I lived my dream and literally had it crashed on the same weekend. There is no better way to describe my debut in GT3 and in international racing!
A couple of weeks back I was offered the opportunity to do the fourth round of the Italian GT Championship at Paul Ricard with Nova Race in their Nismo GT3, sharing with Luca Magnoni. For me this was absolutely perfect; a great track to have a debut, on the Blancpain calendar, racing in one of the last rounds in a championship, working with a team I already know through my dealings with JRM and doing it in the last part of the season ideally as a preparation for the next. It couldn’t be a better match!
Italian GT has a grid more or less like the other bigger European national GT Championships with well-known drivers from various countries. I was looking forward to face that kind of competition.
To jump in like this, at a level well above what I am used to, in a car I have basically touched twice and a track completely new to me, necessitates some thorough preparations. I like to come well prepared. Ideally I should have had both a test day and time in a simulator beforehand, but time is always the limit and there were only so much we could do. Nevertheless I am lucky to have the best people involved with me in Team AnnA, and we did what we could with what we had.
The moment the decision was made to do the race weekend, we started working. My race engineer, Gustavo B Beteli from JRM Group. gave me homework consisting of data and video that I worked through. Simon Fitchett used all his experience getting me mentally prepared and Jody Fannin, who last year raced the Nismo GT3 at Paul Ricard, shared his best tricks with me. Team Manager Elisa Maioli, from Nova Race, deserves a huge thank you for meeting every small and big request to the fullest.
I arrived at Paul Ricard Thursday afternoon and after saying hello to the team and the car it was time for track walk. With Paul Ricard being about 6km long, the whole thing did take more than an hour, but it was important to do it the proper way.
We had three 50 minutes sessions of Free Practice available. First session obviously meant learning my way around the track and getting familiar with the car. Both track and car is awesome, by the way. Second session we could obtain some proper data to work on, and both Jody and Gustavo were massively helpful going through logs and video thoroughly, looking for ways to improve.
After finishing the third Free Practice session on Friday we still had work to do but it did start to look like something. I was more confident in the car and I felt I had gotten to a point where I could start pushing. In the evening again we worked on data and video to make every detail clear and fixed in my mind. And this was actually the first time I checked the competition’s lap times. And the first time we set a goal for qualification. My goal was a bit hairy, but why not…?
For Saturday qualification we (read: Gustavo) laid out the tactics and I was going in for quali 1. That feeling rolling out from pit in the line of supercars ready to go perform beyond my best, there is no words that could possibly describe the tingling, excitement and pure joy bubbling inside in that moment!
We did the first laps on used tyres, and I was immediately back at my fastest from Friday’s Free Practice at the first lap. I was confident I could do it, we had worked hard on the details so I knew how to do it, and I went out and I did it. Pitting, new slicks on, and ready. I still re-live those seconds in pit, being 100% focused, tunnel visioned, just waiting for Gus to wave me back out. I did the out lap on the new tyres and going into the first lap I gave it all I had. I got all the way to the double apex tight hander in the third sector. Exiting I went too early on full throttle and car did exactly what I ordered it to do – spin. No drama about it, just slowly turning and eventually kissing the wall with the front left. Car was still running, I carefully took it forward and it felt more or less drivable. We got back to pit, and it never occurred to me the damage was so severe that it wasn’t fixable. But sadly – turned out it was. The hit was just in a very unfortunate angle. Race weekend was over.
I was completely unprepared for not getting to race. Seeing the cars line up on the grid and taking off on green was torture. I was so close! My eyes went blank a whole lot of times during that afternoon. I’m really sorry to the team, and to Luca, that we all had to watch.
All in all, getting it on an arm’s length distance, I had an amazing weekend! I am convinced we would have kept improving during the qualification and later on in the races, and the most important lesson learned was actually that I can do it. I am confident that if I ever get another chance to race in GT3, I will have to work hard again but I am ready.
So now what? I am back home and with both legs planted in the real world there are obstacles to overcome. There is no doubt I want to do more of this, I loved every second of it. And I can do it. So I have to find the backing I need to continue living my dream!
For me there is only one way forward from this. My heart is already lost to GT racing.
I would like to thank Nova Race – and Luca, of course – for giving me the perfect opportunity, JRM for always having my name on their notepad, Jody Fannin for untiring attention to detail and Simon Fitchett for making me able to stay fully focused the whole time instead of freaking out in excitement and nerves. Team AnnA is coming together nicely. We are already looking for the next adventure!
(Please like, share and comment! You find me on Twitter @AnnaRathe, Facebook TeamAnnaGTR and Instagram #anna_rathe.)