Montpellier GP, France
I was offered my first opportunity to go to France and I jumped at the opportunity even knowing the challenge would be perhaps the most difficult ever on the race track. You see the Circuit du MBM track in Montpellier, France is a permanent track that has had much of the same layout for the greater part of a decade I have been told. On top of that they just held a warmup event a couple weeks before and allowed multiple days of practice afterwards. Regarding the track the right lane was changed for this year which is the only difference presented in quite a number of years. So there are many fast drivers who have a lot of time on the layout and it was going to be a true test to try to be competitive. We also only received 3 runs of practice on Friday which in P1 I was 3 seconds off per lap. In P2 I got it down to 2 seconds and in P3 I got within 1 second of the hotlap for the round.
In the practice runs I started with ultra soft P1's in P1 and the sun came out just before my run and warmed up the temps and they were probably a bit too soft but I was just learning the track anyways. In P2 I tried SS Zip Downs and they were ok but lacked some forward drive. In P3 I ran clay Typo and they were by far the best. This year I believe they added oil to the track to help it hold together better which also as a byproduct allowed clay tires to start to work really well here. In Q1 I would choose to run Clay Chainlinks as I knew if I made the scheduled 1 hour final I would need to run them vs. Typo as they would stand a better chance of lasting with the medium wear of the track. But for this early in the program they were just a bit to tall and hard and I lacked some steering and was still plagued with not feeling totally comfortable on the track. The layout is very busy and your always in some motion of steering except for a short stretch down the front straight. Lots of cornering and keeping momentum while also dealing with some blind spots depending on where you stood on the stand. All stuff that can be overcome with more track time, but as discussed, I was lacking in that.
As Q2 started up, so did some rain which would make the track start to get slick. I ran US double downs hoping to get some grip but it wasn't so. We were all about 5 seconds a lap slower and I just didn't choose the right tire for the condition and again wasn't able to nail down a perfect set-up just having another difficult condition thrown on top of a tough track for me to learn. Come Q3 a heavy rain began around race 5 forcing a delay. Once it stopped the track crew was the best I have ever seen. There were so many of them and they had a plan and executed it well. They broom it all off, keep it all smooth, and lay down a layer of sawdust around the entire surface. Then it was back to racing. Once a couple heats ran the sawdust was off to the side and the line started coming back. I choose to run SS Zip downs again as the track had a lot of moisture in it still but it wasn't the right choice. Had no forward drive on the condition. Should have gone with the clay typo again. So that was my 3 runs in a nutshell. Nothing impressive just me trying to cope with the conditions and learn a track that just kept changing with the weather. In all I qualified 40th or last in the 1/4 final even.
So Sunday had arrived and it was time to see if I could put it all together. The 1/4 final was shortened to 15min due to rain delay the previous day. I would choose to run my AKA Clay Typo's and they were the right choice. At the start I got crashed around the tree and was dead last. Over the next 8 minutes I worked my way through the field and got in a battle for 4-5 coming in for our one pit stop. A couple laps later I got into 3rd and had a good thing going since they were taking top 4 as bumps. Well with about 4 minutes to go I clipped the pipe on the left sending me off the track. Got put back on to hit another pipe right away in the back left blue putting me to 4th with the trailing pack right behind. Pressure was on now and I was following teammate Lee for 2 laps before chomping to hard behind him through the raised left hander in the middle. I felt like I brake checked enough a couple times through the corner but ended up tapping his rear wheel putting him on the pipe. I went around the next right handed 180 and the white car behind me tagged my rear wheel sending me upside down and out of contention. It was a frustrating set of circumstances leading to the end of my race day.
You can watch a bit of my quarter final here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2yn_tpnhkg and starting at the 4:48:04 time mark.
Turns out the semi-final B that I could have bumped into ended up getting a rain shower during it and if you didn't have a decent enough tire you were out to lunch. People scrambled to switch tires before the semi B and some you could see had what was needed and others didn't. I'm not sure I would have had ready what I needed but will never know at this point. Anyways the A-final ended up being a good race to watch. I really do hope to be back next year or in the future as the track is a ton of fun and I know at least having a base to start with will be a huge help in future years. But for those who wonder why generally American's don't attend this event, this is the reason. When you haven't been able to put in the time on the track that the local fast guys can do it can be a big challenge to compete. It's a lot of money to get there and when the companies already have good drivers in the region who can compete for the podium it's hard to justify spending for an American to go. I'm just fortunate Jon at Nemo Racing desired me to attend and I am thankful for his support in the event.