Sailesh Bolisetti and teammate Phil Glew battled a rain-slick circuit in Oulton Park to come out in second in Round 1 of the British GT. Here’s how it happened.
By Sailesh Bolisetti
After putting in some solid sessions behind the wheel of the Lotus Evora GT4 at Oulton Park last month, I could barely wait to return for the race weekend just 10 days later. I was brimming with anticipation and busy playing out various scenarios in my head for days on end; thinking what the race would be like, how the qualifying would go and of course, doing endless virtual laps of the circuit even while driving in choc-a-bloc Vizag traffic!
But it so turned out that all those scenarios and virtual laps were relegated to the dustbin once the race weekend arrived good and proper.
In fact I had a little pre-race adventure of my own, as an appetiser for the race weekend even before I could get to Cheshire (where Oulton Park circuit is based). It involved a missed domestic connection, one clueless immigration agent and 12 hours at the Mumbai airport!
Long story short, I arrived at Heathrow barely 12 hours ahead of my first-ever official practice session in British GT. And I still had a 300km+ drive ahead as I was staying near the circuit. The team informed me that it had been raining through Friday too, so it was a nightmare full house!
I somehow managed to catch a few winks before getting to the circuit nice and early since our session was scheduled at 7.30am. My body was still figuring out the time difference, the jet lag made worse by the ‘The Terminal’-sque stint at Mumbai airport.
And torrential rain was pounding the circuit!
Everything was so stacked up against me that I could do nothing but laugh.
Anyway, we got on with the programme. It was my first time on the wet tyres, and the full circuit as during my test I only drove on the shorter ‘Fosters’ layout.
My teammate Phil Glew was again at hand to help me out, as the wet lines at Oulton Park are completely different from dry. So I quickly got used to the car characteristics on wet tyres and improved considerably throughout the session, which turned out great in retrospect as little did we know that the weather wouldn’t let up till race day.
During second practice, the track was still damp but deemed good for slicks. With conditions improving, I was able to go much faster and was getting into the groove. By the time the second session ended, I was confident of my pace and looking forward to qualifying.
And that’s when it all went wrong!
Now the British GT format includes two qualifying sessions, the results of each deciding grid position for the each of the two races.
So the qualifying sessions are short, just 15 minutes each; enough to warm up, find a gap in traffic and nail a couple of laps. But even before I could find a gap, the car wasn’t working too well, much worse than what it was in wet practice. I couldn’t break harder or turn sharper. There was a lot of vibration and there seemed to be no grip. I wasn’t sure what was wrong, and was more worried since the clock was counting down. In the end I could do no better than fourth on the grid, and was confused even after I came into the pits at the end of qualifying.
After looking at the data and listening to my description, the team informed me that I hadn’t been able to get the brakes and tyres into the operating temperature window.
Why? It was simple. Because I didn’t know how.
The problem was in the fact that in all sessions before this, Phil took the wheel first, did the job of warming up the car and doing a few laps to set a benchmark before handing it over to me. Relieved of this ‘warm-up’ ritual, I was blissfully unaware of the procedures required while taking the wheel for an opening stint. Anyway, there was no point crying over spilled fuel, and we decided to make the best of the situation and hope for a good race from fourth.
The races were scheduled on Monday instead of Sunday, as the church in the county overpowers everything else, hence no racing is allowed on Sunday. Beat that! So it was nice, relaxed Easter Sunday in British countryside, but my head was abuzz with activity. The forecast wasn’t encouraging, the rain would return in full force for the race. So it was felt good knowing that I had completed some wet running. I was most concerned about the rolling start, well because, I had never done one before. Karters are familiar with the art, but I had nothing but some basic instructions from Phil to go on.
So as we got the green flag, I managed to nail the start while the rain got intense. I could see a few cars going off in the opening laps. It was a long race, and I told myself not to throw it away. So, I was trying to keep all wheels on the black stuff and keeping my nose out of trouble, of which there was plenty. It was easier said than done though, since the bunched-up GT3 cars were throwing up an awful amount of spray and I had to basically follow their taillights at a distance. It was all working well until the safety car was deployed in the 23rd minute after one of the GT3 cars stopped on the circuit. For us, the timing couldn’t have been worse as the safety car came up right after the first GT4 car, giving them an extraordinary edge over everyone. I had to hand over the car to Phil (two drivers share a car, remember?) and we were already in the pitstop window (between 25th and 35th minute). To make it worse, a few GT3 cars had pitted during the safety car period and were now behind us. I knew on the restart, with them being much faster, we’d all end up on the same piece of racetrack, and I wouldn’t get a chance to pass the GT4 cars ahead.
On restart, that’s exactly what happened.
The GT3 cars literally bullied us out of the way. I had to go off the racing line to let a bunch of them through and lost quite a few seconds in the process. I finally came in after 30 minutes to hand the car over to Phil. The pit crew was excellent, and we actually made some time in the stops. Phil obviously revels in conditions like this so he put in a quick, strong stint and we ultimately finished second.
We were then looking at a dry race two, until a few minutes from the start when heavens opened up on the formation lap. This time though, it was Phil who would start the race, having secured pole position in his qualifying session on Saturday. Throughout his stint, Phil was sparring with the Ginetta of Fannin, and he was managing to keep him off. When he came into the pits, we were separated by just 2.3 seconds. The rain had intensified in the meantime, which made my task of keeping Fannin – a highly experienced former BTCC driver – tougher. In fact the conditions seemed worse than race one.
It was really close at times and of course I knew he was vastly more experienced when it came to stuff like where the grip lies in the wet. I defended the position for as long as I could, but he eventually got past. I thought of challenging him, but I realised it was better to settle for second rather than take it one too far and put it in the barriers to wipe out a weekend’s worth of good work in one single stroke. With two podium finishes on debut and some good points – I can’t really complain. Of course winning on debut is a dream but I’ll settle for now, and look at the championship ahead.
Our next stop is the Green Hell – the Nurburgring on 17th May, we are running as the support race to the 24-hour race there. That is going to be one epic weekend!