Learning From the Best: We Co-Drive With FCP Euro

Masters start as apprentices, and the same model works for racing: Peter Brock worked for Carroll Shelby, Michael Andretti learned from Mario, and we learned from FCP Euro.

“I thought FCP Euro was a European parts website,” you’re thinking. Well, it is, but they’re also one of the most competitive teams in the American Endurance Racing series. Their steed? A Mercedes-Benz C300–because, as they explain, they “wanted to show that you could go fast in something other than an E46-chassis BMW.”

They finished last year’s points chamionship in second, and this year their fortunes look even better. How’d they do it? We asked, and they generously invited us to drive on their team at Road Atlanta. How could we say no to lapping Road Atlanta in a front-running Mercedes?

For starters, let’s put one myth to rest: Their car is not the fastest one on track. In fact, it runs markedly slower lap times than the efforts that usually trail them to the podium. It’s just a C300 with the stock V6 and a five-speed, although a better exhaust makes at least a few more horsepower. They run a Bilstein B16 coil-over kit, while big Enkei RPF1 wheels hold 200-treadwear Falken Azenis RT615K+ tires. The most noticeable improvement is in the brakes: FCP Euro swapped on the huge rotors and calipers from a C63 AMG. Lap times? The C300 ran in the low-1:40s all weekend, but it did so with remarkable consistency.

And that, that right there, is why FCP Euro visits the podium so often: Their car is so, so, so easy to drive. It’s easier to drive at nine-tenths than our Miata at seven-tenths.

Without really any time behind the wheel, we quickly found ourselves only a few ticks off their pace.

Oh, and we should mention the team responsible for those consistent lap times: Nate Vincent, Michael Hurczyn and Rob Gagliardo. They’re all experienced, careful shoes, and we didn’t see the C300 put so much as a wheel out of line all weekend.

What about their pit strategy? The team uses checklists and practices every motion. AER has a 3-minute minimum pit stop time, so the team doesn’t try to do it in 30 seconds: Instead, they take their time, moving deliberately and going from task to task with the fluidity of a ballet. Everybody knows where they should be and what they have to do. As a result, crewmembers aren’t running into each other.

FCP Euro’s stops take about 2 minutes for a driver change and fuel, after which the timer–a dedicated pit stop position–counts the driver down over the radio until it’s time to leave. It’s performance art, and it works. AER penalizes teams that spend less than 3 minutes from pit-in to pit-out, so FCP Euro’s goal is to be within 3 seconds of that target. They’re disappointed if they clock a 3:10 stop.

It’s not just pit stops, either. After coming off track, they put the car in the air, swap tires, check brakes, and inspect everything on the car. Like we learned in Lesson 1, they don’t assume anything. And they never start a race asking if Part X is good enough to go the distance.

All of this prep means that the team is cool and confident during the race, shooting photos and resting between their driving stints. If something does go wrong, they have a plan: Take the car directly back to the paddock, where the tools and spares are already laid out in a ring around the car’s parking spot. They don’t have to search for the trailer keys or wonder where the torque wrench is sitting.

The team invited us to attend the awards ceremony with them, where we stood in front of the cameras with Michael, Nate and Rob. In our hands? First place in Class 3, meaning FCP Euro’s technique had worked yet again. We shook hands, stared at the trophy, and walked away. We wouldn’t call ourselves masters yet. But we definitely learned what a proper endurance racing team looked like.

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Comments
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Wizard_Of_Maz
Wizard_Of_Maz New Reader
7/12/18 1:45 p.m.

Their team is awesome! Chatted with them a bit at the AER race at Watkins this year. There were 90+ cars there (the lions' share being 3 series) so their merc was a welcome addition. And they're wonderful to order from too

dxman92
dxman92 Reader
7/14/18 6:50 a.m.

Nice article! yes

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