On a weekend which seemed to incorporate every element of the Spa Francorchamps infamous micro-climate, Bruno Costa mastered the challenging conditions to take a well-earned podium alongside teammate Colin Gillespie in Club Enduro’s summer European round.
On his return to the team he took a debut UK win with last year, Bruno had high hopes for a debut around the circuit he has dreamed of racing at since taking up the sport. For this event Bruno was paired up in the Cupra TCR with Capture Motorsport regular driver Colin Gillespie, who was engaged in a mid-season battle for the overall/class A Club Enduro title.
Though Bruno had visited the famous Ardennes circuit previously in his work as a race engineer, this was his first time as a driver, and he therefore took care to prepare in all areas during the lead up to the event. The weekend took a slightly unusual format in that the race duration was split into two 100 minute segments, with qualifying and the first half of the race happening on Friday, then the concluding second half on Saturday. With a full test day preceding the racing, Bruno had plenty of time to get to grips with the undulating 4.35 miles of Spa-Francorchamps track.
We travelled directly from the airport to the circuit on Wednesday evening to meet up with the team, ensuring that all small but vital ancillary tasks (such as checking seat fit and in-car radio connection) were completed ahead of Thursday’s test running. This also allowed us to complete a track walk, which we always encourage with supported athletes to act as a mental acclimatisation on arrival to a new venue. In this case, our tour of the circuit focused on ingraining pre-event work that Bruno had conducted on the simulator, with particular emphasis on highlighting likely areas that would be monitored for track limit infringements, and looking at notable points of reference for the major braking points around the track (which would turn out to be very useful in the race… more on that later!)
As Bruno had raced in Capture’s Golf TCR last year, he was able to quickly get comfortable in the similar Cupra, and conducted a productive test day on Thursday with most running spent just learning the intricacies of the circuit that hadn’t been made apparent in his simulator prep. The day was busy with Fun Cup cars testing for the headline Hankook 25 hour event being hosted on the same weekend, so therefore provided plenty of practice in running through traffic of varying speeds; a crucial skill in the multi-class Club Enduro field.
After analysing the data from Thursday’s test, Colin and Bruno devised a plan for the one hour qualifying session. After some early circulating to set a banker lap from both drivers, Bruno would then take a set of new front tyres with the aim of setting the pair’s fastest lap time to set the grid slot for the race.
“Unfortunately I made a mistake by running too long on the tyres, so I couldn't get a good lap in. It was my own fault with bad management and timing, which put me down a little bit because I knew we had the pace to be at the front. Instead we only qualified P7 which was frustrating. I took a little bit of time to beat myself up over that, as I felt that I should have known better and it was a bit of a rookie mistake. But then we had a talk and I forgot about it and made sure I focused on having a good race in the afternoon.”
In this post-qualifying talk we emphasised that the race was long, and there was plenty of potential to progress from what was still a qualifying position toward the front of the grid. Despite this approach on picking out the positive elements of the situation, it is still important to let an athlete acknowledge their mistake and resulting frustration, but then transition this into a more directed reflection and analysis on exactly why it happened; before compartmentalising and fully moving on to re-focus on the race ahead (which in this case was later in the same day).
Due to the two part aggregated nature of the race format and the perception of qualifying slightly out of position, the plan for the first 100 minute race on Friday afternoon was to treat it as an extended qualifying session and make progress through the field to start ‘part two’ in a strong position on Saturday. The race was held in warm and dry conditions, with Colin starting and Bruno taking over around 40 minutes in. Following Colin’s strong start and some good luck with a safety car deployment, the pair ended the race in a net P3, which they were very happy with.
On Saturday Bruno would take the start for the second 100 minute race, with the results being aggregated with race one to create an overall race time from both sections at the flag. As the cars lined up the assembly area the warm sun we had enjoyed all weekend turned to rolling grey clouds approaching from the top of Radillion, and just before the race was about to begin there was a very heavy downpour of rain; enough to cause a postponement of the start.
“The funny thing is when the rain started… back racing in Brazil when it looked like it was going to rain I would get a little nervous, but this time I actually felt quite happy because I knew I could drive that car in the rain and we would probably be fast. The two BMW cars in front of us had a slight power advantage in dry conditions, so we hoped that the rain would normally help to match their speed.
When we went behind the pace car the track conditions were just undrivable. Even at very slow speed behind the safety car there was a massive spray where you couldn’t see anything in front of you, and at slow speed we were even experiencing some aquaplaning on the straights. I started to think that if I am at risk of spinning behind the pace car then how am I going to race? But then all these thoughts you put to the side and I started to just go through my knowledge methodically.
That’s the part that I found really empowering and confidence inducing. I knew I needed to put heat into the tyres, I knew the rain lines and where I needed to place the car, so I just started working on it in a very procedural way.
Luckily we had three green flag laps where I managed to really warm the tyres up, explore where my braking points were going to be, and find where the grip in each corner was. I wasn’t just cruising around behind the safety car, I was always studying the track and the conditions, because I knew as soon as the race started I wouldn’t be able to see anything in front of me, so I was almost trying to create a strategy.
The race started and I knew I had the car underneath me after all the prep I’d done behind the pace car, so in the first corner I went from P3 to P1. Then going down into Eau Rouge the car aquaplaned a little bit and going up onto the Kemmel Straight I couldn’t see anything in front of me, it was horrendous. I managed to find points outside the track on the side just to guide myself. I’d noted those points on my green flag lap (and it’s something we’d discussed on our pre-event track walk) so I made them not only braking points, but also just my ‘checking points.’ Despite not being able to see anything I was looking at these points of reference, and at that point I would start to brake and watch the spray in front of me. If the spray was approaching I would put more brake pressure, if it wasn’t I would just release the brake a little bit. I did that for a few laps and although it was feeling slow to me in the car I was actually really fast."
After being caught out by an unfortunate safety car deployment just before their driver change, Bruno dropped down to P4 before handing the car over to Colin for his stint. By now the track was still damp but had dried significantly, and Colin had an opportunity to chase down the #117 BMW for a place on the podium. Further Full Course Yellow deployments derailed this charge and ate away at the remaining race time, but following yet another late safety car intervention Colin got a great restart and was able to pass the P3 car up the hill onto the Kemmel straight. "When I gave the car to Colin after an hour and twenty minutes, unfortunately we’d had some unlucky timing with the deployment of safety cars. I knew we had the conditions to finish P3 as we did, but in my mind we were going for the win because we were often the fastest in our class. So I felt a little bit disappointed, because if I did not have the confidence that I could get P3 I probably would be really happy… but I felt like we could have done more.
The sister car of Will Beech and Mark Grice had been challenging for the lead until also being caught out by a safety car deployment in both Friday and Saturday’s races, but that’s endurance racing and on another day it may have worked out in our favour. As well as fulfilling a dream to race on such a famous and respected circuit, I came away from the event feeling like I had learned a huge amount that I will take into all my racing moving forward."
Once again a huge thank you to Will, Mark and all of the team at Capture Motorsport, who provided a car that ran faultlessly all weekend and a fantastic environment for Bruno to quickly get up to speed and maximise his one-off weekend with them. Keep your eyes on the news page and our social media as we work over the winter and finalise plans for where Bruno will be racing later this year and next season.