The Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta track plays host to some of the greatest endurance races in the world. Nestled in northern Georgia’s gentle hills, the 2.54-mile course is anything but gentle itself. A lap on this asphalt means blind corners, sharp turns, downhill esses, elevation fluctuations, speed changes and a final quarter mile that drops off the face of the earth and shoots drivers across the starting line at extremely high speeds. And that’s just one lap.
When the Racing to End Alzheimer’s/BimmerWorld team set out to compete on this roller coaster of a track for 4 long, teeth-clenching hours on the first weekend in September, they were revved up and ready for the challenge.
Driver Nick Galante started fast in the #80 BMW M4GT4, picking off three cars within the first 15 minutes to settle into 8th position. At 45 minutes, a car became disabled on track, and the team elected to pit for fuel and tires during the caution period. Coming out of the delay, Galante continued methodically working his way through the field, passing two more cars in turns 11 and 12.
With the #80 in 6th place, James Clay and the #82 BimmerWorld BMW moved up to 7th. The teammates were driving well, working together to gain on the front of the pack. Then, all of a sudden, Galante’s car checked up in turn 5, forcing an accidental collision with Clay in the #82. Although complete disaster was avoided, the jolt slightly dislodged the #80’s rear bumper.
A few laps after the collision, Clay passed Galante in turn 4, and the pair stayed nose to tail for the next 15 minutes. The BimmerWorld team was firing on all cylinders, with the drivers of both cars settling into a good pace and the crews executing flawlessly. The cars ran a great stint, remaining in the 5th and 6th positions until another car became disabled with 2 hours to go.
The caution allowed the #80 to come into the pits for a new driver, fuel, tires and a thwarted attempt to rip off the damaged rear bumper. Forced to demonstrate some old-fashioned trackside ingenuity, the pit crew literally taped the car back together, and Dillon Machavern rejoined the race in the 7th spot.
After a fierce restart and an action-packed couple of laps, Machavern muscled his way up to 6th place. However, the high speeds and sharp turns proved too much for the taped-up bumper, and the car was black flagged. Forced to take a mandatory pit stop for a full bumper repair, the team took the opportunity to refuel and devise a unique new fuel strategy that just might benefit the team in the long run.
Roaring back out onto the track in 11th position, Machavern saw a beautiful stretch of clear track ahead. While the front-runners were banging and bumping, the #80 clicked off some impressive lap times. At the next caution, the car needed less fuel because of the forced pit stop. These factors added up to a promising 3rd place position just before debris on the track forced another caution.
Back on the track, the team had a difficult decision to make. On a full tank of gas, these high-performance cars can run 47 minutes under green flag conditions. Neither the #80 nor the #82 had enough fuel to finish the race unless another caution was called. Burning up the track in first and second place, the BimmerWorld team took a shot and gambled on a yellow flag.
Thrills and chills
The agonizing minutes ticked by, and a caution flag never came out. The #80 was forced to pit for a splash of fuel, dropping back to 6th. On the last lap, the car in 3rd place ran out of fuel, and while Machavern was executing a pass, his tire suddenly punctured. Machavern maintained control – and his composure – cooly guiding the battered racecar home for a respectable 6th place finish. The team’s #82 BMW finished 9th.
After such an exciting race, we are reminded of why racing embeds itself in our hearts. Endurance, speed, strategy, gambles, triumphs, disappointments and action, action, action! We love motorsports for these highest of highs and lowest of lows, and we are so grateful to be able to share it all with you.
On to the next race.
The next race in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge will be the Acura Sports Car Challenge on Sept. 25-27 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.