Race Report: 2016 8 Oras ng Pilipinas
December 3 to 4, 2016, Clark International Speedway Result: 3rd in Class (FM1), 9th Overall
This was our maiden entry into endurance racing, and our inexperienced showed. An oil starvation problem forced the crew to drop the oil pan and fabricate a baffle out of scraps found around the racetrack. A lack of experience, equipment and preparation meant costed the team in many ways. But the team persevered and finished an improbable 3rd in the FM1 class and 9th overall out of a field of 30.
After the issues we encountered during our shakedown session, the team was once again hard at work to get the car ready. New oil pump was installed, along with an oil cooler. And when practice first started on Saturday, we were in very high spirits. Shakedown included, nobody had more than 4 laps in the car, with two of the drivers having zero seat time. But we were confident in ourselves and confident in our car.
Driver order was decided, with George Apacible going first, followed by Diego Granizo, Enrique Hormillo, Stefan Ramirez and Francis Aguila. We expected up to two more stints, and team manager EZ Ligaya would decide who to slot in there, depending on their performance and energy levels.
Stefan took the first stint in practice, clocking great lap times while not pushing too hard. The handling was great, and the car felt really solid. We had our sights set pretty high until he came back to the pits and we heard an awful sound - the valve tappets were ticking loudly, signaling a bit of oil starvation.
After a few minutes of trying to figure out the problem, we realized that the oil in the oil pan was sloshing to one side during cornering, away from the pickup. Fortunately, experienced race engineer Miguel Ramirez along with our tireless mechanic, Jhay-R, were able to find a solution - create a baffle on the spot. But without a lifter or special tools needed to perform such a specific task, things looked bleak. Finding materials to fabricate the baffle was a challenge by itself. We lost some oil in the process and finding a source of 10W-60 in such a short timeframe was near impossible. And when a bolt sheared when the pan was dropped, it only made the job even more daunting.
But in the face of adversity, the team really came together. The crew searched frantically for all the materials we needed to get the car fixed. The drivers filled in as mechanics and fabricators just to get the job done. Even Mark Villafana of BMW Philippines - who was there as a guest of the team - rolled up his sleeves and got his hands dirty. Many of our fellow competitors helped out with tools and materials, as well.
Despite all this, there was no way to make qualifying - we had to accept that we would start at the back of the grid. The team worked through the night, in the hopes of coming up with a miracle. Finally, the baffle was ready and everything was reassembled, and we started the engine and hoped for the best. We got the exact opposite - the valvetrain was still ticking loudly, even after letting the oil cycle. To make matters worse, we discovered a steering hose leak and a steering noise. These were relatively easy fixes, but we were already close to midnight, and the crew was spent.
By 5am the crew had already started to arrive at the track, hoping to get the car working. We had hoped to get on the track extra early and maybe get a few test laps in, but it wasn't to be. Last-second repairs and adjustments took up valuable time, and we had to get the car scrutineered. The team agreed that we would give it our best shot, and run the car for as long as we could.
Even before the race began, we had incurred not one, but two drive through penalties. The first was for adding fuel in the pits - a miscommunication among the crew members, and another for going in reverse on the grid - an infraction that we still feel was mistakenly given.
Once the race started, however, it seemed like the car came alive. After getting the drive through penalties out of the way, George went on the attack. It did not matter what corner or what straight, it seemed like George could do whatever he wanted. While the lighter Hondas and Toyotas were very nimble and quick, the rear wheel drive handling and power of the M Division engine proved to be a match for the field. We were concerned that the car wouldn't last, but with each passing lap, we started to regain confidence. Maybe we could see the 8 hours through.
George had put in a great stint and the deployment of a safety car allowed him the opportunity to make up even more for the time lost in drive-throughs. It was an absolute clinic of how to get through the field cleanly, quickly, and safely.
By the time Diego got behind the wheel in our first driver change and fuel stop, we were up to 3rd in our class. And Diego gave us more of the same. Consistently fast laps not only held our position, but moved us into second place. Diego went toe to toe with some of the strongest competitors and more than held his own.
Enrique took his stint and with a big gap between us and the first place team, settled in a very consistent pace designed to preserve the car - fast enough to keep position, no more, no less. His shift kept us in the game, and his decision to pace the car would be crucial to ensuring the car makes it to the end.
Up next was Stefan, our other ace driver. We were at the halfway point of the race, and decided to bring the car into the paddock for a quick check of fluids, brakes, tires, anything that might need checking. Stef was scheduled to pull a long stint with a full load of fuel, and we wanted to make sure everything was working well. Amazingly, the car was running great, and we began to regain our optimism that we might actually finish the race.
Stefan put in an amazing effort going almost two hours straight in the sweltering heat. He kept clocking in consistently fast laps, but towards the end, the tires started to lose grip and a slight knock-knock noise developed in the front-right wheel. Still, with Stef behind the wheel, we had solidified our 2nd place position. Not only were we within reach of a race finish, a podium was possible.
With the end in sight, preserving the car was of paramount importance. With the tires showing the effects of such a grueling race and the front suspension stating to complain, Francis drove with car preservation at the utmost importance. The last few hours saw cars start to fail and break down, and some competitors dropped out after crashing the car, and that was foremost on the team's mind. Unfortunately, a crucial mistake of overspeeding in the pits meant that the next driver would have to perform another drive through penalty - the team's third, and crucially, dropping us to 3rd in the standings.
With Stefan still worn out from his shift, EZ called on George to bookend the race for the last 45 minutes. After getting the penalty out of the way, George somehow still managed to overtake more cars while not over-stressing the car. Two safety car deployments hampered his ability to retake 2nd place, but after eight hours and 164 laps, the team accomplished what many thought was impossible. We had not just completed the 8 hour endurance race, we took a podium spot. When he day was done, we finished 3rd in our class and 9th overall.
It was a testament to the resolve of this team, the dedication of the crew - mechanics, managers, drivers, supporters - that this was achieved. After the race, we had as many, if not more, comments of disbelief that we had finished as congratulations. The first BMW - or any European car - to have competed in the Philippine Endurance Challenge proved that BMWs are as reliable as any car out there, and as competitive in the most demanding motorsport event as any.
BMW AutoPerformance 2016
EZ Ligaya - Manager
Glenn Zamora - Crew Chief
Jay Jay Pompa - Assistant Manager
Paolo Arespacochaga - Driver Assistant and Logistics
Jhay-R Dejesica - Team Mechanic
AutoPerformance Ph | Brembo
Aguila Auto Glass
AG Tune N Lube
Video by Dominick Galauran and Francis Aguila
Photos by Dominick Galauran, EZ Ligaya and Albert Chung