Without doubt, the road course is the favorite component of any etGP, and this year would be no different. Traditionally, it takes place on the last day of the event. However, this year it would move to the second day due to a scheduling conflict.
With the field already reduced by one S4, eight cars descended upon Streets of Willow to set the fastest lap. All competitors are given three 20-minute practice sessions throughout the morning to setup the cars. After lunch, each team gets three timed laps to set their best time. However, the heat of the day and heat of competition took its toll, as you'll discover.
The cars were split into run groups that saw the VWs out first. The pace was set by WRD, even though they claimed the car was down on power and only running on three cylinders at times. However, a respectable 1:30.299 saw them 3sec faster than Kinetic, who were suffering from "too much boost", and 12sec faster than Bahn Brenner (BBM) who used ContiSportContact 2 tires rather than the newer CSC 3s because the size they wanted wasn't available.
The second run group was the two BMWs and Focus. However, Groma had slept in so the field was depleted. The Madness Motorworks 135i set the fastest time with a 1:29.580 even though they were making shock adjustments and getting used to the track. The FocusSport car was slipping around on the dusty track and was 3sec slower as a result.
Somebody from the third group was expected to win the event since it housed the powerful AWD cars. And 034Motorsport set the pace with an impressive 1:27.897. The team was enjoying the experience, having made significant changes to the car since last year, including a widebody to give them more rubber (see profile). However, the most devious alteration had occurred overnight, with the team swapping its huge GT4508R turbo used on the dyno for a smaller GT35R that would give better throttle response on the track.
The AWD HPA Motorsports R32 was 2sec slower but the team happily reported it was running without problems.
In the second 20min practice session, WRD piled on the pressure, lapping in 1:28.131. This was the second fastest at the time and proved the team's suspension tuning was paying dividends. Kinetic had turned down its boost all the way and was looking to reduce it further. They had made up 1sec on WRD, while BBM had knocked 8sec off their previous time as they too retarded the boost on their 1.8T.
Unfortunately, the Rabbit blew a coolant hose, dropping water onto the tires and causing a spin. It halted the session while the car was recovered and John Betz from BBM thought his run of bad luck was continuing, having failed to complete an etGP with his supercharged Corrado in the past. However, the hose was soon replaced and the car was back on track.
The Madness 135i found more speed, dropping to 1:28.971 after some mild suspension tuning. The team reported the car was handling well and making the most of its power upgrades as well as the factory Brembo brakes.
The FocusSport coupe had knocked a further 1.5sec off its times and the team was happy with its progress, although they felt it would have been quicker without the heavy full stereo in the trunk!
Groma finally made an appearance and its 325i V8 ran a 1:32.858 but admitted they were trying to figure out the right settings and the tire pressures.
In the AWD class, 034 encountered a misfire and sat out the session in an attempt to cure it. Meanwhile, HPA recorded a 1:28.811, which was within fractions of a second of their first session time.
Despite some very quick lap times, the engine problems on the WRD GTI persisted until the car pulled off the track amid a cloud of smoke. It turns out the misfire was worse than envisaged and resulted in a holed block that lead to an oil fire under the car. Again the session was halted while the car was recovered and sadly WRD's etGP was over.
With BBM working on the cooling system, only Kinetic made it out in the session. They were marginally slower as the heat of the day increased and the car continued to struggle for traction out of the slower corners.
However, the Madness 135i was running trouble-free and was even lifting an inside front tire coming out of some corners. They managed to reduce their lap time to 1:28.215 to show consistent improvements throughout the session.
Similarly, the FocusSport car was running faultlessly and the team dropped down to a 1:30.794 in the final practice session to show a steady improvement.
The Groma team was having fun playing with the cars oversteering out of the corners and lifting a front wheel but the supercharged V8 looked like it was a handful as they were unable to match earlier times.
In the AWD class, 034 was still working on its misfire and HPA was happy with the car but didn't improve on earlier times.
After lunch, each team was invited to run its three timed laps to set their quickest times for the record. Madness Motorworks was first to the line in its 135i. The team had showed consistent form in its mildly-tuned 1-Series Coupe and on the first of its three timed laps they set a 1:28.171. This wasn't the fastest they'd done all day and they wondered if it would be enough. As it transpires, it was the fastest lap of the day by almost 0.5sec, giving the team the trophy for fastest lap at etGP08.
What's remarkable is just how composed the car had been throughout the day. The team had managed to install some effective modifications and overcome the car's weakness - its skinny front tires. They'd squeezed some wide rubber up front and even resolved the 135i's notorious oil temp problems that cause it to go into limp mode on the track. These clever mods and good driving by Brian Smith allowed the team to claim a surprise victory.
In second place, with a time of 1:28.662, was the very sick Audi from 034. Clearly the misfire hadn't been fully resolved, so it wasn't showing its expected dominance. After an overnight stripdown, the team discovered the crank had snapped, forcing them to retire from etGP08.
Third place went to HPA with a time of 1:28.834. It was the R32's fastest time of the day and everybody expected its AWD to be a real advantage. However, the car seemed to be understeering quite badly - a common problem with the nose-heavy R32.
In fourth was the Groma E30 with a time of 1:29.552. This was their fastest time of the day and more preparation might have seen further improvements, although oversteer seemed to be the biggest obstacle.
Fifth place went to Kinetic with a strong 1:30.507 - not their fastest time all day but respectable given the traction problems they faced with the ridiculous amount of power under the hood.
In sixth was the FocusSport coupe with a 1:30.932, marginally slower than their best practice time. This powerful front-drive turbo was also struggling against weight and traction issues but the team soldiered on and recorded a very respectable time.
Seventh place went to the BBM Rabbit with a 1:33.032 lap time - almost 1.5sec better than they'd done in practice. Despite its lightweight chassis, the Mk1 also had traction problems and development was interrupted by its coolant issues. But it's great to see the older cars still competing in the event and the team having so much fun.