Just one test session was enough for Chris van der Drift before he got behind the wheel of a McLaren MP4 12-C GT3 at the Italian circuit of Imola.
The successful driver in formula racing was offered a chance to make his race debut in GT-cars by BhaiTech in the Italian GT Championship. The 26 year old driver from New Zealand and his team delivered a great job: with no reference or data from other races, they were able to drive lap times that matched the leaders in the second race.
The car was completely new to the team which meant the engineers and drivers started the weekend with no data or setup knowledge. Van der Drift drove around ten laps around the circuit in free practice one and handed his car over to team mate Alessandra Neri to finish off the session.
Due to red flags, van der Drift wasn’t able to do a single lap in the second practice. Thus, with limited track time, he went into qualifying and he knew it was going to be difficult. "We had hardly done any setup work and we hadn’t done a run on new tyres yet. But the team made all the right changes to make a massive step forward", van der Drift explains.
Van der Drift was impressed after three flying laps on old rubber: "We went third quickest. When I saw the times come up on the dash, I thought there must be something wrong. We improved 3,5 seconds from Friday". When the new tyres came on for the first time, Chris was a bit unlucky with yellow flags but managed to set a time that was enough for sixth position, however fourth place was in reach. "Nevertheless I put in on the third row in my first GT qualifying, not bad!"
His team mate drove the second qualifying and was ranked tenth afterwards. "It was a different experience watching the car I was driving qualify without me driving it", van der Drift said.
Racing door to door
Although van der Drift has been driving in countless races, to have a roof was new.
"I had no idea what it was like to be on track with other GT cars around me. So it was like swimming in the deep end", says the Kiwi.
He got off a great start, won one a position and stayed out of trouble.
"There were a few cars fighting which I got entwined with. It was actually fun racing door to door as they say it."
Van der Drift remained fifth until the pitstops, after which his team mate brought the car home in 8th position after a solid stint. Because the team missed the first rounds of the championship, they were handed a fifteen second penalty. So even a better result on their debut race was possible.
Neri started race two en brought the car in the pit lane in fifteenth position. Although they were handed a three minute penalty for entering the pit lane a few seconds too soon, Chris took the wheel during the remaining thirty minutes of the race to get to know the car even better.
"I was in clear air, so I just used this as a test and for me to learn. Once again the team did a great job in improving the car and it turned out that my pace was as quick as the guys in third and fourth position. So if we were in the race, we could have been in contention for a podium finish, I reckon."
"Racing with a roof was a new experience, but I think considering where we started with absolutely no reference, we improved massively. And for sure, going into the next event with what we’ve learned in such a small time, we will make again another giant step", knows van der Drift.
"I would like to thank BhaiTech, APP Tech, Bimecc and McLaren for making this possible. It was a pleasure working with a new bunch of people. So let’s see if this leads to more in the future."