S11 VEC Sepang – GTE #399

Introduction

– Despite signing two new drivers in the run-up to this race, it seems that this SimHQ Motorsports squad is actually more in need of a few good luck charms and perhaps a resident shaman. One clean race could see them clean up, but whether or not you subscribe to the view that “you make your own luck”, it is undoubtedly that area which is holding them back.

The completion of the latest SRC Academy series has allowed graduates Matt Horst and Jason Whited to be added to the #399s driver pool for the rest of the season. With this Malaysian round being the longest so far and some bigger tests looming in the coming months, this rounding out of the team was much needed. Both drivers come with good experience, great pace, and excellent resumes.

Qualifying

Regular qualifying driver Blazej Myszk again performed admirably and, having extensively customized the race setup for his pole bid, managed to put the car in 4th position – his best start of the season. He beat the time of Vidimari (in the championship-chasing #381 Scuderia Giantruck car) by a mere 6 one-thousandths of a second.

Two more tenths would have been needed to push further up the grid, but Myszk – typically– was to berate himself afterwards, saying that the car did actually have the pace to get there. The GTE pole position time suffered controversy, meanwhile, as accusations were made that the Breslin car’s lap had been begun after the checkered flag had fallen. At the time of writing there is no information on the outcome of any investigation.

Race

With qualifying drivers being required to start the race, Myszk went about his usual business, although with a little more caution than at round 3, where a few misjudgments had led to early minor contacts. Ten laps in, after one car had spun off and the #383 of DriveGameSeat Racing Team had served a penalty for incidents in the previous race, Blazej found himself circulating very happily in second position.

The #398 Breslin car, meanwhile, had run away from everybody, building a 15-second lead on what presumably were Soft tires. It was also noted that the #381 Giantruck car was nowhere to be seen. It later transpired that their race was over before it began, because a technical problem (power outage) right at the end of qualifying meant they were unable to make the start of the race. This gave their championship rivals at Breslin extra motivation to hammer home a great result.

None of this meant that Myszk was having an easy time. He was being kept very honest by Alexander van der Woude in the #171 Simtech Pink car. The #399 was faster down the straights, but the Porsche had a little more in the corners, it seemed. Eventually he made his way past, and the two lapped in close proximity until late in the first fuel stint.

Lap 28 was where the aforementioned bad luck struck again. Approaching the penultimate turn – a horrible, awkward zone of simultaneous braking and steering where the GTE cars are at their most nervous, a prototype inserted itself between the two. It had come in a bit too fast even for its own good, and promptly slid off into the gravel, but not before getting close enough to van der Woude’s rear bumper that it took his concentration away, and he found himself slowly spinning in the middle of the track.

Once he realized he was not going to be able to catch the slide, he applied the brakes to make his motion more predictable to the following cars, as the rules of this league dictate. However, he released them just a moment before he came to a stop and, because he was facing directly into the apex of the corner, rolled forward into the tiny gap that Myszk was trying to use as an escape route. Immediate damage to both cars, and the SimHQ Motorsports car had to wait for over two minutes while the pit crew worked overtime.

This event did not, however, mean the #399 was out of contention. Having held P3 prior to the incident, Blazej emerged from the pits down the order but with rivals just seconds ahead and behind. Head cleared, he soon started to climb back up the order, though he reported that the car was not handling quite as it was supposed to.

Two hours into the eight-hour race, James Andrew took the car. Needing to simply run clean and smooth before handing the car to faster drivers to finish the race, he did exactly that in the first fuel stint, and saved fuel and tyres very well. He survived a fairly heavy t-bone whack when a P2 braked too late, but the race changing event came a few laps later on the approach to that perilous penultimate turn.

As Andrew turned in, closely following another GTE car, the #323 Orimila NTX prototype decided that he could thread the needle from a narrow angle and at the last minute. He couldn’t and he didn’t. What he did do was heavily hit the rear-right of the #399, causing huge suspension damage and sending Andrew spinning into the wall on the inside of the corner for good measure.

Even after the pit stop, James found himself both mentally flustered and struggling with control, so decided to cut his second stint short, asking Steven Hill to take over at the halfway point of the race. Unfortunately, to add insult to injury, Andrew’s confusion caused him to momentarily lose concentration while trying to organize the pit stop and he crashed on his own.Three minutes of repairs made the car drivable but crucially, still not quite stable.

At that point the race was about surviving. Hill had opted to run on Soft tires, whereas Myszk and Andrew had been using Mediums, and he put in some excellent lap times considering the rear of the car often did not want to play nicely. Although he had some interesting times with the traffic around him, he drove two very controlled and calming hours.

Then, to finish the race, Jason Whited was called forward. He took the car while running second-to-last. He later admitted to being quite nervous about how the car would feel having heard about how battered it was. However, he eased himself into things and produced some good laps when he had some space, later declaring both the car and the traffic to be less of a problem than he’d feared.

The last act of the race was a slow-burner; a real endurance fan’s delight:

The #171 car, which earlier had been the cause of the first problem of the day, was running last, but significantly faster then the #399. With 1 hour and 40 minutes remaining, James Andrew on the pit wall calculated that the SIM HQ car should worry: Simtech had the pace to unlap themselves and push for a last-minute position change. Every second mattered from now to the flag.

And so it went. Eventually the Simtech Pink car did unlap itself, but Whited also ticked off consistent laps with a badly beaten car. Sometimes he even produced a “wow” lap. But the gap still kept reducing.

The occasional loss of control did lose Whited a little more time, but there was a double twist in the tale. A queue of GTE cars was making its way up on the #171 as it closed within 30 seconds. When it had to let them past due to the blue flags, it seemed like it would be delayed by just enough to make sure the #399 was safe. But he tagged onto the end of that snake and kept on coming.

With two laps remaining, Whited himself got the blue flag for the snake, and on the back straight too. Having slowed to let them past, he slotted back in just meters ahead of the faster #171. Although he used his experience and skill to defend for a little while, he was finally pushed back into last position right at the end of the race.

Championship

So a fighting performance to the end, but all for naught, which hurts when the team can see how close they are to a great result. Preparations for round 5 began immediately, where the tighter track might see a little more patience from the P2s, just as at NOLA. If so, perhaps the SimHQ Motorsports entry can ditch the juju and catch some mojo. Here’s hoping.

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