– After finally realising its potential by taking pole position, a few moments of bad luck — followed by extended repair times — meant that just a single championship point was taken away from Portugal.
Qualifying driver Blazej Myszk has been disappointed at the last few races, saying that his starting position, while high, was not reflective of his real speed. At Estoril he managed the perfect lap and took pole position with ease, being the only GTE to lap the circuit in less than 90 seconds.
When the time was set, the sounds made by the team were a strange combination of disbelief and relief more than outright joy.
Behind him, the grid times were again very tight, with less than two tenths covering 3rd to 7th.
The championship-chasing #398 car had a frustrating qualifying because a penalty from the previous race saw them forced to stay in the pits and start from the very back of the field.
A clean getaway for Myszk at the start of the race was not to last long unfortunately, as at the first turn of lap 2, the chasing car braked much deeper and hit the rear of the #399 quite hard. Although he retained the lead, Blazej immediately reported that the car — which all drivers had agreed was a joy to drive — was now unbalanced.
Between that damage and the now-exposed setup flaw of under-powered brake force, Myszk was unable to prevent the cars behind slowly catching and passing him. A few uncharacteristic spins also dropped him down the order too. It was realised that the last-minute decision to run Soft tyres had been a mistake.
To avoid further delays, no repairs were performed during the pitstops. If Myszk could keep control of the car and hand it over in a higher position, the time loss for repairs would hurt less if taken later in the race.
And so, when James Andrew took the car for the middle portion of the six-hour race, the car was in a decent position and seemingly, miraculously, damage-free.
His pace being consistent and competitive, he soon was on the back of Nuno Rodrigues in the #396 PTSims.net car. These two scrapped for several laps, with the #399 clearly faster but unable to force its way past due to good defending. At one point a prototype decided to spend most of a lap sitting behind the two rather than risk getting in the way of the clearly very focussed drivers!
Soon after, a small mistake from Rodrigues gave Andrew an opportunity, which he took both swiftly and aggressively.
Job done, he pulled away quite easily over the following laps, only to ruin all the effort by having a lazy, slow-motion spin that nosed the car into the barrier at T6. In that moment, karma came to the SimHQ Motorsports entry, as the low speed impact seemingly re-awakened all of the damage accrued in the race to that point. Over five minutes of repairs were needed. Failure to engage the pit limiter also made things worse.
The rest of Andrew’s time at the wheel was relatively uneventful, and he handed to Jason Whited for what turned out to be another interesting run to the end.
Whited had inherited a car that was, once again, not exactly in perfect condition, yet he was able to put in respectable lap times. However, eventually he was caught out and the car looped itself in the middle of Turn 4, coming to rest sideways on the apex facing the inside barrier. In a mild panic he tried to edge himself outwards, but a prototype was passing just at that moment and a solid collision removed the rear spoiler and spun the car 180°. While he was getting his bearings again, several cars flashed right across his nose, coming perilously close to causing further chaos.
After struggling back to the pits, more repairs were undertaken, and a nice calm drive to the end was all that was on anybody’s mind.
Lady Luck had more fun up her sleeve, though. Just ten laps later, Jason came around the final turn to see mayhem in front of him. Three cars had already been involved in an incident and one was sideways across the track while the unattached wheel of another was also present.
Evasive action was instigated, with Whited immediately deciding that turning hard left onto the gravel was far more sensible than trying to pick a way through the mess. This would have been effective if the sideways #371 of Alvarez hadn’t chosen that moment to pull forwards and turn himself around. Heavy contact, the #399 then sliding into the wall, and yet more repairs.
Somehow Jason re-gathered his energies and protected a tenth-place finish. The single point is valuable both in that it gets the team’s momentum going again and, as it happens, keeps them just ahead of a couple of rival teams. SimHQ Motorsports currently sits 10th out of 19 GTE entries in Division 4.
The race chart shows Estoril was tough for a lot of teams.
The next race is the first real big one of the year — the 12 hours of Sebring. It will be all hands on deck for that and one has to imagine the strategy will be for the #399 to do everything it can to run clean for as long as possible.