Hyperfest may have been NASA's big event, back in June, but nothing on the year's racing schedule touches the grandeur of the Pirelli Ultimate Track Car Challenge presented by Grassroots Motorsports. It holds a special place in my heart because last year I was there becoming an instructor and competing for the first time in Time Trials.
Since then, I've missed just one NASA Mid-Atlantic competition weekend, and my results have steadily improved to put me in 3rd place for season points (up from 5th last year, and only 5 points out of 2nd this year!).
This year I intended to go and do my usual Time Trials & instructing weekend, but I got a call about a month ago asking if I'd like to drive someone else's prepared vehicle in the UTCC on Friday. It was this:
Obviously the only possible answer was "yes", followed by "hell yes". It was an opportunity to learn how to pilot another vehicle, get some additional track time, and maybe possibly build a bit of name recognition since the magazine does a blurb on every vehicle and its associated team & driver.
And what an experience! The Wreckless Abandon crew made one hell of a fast truck. With a bulletproof motor that could pull almost anything in a straight line, NASCAR cup brakes, the widest slicks I've ever seen, and a suspension that was remarkably capable, I was able to pull times that were competitive with my best ever times in the Miata.
I managed to haul that 3900lb beast to a 2:22.339 lap, 8 seconds faster than the truck had ever turned laps at VIR, and considerably faster than the last place finish the guys were expecting (you don't show up with a $500 vehicle to a super-car shootout with much hope).
Even without the quick laps, it was the talk of the paddock. The tech inspection crew didn't want to approve it to go on track at all, but there was hardly a moment all day when there wasn't a small crowd around it. The Grassroots Motorsports guys spent a good amount of time chatting us up about it, and a data-acquisition company called RaceKeeper decided to volunteer their system for one of my sessions. They came back later and told us the video will be featured next month as Grassroots Motorsports' video of the month, and that they were shocked at how much steering was required to get it around the track.
I did have two off-track excursions in it (one of which may be part of the video), once as a result of boiled brake fluid, and once when fuel was starved from the pickup sensor under heavy braking, but all in all it was a solid setup that I'd drive again in a heartbeat.
Saturday & Sunday brought a return to normalcy with TT and instruction, or so I thought... It turned out that my first student was a Grassroots Motorsports employee, and the car was a one-off factory concept Subaru. Called the Legacy GTk, it was an Outback with a Legacy GT drivetrain, but with an enlarged cargo area specifically for a child's shifter kart. The actual concept was that you would take your kid to the track, drop him/her off at the kart track, and then go turn laps on the grown-up side. Not a bad concept.
We had a great day in the car, which surprisingly featured almost 100% working accessories (extremely uncommon in concept cars), the most important of which was the AC. With temps hovering just above 100F, any relief was welcome.
My other student did not fare so well. I got sick from the heat and had to solo him early. Fortunately he's a great learner and a fantastic driver, so I wasn't too concerned.
But somehow in the fray, and in spite of turning good laps, I managed to lose an hour of my day. Just gone--no idea where it went or what happened. I invented a very convincing story in my head, that I'd gone out for a 2nd session with my group 2 student, and can still vividly remember that phantom session, but evidently heat can do some horrible things to your brain.
Fortunately the day ended with a thunderstorm shortly before my last session, and I had a very convincing run that was good enough for 2nd place. It helped having a rabbit to chase...
Sunday, however, was an exercise in futility. Hoping to beat the heat with a solid early run, I overdrove and went off in Turn 5 in the first session, then overdrove and went off in Oak Tree in the 2nd.
That meant my 3rd session would be automatically disqualified (so I turned one lap at an abysmally slow pace for a 2:37), and I had no choice but to stick around for the 4th and final session if I wanted to post a time.
That sucked harder than anything because ambient temps were back to about 100F by that late session, and the two offs had not done my alignment any favors. The best I could manage was a 2:23.5, a full 3 seconds off my best lap from the previous day, and just barely good enough for 3rd place for the day.
Ultimately the weekend was a success, bringing me up from a 20-point deficit to a 5-point deficit for 2nd place, two free tires, two fantastic students, riding in a car that doesn't properly exist, and piloting a truck that's just too freakin' awesome to exist.
Shout-outs to the guys at NASA Mid-Atlantic, Hoosier Race Tires, Grassroots Motorsports, Wreckless Abandon Racing, and my beautiful fiancee who endured the heat all weekend and whose car got mauled by a trailer late Sunday afternoon. I love you, babe!