Last Spa for BMW

Fri, 17. Sep. 2021
One of the most challenging races – for cars and drivers. Photograph: Courtesy of Karim Ojjeh

Two weeks before the race, I trained in the simulator, getting back my marks, sequencing, and focus. To some, the simulator might be nonsense or something of no matter, but I can tell by experience that it is a must to be prepared today.

Five days prior to the race, on Tuesday, we had the bronze test. It went fine until we got hit with heavy rain. The car felt good. Then came the “long” Thursday. We started at 10:55am and finished the next morning at 00:55am. We had a good qualifying session, finishing in the middle of our pack. We felt good for the race.

Crash with serious injuries
We decided to have our pro driver start the race, which was a good thing, as all cars in our category did the same. Everyone wanted to play it safe. Unfortunately, ten laps into the race, the full-course-yellow (FCY) was deployed due to a heavy accident at the top of the Raidillon.

Four cars were involved, three of which were destroyed. All drivers ended at the hospital. Two were fine and could leave. But one of them was severely injured with a broken vertebra and other broken bones and was flown to the UK. The last one involved had minor injuries.

The first car had a puncture going up the Raidillon and went into the wall, ending in the middle of the circuit. Another car slammed into him and then another. On the second hit, the engine/gearbox flew off the car. Luckily everyone is still alive. The race continued under FCY for 40 minutes when the team brought me in the car. We had a good pace. The weather kept on changing from dry to rain and dry – it was Spa.

All the drivers, mechanics, and other team members did a great job until the next day at noon, at which point we had raced more than 70 per cent of the race. The 70 per cent is an important milestone in a 24h race as it means that you have completed the minimum amount of time/race laps to be classified.

Extreme conditions for cars and drivers
We stopped at this point, 4 hours before the end, because the car was broken, done with. Although we had no accident, the car was finished: suspension broken, dampers broken, anti-roll bar broken, headlights broken, etc. The brutality, length, and speed of the race are such that you need to go on every single curb. The constant attacking, lap after lap, was too much.

It was not only the car that was impacted but also the drivers. We were constantly pushed back and forth, our helmets hitting the roll cage, our bodies flying up and down within our seat belt. It took me 48 hours to recuperate. It was tough!

Although we did not need to finish the race and take the checkered flag, we did. Twenty minutes before the end, the car was repaired, left the pits for the last time, and crossed the finish line.

We finished 32nd overall (out of 58), 8th in class (out of 15). We said goodbye to Spa. Two races are left, Nürburgring in September and Barcelona in October, after which the BMW M6 GT3 will be retired.

KARIM OJJEH

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