McMurry, Algarve Pro Racing Battle the Rain in Belgium

By Noah Stein

Junior Aerospace Engineering student Matt McMurry competed in his first race of the European Le Mans Series season at the challenging 4 Hours of Spa on the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Along with South Africa’s Mark Patterson and South Korea’s Taksung Kim, with whom he shared driving duties, McMurry practiced and raced in very heavy rain, which was unusual even for Spa. The Ardennes-region track is famous in professional racing for its dynamic weather, but it rarely results in the conditions seen on the weekend of September 23.

“There was definitely a lot of rain that weekend, more than I was expecting for sure. It was actually my first time driving at Spa in the rain!” McMurry said to New University when he returned to Irvine to start classes during Welcome Week.

McMurry qualified the No. 25 Ligier prototype 14th in the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class with an average speed of 124.7 miles per hour on the nearly 4.4-mile circuit. The rain did not affect the Saturday session, although reduced practice time on dry track hampered efforts to get the best speed from the car. However, a spectacular incident towards the end of the session ended the opportunity to improve:

“In Qualifying, on my last flying lap, I was trying to do Eau Rouge (a challenging uphill corner often taken at full throttle) flat. The car’s setup wasn’t very good though, so it bounced hard off the bump in the compression as you go up the hill and caused me to go wide on the exit over that big curb. When I came off the curb the car felt like it was bogging because it was out of gas, but I guess it was the engine cover acting like a parachute!”

The engine cover spectacularly detached itself because of the bumps, landing on the track. Race officials stopped the session to retrieve the part.

Conditions worsened on Sunday. ELMS officials and teams elected to start the race two hours earlier to avoid a forecasted thunderstorm. Even with these efforts, McMurry and 39 fellow drivers started the race in a heavy downpour, which required him to carefully navigate the course while still trying to catch and pass the cars in front.

He successfully kept the Ligier in the race as other drivers aqua-planed into barriers. He  handed off the car to Kim just past the 30-minute mark.

“I approached my stint in the rain similarly to how I would in the dry. The hardest part was dealing with the spray from the other cars. You have to just trust that you know the track well because you can’t even see the edges of the track. The key to doing well in the rain is to keep pushing and trying different lines because the best line in the rain is always changing and is never exactly what you would think it is.”

As expected, conditions worsened mid-race, forcing the race to end under the red flag just past the two-hour mark. The Algarve Pro Racing team finished 13th.

McMurry’s next race weekend will be the 4 Hours of Portimão, Portugal, where he will test and coach his teammates at the Portuguese team’s home race. In addition to his professional racing duties, he is also driving and creating brake components for UCI’s student-run race car design team, Anteater Racing.