For José Carlos Pires, Francisco Abreu, and Speedy Motorsport, their involvement in the Iberian Supercars in 2023 marked a venture into uncharted territory. Despite facing numerous challenges, the Portuguese trio, equipped with a brand-new and exceptionally competitive car, successfully clinched the GT4 titles they were vying for.
This season, Portuguese drivers José Carlos Pires and Francisco Abreu embraced a new challenge for their respective careers, participating in the most important circuit racing competition on the Iberian Peninsula.
The two drivers had never teamed up before, and to add to the uncertainty of a demanding season. They were entrusted with the brand-new BMW M4 (G82) GT4, unveiled this year by the Munich-based automaker. Additionally, Speedy Motorsport was joining the Iberian Supercars Endurance for the first time.
José Carlos Pires points out the size of the mountain the whole team and drivers had to climb: "At the beginning, I expected a challenging and competitive season, where I had to get used to a car weighing over 1500kg and with over 400hp, something I had never regularly competed in throughout my career. I expected a field of experienced drivers to share the track with us, and we didn't know how competitive we would be globally: drivers, team, and car! I also expected a strong teammate, as is the case with Francisco."
Francisco Abreu echoes his teammate's sentiments. He underscores, however, that Speedy Motorsport's engagement in the series offered robust assurances right from the beginning. "Well, at the beginning, I expected, from the start, a competitive championship with many cars and worthy opponents. Everything was new to me. Speedy Motorsport was a new team. I didn't know Zé Carlos or the BMW M4 (G82) GT4, but I've known Pedro Salvador for many years, and I knew that if he contacted me, it would be for a winning project. I have been following Speedy Motorsport since its inception, so when I accepted the challenge, I expected a tough championship but with conditions to fight for victory. I felt it was a good moment to accept this challenge in my career," said the Ilha da Madeira native.
From early on, the BMW M4 GT4 duo from Speedy Motorsport showed competitiveness, with two pole positions in the first weekend of the season at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve. However, this success was not without setbacks, some of which were inherent to the competition itself. "The short time on track with the BMW to get it to 100% was a challenge. It was a new car, of which we had no history, forcing us to learn throughout the season... until the last race at Estoril. In Estoril, we were almost certainly, and also due to the BoP, one of the least competitive cars on the grid. Estoril was the championship stage where we couldn't afford to 'throw away' points, and we couldn't fail," noted José Carlos Pires.
While Francisco Abreu acknowledges that BoP (Balance of Performance) was a factor in the performance of the Speedy Motorsport car and the 'handicap' for the second race was not helpful for the team, he prefers to highlight how the entire structure overcame all the challenges during a very selective season. "It wasn't easy to fight against the ten-second handicap in the second race and balance the car for each type of track. Getting the balance of the BMW right, which faced successive BoP penalties throughout the year, was a great challenge, but we overcame it perfectly, even without experience with this car. I am very happy with the data we accumulated and with the effectiveness with which we evolved each weekend. At the end of the season, we were heavily penalized in terms of power, weight, and the height of the car," explained Francisco Abreu.
The stage was set for a competitive season in which every point would be crucial, with this year's champions Nuno Pires, José Carlos's brother, and Elias Niskanen, the 2022 champion, as the main contenders, a title decided only in the last race of the season.
José Carlos Pires admits that the contingencies of the races ultimately played a decisive role in the final outcome: "Nuno Pires and Elias Niskanen were undoubtedly our main rivals, due to the competitiveness and consistency they showed from the beginning, in Algarve. In Algarve, the first race of the year, where we had a very competitive car, we lost valuable points that made us suffer throughout the season (note: we couldn't start in pole position for the first race because we caught the closed pit lane lights, and in the second race, we suffered a hit in the first braking). On the other hand, Lema Racing had a very competitive car in Estoril, perhaps the best of all that weekend, and they made fewer points there (note: suffered a hit in the second race when leading, which forced them to retire in the second race)... Sometimes it's like that!"
Francisco Abreu agrees with his teammate, pointing out Nuno Pires and Elias Niskanen as very strong opponents, supported by a team that knows their car well. "Lema Racing is one of the best teams in Europe. They are a team that already has many tens of thousands of kilometres with the Mercedes AMG GT4, and we knew they wouldn't make it easy for us. They were worthy opponents, and in the last race, in Estoril, we had some margin to defend, and that's what we did. We achieved the goal of being Portuguese Champions again and winning the Iberian Supercars Endurance," emphasized the Madeira driver.
Throughout the season, these two pairs engaged in a heated battle for the title, culminating in a thrilling and tense season finale at the Autódromo do Estoril. The Cascais event featured dramatic twists, providing a conclusion of epic proportions.
The intensity with which they dealt with the challenges was evident in the protagonists, but this only adds more value to the achievements of the Speedy Motorsport-run BMW M4 (G82) GT4 duo. "I almost always like the journey more than just the destination! What I take from 2023 was the learning experience of working with Speedy Motorsport on a new car and project, a teammate with whom I enjoyed sharing the car, the intense qualifications, and the battles and overtakes that I loved and happened on the track. The title at the end is the result of a process of work from drivers, team, dedication, and everyone's demand – we pushed each other! The experience we had in the last race at Estoril as a team led us to do a good job and score a lot more points with an inferior car than we had in Algarve," highlighted José Carlos Pires.
For Francisco Abreu, besides its inherent value, this championship has a very special significance: "It means a lot to me. It is a title that marks the twenty years of my career, from the beginning, in the times at Kartódromo do Faial, where I started in 2003, to the present day, and it is the fourth consecutive title in the Iberian Peninsula. I feel relieved and want to leave this title to all those who have been with me from the beginning: family, friends, and sponsors.”
After the resounding success of this year, José Carlos Pires is focused on defending the championship in 2024, recognizing that it's necessary to take a step forward, given that the competition will be eager to surpass the champions. "The plans for 2024 are to continue participating in GT4, most likely in Iberian Supercars and the Campeonato de Portugal de Velocidade. The idea is to defend the titles, of course, and be even stronger and more consistent than in 2023," said José Carlos Pires.
On his part, Francisco Abreu still admits to some uncertainty about the next step in his career but emphasizes that you shall not change a winning team: "I don't have any plans at the moment. If the opportunity arises, I'd like to come back and defend the title, if possible, again with Speedy Motorsport and José Carlos, but I don't know what's in store for me. It's like this every year at this time of year. I hope I can put together a project that will once again be a winner. Portuguese circuit racing is back on the right track when we have grids of 30 cars, half of which are GT4s. A Merry Christmas and an excellent New Year to all motorsport lovers.”
In a field that has been growing in quality, a duel played out between experience and freshness, ultimately seeing the newcomers emerge victorious. This underscores the idea that a well-conceived and consistently executed project can be competitive right from the start in Iberian Supercars.