Friday, February 25, 2011

First Race Weekend of 2011

Sanctioning Body: NASA-MA
Class: TTE (Time Trials)
Position, Day 1: 5 of 8*
Position, Day 2: 5 of 7*

Not how I wanted to start my season.

I had committed to running Hoosier tires this year based on results from the end of my season last year, which had me finishing in the top 3--high enough to win tires. Running Hoosiers was a gamble because they're (a) more expensive, and (b) take 3 points away from what could be engine or suspension mods.

Since I had committed to a plan that would see my tire budget decrease, and since NASA had raised the minimum weight of my car to just about exactly my last-known competition weight, I also decided to buy scales. A hefty investment, to be sure, but I couldn't afford to be even 5 lbs under weight, or I'd be bumped into the next class (given the results from TTD, though, I would have won on Sunday).

The scales told me that I needed to add 30 lbs to meet weight. They also told me that the weight desperately needed to be on the passenger side. And as it just so happened, I had a seat that had been removed from that side which, when combined with the weight of its belts, put just about exactly the right amount of weight back in. Score!


In doing the initial balance, I detached both sway bars. And while I remembered to reattach them, I did not remember to re-torque them. This, of course, resulted in both coming loose on track, which caused the right rear tire to pogo on right turns, which did not help lap times. By the end of the 3rd session on Saturday, it was impossible to get any grip in the rear. A quick glance under the car revealed two end-links laying flat on the control arms. Oops. Off to the parts store!

Once that was fixed, I was ready to go back out on track and tear it up. Except instead of doing that, I locked up the tires under braking at end of the front straight on the first hot lap of the session.

Even without posting a single lap on Saturday with a properly-functioning suspension, I was still only 0.4 seconds off my fastest-ever lap. These tires are sticky.

Sunday I would have only two sessions, and I had a lot of work to do to put myself into contention. I had the car ready to go, having put the flat-spotted tires in the rear and triple-checking torques.

I started out behind the #53 Spec Miata of Grant Cain. Grant's a great kid, and I enjoy running with him. But apparently he was having some handling issues, because he just couldn't put down a hot lap. I caught him in the climbing esses, and when I went inside him at South Bend he drove off into the grass. Sorry Grant! 5 laps into the session, though, I ran out of gas. Rounding oak tree after passing a car in a higher class, the engine sputtered. I parked it, 0.3 seconds off my fastest-ever pace.

Which, as it turns out, would be the best I would do all weekend. The second session was a mess. On the first lap I had chased down a car 2 classes ahead of me, and when I began my pass I saw a car in the grass. I let him pass me again to avoid a black flag, since I realized I was passing under yellow. For the next 3 laps, the yellow was displayed at South Bend, with emergency vehicles at Oak Tree. In spite of this, though, I was turning 2:25.0 laps, within 0.15 seconds of my best ever lap while puttering through a straight-away!

The second the flags were gone, I punched it. I was putting down the lap of my life. I had come through South Bend at 94mph, an absolute record in my car, and had even managed to control wheel-spin at Oak Tree. I was 1.6 seconds head of pace for the weekend, which was going to be a 2:23.4 lap, when I spun at Roller coaster. It was ugly. And even though I made eye-contact with a corner-worker, he didn't give me any indication that I was about to merge right into the path of 2 oncoming faster cars. An accident was narrowly avoided, pride was severely wounded, and my weekend was done.

Analyzing the data afterward, I now know that, with only the new tires, my best theoretical lap is 2:22.8, two full seconds faster than I've ever done. It's still not enough for 3rd place (the worst I can do and still potentially win tires), so I've done what every red-blooded American does when confronted with a problem: thrown money at it.

Right now I'm waiting for a full replacement ECU, header, and intake to arrive. When they get here, the car is going to the dyno and a reclass request will be filed. This car will make more power, and as long as I can wrangle that power, I will post better results.

Here's looking forward to March.

*9 cars were registered in class, but did not all compete on both days.