Chapter 249 - August 2016
ChumpCar Endurance Race at COTA
with TEAM PONTINI
So the DFW-based Pontini team (all TAMSCC alums) was going to do COTA and let me know a seat was available. It was August in Texas, the race was 8 hours and they had 3 drivers and wanted to even it out to 2 hour stints and I was honored to be asked. With a 4th driver, everyone would do about 2 hours (always some plus/minus due to full course cautions, issues, problems, etc) and be in good shape for the second race the next day as well. I quickly committed and was looking forward to it since Scratcher was taking a year off as we got the new kiddo acclimated and got more shop work completed.
Keith, Magyar, Costas, McCall, Faust, Rivas....the Pontini COTA team!
Pontini is a 4th gen Firebird that has the factory Buick 3.8 v6 and the factory t-5 transmission. With this combination it runs in the third class in Chump (A, B, C, and D class and Pontini is a "C" car...as well as GP3 in WRL of GP1/GP2/GP3/GP4) and does pretty well there and has good fuel range with the little engine. While a smaller engine than WDMS' 3rd gen Camaro "Bic", the motor has more horsepower and the car weighs less, both factors putting Pontini in a faster rated class. With big 17 and 18 inch rubber and good springs the car turns quite well and it is a fun car to drive.
Above: McCall gets a pre-cooling before starting Friday and then Magyar getting him buckled up and ready to go!
The racing was Friday and Saturday and each day was an independent race. For Friday we decided that McCall would start the race, then hand off to Faust and then Magyar and then me last. I wasn't going to run a coolsuit so we'd save a bit of time on the last stop not having to worry about ice and water and such. McCall took the green with 33 other cars in "C" class as well as 97 (NINETY SEVEN) cars overall. It was a hodge-podge start and McCall started in 35th and fell back a few spots to let the field sort itself out and let the crazies do their thing (crash, blow up, fly off the track, etc). By lap six 16 he had Pontini in 32nd and as teams started coming in for fuel and such, he kept moving up the leaderboard. By the time he pitted on lap 33, Pontini was in 20th overall (with a fastest time of 2:56.7) but it was a lengthy stop and Faust joined the fray in 33rd overall. Faust immediately got to work and although he endured a lengthy full-course-yellow in his stint, he pitted on lap 69 having gotten us back up to 21st overall having clocked his fastest time of a 2:55.8.
Above: Checking times and figuring strategy on left and a fast pit-stop on the right!
Below: McCall so fast he LITERALLY blew a mustang off the track....heh
Magyar slid into the car and took off on lap 70 and struggled at first as he dumped out in a lot of traffic and he had problems stringing together a lap. When he finally got into a rhythm and found some open track, the shifter had loosened enough in the housing to leave it ineffective (base of shifter ball not touching receiver cup in trans) and the transmission was in 4th gear. Magyar stayed out, working on carrying speed as much as possible and followed the endurance mantra of "keep making laps". Which is exactly what he did. He was carrying as much speed everywhere he could and using ALL the track he could find! Magyar was using less fuel by staying in 4th (lost a bit not using 5th on back straight, but saved a lot more not using 3rd in slower corners) and had a long stint but when he came in (lap 107 in 14th place overall!!) we took him behind the wall and went to work fixing the shifter. I was already suited up and in the car when the shifter was completed and then the car would not start due to a battery death. A donor was located in a close-by car and quickly installed and off I went to try and salvage some laps and shake the car down for tomorrow. There was not much time left, but tracktime is funtime and I was wanting to play.
We had fallen down to 37th place and the gaps were huge to each car but I was picking up spots when the brakes went wonky. They were not releasing all the way and so I began to very lightly use the brakes to ensure they released. I didn't hear anything funny and there was no shimmy or smell....but I was hampered for sure. In my 23 laps I managed to get us up to 33rd overall (of 97!!) and throw down a respectable 2:53.5 in the process. In "C" class we finished 14th with quite a few cars having lap times well into the 2:40s, including a 2:45, a :46 and a few :47s!!! The "C" class winner had 150 laps to our 130 and at ~3 minutes a lap, the shifter fix and battery swap is what killed us.
After the race we instantly found the brake issue...a caliper had lost one bolt and would pivot out and drag on the wheel. YIKES. I was amazed I did not hear it or feel it, and thankfully it all stayed together the last few laps. We took the time to thoroughly check the car over and prep it for the next day. I had found the car quite easy to drive at the limit, very predictable and really enjoyed the drive. There was usually someone I was catching and usually someone catching me, so lots of mental computing time figuring pace to pass in easy spots and not get hosed letting a faster car by. Time flies when I get in this "zone" of racing.
Above: Friday night work and the caliper issue! Below: Wheel rub and a random 3.5L BMW block that is now air cooled!
Race2 on Saturday showed up and we were ready. Car seemed fine and the team decided to switch the running order and I'd be taking the green today, then handing it over to Magyar, then Faust and then McCall. The interesting thing about endurance racing is the first driver usually gets the best car, but usually that driver is hampered by the most traffic, the most idiots and the best shot at long yellows. The last driver usually has the most open track, but usually has the worst car (less tires and brakes) to work with. It's always something, right?
So I suited up and sans-coolsuit again I slid in the car and went through my pre-race rituals. We did a radio check and I remembered how nice it was to have Keith spotting from the bridge and was happy to hear he was going to be back there again. He was absolutely great on Saturday, letting me know when faster cars were coming up and what gaps were looking like. He does not interrupt busy times, nor does he say anything extraneous, just incredibly helpful. As we launched and circulated on the two pace laps, I sized up the cars near me and figured a plan for the green. Like all pre-race (and pre-combat) plans, this went out the window when things got real.
The problem? The field was more strung out than a VW bus full of druggies in Vegas. We were not even CLOSE to stacked and so I simply took the green in 23rd (overall) and got to work, passing 5 cars on the first lap! It was steady work the first few laps and while I saw a few close calls, it seemed like most teams had their "semi-reasonable" driver installed and things were going okay. I was in 14th (overall) by lap 8 and caught a decent bit of open track and decided to try and throw down a quick lap and was rewarded with a 2:52.5, setting our fastest lap of the weekend thus far. Pockets of traffic kept cropping up and I tried to keep a consistent 2:55 or so, but at times it just wasn't possible. On lap 18, I put down a clean lap to hear Keith tell me "nice job, you're on the board now!". It actually took me the better part of the lap to figure out he meant that "258" was now on the big scoring pylon that displays the "top 10" car numbers. Sure enough, next time on the front straight I got to see "258" sitting there in 10th overall out of the 89 cars that took the green.
Above: Me in Pontini climbing the leaderboard in 6th, and just a bit of traffic in the far corner!
Now, this may surprise you a bit, but I've been known to be kindof maybe a little bit somewhat competitive and seeing "258" on the BOTTOM of the scoring pylon kinda pissed me off that there were 9 folks in front of me. Just a bit. On laps 24-27 I caught a fairly open track and put down a 2:51.7 (wh00p, fastest of weekend), followed by two :52s and then a pair of 53s to ease us up into the 8th slot on that big pylon. As the cars in faster classes were a bit more thirsty than the thrifty Pontini, on lap 30 we slid into 7th, spurring more :53s and even another pair of :52s. Car was hooked up and with the AIM solo lap timer in 'predictive' function I could fine-tune my lines to find extra tenths. On lap 35 the tower showed "258" in 6th and then the next lap we moved to the top half of the board in 4th overall and....the car sputtered. I called in and the team had been ready for a few laps. It was time to put fuel in the little Pontini and for me to hand her over to the next pilot.
Above: "258" in the 4th spot on the pylon and a good snap by Keith of me having fun driving Pontini!
I came in nice and smooth, and was totally ready for the stop and was out of the car very quick. Chump uses a minimum time for a pitstop and we were just a few seconds past that when Magyar rumbled up the big hill to Turn 1 with a fresh tank of fuel and freezing ice/water in the coolsuit cooler. We had fallen ten spots to 14th and Magyar went to work, this time with a working shifter as he clocked our 38th lap.
By lap 55, Magyar had dropped to 13th overall and battled a solid group of traffic for the rest of his stint, dropping as low as 11th, and as high as 14th. Late in his stint he threw down a nice 2:54.9 and said the car was feeling very good and gave Faust a nice run-down a few laps before he came in. Pontini finally stuttered on Magyar on lap 74 and he pitted on 75. We had a fairly quick stop, but ended up about a minute past our minimum pit stop time and that hurt us a bit. Faust rejoined the race starting lap 76 having fallen to 18th place.
Above: Gear ready for the next stop and a suited up selfie!!
Faust quickly found the groove but quickly called in with brake problems. He was getting a soft pedal and clearly wasn't trusting the car, and to top it all off, the traffic which ebbs and flows a bit had more or less resolved itself into little 'knots' of cars and some of those knots had more power than Pontini, but slower lap times. The result was Faust more or less trapped by these groups and not wanting to try and ultra-late-brake move, he had to be content to work things as they came and "keep making laps". By lap 83 he'd gotten Pontini back up into 14th and then 13th on lap 89. A black flag on lap 102 brought in Faust and he dutifully slowly crept all the way to the end of the pit road to talk to the black flag station. They didn't know why he came in. They called control. Control checked the logs. He was blacked for a pass under yellow. Only there was no yellow. Uh. Er. Rechecking, the black flag station kept him 5 minutes and released him, still not knowing why. Faust rejoined having dropped to 19th overall and near the end of his stint. He dropped 5 spots in 6 laps and Pontini sputtered on lap 109 while in 15th place, with Faust pitting on lap 110. Even with the soft-ish brakes Faust threw down a 2:56.2 on a relatively traffic-free lap!
Above: Pitstops are a busy time and everyone but the fire-bottle guy hustles! The fire bottle guy is busy praying he WON'T have to hustle!
We had a pretty quick stop this time with McCall seated and belted, cool-suited and took a peek at the brakes. Yes, they were low. I think the radio to McCall was something along the lines of "yeah, not a lot of pad left, just go out and do your best and bring this thing home!". McCall began lap 110 in 20th place overall, with plenty of gas and semi-scary brakes. McCall put Pontini into 19th on lap 112, 18th on 118, 17th on 119, 16th on 120 and 15th on 127! He stayed in 15th for a long spell, taking it easy on the brakes but using all the track and pushing as hard as he could. he got us into 14th on lap 144 and then in 12th from lap 146-147, but got passed by a faster-class car on lap 148. The white flag flew on our lap 148 and McCall made a clean lap 149 to bring the Pontini home in 13th overall!!
Above: McCall taking the checker, waiving to the crews....he fought till the end!!
The winner overall was a fellow class "C" car, completing 157 laps to our 149 and we finished 7th (out of 33!) in class (13th overall). "C" is a damn tough class with the top 3 cars all recording laps under the 2:50 mark. Yikes!
Above: Faust and his donut, and the corresponding mark on the "thought I left you room", (but I turned into you!) miata!
Faust was the only driver with some contact this weekend and it went like this: In turn one (huge left hand-turn, LOTS of space), a miata driver hit the right rear wheel area with his left middle. After the race Faust went to look at the miata and the driver told him (I'm 100% serious here) "I thought I left you room!". What-the what-the??? When you hit the guy in front of you by turning INTO HIM, then that is not "leaving room". Jeeez.
Above: McCall looks over the ride after his checkers and cool down lap. COTA, we will meet again!!!
Finally, huge HUGE thank you for the Pontini team for allowing me to come play. Had a great time with these guys who have a good mix of "take it serious and want to win" with "not freak out when stuff goes wrong". The car is really fun to drive and the huge field rarely gave you boring laps. Hopefully I can help the team again in their quest for more lap times and better finishes!