Motorsport Spirit-KIA Mosler
FIA GT Championship Round 4 – Imola
at Imola was the best the Newark Glass Group, KIA Spirit and Spirit
Volkswagen-backed team could hope for at Round 4 of the FIA GT Championship,
on May 29. In what were possibly the toughest conditions the car,
team and drivers had ever had to endure, they all came through to
follow the factory Porsches across the line once again. However,
it was a struggle to get there!
A walk around
the circuit on Thursday afternoon gave Shaun Balfe a little bit
of preparation for a technical circuit that he had never been to
before, in readiness for the free practice sessions the next day.
in the garage, the team was busy fitting new front brakes to the
Spirit Kia Mosler, a development the team had originally hoped would
be on the car for Silverstone.
free practice session served as a sighting and bedding in test for
Shaun, before he handed over to Jamie Derbyshire, and they both
started to settle in to bringing the lap times down.
In the first
session a couple of the other Porsche teams had the drop on the
Balfe squad and for the first time since Monza the team were not
lying in third place in the GT2/G2 running order.
The second session
was better for the team, but the Ebimotors Porsche was less than
half a second behind the Mosler, giving the team something else
to think about for qualifying.
main problem, which would haunt every car on the grid over the course
of the weekend, was the heat. The Mosler seemed to suck in all available
warmth from the radiator and the brakes straight into the cockpit,
and it was making things mildly uncomfortable at this early stage
for both drivers.
qualifying session was undoubtedly going to be the quicker of the
two during the day. With the heat getting into the track minute
by minute, it was a case of getting a time in early and seeing what
A boost for
the squad came at the end of the session when Shaun had managed
to end up less than a second behind the Lieb / Rockenfeller Porsche
on the grid. Although the Porsche is well ballasted, it was certainly
another improvement for the Mosler and once again made them the
closest team to the GruppeM cars at the sharp end.
decision whether or not to take part in the second session was made
for the team when they had to check over a niggling gear selection
problem. A small ratio change was also thought to be an improvement,
so Jamie and Shaun both took to the circuit to make sure things
were as they should be, before calling it a day and letting the
team prepare the car for race day.
If the heat
had been bad enough for the drivers over the first two days, then
Shaun’s face dropped when FIA GT Media Delegate Jacquie Groom
told him during the qualifying press conference that the forecast
for Sunday was to be even hotter! Maybe the season in Spain last
year was going to pay off?
He was still
happy to be third on the grid though, especially on his first visit
to the circuit.
surprised and pleased with my time during the first free practice
session and through qualifying,” said Balfe. “We’ve
got some new parts on the car for this weekend, which is helping
the car in braking and a few other areas. We are still trying to
narrow the gap to the GruppeM cars. But I don’t think they’ve
got to worry just yet!” he added with a grin.
So, a three
hour race, over the hottest part of the day, in sweltering conditions…
Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
Shaun made a
cautious start to the race, knowing that the first two chicanes
and the hairpin would be frantic and likely places for contact.
After the first couple of laps he settled in to a rhythm and began
pulling away from the privateer Porsche behind, but watched the
GruppeM cars up ahead steadily pull away as they chased each other.
heat was soon to come into play. With no cool-suit available, a
window net was put up to replace the driver’s window in the
Mosler, with the aim to try and get a breeze running through the
car over the drivers. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work
as well as expected, as the hot air from the now bigger and hotter
front brakes blew into the drivers face.
had decided that the same trick as Silverstone would be employed
to try and keep cool too. So, both drinks bottles for Jamie and
Shaun were frozen overnight, with the effect that as it melted in
the car it would keep the fluid cool.
Good idea in
theory. However, with the time spent sitting on the grid and the
heat in the car climbing to over 50 degrees, it didn’t work
out that way.
Shaun went to
take a drink on lap six and as found that what he thought was going
to be a cool drink actually scalded his mouth. His automatic reaction
was to yank the tube from the front of his helmet so he didn’t
do it again. But, by then the fluid had started to syphon down the
pipe and as it rested on his overalls it poured all over him.
believe it when I went to take a drink,” he said afterwards.
“I thought the bottle would hopefully stay cool to around
the middle of my stint. But I just got a burnt mouth. When I pulled
the pipe out and it kept pouring onto me it just felt like someone
had taken a recently boiled kettle and was pouring it over my race
suit. It was horrible.”
For the first
time in his career Balfe also asked the team to be taken out of
the car early. From half-way through his opening stint he was on
the radio explaining that he couldn’t drive at the limit for
any length of time and the team needed to rapidly re-think the driving
strategy as it was going to be impossible to carry on.
Jamie was told
to get ready for an early stop and a double stint by both drivers
was the re-arranged schedule.
As Balfe climbed
out of the car he staggered back into the garage and struggled to
take off his helmet and gloves, as the team handed him bottles of
cold water. He then took the decision to turn the hose-pipe on himself
outside the back of the garage in an effort to cool down, knowing
that he had to do it all again later.
As Jamie took
over the wheel, with third place still intact, he was soon to be
in the same position. With a comfortable lead over the cars behind
and the GruppeM cars pulling away up ahead, it was a case of pounding
round and round and keeping a constant pace, not an easy thing to
do as you rapidly dehydrate in the driving seat.
As Jamie steadily
began to suffer in the heat, he also came over the radio from mid-way
through his drive and asked how many more laps the team needed him
As Shaun was
recovering he got ready for his second turn at the wheel. A totally
shattered Derbyshire climbed out of the car, in an even worse state
than Balfe had done earlier.
back into the transporter and was placed in front of the small air-conditioning
unit, and had several bottles of water poured over him to try and
cool off. Philip Derbyshire was also relieved to hear from the circuit
doctor that the pins and needles Jamie had in his hands and feet
were a normal sign of heat exhaustion, nothing more sinister.
As Shaun continued
to circulate Jamie made his way back to the motorhome to sit in
the air-conditioning and was finally able to cool down enough to
regain feeling in his hands and feet. He felt so exhausted that
he was unsure whether he was going to be able to get back into the
car for a second stint. A call from the team with just over half
an hour to go told him that Shaun was in the same situation again.
A quick change back into his race suit and he was able to bring
the car across the line for the last 25-minutes, with an incredibly
hard-earned third place the team’s reward.
never driven in such hot conditions,” said Jamie. “We
didn’t know what to expect. Both of us, about 35 minutes into
our first stint, we were both absolutely shot and on the radio telling
the team that we were not going to be capable of driving at the
speeds we normally do. They asked us both to hang on for a handful
of laps more. I almost collapsed when I got out of the car.
to go back to the motorhome and cool down. The team told me that
Shaun was in the same situation again, so I put my suit back on
and got back in the car for the last 25-minutes to the flag. I think
we’re just happy to have made it and got to the end. The GruppeM
cars are always going to be tough to beat, but we’re happy
with what we’re doing so far.”
really struggled in the car, we didn’t have any cool-suits
or anything,” added Shaun. “The three-hour format is
still relatively new to us and to the car so we are still learning
all the time. But we’re enjoying it and Brno will be another
new circuit for me and the team and the car, but I am positive!”