WDMS - Chapter 236 - January 2015
NASA TEXAS @ MSR-Houston
Wow. Just wow. It seems like it was only a few weeks ago that we were closing out the season because...well...it was only a few weeks ago. Right after the season finale at ECR I had a work trip to Vegas where the family flew out and we got to spend some time goofing off, I did a quick look at SEMA and the Optima Street Car Challenge (lol!), then the family took a vacation to St Martin (5 stars) and then we fielded Bic in the WRL race at TWS (bagged a 3rd and a 1st!!) and then a quick flight to Toronto and straight-through-drive-to-Texas with Anna's Christmas present and then Christmas and New Years (fam trip to Taos) and bam it was 10 days until the season opener.
As you likely guessed, I wasn't really ready for this event but decided to take a swing at it anyway. With 10 days to go, we already had 7 cars in SU and a Blitz field that looked stout. The Blitz run group contains SU/ST1/ST2 as well as the GTS (german touring series) classes and it was exciting to see that many cars not only in Blitz, but SU particularly. While NASA in an amateur organization, like the SCCA and NARRA there are contingencies available from tires/brakes/parts sellers and most only "pay out" when there are 5 or more in a class. SU already had that beaten, so if I could make it and do well, I might snag some more free tires.
The only real time I had to prepare Scratcher was the week prior to the event and I made sure that weekend was fairly open. So, of course, it rained. For days prior to the weekend and then all weekend as well. Scratcher was in the trailer and the trailer was beside the house and...there was no way I was going to get it out. For the weekend I organized tools, spare parts and the trailer loadout and made lists. Thankfully the rain stopped on Monday and by Thursday the ground was firm enough to pull the trailer out (I have GOT to get my shop built!). The revised plan was to head down Friday and unload and get the car ready. On one hand, Scratcher ran great at ECR and should only need a look-over and hopefully a few hours of cleaning/prep/checking. On the other hand, if I found anything serious, I'd be hosed. The one thing I *did* get done was to send my front ASTs (removed at ECR) to MaxcySpeed to get fixed. One was blown completely, the other leaking. Both were repaired/checked/tuned in a few days and dropped off with Fair at VoMo mid-week and he was bringing them down with him.
A radical. Very light, very low CoG, lots of downforce. And runs in SU.
The original strategy was to run my old Hoosiers (that were new at Hallett, and had also run TWS and ECR and a test day) that had decent tread but that got tossed out the window when I saw that we had a radical in SU. A radical is a very light sports racer with almost as much power-to-weight as Scratcher, but with a lot of downforce and a very low cg. On a tight course, my guess was the radical would walk away from the rest of the SU field, and with that likelihood, my "just make the event" strategy went out the window and I mounted up one of the sticker (new) sets of Hoosiers that we won last year. If I was going down, I was going to go down swinging the biggest bat I had. No opportunity for excuses later. Maximum effort.
Stickers = SRS BZNS
At a very early hour on Friday, our rig is southbound with MFW behind me and we're headed to the track. When we arrive the paddock is mostly full (dang it!) and we park further out than we'd like, but we snag enough land to add in Fair in the VoMo rig and MFW's wife's (Misty) rig as well. Anna had to work in the morning and would be headed down in Aero (the pcar) just after lunch. MFW and I unload cars and get to prepping. My going is slow as I'm also getting real work done (conference call in one ear, ratchet in one hand) but it all goes pretty smooth. MFW and I tech both my car and his and do our paperwork and eventually go to tech and get our annual stickers. With Scratcher up on stands I look over the whole car and it all seems fine. Neil (ThinkFast Engineering) and I have planned a front suspension geometry upgrade, but I didn't have time to get all the prep work and parts ready, so the setup stays the same, but the freshened/tuned AST's go on the car as well as the sticker Hoosiers. Anna showed up in the afternoon and pitched in as well, and then Misty in her rig and Fair in the VoMo rig showed and we had our paddock spot pretty full. I got my front ASTs from Fair and put them on and was hopeful for the next day.
Sunset on Stuttgart (and Dearborn....)
Trailer update: This is pretty long overdue, but last year I picked up a lightly used (5 hours!) yamaha genset (nicknamed 'droid' because that's exactly what it looks like) that is just stupid quiet and sips fuel and wired in more lights and outlets in the trailer. I stayed in it at Hallett and at ECR last year and was pretty comfy (I'd put AC on it several years ago). Anna brought an air mattress and we stayed there the whole weekend. While it got into the low 40s at night, we had a small heater and slept really well. While saving hotel costs is always nice, the fact that there is no back and forth is a real time saving and is just....really cool. I need to do a few more things to make the trailer more of a good home while at the track, but it is really working out well.
Saturday dawns and I've got my kerosene bullet heater in front of Scratcher heating up the radiator and coolant and thus, the engine. In 10 minutes the radiator and lower radiator hose is actually pretty hot to the touch. While I'd left a blanket over the windshield, there was a bit of moisture on the inside, but that was gone in minutes from all the heat throwing. Just like last year, I'm double entered in TTU and SU so I've got a lot of track time should I want it. I skip the Blitz warmup and do the very next session which is the TT warmup. It is important to throw down a decent time as the grid for TT is set by warmup time and with new tires I'd want to be able to throw a time and come in and not get bogged in traffic. With that in mind, I knew it'd take at least 3 laps to get the whole car ready to throw down a lap as well as scuff the tires enough to have them grip. So after 3 laps I pushed a bit to see what the SOLO (in car timer, with predictive) could show me. Although I was in traffic by lap 2 and leaving a good margin as the track was very cold, when I saw a high 1:35 on the timer I did a cool down lap and came in.
Early morning warm-up with the TT group
First off, I was a bit perplexed. The track was very cold and verrrrry green with all the recent rain. The existing SU track record is a 1:38, the existing TTU record is a 1:45 and the fastest TT record (TT1) is a 1:37. Apparently I'd just run faster than any NASA entrant or car has ever run here and I did it in a simple warm-up on a green track. Was this right? Sadly, the race monitor timing app was not getting data (c'mon NASA TX folks, get this right....when cars are on track, get the feed going!!) and so I wondered if my time was actually quick or did everyone go really fast and I was not near the front. In the meantime, I had things to solve. While the car ran great, the front end was scraping and so I bumped the front compression two clicks and hoped that would help. It was not scraping a lot (I also was not pushing 100%), but the nose was scraping in several places on the track and aluminum rivet heads wear down in short order.
Timing sheets were available pretty quick and, shazam, the time was indeed quick. With 26 folks on track, I would be P1 for the first official session and by a margin of over 4 seconds clear of the P2 viper that runs TT1 very strongly. Typically he is a lot closer to me, but perhaps he was warming up like I was and my warmup was just a few degrees more warm than his. Yeah. that's probably it.
Before SU qualifying I've got the first timed TT session and I head down for that. Anna has the GoPro charged and Scratcher ready and the track feels a little less green this session. Again, I want to save tires so I make my first green flag lap a quick one at a 1:34.4 and then bag a 1:34.3 and then cool it off and bring it in. I'm pretty certain that will keep me at the front of TTU (we had 5 entered, so that was good!) and it gave me time to come in, adjust air pressure and go get on grid for Blitz qualifying. I was fairly happy with the TT laps and knew a 33 was possible if I hung it out a little harder and was a little tidier, but I doubted I'd go back out in TT since I had a near-5 second gap on the closest car.
VIDEO OF THE FASTEST LAP: https://vimeo.com/117226161
Blitz qualy went well and I drove a bit conservative to still save on tires and to minimize the front still scraping in spots. I threw down a 1:36.4 to take pole by about 3 seconds over Weathers (C6Z prepped by G-Speed's Louis Gigliotti....the same Louis who fixed Scratcher a few years back when the front control arm mount vertical cracked). Weathers was in ST1 and behind him was a slew of SU and ST1 cars that would clearly be ready to chase us down.
Weathers (Mr. Speedy) in his C6Z prepped by G-Speed's Louis Gigliotti
Let's talk about Weathers a bit. This is a guy who is a very fast driver in a very capable car. I'd been bugging him to do a NASA event and was glad he was here but very perplexed on Friday night when he was in "rookie" school. Sure, he was a NASA rookie, but the guy has a lot of seat time (and victories) in NARRA and WRL as well as being an AMA pro-level rider for years. On Saturday morning he was doing the 'passing drills' and I would have been laughing had I not been flat out embarrassed for the organization that made him do it. I tracked down Patterson (Blitz director) and he knew of Weathers and said he was fine with him doing qualy and the race and not waiting until R2 to participate as was "the plan". I then tracked down the competition school guy and he said the same thing after myself, MFW and Patterson all vouched for him but he said it was in Will's (NASA TX director) court to just circumvent the system and let him race. So I track down Will and we had a quick chat. While I understood that he got all kinds of calls from folks who did one kind of racing or the other and wanted their school waived, he did agree that with myself, MFW and Patterson all vouching for him, he'd agree to let Weathers qualy and do R1. I told Will right then and there that this was another Messer, meaning another guy who would do very well and I said "this guy is going to run away with four wins and nobody is going to touch him, just like Messer did last year". Will said "I hope so" and we laughed. I'm not sure Will believed me, but I was certain of it. Will said to send Weathers over and he'd get him in the system to race and I said thanks. It meant a lot to me that the director would take the time to hear me out and listen to what his participants and other directors had to say.
I went and told the news to Weathers who took off to go check in with Will. Louis upped his timeline and got the grey beast ready for the upcoming battle. I went back and added another click of compression and raised the car a bit all around and hoped that would end the scraping. Neil always wants to run the car as low as possible and rivets are cheap, so that's what I do. I cannot argue with the success, so we keep following the plan.
Weathers and I lock out the front row
Weathers and I are on grid a bit early for the Blitz race and we chat. We decide that whoever has the lead into T1 will take it and the other will not challenge them for the remainder of the first lap. The plan is for both of us to run a fast line and get away from the pack. If we battle each other and have to run a defensive line, it will only result in us both going slow and possibly falling into the clutches of the pack and potentially losing position. I trust Weathers next to me and I tell him my pace lap plan and how I'm going to start the race. We shake on it and head to our cars that made up the Chevrolet front row. I'm still worried a bit about the radical (qualified at a 1:41 but was mired in traffic) as I don't think he has shown his real speed, but I'm hopeful I can put Weathers in between Scratcher and the other 6 SU cars and I can break away and hopefully take Weathers with me.
Lapchart for R1. Hoosiers!!!!
The plan worked. I got slightly ahead of Weathers and we lined up and flew through T1/T2 (a 180* turn) and we were gone. On the fourth lap the radical caught Weathers and nosed inside of him and Weathers, leading ST1 by a nice margin and wearing that bright orange "R" to denote rookie, let him go. It was the very mature thing to do as the R means the corner workers and control are watching for any stupid moves and battling an out-of-class car is #1 in the stupid moves book. I dropped the hammer for the first few laps and then took it easy trying to drive and minimize the scraping. As I came upon a boxster to lap him I briefly smelled coolant and thought "uh-oh, this boxster has a problem". Then I passed the boxster and still smelled coolant. "Uh-oh, I've got a problem". The temp gauge started creeping up on the next lap and then we got a full course caution for multiple incidents around the track and sadly they kept us out there making easy laps. The temp kept slowly creeping up but the checker finally flew prior to it getting ugly, several slow laps later. I won SU and Weathers won ST1 and there was joy in that. There was more joy in the fact that only one W2W race per day is the "contingency" race and R1 was it, so I had a pair of tires won no matter if there were 5 in time trials or not. Free tire joy is a very nice joy.
Louis patching the radiator so that Scratcher does not have to go home early.
There was absolutely no joy for my radiator. The scraping had eliminated some rivet heads that held the lower brace and without it the radiator slid back into the long crank snout (with drives for the oil pump, water pump and alternator belts). We had about 3 hours before the next race (including an hour for lunch) and Louis said he knew a way to temporarily fix the radiator but we'd need some radiator sealing pellets as well. So, while I set to work pulling the radiator, Anna took Aero and scooted to town. With the radiator out, Louis snipped away the fins and then cut the punctured aluminum cross tube and flattened it. He folded the sides back over themselves and crimped it closed, folded and crimped again, and then one more time. Anna was pulling back up as I was re-installing the radiator and she filled and burped the system as I was riveting everything back into place. As the engine came up to temp (with a lower pressure radiator cap for good measure) it was holding pressure just fine and I had about 20 minutes till I had to be on grid. Anna got the pressures set and I slid into my nomex and headed to grid.
Weathers providing me motivation to not back off.
Weathers was ready and we chatted again. He was starting P3 and the radical would be next to me. Ruh-roh. The plan was for him to jump with me and us both take the inside through T1/2 and run away again. The plan sounded great, and surprisingly that is what happened. I got in to T1 a bit hot and the back end stepped out and I held it there for a bit as I knew it would make everyone back off just a touch and then I gathered it up to see Weathers right behind me and we both were dropping the hammer. Knowing he'd not challenge me on the first lap I ran exit-speed lines and he did too and we had a nice gap by the end of lap 1 that just kept growing. Weathers slipped back a little behind me, but he had a good gap to the SU radical in P3 who was in front of the rest of the ST1/SU cars. The Blitz grid for this race was forty (40!!) cars and by lap 3 I was finding the backmarkers with Weathers carving through them a few seconds behind me. Thankfully, our original plan worked just as we wanted it to and I took the overall/SU win with Weathers taking another ST1 win, finishing about 3 seconds behind me. Weathers and I had a great chat about the race and I congratulated him on his second victory and headed back to Scratcher to get her ready for the day ahead before it got dark.
Above: Anna caught my opening lap antics on chilly tahrs.
Below: Weathers and I working traffic as the checker flies (and the yellow.....and the EV)
Above: Lapchart from R2
Below: Scratcher never sleeps, she just waits for the next chance to win
Anna and I bled the brakes, filled the fuel and got the front and rear windows wiped down as well as making more ride height adjustments to bring the car up a bit more. I swapped the tires from side to side and put in fresh oil and called it a day. Looking at lap times, I threw down a fastest 1:37.3 for fastest lap and Weathers had a 1:38.3, while the radical put in a 1:41.4, finishing P3 overall and P2 in SU. When darkness fell we had Scratcher ready and we cleaned up a bit and headed to the BBQ/Awards dinner that was held by the tech shed. We snacked a bit and then I picked up two trophies (winning the first "contingency" SU race and winning TTU for the day) and chatted with folks. We went back to the trailer and curled up and slept comfortably, freaking exhausted by the very busy day. The droid purred throughout the night, powering a little heater for us and also charging gopro cameras and remotes as well as cell phones and a laptop. With the radiator mishap, surely we had conquered the best the race gods could throw at us and tomorrow would be smooth sailing. (foreshadowing: or not)
Sunday the sun rises and we weren't too far behind it. Again the kerosene jet warmed up Scratcher's nose as Anna and I did final prep prior to the Blitz warmup. I scooted out for my first session and did a few laps with a best of a 1:40 on the slick surface. Thankfully the sun was out and the track was warming fast and so the plan was to do the first TT session and lay down a good time and then not have to do anymore TT sessions the rest of the day to save tires/brakes and fuel. I was a little short on fuel (bad calculations on my part the previous weekend) but figured I'd have enough. (foreshadowing: or not)
With a short gap between Blitz warmup and the TT session we only bled down the tires and I lined back up. I took a warmup, laid down a 1:36.7 with still a touch of scraping and came in, figuring that would stand for TTU today (foreshadowing: it did). Back to the paddock, we chilled out and waited till Blitz qualy to see where we would start R3 (Sunday's two races are R3 and R4, with R3 being the contingency race). Again, I raised the car just a touch and also added some rebound clicks to the front and felt good about qualy.
Below: Tearing up Hoosiers due to a "problem"
For Blitz qualy the grid was indeed packed and the order was simply first come first serve. This left several really fast cars in the middle or back of the grid and the results showed it. Although I launched first and did a slow outlap, cars were still being released when I was almost 3/4ths of the way done and ready to start pushing. Traffic was actually going to be the least of my worries. As I went into diamonds edge to brake heavily and then turn and start my way back towards the front straight, the car felt darty under the brakes and I was thinking that perhaps I'd gotten the rebound settings wonky and this was the result. No matter, I just needed one lap so I scooted up the back straight, went through the carousel and flew under the green flag flying at the starters stand to begin my qualifying. At the end of the front straight I got into the brakes a little bit early and I'm glad I did. The front end washed out and the tires locked way too easy, I unlocked them after a nice cloud of smoke and then got into the corner. Scratcher felt okay in the corner, but had difficulty going straight. I assumed I had uneven dampers, a faulty damper or a tire going down so I hustled the car that lap, laid down a decent 1:37 and pulled it into the paddock to check it out. Tires were okay, front dampers felt find when pushing down on the frame...and so I went to check the bearings and steering linkage next. Uh-oh.
I broke the damn car. Dammit. The steering rack mounts to a bar that runs between the frame rails and it was broken clean through on one side and cracked on the other. Now all the handling interactions made sense, but in three hours I needed to start R3 and it simply wasn't going to happen like this. For a moment I figured Scratcher was headed home but (of course) Anna said to chat with Louis first. Honestly, he'd be the one to repair it anyway, so I snapped a good picture of it and headed over to Weathers' pits and chatted with Louis. He was sure he could fix it and the guys next to him had a mig welder (with gas) and Louis had some metal strapping. I went back, cleaned off all the paint in the area and then took the car over to Louis. In about a 20 minutes he had stitched in a lot of patches and bracing and declared it ready to go (thanks Louis!). I took the car back over to our paddock and Anna and I finished up putting it back together with not much time to spare and so I hurried into my nomex and headed to grid. My one lap was good enough to be on pole, but Weathers was not so lucky. He was in the middle of grid and could not get a clear lap and ended up P6 for the start. Next to me was another SU car with the radical behind me. This would be interesting. A short chat on grid and Weathers felt good. He said he'd take it easy and let things sort and then drop the hammer.
We launch and I work hard to put a ton of heat into the brakes and tires on the pace lap. I bring us slow around the carousel and slowly raise speed to where I'm dead in the middle of the power in 2nd as the moment steals all of my consciousness. My left hand holds the 9 o'clock position on the wheel, my right hand is open with fingers wide as the palm is almost touching the ball of the shifter. My left foot still dragging the brakes as my right foot is balancing the throttle position to the corresponding power needed to slightly overcome the brakes as my eyes are intently focused on the starter. I don't hear Scratcher, and I don't hear the car next to me with the loud exhaust dumping right at me. I don't feel the shoulder straps pulled so tight that my HANS is shoved into my shoulders meaning that Scratcher and I are one and any impact or nuance no matter how severe or minute is transmitted to my body directly with no filter or masking. I don't smell, I don't feel the heat and there are only two things that occupy my brain at this instant. First, the focal point on the starter's right elbow and second the gentle command to slow down my heart rate. It isn't fast by any means...in fact it probably was only a few beats above my resting heart rate, but in this fleeting moment I need to be relaxed and while my physiology is in a loop issuing and reissuing a relax command...his elbow twitches. Before his wrist has even moved vertically, the brakes are released, the loud pedal is matted and my backside goes to full sensitivity for the potential wheelspin that does not occur meaning my severe tire warming antics were successful. Result: Pack is left behind.
The car next to me faded back a bit, either suffering wheelspin or not quite getting the jump I did and I eased to the middle of the track and waited perilously late to brake and then squeezed the binders gently, hands tight on the wheel in case the steering repair did not work, and was rewarded with good deceleration. I ripped through the 180 in the lead and used every morsel of grip, both lateral and forward, that I could find to get the hell away from the pack behind me. Scratcher was completely on board with my heightened sense of urgency and responded with clearly the same goal. We cleared the first big sweeping corner with several car lengths of a lead and just kept opening it up from there. I was driving a bit conservative, to keep just a little back, but not much. This was the "contingency" race and thus would likely be a bit longer so I could count on at least 10 laps, so the goal was to build a quick gap and then back off and maintain it. My opening lap was a 1:37 compared to the P2 cars' 1:40, and lap two I laid down my fastest lap of the race at a 1:36 while the P2 car faded a bit more with a 1:41. In two laps I had an 8 second lead.
Scratcher and I, Weathers, and the radical all work traffic
After two laps I backed off and began to look back through the field courtesy of some sharp corners. Weathers had started P6 but was already in third and I could see he was closing on the P2 car that I had a good gap on. On lap 3 coming out of the bus stop and taking a long right hand bend while accelerating Scratcher stumbled a bit at high rpm. Instantly I knew it was a fuel starve because I did not add fuel. I ran qualy light to save weight and in the thrash to get the frame welded up, I neglected to add fuel. I was fairly certain I could finish the race, but not at a full-push pace. I began short shifting and carrying as much speed as possible and then on the beginning of lap 4 the brake pedal quickly got really long. Instantly I figured (correctly) that the ducting that I moved a bit for the welding repair was not exactly put back where it belonged and it was not carrying all the air to the brakes it was supposed to. Wonderful. In the 'good news' department, the coolant temp was rock steady and the only thing my nose could smell was the really hot brakes! On the previous lap, (lap 3) Weathers had caught the P2 car and taken the position, so now it was down to the Chevrolets again. As a bonus, on lap 4 I also began to catch traffic and tried to play it smart working through them to keep building the gap to the other SU cars.
So, I simply backed off a lot and saw Weathers slowly inch into my lead. He had a nice gap to the SU car and my mind already went into "season points" mode and so I honestly didn't care if Weathers got by as long as I stayed in front of the the rest of the SU field. After 9 hard laps, the starter finally threw the white flag as I started lap 10. By now, long right hand turns were hurting my ability to make speed and the brake pedal required a good 8-10 pumps to work. Coolant temp was thankfully stable (heh, thanks Louis!). Sadly, driving the course clock-wise meant we had an abundance of right hand turns and as I approached about half-lap I could see Weathers coming at full steam. I made the final right hander and struggled a bit to get down the straight, cautious to not build up too much speed for fear that I could not slow down enough for the long left hand carousel prior to the front straight (and the s/f line and waiting checker). As I approached the carousel, Weathers was in complete and full 'fangs out' mode looking for an overall race win. I'm sure he could smell it the victory! I stayed wide and he slid under me and scooted the 100 yards to the finish with me right behind him. WAHOO!!
VIDEO WITH FRONT/BACK CAMS OF R3: https://vimeo.com/117245855
R3....Weathers was a little busy
Chatting after the race, Weathers was initially under the impression that I "gave" him the race. Clearly, he does not know me well enough as I am as competitive as it gets. He said he thought I was "blinking the brake lights" telling him to hurry up. I told him I was simply trying to stay on the damn track! I gladly sacrificed an out-of-class-position for a class win, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I knew the fuel and the brakes were going to be easy to fix and I needed to live to fight another race in a few hours.
Above: Somebody else had a rough weekend as well.
Below: Somebody got a delivery at the track! and a fun grid snap!
Fuel was filled, brakes were bled and the passenger duct put back where it belonged and the windows wiped and the gopros charged. With nothing else to do, I went back to thank Louis (again, heh!) and chat with Weathers. He was on pole for this next race and the radical would be behind us. We decided on the same plan...whoever got to T1 first got the first lap and we'd try like heck to run away from the pack again. Weathers had beaten his tires pretty bad and was putting on a sticker set of R7s for the race and so I was pretty sure he'd take the first few corners easy even with an aggressive pace lap just to ensure all the mold release was off and the tires were good to go.
R4 was late in the day and a quick 7 laps. I got by Weathers just a bit before T1 and he slotted in behind and away we went. On lap four we caught traffic and worked through it for 3 laps and then took the checker with his corvette 0.6 of a second behind Scratcher. We both had fastest laps in the 1:39 range and no other driver had even run a 39 that race. We both won all four of our races and Weathers with a bright orange R on his car!! To top it all off, we both set track records for SU and ST1 classes! Clearly when G-Speed's Louis Gigliotti works on your car, things seem to work out pretty darn well.
VIDEO WITH FRONT/REAR CAMS OF R4: https://vimeo.com/117344383
A really nice lap chart from the final race of the weekend
Below: End of weekend announcement
I took Scratcher down and parked it behind our rig ready to load up and let it cool off while Weathers and I chatted more. He could not be more happier with the weekend and the changes Louis made to his car throughout the weekend clearly showed up in Weathers' confidence. We got Scratcher loaded and headed back home as the sun was setting on a very long, but very rewarding weekend. 4 SU wins. 2 TTU wins. 4 more Hoosiers. Two track records. Huge thanks to Anna (as always) and to G-Speed's Louis.
I stopped by timing on the way out and caught Will to eat a little crow as I'd not been a fan of the schedule since it had Blitz and TT right next to each other the whole weekend. In reality, it worked out okay. I also thanked him again for letting Weathers jump into the fray and to rib him a little that he really did well and Will completely agreed and said "make sure he takes that orange R off the car!". Heh.