Petit Le Mans is always an intense race, and this year was no exception. Although we were fortunate to not see the same flooding as the east coast, the entire race was soaked.
Driving the Z4 in normal wet conditions is actually a pretty fun task. The grip can be surprising and make you push harder and harder, but standing water will take all the fun out of the rain-racing experience.
Unfortunately, we had more standing water than ever on Saturday at Road Atlanta. Although we walked away with a P2 overall, it was one of the more stressful races I’ve ever driven.
If you’ve ever driven a car down the freeway in intense rain, you know that aquaplaning is not a fun feeling. Now, imagine that same feeling while mid-corner at over 100 mph and you’ll feel what we felt all day Saturday.
Although we just wanted to survive the beginning of the race, we were also acutely aware that our only target was to beat Porsche in the race. Unfortunately, the rear engine in the Porsche proved extremely useful in the wet race and the factory Porsches were around two seconds quicker than us. In a field that is normally separated by hundredths rather than tenths, a two-second margin feels like a different category.
Still, we pushed hard and the highlight of my race came on a restart after a round of pit stops when I moved from third to first. I had stayed in the car while most others had changed drivers, so I had a big advantage at that point by knowing where the worst puddles were.
I was able to get by the No. 911 Porsche that lap before we went yellow again, but after a few green laps Pilet had learned where the puddles were as well and I couldn’t hang on against the Porsche. I survived three hours in the car, although much of that time was under yellow. Still, the race felt unsafe during the daytime, so I couldn’t imagine getting back in to finish at night as I was scheduled to do.
As darkness approached, it looked as though the race might run all the way to the end. A yellow was thrown as rain intensified, and I got my helmet on, ready to jump in when we stopped. The process to open pit lane seemed to take longer than normal, and finally the crew tapped me on the shoulder to tell me the race had been called. I wasn’t even sure where we finished, but I knew we were behind the Porsche. Taking a look at the timing screen, I realized we weren’t just second in class, but second overall.
I think the biggest winner on Saturday had to be Michelin. To make a tire that can put a GT car in contention with a prototype is a huge accomplishment and they deserve the credit for the GT 1-2 with the Porsche and our BMW Z4.
For me, it was a slightly disappointing feeling despite standing on the podium at Petit for the second time in three attempts. Our only target was to beat Porsche to claim the manufacturer’s title for BMW and we fell short of that.
However, I was relieved to have made it through the treacherous conditions and come away with another podium to close out the season.
Although we had quite a bit of success this year, it was a bit up and down for Lucas and I in the No. 24 car. Our championship position didn’t end up as high as I feel we should have, but that is how racing goes.