The time had finally come to put the Spec E46 race car to the test in wheel to wheel competition. I signed up for the May 2015 BMW CCA Club Racing event at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, AL. I had never driven the track, so there would certainly be a lot to take in.
If you haven’t been to Barber, you should really make a trip to visit it. It has to be the nicest race tracks in North America, with finely landscaped grounds, excellent facilities, and perhaps the greatest motorsports museums for the motorcycle and Lotus car enthusiast.
This event was put on by the BMW Car Club of America, so there were multiple run groups of DE in addition to the race sessions. The schedule called for three races, two on Saturday and one on Sunday. Two other SE46s were in attendance, so at least I would have some company in the class. The majority of the cars were I-prepared, with a smaller mix of Modified, SE36, and KP cars.
The car ran well during practice and qualifying, though I really didn’t have a good grasp of the track or the handling of the car. I had a few mental mistakes at various points, just not remembering where the track was going. Though it’s only 2.38 miles, the course has 15 turns, with a great variety to make things interesting.
I only ran three laps in qualifying. I had no idea what a good time was, or even really how to operate the lap timer on my MXL, so I figured no point in running more time off the tires. My time was a good bit off Damion Moses’, but enough to qualify second in class and 14/24 overall. BMWCCA club events don’t group cars by class, but by outright qualifying time. So I was sandwiched between a Super Modified and I-Prepared car.
The first race started well enough, the first few turns were without drama and I didn’t lose any positions. Then coming onto the front straight the cars pretty much went single file and relatively slow to make it through the hairpin-like turn 5. Right as I was about to hit the apex I caught a glimpse of something moving very quickly out of my left peripheral. I had nothing but grass and curbing to my left, so I knew something was wrong. It happened too fast to avoid, and I got hit hard in the front left.
The impact spun me off into the outside adjacent gravel trap. The car was still running, so I shut it down. After sitting for a bit, I cranked it again and attempted to get moving, but I was sunk up to the frame in gravel. I also had steam coming out of the engine, so better to just wait. The rest of the pack continued around for about three more laps under a full course caution (turns out another car crashed on the first lap.) They eventually black flagged the race and I was stuck waiting on the roll-back, who was tending to the other wreck. The car that hit me was able to be towed out and continued back to the pits under its own power.
Saturday Race Crash
(note: first perspective is from a car behind me, followed by my in-car)
With the EMS personnel on scene, I got out to check over the damage. The hood was buckled, the fender crushed, the bumper knocked off, both headlights destroyed, the wheel cracked in several places, and after trying to turn the steering wheel I discovered that the left tie rod was also sheered.
Eventually we got the car loaded on the roll back and back to the paddock. There I discovered the damage was a bit worse than I initially thought. The engine mount arms were both cracked and separated, the lower control arm was twisted, the steering rack was shattered, the airbox was cracked, the power steering pump pulley cracked, and the core support was twisted. It was certainly nothing that could be repaired in the paddock, even if I had all the parts on hand.
Thankfully I had recently installed a winch on the trailer, so getting the damaged car loaded wasn’t too difficult. I stayed the night rather than driving back home in a bad mood and sore from the impact. The group of racers were all very considerate and sympathetic to my situation. And eventually the driver who hit me came over to apologize. I have to say he was very humble and sincere, and I know that this could have happened to any of us. I was lucky that he hit me where he did, rather then in the door, which could have been much more dangerous and damaging. Unfortunately his car didn’t fare so well. The whole right side was crushed in, pushing the door bars, main hoop, and rocker panel inward.
It was an unfortunate experience, made worse that it was my very first race in a recently completed car, but everyone walked away without any injuries, so I can be thankful for that.