STRONG RACE PACE AT SLOVAKIARING RUINED BY OTHERS
TUESDAY 12 AUGUST 2014

With the European summer holidays coming to an end it was time for Nathan Morcom to climb aboard the Qantas A380 and head back to Germany to continue his rookie season of the ADAC GT Masters Championship.

Actually there was very little holiday to be had in Europe, despite it being heralded as such. One only has to glance at his fellow racers and see just what level of competition he is up against. Take Danish Audi factory driver Nicki Thiim, who was loaned out to Aston Martin for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the weekend after the Red Bull Ring event. Nicki, along with his Danish co-drivers brought Car 95 home to win the GTE-AM category. It was an enormous emotional effort, in what was Allan Simonsen's car from 2013. Quite rightly, Aston Martin Racing dedicated the win to Allan. And then there is René Rast. His holidays consisted of winning the 24 Hours of Nürburgring and then backing it up by doing the same at the 24 Hours of Spa! Up and down pitlane there are similar stories to be heard from different parts of the world which just goes to show that driving every weekend, as most do, delivers results. However, this Nathan's first GT experience at such a professional level and only in sprint format. That's fine for now, come 2015 the enduro lessons will commence.

Round 5 of the championship is held at the ultra fast Slovakiaring, in Western Slovakia. The 5.922km circuit is a challenge for the drivers, with several top gear corners and a tricky infield section. Unfortunately for the fans, it is rather dull – the flat layout means spectators don't get much of an idea of what is going on in the race and will be reduced to watching the TV coverage.

Prior to the race weekend, many teams took the opportunity of participating in the non-compulsory test day. With Mario Farnbacher and his brother Dominik racing at Road America this weekend as part of the Tudor United Sports Car Championship, Porsche drafted Alex Riberas to substitute as Nathan's co-driver.

The 20 year old Barcelona native Spaniard had been drafted into the Porsche family as a junior works driver in 2013 and was an excellent choice for the weekend.

Unfortunately things did not get off to as smooth a start as had been expected, after Alex ran wide on a fast corner and damaged the splitter. As it turned out, after a considerable amount of time had been wasted trying to work out why the front of the car was acting like a ping pong ball at 250kph, the problem was traced to the welded mount point on the chassis of the 997 GT3R racer. At rest, all looked fine. The welds were in place but the bracket had cracked through the middle yet on inspection, at rest, it looked ok. More than half the day was thus wasted as the problem was tracked down. Naturally, since Alex is a Factory Driver, it was only fair that a 'factory-quality' weld was performed. Enter Horst Farnbacher, who with such precision, solved the problem. By days end, all was good, but the boys were left lamenting the downtime and would spend the evening hundled around the laptop, overlaying each others data to bring Nathan up to the level of Alex.

Slovakiaring saw a new partner – SnowballOne – a clever Melbourne/UK based digital marketing agency.


Friday morning was hot and humid with less bearable weather to follow. However, its all relative. Australians are used to extreme heat, the Europeans are more adapted to cold times but it was clearly visible after the first practice session the locals were suffering more than Nathan.

Such a long track. Neither driver had been here before and so it was still a case of learning the way around rather than setting times, which were meaningless anyway since the quality of tyres varied so much from the fastest (2.01) on stickers and Nathan (2.04) with a well used set from the last round at Spielberg. What's the point in wasting new rubber when you don't know the track. To illustrate that point, the sister car of Philipp Frommenwiler and Sebastian Asch were runing mid 2.03's on fresher rubber before going with stickers. They rocketed into mid 2.01's and P3. Nathan and Alex were P18, saving the new stuff for the afternoon run.

As the ambient temperature climbed to 30C and track temperature to 49C it was clear that the second session would be slower. And it was, but it served the purpose of further learning the track and evaluating the different ride height and stiffness settings.

With qualifying set to run at 4.50pm, Nathan was first. This would mean he would start the Saturday race and Alex the Sunday sprint. The young Australian would dip into the mid 2.03's which netted grid position 22. Once again, perspective is needed. Kelvin van de Linde, the championship leader, could only manage 13th which was 0.8sec difference, with the entire field being within 3.5 seconds of each other.

Once again, a BMW Z4 GT3 took the pole, the general paddock consensus being it was the weapon of choice throughout the season, to date.

Slovakiaring is an 8 hour drive from FBR HQ, in Lichtenau, Germany. 8.5hrs, if a kebab stop is included.


Nathan did feel he could have gone quicker, however, admitting to a slight error on his fast lap.

"I made a bit of a mistake when I shouldn't have, running a touch wide at Turn 10. Came in too hot and was on the marbles going out. But we race better than we qualify and thats where the jewels are.

Performance equalisation is a tricky formula for the DMSB, Germany's governing motorsport body. Like anywhere in the world, you can't please everyone and so it is a constantly changing thing. However it was clear the Porsche was handicapped compared to other marques. Just look at Spielberg and there was the Camaro way out in front, on a true power circuit. Over the summer break, DMSB adjusted the Porsche balance-of-performance by allowing the air restictor to be opened up 4mm to 60mm. But simulataneously added a 5kg weight penalty. Hard to fathom the logic in the second move.

There was a quick ten minute turnaround and Alex was in. Horst Farnbacher was running the team this weekend in the absence of Dominik. His strategy is often to hold a driver back a bit, waiting for the first gaggle of qualifiers to do their run, rather than have a car baulked by others on their cool down lap. From the outside looking in, that was at odds with Alex, who paced the garage relentlessly until finally being given the order to belt up and go. Yet again we must provide a frame of reference underlying the extreme level of the championship which was a rude awakening for the young Factory Driver, qualifying 21st. To say there were long faces in the garage was an understatement, but then again these are full Le Mans spec GT cars, not Carrera Cup or even Supercup spec racers, which differ only by exhaust. The step up to GT3 is significant.


Nathan made a brilliant start in race one to dispose of six cars before turn three.


Saturday morning dawned clear with a predicted 31C on the late afternoon horizon, although the race would be held from 12:00 to 13:00.

The autograph session was a joke, consisting of three locals, but then again this is a German championship in the middle of nowhere in Slovakia. Who knows why the World Tour Car Championship is held here! At 11:15am cars rolled out, grided up and it started to look more like what a motor race should look like. Lycra clad six foot blondes draped over cars. A couple getting married. And a birthday cake in the shape of an Audi R8. Grid fun.

Formation started at 11:55 with the Pixum BMW Z4 leading the way, before being unleashed at on the dot of twelve. Everyone made a clean start through turn one. Nathan was immediately on the pace, staying on the inside line, disposing of six cars by the exit of turn two. Things were going well, until a Corvette spun at T3. Whilst not an immediate threat, it starting rolling backwards and Nathan had to take an evasive outside line, whilst the others went inside. All that good work was immediately undone and he found himself second last, before getting on with the job and moving up to 17th before pitting at the 29 minute point.

Alex Riberas was not there to greet him. He'd mixed up which side of the car to get into. Not that it was a right hand drive race car, rather his mind told him that the drivers side was on the fast lane. The previous weekend he was racing at Red Bull Ring and the pitlane direction is the reverse of Slovakiaring. There was additional time wasted as he tried desperately to click his belts in. Twenty Four second in total were lost. Alex did redeem himself by putting in a fast error free drive with the only disruption to proceedings was a single safety car, after the one of the HTP SLS took out a Rowe Racing SLS at T6. The field bunched up and racing was back on allowing Alex to bring the car home in 15th. No points, but his speed was there. The Saturday car was what we needed in qualifying. Disappointing, but thats how it is.


With Mario Farnbacher busy at Road America driving the Team Seattle Porsche GTD alongside brother Dominik in the SRT Viper GTLM, Porsche Junior Factory Driver Alex Riberas was drafted into the team for the Slovakiaring round.

Sunday Morning warm up saw Alex in the car and put in a 2.03.2 which was exactly what the professor of Car 5, Ewald Mayer, had asked. A quick pitstop practice and it was time for more autographs. Fans did in fact turn up, but the attention was on Car 6, which had ended up in the gravel trap with Sebastian Asch aboard. It wasn't a good look with the team having to detatch the entire floor of the car to remove the rocks. A radiator was also required.

It was even more humid today but it didn't seem to faze Alex, who was the nominated starter. And start he did, from 21st position and made a clean break to 13th by the end of T1.

Ahead, all hell broke loose, with the #10 Audi of René Rast coming together with a Corvette, which in turn took the #6 FBR car out on the spot. Alex was fortunate to escape, almost. The tail end of the accident was almost impossible to see with the dust and debris flying, but someone tagged the right rear of his car that would cause him to pit several laps later, the gearbox stuck. The mechanics descended and tried to resolve the issue, which cost six laps and any chance of a points finish. Alex went back out to see if it was solved and it appeared so. But then he pitted prior to the window being open! At that point it became a test day and Nathan was installed for the remainder of the race to gain as much track time.

Then, René Rast trundled his Audi R8 LMS down pitlane, taking a drive-through penalty, signifying his responsibility for the opening lap maleé.

Shortly after, Maxi Buhk picked up a puncture in his HTP Motorsport AMG SLS and parked it in a valunerable position, forcing a safety car period.

Nathan was back on track, but found himself sandwiched between the lead Corvette and the second placed BMW. With the marshalls taking an eternity to remove the SLS, it was clear there may only be time for a single lap sprint to the finish – not something Nathan needed to be involved in, being six laps down.

Horst made the call to pit him and let him rejoin after the freight train had gone through. Yet, still the SLS was being lowered onto the flatbed by the fumbling marshalls. Now, with 22 seconds on the clock, the green light was illuminated, but by the time the last car had gone over the start finish line the clock had stopped and pit exit was closed. The end of Nathan and Alex's day. It had been a very promising weekend, with both drivers having excellent race pace, despite the car being a difficult qualifier.


Ex-F1 driver and winner of the 2014 Nürburgring 24 Hour chases Nathan on the front straight.


On the positive side, Nathan had not put a foot wrong all weekend and he was not responsible for any damage.

The championship takes a couple of weeks off before round six at Nürburgring in the Eiffel Mountains. A possible test day maybe had prior. In the mean time, Nathan is going to visit relatives in Germany whilst your writer takes a look at Bratislava in Slovakia and Budapest, in Hungary.


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