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2021: a new Nordic adventure

2021 it has been another crazy year. Even if less than 2020 because COVID-19 pandemic has begun to be less aggressive on people worldwide, we still have a different Motorsport year.

The biggest adventure for the year has been engineer a BMW M4 GT4 in Sweden during the 2021 GT4 Scandinavia.

The Beginning

After a very formative 2020, both personally and in terms of work, where I learnt a lot about people and situations, 2021 began basically in the same way of 2020. In the UK, it was in force another full lockdown since December 2020 and nobody knew how much this would last. This was meaning that having any kind of confirmation from racing teams for 2021 was very difficult. A lot of championship in Europe were still on a provisional calendar and some of those were moving the start of the season later in the year. In March, I started to be a bit worried about having a job for 2021 non-simulation related. Teams were answering me, but nobody had a true commitment for the season for me. Until Lestrup Racing Team answer me they were searching for a race engineer. They are based in Sweden and they won the STCC 2020 with Rob Huff. For 2021, they planned to race four Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR and that's the reason why they were searching for engineering staff. They were expanding.

The GT4 proposal

After a first interview with the Team Owner and with the Technical Director, a lot was going on internally in the team and I ended up to receive an offer to engineer a BMW M4 GT4 for the GT4 Scandinavia 2021 campaign. The GT4 Team was completely new in terms of drivers and mechanics. Moreover, mechanics were very experienced working on road cars, but they never managed to work on a race car before. Due to very short time to prepare the first event of the year, no testing was planned and we started together directly on the pay test of the Round 1.

Round 1 - Skelleftea

With this very new team, we arrived at Skelleftea for GT4 Scandinavia 2021 Round 1 in mid-June. The situation was very particular and amazing: being in the far north of Sweden in June, we raced with the Midnight Sun! Basically, in Sweden there is this summer period every year where the sun simply stays up in the sky for 24 hour straight. Racing in those conditions were super-fun and super-amazing! At 11pm you've got the same light you can have at 5pm!!! Something to try once in a life, for sure!

Car start setup very standard because almost nobody has experience on the car and we used the first practice sessions to make kilometres with both drivers, in order to start the understanding of the car. Qualifying wasn't too bad after focusing only on data analysis and driving coaching trying to put all together a decent performance. Race 1 became our first GT4 Scandinavia victory. A great race were strategy at the pitstop and driving for both drivers was almost perfect and we managed to finish P1 and leading the championship in the PRO-AM Class. Race 2 was good too, but we needed to pay 10 seconds penalty at the pit stop for winning Race 1 and we managed to finish P3 the race. Basically, we started as a completely new team and we manage to leave the first round of the GT4 Scandinavia leading the championship! Completely unexpected but something I thought we could achieve after working of this guys for a couple of sessions. That is one of the part I love more of Motorsport: you can make a difference with hard work. In that event, we were the first to come at the track in the morning and the last to leave in the night. I think there is nothing I need to add.

Round 2 - Gellerasen Arena

After the great result, the team decided to do a private test to learn more from the car, considering the potential, just coming back from the Summer Break. We tested in Anderstorp in very mixed conditions, so we've got data from the car in very particular conditions and we needed validation in full dry conditions. Round 2 was the same week at Gellerasen Arena. Difficult track for the BMW because our car is a very big car and the circuit is perfect for a TCR car. In those conditions we knew that validation from Anderstorp test would be difficult to achieve and also that the race week end would be difficult in terms of results. Toyota was a lot faster than anyone else since the first practice session, but working on driving style and on car setup, we managed to finish P4 Race 1. For us in this track, that was a very good result. Considering the improvement throughout the race week end, we went in Race 2 to search for a podium, using the Race 1 podium penalties of the first 3 teams. During the race the pace for our goal was absolutely there and in just a couple of days we moved from a "we need to finish the race as a main goal" to "we can fight for the podium". And that was great! Unfortunately, a couple of mistakes during the race from the amateur driver make us finished Race 2 at the back. That was good points for the championship lost, but feedback from the car was that finally we solved the problem we had for the whole week end and we were able to fight nicely on track. Team was improving and everybody was seeing this, but in this sport you win and you lose together. Heads up on Round 3 with a P3 in the championship to defend.

Round 3 - Anderstorp

Finally, we had the opportunity to validate on dry conditions what we tested in Anderstorp during the summer test. A track were BMW is very strong overall and we went there to fight back the Toyota and the McLaren in the championship. First pay test, we run on dry conditions the mixed conditions setup we had from the test. Balance of the car was very bad and completely the opposite from what we learnt on the test three weeks earlier. We learnt that the BMW is very sensitive to track conditions for a GT4 car and we start to work hard for recovering performance. We did that: Race 1 we finished P1 starting from mid-grid. The team and myself were super-happy for what achieved and those were extremely nice points for the championship with the Toyota collecting a 0-point race (they were disqualified because they weren't respect the BoP since the beginning of the season) and McLaren finishing P2. The recovering for the championship victory was officially started, despite the issues at the beginning of the week end. All this general excitement became a nightmare: 0.298 seconds too fast on the minimum pit stop time and 31 seconds penalty on the results from Race 1. From P1 to P5 in no time. Time is time and we moved to Race 2 knowing we can take advantage from our performance and from the fact we avoid time penalties for finishing out from the podium. And we were doing it again, starting P7 after the pit stop we were already on the podium fighting for P2, while a missing braking point in turn 3 makes us finishing P4 the race. We had a great overall performance that could give us another victory in Race 1 and a P2 in Race 2, but we finished only P5 and P4 the two races. Not what we deserved, but un-experience mistakes made us to finish like that. Still possible to be in the Top 3 in the championship, but very difficult to win. The good thing for the whole team was that everybody learnt something very important in Anderstorp, from me to the mechanics, passing from drivers.

Round 4 - Mantorp Park

In Mantorp Park the plan was to capitalise the third position in the championship. We knew we had a very good setup as a start for the race and Mantorp is another good track in terms of characteristics for the BMW. After not putting together the lap during both wet qualifying, we started both races P9. BMW is not great on wet conditions, but anyway we should put together a better performance. Race 1 started amazing: after turn 1 we were P5, after 7 laps we were P2. The only one to try slicks on very mixed conditions (the track was drying up quickly). On the line up procedure, every top team got confused about what tyres to use because we were the only one arriving without wet tyres mounted. And this paid off considering what we were doing during the race. After the pit stop, Safety Car was out and we could try to win the race. With Toyota completely within the regulations, we could finally fight on the same performance basis with them. And we were actually fighting with them, when they hit us on the last corner, trying to overtake. We retired the car with the rear left toe arm bent and the finished P4 the race. Race director decided for race incident and we lost another potential victory and very nice points for the championship. We were again in a situation for Race 2 were we could do a lot: car performance was very good and no penalties from Race 1, having finish DNF. The mood in the team wasn't great, but you cannot contest a Race Director decision even if everybody in our pit box was thinking that was not a race incident. So, we moved on to Race 2. Our Race 2 lasts 9 laps: the amateur driver were doing a very nice job, recovering positions from the initial P9, but he missed the braking point in turn 1 and went off. While rejoining not in the safest way possible, we hit the Audi coming from behind and we destroyed the front right suspension. Another DNF and finished the championship P6. Toyota won the championship.

The day after

We absolutely didn't finished the championship as we could for mistakes we could avoid. But from both my and the team point of view we put the basis for doing a great result. The team has been a lot improved since the beginning and without issues and mistakes we could win at least 3 races and doing a lot of podiums. Probably, the championship story would be different, but it is what it is and we can only learn from our mistakes. During winter off season we had a lot to work on for 2022. I am looking forward to start the 2022 as soon as possible because Lestrup Racing Team has been one of the best team I have ever work with for the environment, the technical knowledge, and, especially, for the people.

We regret a bit the 2021 results, but it's not useful to think about something you cannot change, you can just learn and improve based on your own experience. I improved myself a lot working in the GT4 Scandinavia this year and I can say the same for the BMW team: drivers and mechanics!

Next year (maybe finally a normal Motorsport year) plans are great and hopefully also the performance! We can be the outsiders and achieve a lot because we absolutely have the potential! I hope I can tell you more about the 2022 big plans soon!

Stay tuned and thanks for sharing my life and passion!

Davide De Russis

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