– The final race of the season — and the most important — saw the Division 4 entry from SimHQ Motorsports finally produce the kind of performance it has been threatening to deliver over the last few months. With double points on offer, a podium finish lifted the squad to a respectable final championship position and blew away all the frustration of the mid-season.
Qualifying took place a couple of days prior to the race, with an open format meaning all cars were on track together. Coming in to it, the team was not confident that the base setup had quite enough pace, but it would have to do.
The team’s fast man, Blazej Myszk, had prepared by adjusting the car to allow him to push right to his own limits and then spent the two-hour session slowly improving his time, feeling the progression of the track’s grip level and working out where he could go still faster.
While he was always in the mix for a top 5 spot, towards the end he nailed a lap that put him in 3rd place, and he just about held onto that as other teams logged their laps. Although the top two cars were well clear of Myszk’s time, in the final analysis 4th place (Team Rookie Monsters) were just 6 one-hundredths behind, with 5th place (Team Spirit Racing 2) another 8 one-hundredths back from there!
Race strategy was forced to be slightly different this time out because of the high fuel usage at this foot-to-the-floor circuit. The car was not able to run — as it had all year — for a nice, neat, hour at a time. A few extra pit stops would be needed, and the possibility of some fuel-saving runs existed in there too.
This also meant that driving stints would be thrown out of sequence and the team settled on simply giving the odd triple-stint to people in order to stretch things when needed. Being a 24-hour race, the timezones of each driver came into consideration and the end result was that the North American drivers, Matt Horst and Jason Whited, would do the first half of the race (except the very start, to be done by Myszk), and the second half would be left to the Europeans, James Andrew and Blazej Myszk.
The start of the race saw a little confusion for some drivers, who failed to release their pit limiter at the correct point, but the #399 got away nicely and Blazej settled into a rhythm. On lap 11 though, an LMP came up behind and briefly distracted him into running wide and doing a high-speed 360, but no damage came of it.
On lap 17 Division 4 had its first “CODE 80” call of the season. All the cars trundled round on the pit limiter while a slow car cleared the track. The #399 chose not to pit during this time, a decision which was validated moments later as the race returned to green flag running.
Opening run completed, Myszk handed to Matt Horst from 2nd position and things continued to run fairly smoothly. The odd slightly “confident” LMP2, but nothing the boys couldn’t handle.
On lap 77 however, the easy run came to an end. Out of nowhere, Jason Whited dropped a wheel onto the grass in the Porsche Curves and the car went scraping backwards along the wall leaving the Rookie Monsters driver behind to do some quick avoidance. Luckily, the pits were not far away and he swiftly brought it in for repairs. Less than two minutes of work by the pit crew and the car was off again, though everyone was just a little worried about any long-term impact upon the performance.
Through into darkness, and Whited and Horst made a change to the setup for the cool air of the French summer night. This kept the #399 at the sharp end of the field and progressing very nicely.
Come lap 194 — on the out lap from a fuel refill — and Matt Horst had a terrifying moment. He described later how he had basically fallen asleep at the wheel and missed a corner. He clattered a wall and realised the car was very badly damaged. In true SimHQ Motorsports spirit he dragged the vehicle back to the pits and he and Whited endured four-minutes of repairs. But they were still running, even if they’d dropped from 3rd to 5th!
The Europeans, of course, were entirely oblivious to all this as they were sleeping calmly. After that, the car was kept clean and the panic was stabilised. When James Andrew got up and prepared to take the car over, all was steady and in fact a large number of competitors had already pulled out of the race.
Andrew’s stints throughout the race are perhaps worthy of mention. He was able consistently to get an extra lap out of the fuel tank and this ended up helping the #399’s strategy at key times. Although he was the team’s slowest driver, he contributed well to the result.
His role, really, was just to hold station and allow Myszk to receive a healthy car in a decent position. That proved easy enough and Blazej found the car and track grip to be so perfect that he was taking five seconds or more per lap out of the #370 RevolutionSimRacing Blue car that was 100 seconds ahead!
Team manager Andrew made sure that Myszk was in the car for as much time as possible during the final hours and the recapture of 3rd position never really looked in doubt. He even enjoyed some deliberate powerslides in the run to the finish!
The high drop-out rate, combined with the double points for this round, mean that the final championship table has the SimHQ Motorsports #399 in 5th position. Having had two mid-season pole positions that came to nothing, a championship podium might have been on the cards in other circumstances, but that’s endurance racing.
Well done to all the drivers, and thanks to all the competitors and organisers in the 2018-19 VEC.
Here is the race chart from the Division 4 GTE Group at Le Mans.