and charge full speed ahead.

The BimmerWorld engineers and crew nailed it. The car hugged the road in qualifying, and the team’s risky move manifested in a hopeful 7th spot on the grid. The BimmerWorld #82 also qualified in top 10 fashion, coming in a couple of spots back in 9th.

A Tale of Two Restarts

At the start of the race, Nick Galante sped out for a decent run through turn 2. In turn 3, James Clay in the #82 BMW pulled ahead and took the 7th spot. When the duo reached turn 6, a full course caution went into effect for a multi-TCR car shemozzle. After an uneventful restart, the BimmerWorld cars ran nose to tail for 13 laps. On lap 14, another full course caution was called, and the team decided to pit for fuel and tires on both cars.

This restart was much more exciting than the last. Not every team pit in, so the field emerged from the caution all mixed up. Some of the fastest cars sacrificed leads for new tires and found themselves looking at unfamiliar taillights. A gritty, high speed bar fight ensued. Cars unaccustomed to the back of the pack jostled to move up, meeting with fierce competition at every turn.

Fright ‘n Fight

In the midst of the melee, heading into the Andretti Hairpin turn 2, Nick Galante saw a clear path around the outside. That path, however, turned out to be a little too well-traveled. In the blink of an eye, there was a pile up of like-minded drivers. Galante impacted the rear of another car hard, narrowly escaping a disastrous popped front radiator.

Shaken but not deterred, Galante used the adrenaline from his near disaster to fuel an aggressive march forward. On lap 32, Nick seized on a small mistake by the #82 to capture 5th place.

A Spirited Finish

With 48 minutes left in the race, Galante turned over the wheel to Greg Liefooghe. After a trademark smooth pit stop, Greg charged out in 10th place. Fresh tires and spirited driving picked off two more spots within two laps. Greg then emerged victorious from a pitched battle with the 7th place car, holding off a hungry and skillful Mike Skeen in the #82. In the final moments, the #80 BMW dug into its bag of tricks and rocketed into 6th place, two hotly contested spots ahead of the #82.

Halloween brought some scary moments to the BimmerWorld team at Laguna Seca. Chilling contact, fierce competition and suboptimal conditions made a top ten finish anything but likely. But the Racing to End Alzheimer’s/BimmerWorld team, which has bolstered itself with trust and positivity all season long, once again managed to channel the true indomitable spirit of racing.

The final race of the 2020 IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Series will be held at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida on November 11-14, 2020.