Triple Eight ring the changes and take a top six Blancpain finish‏

Triple Eight Race Engineering made a splash in the Blancpain Endurance Series finale at Nürburgring, Germany this weekend taking an impressive sixth place finish on the team’s debut in the hotly contested PRO category, ninth overall, amidst torrid wet conditions. In contrast to the monsoon that would arrive on Sunday, practice and qualifying largely took place in balmy late summer sunshine. Progressing through a variety of setup options, the #888 Z4 was rarely out of the top ten overall runners in the hands of BMW factory racer Alexander Sims. Working together for the first time, Sims, 26, joined the multiple BTCC champion team to add insight into the Blancpain series’ Pirelli tyres and aid the acclimatisation of recent new signings Warren Hughes and Jody Firth with the impressive BMW GT3 machine. Qualifying was set to see Jody start in ‘Q1’, Warren run in ‘Q2’, and Alexander complete ‘Q3’ the third and final session of the afternoon. However, the clouds above unleashed rain and that meant that the fastest times of the day would, with the odd exception, be generated from ‘Q2’. After a precious few laps in the Z4 following two DNFs in British GT, Hughes posted a succession of quick laps, the first of the pair being the best; a 1:57.763. Hughes, an experienced multiple sportscar champion, gave Triple Eight a top ten qualifying result (tenth overall) and ninth in the PRO category, which this weekend featured factory supported entries from Audi, Bentley, Ferrari and McLaren. Sunday morning and the overnight fog remained well into the start of the race build-up. With two support races curtailed early due to the reduced visibility, questions were asked if the 1000km of Nürburgring would begin at the scheduled time. After a short delay and now with the added complexity of what Team Principal Ian Harrison described as “biblical” wet weather, teams began the race behind the safety car. This helped two-fold to remove standing water, and to give drivers a chance to familairise themselves with the conditions. Having qualified the BMW to such good effect, Warren began the race for Triple Eight in the Prism Commodities backed Z4. After the first ‘race’ lap Warren was up to seventh overall, sixth in class. The rate of attrition was high with overtakes and offs coming at a rate of two a lap in the opening stages. After an hour in the car, Warren pitted from twelfth overall, a brief spin dropping him down the order. With a heavy fuel load on board and the Pirelli tyres now seemingly at their optimum, Warren rejoined in 25th place and pushed on, making the most of his rival’s pit stop cycles. Two laps later Warren was up to fifteenth, but with the rain showing no signs of easing, parts of the track were now flooded. A stream of water ran across the track in sector two and this caught Warren out momentarily, but with a delft hand, the #888 BMW was still in the mix and rose to fourteenth with the rapid exit of the #1000 Audi at turn one. On the two hour mark Warren pitted to hand over to Jody and the 32-year-old Yorkshire terrier went in search of the top ten once more. After making up three places, a spin cost Jody 30s and he resumed in sixteenth overall, seventh in class. Despite never having driven the Nürburgring GP circuit before, Jody settled down quickly and was finding pockets of time across the 2.831-mile track, now settling into the 2:12-2:13 lap time range. A quick stop for fuel and new wet tyres after three hours gave Jody the confidence to push on and the times tumbled. While notable rivals met their maker, Jody kept his head and pitted to handover to Alexander in thirteenth place, a highly credible position and a good platform for our BMW ace to challenge from. Conditions were now far from ideal. On wet tyres on a drying track, handling worsened and it wasn’t long before rivals experimented with running slick tyres. A bold move for certain, but one that eventually began to pay off for the ART McLaren. With around an hour to go, #888 came into the pits from fourth in class. After initially selecting wets, a quick return to the pits put us on slicks ahead of some of our rivals and Alexander had momentum to challenge for points once more. This second stop dropped us to fifth in class and narrowly ahead of Steven Kane in the Bentley. With three laps to go Alexander was overcome by the Bentley, but a scintillating stint that required some confident driving by our the father-to-be ensured we crossed the line sixth in the PRO class, ninth overall; a huge result for the team, which had never competed and finished a race of this length previously. With a positive race in the top European GT3 series under its belt, the crack-British engineering outfit will now be seriously considering a move to the Blancpain Endurance Series for potential customers in 2015.Quotes: Warren Hughes: “The start wasn’t like anything I’ve experienced for quite some time. The conditions were really very poor. There were a lot of unknowns for us going into the race start; we don’t know the tyres very well at all, certainly not the wet weather variant. The level of standing water when I went to the grid was crazy; I couldn’t get to full throttle on any of the straights and I was really very anxious about how the car would be. Thankfully the start was under the safety car and that allowed everyone a chance to get heat in the tyres and understand grip levels. I settled in quickly, avoided the chaos on the first lap, and was keen to not push too hard; it was a case of 95 percent to stay alive in the first hour. I had a couple of little incidents, a spin under a downturn, then a spin on entry at turn seven with a Ferrari, but no damage. I think we came out of it okay really! The tyres were great, we triple-stinted the tyres and it was the right call, the team read it very well. I’m sure the team and drivers have learnt a lot from that race, it was a real baptism of fire with that weather. If you’d said before the weekend we’d be top ten in qualifying and the race, we’d have taken that, but your expectations progress as the weekend moves on. We’re happy though, let’s see what happens from here.” Jody Firth: “I’ve done a lot of wet races before, so it didn’t alarm me too much, but I’ve not had a wet race in the Z4 before, so I was a bit anxious. When the guys said to me that they wanted to triple stint the tyres, I was a bit unsure, but I went with it and it worked out well. Warren was still doing good times and I knew the tyres had some life in them for him to be able to do that. I did some good times out there; I think that was a result of who else was on track. There are so many professionals in the series, you have to be on your A-game all the time and hit the right braking points every lap. I really enjoyed that aspect of the racing. The new tyres allowed me to get my teeth into the race more, and the lap time I did was as quick as anyone on track at that time I believe. We came here to have a nice sensible race, and if we did that we knew that the result would take care of itself, and it did. Alexander has been great; he tells it like it is and his dry pace was really good, it was a shame we didn’t get to see him do a dry qualifying, but Warren’s performance was so good it didn’t hurt us. It’s been a great weekend and we go back to the UK happy with a top 6 finish.” Alexander Sims: "I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, it was a great race and highly eventful. It was really wet for the first four hours, but when I jumped in the car the track I got to do some wet laps, but soon after it was beginning to dry. The important call we made for tyres was in hindsight the wrong one, but once we went onto the slick tyre our pace was pretty strong and it goes to show the improvement we made over the weekend. Both team and drivers were relatively inexperienced in the Blancpain series, so we had to start somewhere with the tyres and set up and progress. We ended up with a decent race car and were able to put in quick laps and move forwards. With different levels of performance on track you're always going to catch cars on track, but given they are all GT3s, every overtake has to count and in those conditions, be fairly ballsy. It was good fun, lovely to be in a long endurance race and be out there with the best in GT3. Clearly the guys at the very front are at the top of their game with various levels of factory support, you don't get better GT3 line-ups anywhere in the world. I think it's something that was reachable for us today, but we had a few setbacks and small issues on track, and we had our reasons for not being absolutely right at the front. With a bit more experience on the Pirelli tyre and in less difficult conditions I think the team could be up there fighting for wins; when you see people like Bernd Schneider spinning, you know it was tricky!  It was a nice way to finish my first year as a BMW factory driver and good to work with another top British team and understand different philosophies on setup. The team did a good job and there are things that can now be improved, let's see what happens in the future."