It has been a tough start to the Avon Tyres British GT Championship season for the new 888Optimum team and their BMW-Z4, especially as the standings show they have not scored a single point. However, this does not reflect the potential that the car can produce. The competitiveness of the BMW is arguably shown by the capture of drivers Joe Osborne and Steve Tandy to the team, who had last season, raced in the Trackspeed Porsche 977 GT3. They finished seventh overall and were high in the standings throughout, but this year they face a new challenge in the form of a new car, new team, and new co-drivers.
Osborne took time out of a busy schedule to explain what British GT fans can expect from the BMW-Z4 and the new 888 Optimum team. Fielding two cars and four very good drivers in the form of himself, Lee Mowle, Daniel Brown and the aforementioned Tandy, former Formula BMW racer, Osborne, starts with the difference between GT3 and showroom models.
“I haven’t actually driven the Z4 road car; however I do know there is a massive difference between the GT3 and the Z4 road worthy car.” Osborne explains. “There are about six parts on the car which come from the road car out of about 10,000, so there is no similarity from the road car which makes it a good racer.”
Osborne’s intuitive racing mind was key when helping Lee Mowle choose a good and competitive car for the season ahead. “When Lee got in touch with me and asked me what car he should buy for the team we went through some questions and narrowed it down to factory cars as we wanted factory support and then the decision was between the Audi’s or the BMW’s.” The former FIA European GT4 Champion offers. “I had previously raced the Audi and I liked it but it wasn’t perfect, we drove both of them back to back and the BMW was head and shoulders above it, mainly because BMW have taken that car and made it a racing car.”
The thought process and decision making in going for a car with big factory support, taking into consideration the budget they would need for such expenses, proves how much they want to fight for the 2013 British GT Championship and try to compete with the might of Porsche, Ferrari, Audi, McLaren and Aston Martin.
“Every year there are upgrades bought to a car to improve it, so this year the new team had to use data from last years Ecurrie Ecosse BMW-Z4 and get a feel of what to expect from the car.” Osborne says of the updated Z4. “I drove last years car at the Nurburgring so I got a flavour of that and the upgrades that have been put on are not massive when comparing the two cars, but we’ve upped the engine revs so we have a bit more power, the suspension geometry was tweaked a little and we have a better braking balance system.”
The extra power is evident on the BMW-Z4 from last year, as their qualifying pace has shown they can compete with the front-runners. Osborne and Mowle had a good qualifying position at Rockingham, fifth behind the three Trackspeed Porsches and the Alvaro Parente and Zak Brown United Autosports McLaren. If it wasn’t for a puncture in the Rockingham race we may have seen the No.8 BMW-Z4 fighting at the top of the field. Grabbing the fastest lap of the race was a sign that if the luck was on their side, the 888Optimum team would be nearer the top of the standings. However, as with many race cars there are always weaknesses to be found in comparison to others.
“The car can be competitive but we lack straight line speed compared to rivals, because at Oulton Park I was aiming to keep up with the cars through the corners, but we lose a couple of lengths on the exit of every slow corner.” Osborne told Racing.GT. “That is fine over a single lap but the problem is when you’re trying to race, if you don’t have the straight line speed it is incredibly hard to overtake anyone, as you would have lost the gap on the straight even if you might be quick through the corners. However, it is slow because it’s got a lot of down force and the positive of that is we are quick through the corners, it’s just making sure we are in front of the slower cars which is key. So that means it is crucial to have a quick qualifying lap because if qualifying is not good, we are screwed.”
If the BMW-Z4 is going to improve then it is important that the 888Optimum team find a way of keeping up with the Porsches, Ferraris and Aston Martins who have a proven track record in GT racing. With professional racers Osborne and Brown in the team, they have the perfect insight into what the BMW needs to bring to the table, to be successful.
“The Porsche felt naturally like the car I can just jump in and go, I was just so confident with it.” he reminisces. “Whereas with the BMW, having the engine at the front with not much space behind you, it feels like a shorter wheelbase so it’s a snappier car. I like to practice on old boots (tyres) when I’m on my in-laps, with traction control off and just go drifting just to get used to it. I’ve spun about three times this year in the BMW where as I didn’t spin once last year in the Porsche, so I’m still learning the different limits of the car.
“As a factory team, BMW has so much more resources than a lot of the other manufacturers out there. It’s good having a time to beat knowing that we have a truck full of spares and engineers helping us, so it’s definitely a good decision to be in the BMW.”
It is obvious to see that Osborne is still getting to grips with the BMW, nevertheless it is interesting to note that he feels it was a good decision to join the team with what he feels is a fast car. “I do believe we have far from seen the full potential that this car has to offer, with the large factory support and some very highly regarded drivers.” He responds.
One of the most important factors in any form of motor racing, is how a team can make their tyres last for as long as possible, whilst still being able to perform in qualifying and on race day. Teams in the British GT have to find a way of conserving their tyres whilst pushing the car to the limit. So it is crucial to strike a balance and get the best out of the Avon compounds.
“The BMW is probably the best GT3 car on the Avon tyres with it’s 50-50 weight balance. We have massive front tyres, so we are very good on it but I don’t think we use the new tyre as well as the Porsche. Unfortunately, in qualifying, although it’s important, we can’t get the tyre up to operating temperature quick enough and use the new tyre well, whereas the other guys can, so it’s something which we are going to work on as a team.”
The less than ideal start to the season for the 888Optimum team and their BMW-Z4 should not be blamed solely on the car. With a record breaking British GT field of teams and drivers, this year a lot of luck, coupled with qualifying and race pace are all contributing factors to having a winning car. So far it has been incredibly difficult to outwit the 30 plus grid, but one thing is certain though – if a driver like Osborne feels confident, fast and competitive behind the wheel of the BMW Z4, then ultimately it has to be considered a serious contender.