Here’s What It Takes to Prep and Run a Factory Race Car in a Professional Series
The Drive’s Robb Holland is running a new Porsche Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport in the SRO GT America Series. Here’s how his crew got it ready for the first race.
At the end of every race season, you think to yourself, wow, you sure have a lot of time in the months ahead to get everything organized, prepped and ready to go for the next one. But every damn time, without fail, you cross the finish line for the final time, then you blink and you’re on the start line for the first race of the new year. The offseason? What offseason?
For those who haven’t followed my work here and elsewhere, I’m Robb Holland, otherwise known as the driver of the #99 Rotek Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport in the SRO GT America Series. I’ve been doing this motorsports thing a long time; I started in SRO races back in 2005 campaigning a Neon SRT4 for Dodge. I then took a seat as a Volvo factory driver in 2011 before moving on to the British Touring Car Championship, becoming the first American since Dan Gurney to compete in the series. That in turn led to a seat in the FIA World Touring Car Championships and then from there, over to the Nurburgring for several seasons of VLN and 24 Hour duties. Along the way I managed to find time to do the Pikes Peak Hillclimb several times, breaking the front-wheel-drive record back in 2016. So yeah, it’s been a while.
That mid-2000s era was certainly the heyday for the SRO Championship (it was known as Speed World Challenge back then), with drivers like Randy Pobst, Peter Cunningham, Jeff Altenberg going door-to-door with manufacturer-backed teams in production-based cars in some of the best racing anywhere in the country. But in 2022, it’s still a knife fight out there in SRO’s various GT classes as GT4 teams field cars from nine different automakers through eight races ranging from Sonoma to Road America to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
This past offseason was even shorter than ever, just a tick over three months between the hauler getting back to the garage from the final ‘21 race in Indianapolis and rolling out again in February 2022 for the season opener in St. Petersburg, Florida. Making things even tougher on my Rotek crew, we switched manufacturers for 2022—we’re running the new Porsche Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport this year.
The original Cayman GT4 Clubsport has been the gold standard in SRO GT4 competition across the globe for several years and we saw that the new RS version would definitely continue that trend. The civilian Cayman GT4 RS is a true monster, promising unreal track capability straight out of the box with its 911 GT3-sourced flat-six engine, further blurring the lines between street car and race car. And yet, campaigning and maintaining the real Clubsport version is a lot more involved than hitting your local track day once a month. How much more? I’m here to show you exactly what it takes to buy, prep, and run a factory race car.
First-Class Car Delivery
To start, switching platforms is not just as easy as ringing up the guys at Porsche Motorsports North America (PMNA) and having them ship over a car. PMNA is only bringing 25 cars to the U.S. this season, and only a handful of those were going to be allocated to SRO Championship teams (with the rest going to IMSA teams). Meaning, we had to apply to be one of those fortunate few to receive an allocation. Fortunately for us, we passed muster and were approved in mid-September to get a car.
However, this was to be just the start of the process; due to pandemic-induced shortages and delays, we would not be scheduled to receive our car until mid-January. With time being of the essence, we decided to pick up the car at Manthey Racing (who builds both the 992 Cup car and the GT4 for Porsche) in Germany, which fortuitously happens to be a couple of blocks away from our team’s German base at the Nürburgring. From there, we had the car air freighted to the U.S. in order to arrive in time to be prepped for the season opener at St. Pete.
Yes, we flew our race car here. If you think that a first-class ticket to Europe is expensive, you should check out getting one for your car…
With the pandemic wreaking havoc on international shipping, we reached out to our transport expert Jenn Elstone to handle everything. The car had to go from the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, to Houston, Texas. We tried to ship direct into Denver, Colorado, where we’re based, but there weren’t enough flights with space available to fit a car. Which meant once the car arrived in Texas on Jan. 30 (just 18 days before we had to be on the road for the season opener), we had to get our guys to head down to pick up the car and bring it back up to the shop in Colorado.
Of course, just to add another hurdle, Mother Nature decided to dump a bunch of snow on the roads up north of Dallas at the beginning of February. With a $300,000 car and our entire season riding in the back of the trailer, we decided discretion is the better part of common sense, so we had our driver bunker down for a few days in order to let the roads clear. While this was a smart move, it added time and cost to an already strained budget and compressed prep schedule.
But this is the standard gig in pro racing. Rarely do teams have unlimited budgets—even though they may seem that way from the outside—and never do they have all the time they need to get everything done that they would like to do. Managing resources well is what really separates the top teams from the rest.
Leaving Nothing to Chance
With the car safely back at the shop in early February, the crew could get to work. Now, you may be thinking: It’s a new car straight from the Porsche factory. What do they really need to get working on? Well, my friends, let me tell you. Even though Porsche builds some amazing machinery, in motorsports we leave nothing to chance.
By this point in its life, our GT4 RS has been loaded into multiple trucks, strapped down on pallets, and sent flying at 40,000 feet. No matter how good the mechs at the Porsche factory are, things are bound to shift, loosen and possibly break during transport. We’d rather catch any issues now rather than in Turn 1 at St. Pete.
So on that note, my guys do what we call a “nut and bolt” on the entire car. Meaning they put a wrench on every single nut and bolt (and screw and fastener) on the entire car. Only once they’ve done that can they start getting to work with everything else needed to get the car on track. To that end, the car comes with an 858-page manual. Yep, 858 pages for a car that isn't massively different from the street car it’s based on (see my review of the GT4 RS street car coming soon). So you say you want to be a race mechanic…
That's just the start. From there, each racing series has a host of equipment specific to that series that needs to be installed on the car. Data acquisition, transponders, and various pieces of safety equipment. Additionally, the fire suppression system has to be installed here in America as the fire bottle can’t be transported with the car via air freight. And then all those systems have to be programmed to work with the systems already installed in the car from the factory. No small feat.
While we’re doing all that, we also take the time to add functionality to those systems that will help us during the season. One of the most important additions this year is the installation of a rear camera that uses our Motec data screen as the rearview monitor. One of the weak points of the GT4 RS, we quickly discovered, is that the massive racing-spec rear wing basically blocks out all rearward vision. Adding a camera allows me to get some idea of how close a following car is. It's a pretty big deal for running in SRO GT America as we run multiple classes in the same race and the GT3 and GT2 cars have a massively quick closing rate and the last thing you want to do is turn into a corner and find one of those beasts already on your inside.
Going through everything on the car takes my crew a good two weeks of non-stop thrashing with many late nights to get through. While they're doing that, I’m sitting around eating Pop-Tarts, watching Netflix, and hard at work putting the finishing touches on our sponsor contracts for the season. These are normally done before the end of the year prior, but again, with COVID-related delays and also how late our previous season ended, I’m still wrapping things up in early February.
The good news is that in addition to our longtime partners Motul, Gurit, OMP, Bell, Sonic Tools, and Wine Country Motorsports, we also added an additional primary partner in Hella Pagid. Landing major sponsors is always tough, so it feels awesome to sign one just before the start of the season. Though, it will mean a lot more work for the team, as we’ll have more guests to take care of on race weekends, and more things that we need to do post-race to make sure we give our partners the best value for every dollar spent.
Once the car was fully prepped, we had less than a week to go before the car had to leave for St. Pete. Still, there was no way I was going to jump into a new race car for the first time on a race weekend (and at a street course like St. Pete, no less). So we loaded up the car to do a quick shakedown at our local track, High Plains Raceway in Colorado.
The verdict? It’s fast. Real fast. (A full review is coming soon, don’t worry.)
Only once we were done at High Plains and 100 percent confident that the car was fully race-ready could we drop it off with our guys at DeCo to get it wrapped in its 2022 livery. I always feel bad for Brodie and his crew there—every year, we plan on giving them the car for a week and every year they get two days. But they pull crazy all-nighters to get the car finished, and every year they deliver us a beautiful car, 2022 included.
With everything finally done, we loaded up the finished car along with all of our equipment. First thing in the a.m. on Feb. 18, our driver Al headed out for St. Pete. I can’t describe the feeling of watching your entire livelihood driving off down the road; stressful doesn’t even begin to cover it. But Al is a true pro and made it down to Florida with zero issues, with plenty of time for load-in.
Once we get down to the circuit, usually the day before the first practice session, we have to put up the 20’x40’ awning we work under for the week, unload the car and equipment, and set everything up. Even with all hands on deck, it’s a three-plus hour job. From there, the crew has to re-check the alignment on the car. Even though we had just spent hours on the alignment rack back in Colorado, things have a tendency to shift in transport and with only two short practice sessions before qualifying, we can’t afford to lose a session by going out on track with a misaligned car.
Sensing a theme here? A huge part of pro racing is all about the details. Checking and re-checking everything. The smallest details make the difference between a fast car on the top step of the podium and a car that’s hauled back to the shop on the wrecker.
As it was, we had both scenarios over the weekend. We had the fastest car in both practice sessions but had to make a last-minute adjustment before qualifying, didn’t get it quite right, and fell back to second in qualifying which is where we would start Race 1.
Not that it mattered…
Not Just Podiums and Champagne
When the green flag fell on the first race on Saturday, I got a great start and immediately got around fellow Porsche driver Adam Adelson as we went down into Turn 1. As it happens, that move saved my race weekend.
A quirk about the St. Petersburg course is that it's actually held on an operational airfield. In fact, the start-finish straight is actually the main runway for the airport. And as I'm sure most of you have seen, at the end of the runway, there are always these very large white painted stripes that allow pilots to center themselves on the runway. Funny thing about these stripes: The painted surface has a lot less grip than regular pavement.
All weekend long, throughout practice and qualifying, our normal race line was to the very left of those stripes. With all the cars running that line, a fair amount of rubber got laid down and increased the grip throughout the weekend. However, at the start of a race, everybody wants to dive down to the inside of the corner, which is substantially off of the line we normally drive and therefore has not gripped up. So guess what happened?
Every year there's always one car that wants to late brake into Turn 1 and gets onto the painted stripe going way too quickly, loses traction, and plows into the cars in front. This year, that car was Chris Cagnazzi's Mercedes GT4, which managed to take out a half-dozen competitors. Cagnazzi is normally a steady hand behind the wheel, so we just have to chalk this one up to a simple mistake with big ramifications. Some cars received fairly major damage, but fortunately for us, we were at the front of that chain and most of the cars behind us had absorbed a large part of the impact. Even still, it was a $10,000-plus repair bill. A bit hit to the season budget 30 seconds in the first race.
That being said, Porsches have always had one vulnerability in motorsports, and it’s that their radiators sit on the front corners of the car and are very exposed in a crash. Even light contact can break them. This is what happened to me—I got pushed into the GT3 Corvette directly in front. It was a very light hit but it was just enough to break our left front radiator and knock us out of the race 300 yards into the start of the season.
Given our afternoon start time, my crew had to scramble to get new parts and get everything put back together before heading back to the hotel at an insanely late hour. And you thought racing was all podiums and champagne.
But the Rotek Racing crew’s late night and early morning paid off, as even though we started Sunday’s race from the back of the field in 28th position (because the grid from Race 2 is determined by the fastest laps from Race 1 and I hadn't completed a single lap), the car was the best it had been all weekend and I was able to methodically work my way forward to finish the race in eighth overall (finishing behind only the GT3 field) and first (and only) in the Invitational class.
Next Up: Sonoma
Now that the mad scramble for St. Petersburg is over, we have a whole seven weeks (now five-ish) before the next race at Sonoma, which will give our crew plenty of time to service the car and make sure we didn't overlook any damage in the rush to get the car back in the race.
The other thing that we will have a chance to do is really start focusing on our diversity initiatives that we have in partnership with the SRO championship. Our mission is to reach out to diverse communities in the cities where we’re racing, and try to increase awareness of opportunities in motorsport. Hopefully, in the process, we can grow a whole new segment of fans that falls in love with race cars just like I did all those years ago.
So tune in next time when I’ll introduce you to the Rotek crew and give you some of their stories on how they got into motorsports (and how you could get into motorsports, too) as well as the full race report from the second round of the championship at Sonoma. Also feel free to drop any questions you may have about racing, running a race team, working with Porsche, or whatever else in the comments below, and I’ll try to address them as best I can.
Robb Holland is an American race car driver and automotive journalist. He has competed in the British Touring Car Championship, Pikes Peak, the World Touring Car Championships, and more.
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