Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Autobahn 3.5hr Enduro - Saturday June 7th

 While at another event at The Autobahn Country Club, we seen a flier for a new 3-race Enduro series this year at Autobahn.  Race #1 was a 3.5hr event to be held on Sat June 7th.  With some (a lot) of planning, our same group that won the 4.5 hr NASA Autobahn Full Track Enduro was signed up!  That meant I'd be back in the #50 Mustang!

Last fall in the 4.5 hr, Dave (owner), Joe and I ended up running 5 total stints of about 50 min each for that race which ended in pitch darkness with me taking the checker in our E0 class.  This would be 3.5hrs and we eventually learned it would be the 2.1 mile South Track running from 4:30pm - 8pm.  Joe couldn't make it, and nobody else that Dave trusts could either, so this would be a 2-man event. 

About a week prior to the event we learned that Dave and our crew chief would be helping instruct an event on the North track all day.  So I immediately was thrust into the starter's role - no worries.  I'd also have the car at my disposal during the daytime to practice as I wanted and would need to qualify and do the final prep on the car.  Seemed simple!

I buzzed up to Autobahn about 8am Sat morning with a new personal best time of 2hr; 7mins - it's about 175 miles.  After being reminded of the battery cut-off safety feature Dave had installed, I got the car started and later went out for the 11:50 practice session.  The car felt fine, reminding me of the limited visibility it has!  The large hood scoop and big A-pillar do hamper things but it's doable. 
1pm was the driver's meeting and by then most of the crew (Ken & Heather) were there; with Dave escaping their instructing gig long enough to catch most of the meeting.  Nothing too crazy rulewise came up in the meeting.  Afterwards we prepped for the final 1:40 practice as we had plans to run the full 25min stint at race pace to gauge fuel consumption.  I think I got 9 laps in around a 1:39-1:41 pace on the Toyo RR's.  At that pace, there were several highly prepped Miata's that were going to be difficult to lap with.  While we were a few seconds faster than the Miata's, their cornering speeds are faster so passing would need to be respectful.

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We let the car cool down and then started prepping the radios etc for Qualifying which we thought was at 3:30pm.  We later learned it was from 3:15-3:25pm instead and we only had 1 tire swapped!  We also couldn't find a tire gun, so the 3 of us had to change everything with a rachet wrench which is painful and painfully slow!  We got things wrapped up with just enough time for me to get exactly 1 hotlap in!  Babying the brand new Hoosier R6 tires that def weren't up to temp, I think I had a 1:39x and was around 10th out of 15 cars perhaps.
We then had 1 hr to setup our pitstall and final prepwork.  The original plan was for me to start and run a full fuel load which we thought would be 1:10-1:15.  That would set us up for a 3-stop race; possibly a 2-stop if things were stretched perfectly throughout.

The race started with me behind the wheel - without too much drama.  Once the Hoosier R6's came up to temp, the car felt so much better than the old RR's we were practicing on.  I settled into pace - ahead of the Miata's at around 1:38 as planned, occasionally running a harder 1:37 by varying gear selection but always taking it slow through T1/2 complex to preserve the LF tire we were concerned about.  There was a double-yellow about 1 hr into my stint and as soon as that cleared up the car coughed for fuel.  I had been motioning into the pits during the yellow (that things were ok), but I noticed everyone thought I was motioning I was coming in for fuel, so it all worked out!  lol.
I loosened the belts as I made it into our pitstall when John (crew-chief) asked me how I was feeling.  I said 'Great'.  He asked if I wanted to double-stint and explained we were in 2nd in class and the 2-stop 3-stint strategy was lined up perfectly with my initial 1:20 stint.  I said 'sure'; and had John buckle me back in. Dave yelled out that I'd unofficially broken the NASA PTB track record... lol - I was well aware of that actually!

After waiting on fuel, I was off for another 1+ hrs!  The sun had started to go behind the clouds and twilight was approaching so the track was cooling.  The car stuck a bit better and I settled into a more aggressive pace.  My best lap being a 1:36.x while still protecting the tires a bit.  The stint was long and I was definitely getting a sore neck, hip (from heel/toe) and right-hand from the shifter.  I think there were about 13-14 shifts per lap!
Once the fuel load was done, I brought the car in and I surprised the crew as it must've been an official smoke-break!  People suited up, fueled the car and Dave hopped in to bring it to the checker with us firmly holding 2nd.  Twilight was upon us and Dave ended up with some light rain during a lot of his ~50min stint.  In the end, he kept it clean (Mustangs + Rain = No Grip!).  And 2nd place was ours!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

NASA @ HPT - 6/1 Racing??

(pic above;  Our pit area.  Included are the #7 and #18 Miata's I drove.  The #54 
was contending for the overall win before an engine failure; although they still won E1.)

After the previous night's Enduro awards at 9pm, we (some more than others) had a few beverages at the track before calling it a night.  Arriving around 7:30am I was eager to find out the status of the #7 and if I'd be racing on Sunday as it was a double race day!  With Quals at 8:40, there was < 1 hr remaining before I'd start missing track time. 

The first update I received on Sunday was that the spare transmission that they were trying to put in the car was having issues.  Either it wasn't healthy itself, or perhaps it was also stuck in a specific shift 'gate' instead of being in neutral.  After about an hour of mulling around while trying to call around for extra parts or help, Cris and I headed over to tell the guys to 'throw in the towel'. 

So there would be no Sunday race; 2 races down the drain.  I said my goodbye's and left the track around 9:45am.  I did the math and I could almost make the start of the Cardinals game in STL at 1:15pm if I really hurried.  I was close, but had to stop for food and ended up meeting a friend at his place to watch some of the 0-8 loss on tv.  Glad we didn't sit in the 94 degree temps for that!

All in all, it was still a fun weekend.  Crazy warm; over 90 all weekend and the entire HPT parking lot is blacktop!  It really sucks the #7 had transmission issues, and I think it was a problem waiting to happen inside the gearbox.  If it were still healthy, it would have been very challenging to run 2 fuelstints in 2 different cars in the 2.5hr Enduro with the heat!  Fortunately I had the #18 lined up and really enjoyed the alternate track config - and of course the win!
I'll leave you with a pic of our winning E3 car; the #18 with the sweet trophy carefully placed on the hood:

Thursday, June 19, 2014

NASA @ HPT - 5/31 Enduro!

After a dissapointing early retirement from the Sprint race earlier in the day (completing 12 of 17 laps), we were prepping for the evening's 2.5 hr Enduro.  The original plan was for me to start the #18 E3 Miata of Andrews, and about 10min later hop into the #7 E3 Miata of Bryan's to finish - running approximately 1:10 in each car.

However, the #18 was wounded from the earlier race and we didn't know if it would be fixed in time. As time ticked away on fixing the #7, my co-driver Cris and I started eliminating prep items like changing tires.  About 30min before the Enduro we realized the car wouldn't be ready.  Sad....

We still had to prep our pitbox in the hotpits as the team overall would be refueling 3 cars (instead of the original 4) and needed all the safety equipment.  And I would still be starting the #18, and I was helping Andrew swap out tires on it < 30mins before the race!  We got everything ready, my water bottle in and by way of our pitbox I was on pole for the start of the race.  A 10min pre-race pop-up shower added some interesting slickness to the track but by the time we rolled on for the pacelap it was sunny again (just a little slick I assumed).

I followed out the pacecar and as I prepared for a R turn, I quickly realized they changed the configuration of the track!  Instead of running the same 2.2 mile config, we'd be running a shorter 1.8 mile config.  What it essentially did was make the course have even more higher-speed turns.  For the Miata's that meant the top of 3rd or possibly 4th - and basically a ton of strain on the driver as you are constantly turning left!
As the green fell, the faster cars quickly worked around me and I tried to settle in and learn the grip of the track as well as the new config which had created 3 different turns to learn.

Another Miata was quickly into the wall in T11 and there was a long yellow through the back few turns, but it really didn't affect much of the racing.  Once that was cleared however, I realized that turn was very slick!  I caught the rear a few times there and eventually ended up with a 360 spin - no harm no foul - but a little scary even in a slow speed corner.  I worked on my laptimes and settled into a 1:18-1:20 laptime if I recall.  The only issue I had was with the clutch sticking a little and eventually I figured out if I shifted slower I could work around the issue.  Part of my stint is below:

  My 1:10 stint was about 30% into a setting sun and just plain hot!  Miata's are small inside and there's not much airflow.  I was thankful for my water bottle!  I eventually got the signal to pit - and I was exhausted already.  Our pitstop was clean; I think timed at around 51 seconds including driver change and fuel!  The owner, Andrew, was in for the finish.  I got word later that we were in 2nd place.  Andrew's stint went clean and he brought it to the finish at dusk with us assuming we claimed 2nd in E3.  A few mins later at the awards ceremony they called a different team name for 2nd - turns out Andrew made the pass for 1st place in the closing laps and we took first in E3 by only 5 seconds!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

NASA @ HPT - 5/31 Sprint Races!

I took off for Kansas around 2:45pm Friday afternoon.  The majority of the trip is W through Missouri via a 4-lane divided highway with a 65mph limit - and this featured about 4 different pop-up showers, several of them with heave downpour!  All-in-all I made the 371 mile trip is just over 5 hours.  I headed straight to a local Restuarant/Brewery that I'd visited before for drinks and some very tasty dry-rubbed ribs!

Saturday I arrived at the track and found the #7 red/white Miata there needing some final prep before the 8:40am warmups.  I also found the #18 white Miata right next to it that I'd be co-driving later that night on the 2.5 hr Enduro!  Yes; this was going to be a busy day as I'd be running the sprint race, and co-driving both cars in the evening Enduro - 2 cars in the same 2.5hr race with a 10min rest between!

Warmups went fine on the 2.2 mile config, the first time I'd driven it.  My lap of 1:41.9 was actually the best in our class; kinda shocking me.  Alltogether, this was only my 3rd time to HPT but I'd never driving anything besides the 2.5 mile 'Grand Course', so this was neat.  The car seemed to rotate a bit better in the slower turns than before and I'd be sharing the car and my feedback with Cris throughout the day as we both worked to help eachother out (he was running in the different TTE Time Trials group). 

The 10:20am Quals went pretty well for me I thought.  The car felt good, but the laptime didn't improve as much as I had thought.  My best was a 1:40.849 placing me in 3rd; with 2-3-4 separated by just .045!  Shortly after, Cris put down a better laptime in his 11pm session and as such we talked through some lines and track positioning as he is much more familiar with the track. 

The 35min sprint race was scheduled for 2:40pm and by then it was crazy hot.  On the start I had trouble shifting from 2-3 which is a real issue with this car as the 3rd gear synchro is going.  That shuffled me back a few spots right off the back.  The front 3 pulled away with the front 2 checking out completely.  I duked it out with a Fiero several laps for 4th.  I finally got around him and had set off to chase the leaders when a Porsche spun on the backstraight in front of me and I had to check way up - which caused me to lose about 4 spots.  Now I had to battle to get all of those positions back over the next several laps.  I did, but as soon as I got back into 4th the car became difficult to shift into any gear.  It eventually locked itself into 3rd and I pulled off after 12 laps (race went 17 laps total) with a mechanical DNF.

Obviously I was bummed.  This meant the dual-car Enduro wasn't going to happen later that day either.  However, the owner had access to a used gearbox on site and set about finding some workers to swap them out.  We quickly got word that they belived they could do the swap and have the car ready just before the 6:15pm start of the Enduro - barely 3 hrs away.  As such, we planned accordingly to prep the #7 as soon as it would be available.  The plan was for me to finish the race in the #7.

Likewise, I helped the owner of the the #18 Miata out with prepwork for the Enduro as I would be starting his car and finishing the #18.  Yep; 2 cars in the same 2.5hr race!  Bold, but I really wanted to try it. Stay tuned....

Monday, May 26, 2014

NASA Midwest Region @ Autobahn - 4/27/14

Sunday brought another day of great racing; with a similar schedule.  Practice yielded a 1:40.6; which was 4th of the PTE class but I knew their was more time in the car and wasn't worried.  2 hours later in qualifying I pushed hard and my best lap of 1:38.512 would put me on pole!  The top was damn tight; with 2nd being .08 behind me and the top four separated by just .355!
Today's race would be a rolling start.  And Jason and I would again be on the front row; with him qualifying P2.  We discussed a strategy of slow into T1 and me guarding the inside of the track; with him holding close to me so nobody could squeeze through.  We wanted to keep everyone else behind, and let us duke out P1.
The strategy worked pretty damn well actually.  With the drop of the green, the Miatas (pretty much everybody but me is in a PTE Miata) got a bit of a jump thx to their bigger motors, but I was able to make that up braking late into T1 thanks to my lower weight.  T1 and T2 went just as planned - and I was full out through T3 and was able to pull a bit of a gap.  T4 we were still 2-wide and with T5 Jason getting picked a little and I was able to pull a bit of a gap that I exercised by using all of T6 and checked out in the lead!  T6 is where both the videos below end - with both a forward-facing and rearward-facing camera.  Pretty neat stuff; there's a lot going on in those 40 or so seconds!
By the end of lap #1, I had about a 4-6 car lead with everyone still duking it out for position behind me.  I decided to take care of the tires a bit, as yesterday things got really greasy.  I think this strategy call was the incorrect call, as it let the competition stay close.  A few laps in, I took a bad line into T6 and pretty much lost all of my lead.  I was now forced into some defensive driving lines and into similar issues as Saturday where I'm at a bit of a disadvantage in traffic with the lower torque motor.  In the end there was some terrific driving in class, specially with the top 4 of us.  I had a terrific weekend and had a lot of fun.  It's great to hop in a car you've never seen or driven before and immediately be competitive.  Not only that; I put the car on the front-row of qualifying each day and run under the old track record!  Huge thanks to Sam and Myers Motorsports for the car prep.