FIA GT Championship – Round 2 Brno - May 26-28

It was a short gap between the opening round of the FIA GT Championship and the latest round at Brno for the Spirit Motor Group-backed Balfe Motorsport team.

The plan before the Czech event was to get as much work done to the Saleen S7R as possible, to narrow the gap to the rest of the GT1 field. To find itself so far away, with a car that didn’t do what the drivers wanted it to do at Silverstone, was disappointing. However, the team knew the areas that needed work and the majority of the job list was completed before the truck left for the haul to Brno.

The only problem was, the first time the team would know if it had closed the gap would be in the opening session at the circuit. A complete damper change had made a significant improvement to the car, meaning that the drivers and engineers could now make it do what they wanted and it responded, which was a bonus for the start of the weekend.

Both Jamie Derbyshire and Shaun Balfe were still struggling on the exit of corners, but the initial changes the team had made were a step forward. But the proof that more work still needed to be done was the second free practice session, where the GLPK Corvette and the Zakspeed Saleen showed what the ultimate pace truly was, once again seemingly putting the Balfe squad further out of reach.

The car certainly isn’t slow. The team glanced at the speed trap figures and the Balfe Saleen was the second fastest over the start/finish line. The problem the drivers were having was getting the power down. A lack of traction control, or at least a fully functioning version of it, wasn’t helping. This and the lack of grip, are the main issues that team will be looking at over the long break between Brno and round three at Oschersleben in Germany.

The race day warm-up proved a little bit tricky for Jamie Derbyshire. With torrential rain falling, he was finding it hard to get to grips with the car, until he and the Saleen got settled in later in the session. But he was also suffering from a misting windscreen, which meant he was unable to see any braking points in the first half of the short 15-minute session! A heated unit was installed for the race, in case the weather stayed the same: luckily by the time the race began it wasn’t needed.

The opening section of the race went well for the team. Shaun Balfe managed to stay with the rest of the GT1 cars for a couple of laps, before they began to pull away. However, he did manage to move up a couple of places as the guys at the front got too over-excited and threw themselves into the Czech gravel.

On one-third distance, Shaun handed over to Jamie and he went out for the middle stint of the race. He managed to settle in quickly and got straight into a rhythm, before he radioed to the team that he had started to feel a loss of power.

The team called him in and immediately downloaded the engine data to see if there was anything terminally wrong. What was thought to be a swift fix was done in the pit-lane, before he was sent back out again.

Unfortunately, it didn’t (fix it). Jamie was back in a lap later, and this time he reversed into the garage, as the mechanics swarmed all over the rear end of the Saleen. As the clock ticked away the team decided that Jamie should stay in the car to the end of the race, meaning that with the stops for the mis-fire, they wouldn’t have to stop again.

The car was wheeled back out onto the pit apron once again and as Jamie left the pits he initially thought it was clear. But as soon as he opened it up on the circuit, it was apparent that the problem was still there. As a precaution, the team decided that bringing it back and calling it a day was the best option, saving the engine in case anything major was amiss and looking forward to testing and getting everything right before round three.

“You wouldn’t think it to look at the timesheet this weekend, but the car was definitely a big improvement from Silverstone this weekend,” said Shaun Balfe. “We still have some work to do, but we’ve certainly turned the corner in getting the car to work and respond. We knew that we would still be up against it here, but the whole team had hoped that we would be much closer.”

“We’d already got plans in motion for the time between Brno and Oschersleben, so we’ll be putting those into effect as soon as we get back to the UK, and with any luck we’ll be in a position to challenge for a place in the top six or seven and be in amongst the rest of the GT1 cars. We know the ultimate pace is beyond us, certainly at this point in the season. But the Zakspeed car has shown what the Saleen can do, so we will keep working towards it.”

Jamie Derbyshire was frustrated by the non-finish in Brno, but was also happy with the step forward from the car between races.

“At the start of the weekend when I first went out the car felt really balanced and good,” he said. “The outright speed wasn’t there, obviously. But compared to what we had at Silverstone, it was great. I had a touch of understeer when I first went out and we made a change and it responded straight away. We’re definitely struggling out of the corners against the other cars, which I think is where we’re losing the biggest chunk of time.”

“But the team have got plans for the time between here and Germany and another move forward like we’ve had I think will put us in a position to battle with the middle order on a consistent basis, which is where we wanted to be.”

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