The world of motorsports has been choc-a-bloc with excitement. But perhaps more so for Sailesh Bolisetti and Phil Glew who saw their maiden GT4 win at the British GT Nürburgring race. Here is how it actually happened, word for word, from Sailesh.
Just about a month after my British GT debut, I found myself at Nürburgring in Germany for round two of the championship. Critically though, it was the only round outside our (Lotus Sport UK) base, which meant there was no chance to test before the weekend kicked off.
To be honest, I was a little (ok, quite!) worried about this and even a wee-bit more nervous than my first outing at Oulton. Here was a crazy, fast circuit – a current F1 track no less, and even though I knew it somewhat (did a smaller loop of the circuit for the Scirocco Race last year), I just had the two practice sessions to nail everything before qualifying.
But before the stress of the race began, we had reason to rejoice. Our team switched to the iconic (and visually stunning) black and gold livery that has been a part of Lotus’ heritage for decades, and is currently used by the Lotus Renault F1 team. It wasn’t merely a change for paint from red/white to black/gold. My teammate Phil Glew and I got to work with a new chassis as well, so everything was looking good.
As I eased out of the pitlane, the car felt immediately different even at those crawling speeds, but a bigger surprise awaited me out on the circuit. Joining the track and moving to the extreme left on the racing line for Turn 1, I expected to see the left-handed Turn 2 open up. But instead, I was forced to go sharply into a tight left almost immediately after. It turned out that a different layout of the track was being used, which left out the entire Mercedes Arena (the Turn 2/3 complex).
I basically then spent the next few minutes trying to figure out which corners joined where, while relating it to the track layout I already had in my head, thanks to playing racing games on my console. At the same time, I was also trying to get used to the suspension and brakes, as they were set-up quite differently from Oulton Park, due to the high-speed demands of this layout.
At the end of the day, we were third and first in the two free practice sessions – and this was supposed to be one of the toughest weekends of the season. We had more competition as well – Mazda and BMW were additional entries in this race.
So we were all pretty pleased with ourselves but then, things started going wrong during the Qualifying! The team decided to use brand-new brakes for the first session. This meant I had to spend a couple of laps bedding the new pads in. Given the qualifying is only 15 minutes, it was pretty tight. To make matters worse, the brakes didn’t feel right even after a couple of laps. The pedal was unusually soft and so I wasn’t confident in the braking zones. I managed to lock up a couple of times, into Turn 1 especially, and with the pressure mounting to put a lap in, it wasn’t the most ideal situation. My teammate endured his share of bad luck in the second qualifying session, as two damaged wheel-nuts left him stranded in the garage for seven minutes out of the 15-minute session. So he just had enough time to do a warm-up lap and just one timed lap.
We still managed P2, but given the tyres perform better on the second lap, we knew there was pace to come in the race. We were hoping that we had used up our entire share of misfortune in Qualifying and looked ahead to the races. It was looking close, so everything needed to be perfect to get a good result – stops, driver changes, managing traffic, everything!
But our run of bad luck seemed to continue as I came out of the pits and headed to the grid for the first race. The heavens opened up without warning while we were on slicks. I was somewhat cautious, but a bad patch caught me out and I had an untimely rendezvous with the Nürburgring barriers. It was a small impact so the team was able to patch things up in time for race start. The incident had left me unsure about the car so I was taking it easy to begin with. I had also lost the side-view mirror in the crash which meant nearly no peripheral vision – not very helpful if you’re trying to guess if there is a car close behind and which way he’s planning to go around you to overtake!
After what seemed like a race going on forever and ever, I finally pitted and the team discovered a slow puncture which explained the change in handling and balance I had been feeling. Phil took over after the stop, but the damage was done – we could do no better than fifth.
Race day for the second race dawned cloudy as well and threat of rain seemed imminent. Phil was behind the wheel for the opening stint this time and he was fighting it out throughout with the front-running Ginettas for the lead, just keeping them behind. He pitted just past the 30-minute mark, and handed me the car – and I knew my task well – maintain the lead and keep the car well out of the barriers. It was again close in the pits but we managed to turn the car around a little quicker so I had some more breathing space. Soon after though, one of the Ginettas retired due to a mechanical issue, giving me enough of a cushion to hold on. From then on it was about maintaining the lead and driving the car to its limits. I finally crossed the line 27 seconds ahead of the second-placed car. The sight of the chequered flag signalled the end of a topsy-turvy weekend with a sweet ending.
It was my first international win, so I was quite overwhelmed but more than me, it was the team that really deserved the win, given our tough weekend. They were always patient and perseverant despite us running into one disaster after the other. It surely can’t be our last triumph though, given the road ahead with the exceptionally strong competition we have. We can’t afford to lay back and relax so now it is all systems go for round three at Rockingham on June 9th.