Premiere in all matters: two GTA’s, their driver & race team in Portimao – Part 2.

saturday (1 of 12)

Original publication on Petrolicious and Part 1 here

Qualifying

On Friday morning we are heading to the track after a breakfast overlooking it watching the first practice sessions. The GTA is going out after a short lunch break, and around an hour after finishing, the GTAm is going out for its qualifying.

The problem with the new tires is fixed, the cars are set up accordingly. Marina, the heart of the team and Pedro’s wife, prepares sandwiches and tapas for everyone in the garage. On grid, we find ourselves nearby another GTA 1600, a red one from SEMA Racing. In qualifying, the Cortinas are flying and are setting lap times five seconds faster than ours, and we soon consider them in their own class. In our Alfas, Christian manages to set a time difference of only one second between him and José, an amazing achievement! There is only one Mini faster than us before the group of Cortinas ahead, and we manage to finish ahead of our direct competitor, the red GTA, and place ourselves 5th on the grid after the qualifying session is over.

 

 

No one really believed it, and it seems that some didn’t trust that our car was within the rules, so we were promptly put on a scale after the race to measure. Not knowing what the car was actually weighing, Pedro had only ever made educated guesses at it, and we were surprised to find out that the car was actually 60kg too heavy! At first a happy discovery as we didn’t get any penalties, but then of course we would have loved to have removed some weight and made the car even quicker, but we can’t make any modifications now though.

Next up in qualifying was the GTAm, and Christian was really looking forward to finally jumping into this car, as he says “It just handles well, I know what to expect and I can fully concentrate on the field of cars around me and the track.”

Whereas the GTA was setting times in the low 2:20s, the GTAm made constant laps in the 2:19s. This amazing achievement from Christian and José, together with the smooth pitstops of the team, resulted in disbelief from the other teams, again, and we ended up back on the scale with a different car—this time with a rather dissatisfying result. We were 45kg below the homologation weight of 920kg, a disaster. The car had never been on a scale before, no one ever believed it would be too light, rather way too heavy, and now this! A big discussion with “Moses,” the head of scrutineering, ensues. It resulted in us modifying the car and adding at least 50kg of weight. That was something we could live with, but we also had to start from a lower position tomorrow for the race.

To keep the team motivated, Christian suggested to get some ice cream and shortly after we were all happily eating Calippo in parc fermé, waiting for our car to be released before we started adding 63kg (better safe than sorry), weights we borrowed from the local cart track, to the lowest point of the car—at least we would be able to keep the center of gravity low…

Later we find various other teams and race drivers leaning over our cars, inspecting them thoroughly, trying to understand why these were so quick, what was different about them. Some drivers even asked whether there is a possibility they can apply for support from Fernandes Oldtimertechnik for next year’s race season!

We finished around 10PM in the paddock, agreeing to add the last few weights to the car in the morning.

The Main Events

It’s race day soon enough, and after our early morning wakeup and trip to the track, we have arrived in our box to find one of the scrutineering assistants arriving to hand us an official letter saying that we must now start the race from the last position… It’s a message we weren’t keen to receive, but we decided to make the most of it and race like nothing happened—what else can you do?

“I am a little nervous, it’s a crowded field and a flying start isn’t easy from the back, but I will follow the mantra of ‘just have fun, enjoy the race,’” Christian says as he gets in the car before the start.

The driver change runs smooth as anything; however, we get a penalty for leaving the box too quickly, and José therefore needs to come back in for a 30 second penalty. Then, again, we received another 30 seconds for speeding in the pits…  However, the results weren’t bad, and we managed to finish 7th in our grid.

Next race is our second and final race for the day, the GTAm is up, and Christian is pumped enough to get in the driver’s seat first, again. Starting from the back with 60kg added to the car in total, it will be more than challenging. We started off in 50th position and Christian was on fire, racing himself up to 25th in the smallest amount of time. It was incredible to watch him weaving up through the field lap after lap.

Then, the unexpected, an oil leak is in front of him, and off he goes, spinning 180 degrees. Within the next few seconds a Datsun crashes into him and another car goes off as well, a big crash, but luckily all drivers are ok—the cars not so much.

All it matters though is that Christian is ok. He gets dropped off by a marshal on a scooter and still has the biggest smile on his face: “I loved it, every second, I was on fire and did you see me climbing up spaces?” We can’t believe it, he is happier than ever, and luckily in good health too. “Sure, the accident is still in my bones, but there are far worse, and it was just simply amazing before that!”

Everyone else has a big smile on their face now, all of us exhausted but happy. Although the team experienced many setbacks and the couldn’t race on Sunday with the GTAm after its accident, it still very much felt like the hard work had paid off in the end. This is how Pedro, the team chief, summarized the weekend: “We are beyond happy with the week we had on the Portimao Autodromo Circuito. We could tune both race GTA’s during the first two days of testing and optimize them for the track. This resulted in a track best time of an incredible 2:14:32 min. The race weekend was exciting & challenging, as we needed to make some adjustments and modify the cars after the scrutineering. Some of these resulted in adjustment of both cars, distancing them from their top performance capabilities, but still able to achieve results as some of the quickest cars in their categories.”

His team adds, “The Circuito International de Algarve is a very demanding and difficult track, but it has given us great pleasure to tune and optimize the vehicles for it. We have great pleasure in working together as a team, and have had many events and years of practice together. Everyone on the team knows their job, their level of expertise, and acts accordingly. Therefore optimal technical adjustments can be realized in the smallest possible amount of time and bring an optimum of performance to the driver and car. In other words, it’s a great bit of fun that we get to call our job.”

 

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