Driver Diary: ‘Wet behind the gears’ with Andre Ramdhany at Yas Marina Circuit
The entire team at MSW were looking forward to the National Race Day at YAS Marina. It is the first time we have had all three cars in the new livery: The Ginetta G50Z of Raed Hassan and Bassam Kronfli, The Porsche 997 Cup Car driven by Jon Simmonds and Phil Quaife, supported by Alex Renner Motors and me in the Seat Supercopa. We were also taking delivery of our new race suits the week of the race to match the cars and were really looking forward to putting on a good show in Abu Dhabi.
We are quite spoiled having such top class facilities as the Dubai Autodrome and YAS Marina only an hour away from each other, but the event feels as close to a flyaway race as any. Luckily TAM Auto Engineering had hired the circuit to use as a private test and they were nice enough to invite us along. The opportunity to get valuable seat time was one not to pass up and of course we were there. The test went very well and we seemed to have cured all the issues that were faced in the previous race weekend. Upon arriving to the circuit Thursday morning I immediately get into ‘race mode’, the garage was flawlessly set up, mechanics going over the cars, engineers reviewing their notes and formulating plans with the drivers. The professionalism displayed by such a humble team instills a confidence in me knowing that I will have the best maintained and set up car on the grid. The bright yellow and green MSW colours are reflected off the garage floor, setting the perfect mood, keeping the entire team confident and relaxed.
Practice goes very well with the team trying a different setup on the car. The result is that I set the quickest time in both practice sessions. The spectacle that is YAS has drawn out a few extra cars making the track as busy as Sheikh Zayed Road on a work morning. I struggle to get a clean lap in the second practice session and decide to come in for a break with the hopes that others will follow. Being 3rd quickest at the time I feel the need to get back out and try to learn more about the circuit and the new setup. On the second lap I manage to just sneak under the quickest time, only by a mere .05 of a second! Back in the pits after looking at the lap times I know that qualifying could be a gamble and it will come down to who can get the cleaner lap.
The team decides to take a chance and get me out into the qualifying session as soon as the circuit has the green light, again knowing how much traffic there will be on the circuit we were all very anxious to see if this was the right decision. Lights go green and the session is on, I try to get my tyres warmed up as quickly as possible and start to increase my pace on the third lap. On the 4th Lap I can feel that my tyres have come in and decide to go for a lap, only to be obstructed by traffic. Maybe our strategy wasn’t the best idea. For the next couple of laps I am constantly having to work my way around the other cars and cannot put a lap together. On my seventh lap I pass a slower car on the second to last corner and think this may be my only chance. On the main straight the team is giving me the ‘IN’ board as they can clearly see that I am struggling with the traffic.
I decide to ignore the board and have a chance at one more lap. Braking into turn 1 I am extremely anxious looking to the exit hoping that there is a clear track ahead of me, luckily there is. I push on concentrating as hard as I can, thinking that if this is a clean lap I will not have another chance at it. To my relief this pattern is repeated at the hairpin and I get a clean run up the back straight. I can see some cars at the end of the straight but there is no way to catch them by the end of the lap, so this has to be it! Swinging the car through the last few corners onto the pit straight I can see my frustrated team waving the ‘In’ board again. As I cross the line 18.8 flashes up on the dash, fastest time I have set all weekend and almost a full second quicker that my best so far in qualifying, I don’t know if it’s enough though.
Returning to the pits I am greeted by the team’s race engineer, Richard Townsend, who asked me “ SO, you decided to ignore the pit board?” with a cheeky smile on his face. That’s when he gave me the good news that the time is good enough for pole, so far. There is still more than 10 minutes left in the session so we decide to sit in the pit lane and wait it out. I constantly ask for updated lap times and try my hardest to see the timing screen out of the corner of my eye. Both Nadir Zuhour and Khalid Bin Hader are setting quicker times as the session progresses and I can only hope that my time was good enough and we can save the tyres for the rest of the weekend. Nadir in the Top Line Seat faces some issues and is stuck with a car that is not performing to its full potential, then the black beast that is Khalid’s Seat cruises by in the pit lane and parks in the garage. A small moment of celebration in the MSW garage as we have secured pole by only 3 tenths of a second over Khalid and the Performance Team, short and well deserved, but I know the races can be an entirely different story.
After a light lunch and a short break to relax and go over tyre plans with the team it is time to get in the car. I am really pumped up, knowing that I have the best car on the grid thanks to the MSW Team. I am hoping that I can put an end to the recent misfortune, and misjudgment, that I have made. I need to get back to finishing races and hopefully somewhere near the front. I would like to say that it is the best feeling sitting at the front of the grid with nothing but clear track ahead of me, but I know that the pair of Nadir and Khalid equally enjoys seeing that same bit of track. Khalid is just over to the left out of my vision so I know I need to be weary of his late breaking maneuvers into turn one. The lights go out and we go racing, immediately I have Khalid trying to get by on the inside with a Class 2 Honda coming around my outside. My start didn’t feel that bad but I am immediately under pressure from 4 cars behind me. Khalid gets the inside at turn 1, while Mohammed Al Owais is his Lap 57 Honda powers around the outside of me. I think nothing of it and carry on pushing my rear view mirrors are filled with streaks of bright orange as Nadir tucks in behind me trying to make his way past. Luckily I manage to get to the hairpin without being overtaken again and onto the back straight, where immediately I notice a serious problem in the car. My 260hp Seat feels extremely sluggish and is struggling to pull through the gears whilst another Lap 57 Honda of Aslam Moola cruises by me with ease.
My engine is seriously down on power with no way to get past the 210hp class 2 cars I am forced to watch Khalid pull of a flawless drive pulling further and further into the distance with each lap. Throughout the race I was really worried that my engine might give up completely, but I figure to give it a shot and keep pushing. I worry that if the other class 1 cars catch up to me I have to keep them behind, somehow. Luckily this is not the case and I get to drive around behind the dueling Hondas which actually gave me a front row seat to some of the best Class 2 racing action! The chequered flag drops and all I want to do is get the car to the garage and have the team figure out what is the problem.
Between the break, data is analyzed, parts are inspected and the engine is tested, however there is no blatantly obvious reason why the car acted the way it did. Being 4-5 seconds off the pace I was hoping it would be easier to spot. After a deeper look the team does find some bits that don’t look as healthy as they should. Without anytime to test between the races the suspect parts are changed just in time for the coordinator to come walking through the pits telling us there are 3 minutes to green lights. Here we go, suit up again and prepare for the race. My wife keeps repeating to me don’t worry, the car is fixed, and although she knows as much about the Seat as I know about her wardrobe, I have to believe her and enter the grid with the mindset ‘Forward ever, backward NEVER!’
The lights go out to signal the start of race 2 and I seem to get a better start this time, or at least I didn’t let any of the class 2 cars pass me. Before we enter the chicane leading into the hairpin I can already tell that the car feels quicker as I can easily gain ground over the Hondas. Up the back straight and now there is only me, maybe 300m of asphalt, and a black Seat Supercopa that I need to catch. The first time past the pits and the team gives me the board showing a 3 second deficit. I know it’s going to be a difficult job but I have no other choice put to push forward and hope for the best. A few laps in and I feel like I am gaining on Khalid, but the pit board says differently, not very motivating. On the very next lap I see the gap decreased to 2 seconds, and then a few laps later 1, YES! I keep pushing and to my luck, and disbelief, the Performance Seat makes a mistake and has a slow exit. Immediately I am able to close the gap and now can start to try and pressure him. On the next lap I get a good exit off the hairpin and manage to out-drag Khalid down the back straight and gain position for the last few corners of the lap.
We are sat side by side approaching the braking point for turn 8, with me being on the inside and on the better line, however experience again tells the story of who is the better driver as I brake too early allowing Khalid to slip in front of me, now I have to try and do it all again. I frustratingly tuck back in behind him again and I’m forced to follow him around again, then the thing that has hampered me some of the weekend appears…traffic! I try my hardest to navigate through the few slower cars but again experience prevails and the Performance Seat manages to build a gap on me. The only thing that I can do at this point is to keep pushing and try to make up as much ground as possible. Even though there are only 2 laps remaining in the race I think to myself that I have to be able to do it. MSW Racing has given me the better car and there is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to at least catch him. At the end of the lap through the turn 8,9,10 section the black Seat slows suddenly and I am able to get by easily, a bit too easily. It is quite obvious that he has suffered some problem allowing me to take the lead. On the back straight I can see no sign at all of him anymore and decide to back off the pace a bit, fearing a similar result for myself. I cross the finish line for the last time with the support and cheers of not only my MSW Team, but by all our friends in the paddock. Moments like this make me realize how much and why I enjoy driving for MSW in the UAE Touring Car Championship, not only because of winning, but because of the support and camaraderie that exists between the teams.
After the race it’s all smiles and cheers as we finally have gotten the result we were looking for since round 1, to add to that the GT program at MSW had some incredible results. Teammates Raed Hassan and Bassam Kronfli won the GTA class in their MSW prepared Ginetta G50Z, despite a nail biting moment when the car would not start at the pit stop. Jon Simmonds and Phil Quaife snagged victory on the very last corner of the very last lap in their Porsche 997 Cup supported by Alex Renner Motors. The bright yellow and green were very predominant sights on the podium, out on track all weekend and especially in the race results. Quickest in Touring Car practice, pole position, 1 of 2 race wins and fastest lap of the weekend. In GT’s class wins in both GTA and GTB, with pole position and fastest laps in GTB. What a weekend, here’s to more like that!