John Allen and Kris Wilson got off to a strong start in SRO Pirelli GT4 SprintX America competition with a podium finish in the season-opening event at Circuit of The Americas.
Allen and Wilson placed second in the Am class in the first of two races of SRO competition on the Austin circuit, co-driving the No. 16 AutoTechnic Racing, University of Alabama College of Engineering BMW M4 GT4 in Saturday’s 24-lap race. A fourth-place finish in the Sunday round added additional points in the opening stages of the eight-event championship.
"The week got off to a great start with a stop on Monday at the U of A campus in Tuscaloosa, AL”, said Allen. “We had a great time with students, faculty, and staff. The race cars looked very cool parked in front of H. M. Comer Hall. The media came out in force to support us. Sheldon Haygood from WBRC Fox 6 Birmingham motivated me. ( video clip: http://www.wbrc.com/video/2019/02/28/video-john-allen-race-driver/ ) Well, I was prophetic and 5 days later stepped up on the Pirelli GT4 America SprintX Am podium for the first time. I only get to step up onto that podium for the first time once. It was a special moment for me.”
The trip to the podium was that much sweeter given the adversity that the effort had to overcome during the event.
"We had some bad luck in our first test session Thursday morning,” said Allen. “We got a low coolant alarm in the cockpit, the motor got hot quick and was done shortly thereafter. Our AutoTechnic Racing crew stepped up to the challenge like I have never seen before. Blown motor? No problem! They sourced a motor within the hour and arranged to get it to the track from Classic BMW in Plano, TX and was sitting next to the car by 4PM. Never mind that it was cold and wet and the motor hoist broke and they “borrowed” a forklift from the track in the middle of the night. While Kris and I enjoyed a relaxing dinner and a good night’s sleep, Rob Driscoll, Charlie Scott, Ken Hubbard, Nick Jacob, and Duke Echols got after it and pulled an all-nighter. Where legends are made? I think so. What seemed like a lost weekend on Thursday morning, turned into an incredible one on Saturday morning.”
“One of the things I like most about racing is the camaraderie and sportsmanship among teams in the paddock,” continued Allen. “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Toby Grahovec at Classic BMW for getting us the new motor. We are competitors and he wanted us back on track."
“It was a challenging weekend since we lost a motor,” said Allen’s co-driver Wilson. “The AutoTechnic team did a great job getting the new motor put in overnight. I think we all learned a lot about the new BMW GT4 car and all the systems. I’m looking forward to the next round at VIR.”
Allen started the Round 1 race. "I managed to keep us out of trouble,” said Allen. “We had a good pit stop and Kris climbed in and got busy. He capitalized nicely on a full course caution and re-start late in the race which moved us quickly up the leaderboard and finished us on the AM podium."
Allen did double-duty during the weekend, also finishing a lead-lap 16th in the opening TC America race, driving the No. 21 BMW M240iR.
“It was a great effort overall, although I was overly ambitious in trying to race in two different cars,” said Allen, a retired engineer and United States Air Force Reserve Major who began racing six years ago at age 54. “It was a great feeling to finish on the podium for the first time in World Challenge."
The races were held in chilly and damp conditions at the very technical 3.427-mile circuit, home of the United States Grand Prix. Allen raced at the circuit five times in the past, placing 2nd in the NASA national championship there last fall in the German Touring Series 4 class, driving a 2006 Porsche 911.
“With 20 turns that are mostly technical, it takes more than a few laps to master COTA,” Allen said. “The stretch of esses between Turns 2-10 are the key to that track for me. If I can’t roll through that section on the right line, the right speed, my laps fall apart. Once I can carry good speed through that stretch, the rest of the track becomes less of a challenge.”
Allen started working with Wilson two years ago for coaching on his home track, High Plains Raceway in Deer Trail, Colorado. The first time they worked together for a pro event was the World Challenge event last fall at Watkins Glen.
“Kris is an awesome driver, and he’s really good in that car,” Allen said. “He’s been driving race cars for over 30 years, and he’s still at the top of his game. He’s one of the best drivers out there. On the other hand, I'm a humble gentleman driver and I’ve only been racing for a few years. I’m still learning that car, and I really want to help Kris more to carry my weight. We’ve only driven the M4 a few of times, and we will be doing more testing. As I get more up to speed, we will be running closer to the front.”
Running a second BMW enabled Allen to get double the track time during the Austin weekend. However, it proved to be more than twice the work, trying to be competitive in two very different cars.
“I was underwhelming in the TC races,” Allen admitted. “It was just a little bit too much “There’s just enough difference between the two cars in terms of shifting points, braking points, gearing ratios, and power, that it was tough to be consistent in either car while I was trying to drive both cars interchangeably. I didn’t do very well in the Touring Car, but we did reasonably well in the GT4. So it was an amazing weekend overall that started badly.”
“It’s very difficult to maintain any kind of consistency in either car when you’re jumping back and forth,” Allen said. “I knew what the challenges would be going into the COTA race, but I thought I would benefit from the extra track time going into the lower-horsepower car. But in reality, I found it actually hurt me when I went back to the faster car. So I will focus on the one car, and the team is going to sign a driver for the M240iR for the rest of the season as there are several drivers who are already interested.”
For the next SRO event at Virginia International Raceway on April 26-28, Allen will concentrate on racing the BMW M4 GT4.
“We learned a lot are moving on. Can’t wait for the next round at VIR, on to Virginia, Roll Tide Roll!…”
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