This weekend was an absolute rollercoaster.
We started the weekend on Friday with two short 45min free practices. Sharing the time as well as limited tyre capacity with my team-mate Rick Yoon, it was key to get as much good experience and knowledge out of every lap as possible. On old ‘carry-over from Sepang’ tyres in Free Practice 1, Rick had the most time in the car, bedding in new brakes and driveshaft first and then pushing for another stint. I jumped in at the end of the session, to get a feel for the track and car. To be honest, it took more laps than I expected – the new Pirelli tyres as well as the track being really dirty in FP1 made a big difference compared to last year here at Buriram circuit. By the end of Friday, we were P4 overall. I had mega pace on old tyres but only managed to improve 4 tenth’s on new tyres, which was clearly not enough due to not having a good enough car balance for utilizing the new tyre peak grip. We made some changes to the car with Bertrand, (my last year’s engineer by the way :D ).
Saturday morning, we could try the changes in the last 30min free practice, where I ran for a minimal 2 laps, giving it over to Rick to finish the session. I got a better feel for qualifying, which was the main thing really. Rick also made a good session, fixing a few of his mistakes to reduce the difference time to my pace.
So on to Qualifying, there was two of them of course – first one for Rick (the Am) and second for myself (the Pro) to decide starting positions for Race 1 and 2 respectively with the Am and Pro to start them respectively. Rick did a pretty good job, finishing mid-pack P13 overall, time loss to pole position +1.76s. I was up next.
Out of the pits I had a good warm-up lap. As the track is a bit shorter than normal, the tyres would not yet be in ideal temperature for the first flying lap. I had a good 1st lap with a few purple(quickest) sectors. Unfortunately, I had a slow GT4 car blocking my start of the 2nd lap in Turn 1 – shame. A quick cool down was followed by another try after. 3rd lap was a quick one until 3rd and 4th sector where I started to lose tyre performance. The lap was similar pace to my 1st but a touch slower due to the loss of grip. Thus, my 1st flyer ended up my quickest. I have to say, out of the 1st laps, mine was the quickest :D. My sectors put together gave the best lap time, but as a result I had to take the P5, which meant a row 3 start for Race 2.
So, P13 and P6 for the race starting grid positions, decent.
Start of the Race 1, Rick was in the car, he had a moment in turn 1 which caused him to spin out. After another spin in turn 3, he got going. Later on, safety car was deployed, which allowed Rick to close in on the cars ahead. After a few laps behind SC, the restart went great. Pit window had just opened so Rick came to pits, handing the car over to me in P11
(9 seconds behind Jeffrey Lee/Alessio Picariello that went on to finish P3 in class).
I was determined. I did purple sectors on my out-lap.
That was followed by some new purple sectors and quickest laps of the race – I was catching the cars in front, overtaking and catching again. As my engineer said to me on radio, I had ‘mega pace’ and no-one could match it. I moved up the ranks in the next laps, to P6 overall. Also, I had closed the gap to Alessio in P5 from 9s to 2.5s. Then, I got an alarm on my dashboard – ‘Gearbox Temperature too high’. Decision by team-manager was to back off, slow down to lower the risk of failure and finish the race, maintaining my position. It was a shame, but a reasonable decision as there had been another Audi car retiring earlier in the race because of gearbox failure. I finished P5 overall, 4th in class, and did the fastest lap.
Race 2, I was starting from the 3rd row. Start went great, although I lost my position to 2 Ferraris on the back straight, I regained them from an outside move at T3. Between T3 and T4 I was in the tow of cars in P5/P6. Going through T4, the cars in front went wide as I gained distance with inside line – I was next to P5&P6. As we were approaching T5 at around 230kmh, a car on my right made an offensive move towards my line and I was squeezed to the very edge of the track, so I responded – I tried to maintain my line, but the other car kept its line towards left – we collided. My car slid sideways out of control with a broken tie bar causing steering failure. I was partly on the grass, partly on tarmac – out of control – I took my hands off the steering wheel to receive another, a bigger impact.
When it came, it hurt. I slid off into gravel, dizzy from the hit. Electricity of the car was shut down, so I just waited until the track marshals came. Got out of the car, the view wasn’t nice – my car… and 3 other cars out as well. Luckily, I just got away with a small concussion. The car proved its strength on a high-speed collision like that.
The KCMG mechanics are flying to Japan already on Monday of race-week to get the car ready for Round 2 of Audi Cup, which is on 9-11th June. Next Blancpain GT Asia is at Suzuka, Japan on 23-25th June.
Take care, and see you soon, Thailand!