Chapter 263 - May 2018
NASA at COTA
As I approach the first brake marker, I am absolutely flying and sneaking glances down at the tach and computing that this is going to be really close. I'm topping out Sledgehammer on COTA's back straight with the LS motor at full song and we are preciously close to the rev limiter. The motor is detuned for the class, but we're still clipping right along and this is one of those few times during a lap where every bit of awareness that I have is fully focused on my: exact location, up-to-the-nano-moment speed sampling, rate of closure to the turn-in point and the feedback coming from my hands and body. The 300 marker zips by with my right foot planted, a quick glance down and we're over 200 shy of the limiter so that issue gets binned and as I look back up, all of my senses quickly recalibrate as the 200 marker goes by in a white blurr. I bring the car within inches to the white line on the right and gingerly touch my left shoe to the brake pedal. At the mythical 175 marker I increase brake pressure just a kiss to set the brakes while my hands increase their grip on the wheel just enough to make me feel better and then as the right foot lifts moments before the 150 marker the left foot quickly eases down at a similar rate and the nose dips. Sledgehammer converted a lot of fuel into heat to get us to our terminal velocity, and now I'm shedding that speed by way of heat again to bleed off enough speed to make the tight turn12 to finish this back part of this lap. Once the brakes are set and the speed is coming down, I'm ballistic and have a bit of extra bandwidth. My course is set, my deceleration is set (more pedal would get into ABS, less pedal and I won't make the corner) and so I can afford to quickly check the rearview one more time before my focus goes back to the apex as my brain computes what it knows is the correct approach speed and angle as my hands wait to begin the turn. While my eyes are busy glancing and refocusing, my right foot joins the left and pedal pressure is transferred to my right as my left clutches. My right keeps the decel rate the same as it rocks to give the motor a nice blip as my right hand drops to the shifter, goes straight up from 4th to third and back to the wheel and then I wait the few tenths of a second for the next action, my eyes now boresighted on the apex point. When I'm within 20 mph of my target entry speed and about 50' from my turn in point, my hands fade right to put my right side tires up on the paint to give my turn radius a few more feet allowing me to carry another half a mile per hour. I want that half a mile per hour because Sledgehammer will carry it all the way to T13 and it will lower our lap time. Lower lap times is the goal of fast driving. Driving really fast is all about precision. I try and be precise and I try and drive fast. Thankfully, I have a lot of help!
Great snap by Mohflo
Background: At the WRL race at COTA back in December both Bic (WDMS GP4 Camaro) and Burner (McNeil Motorsports GP1) had fuel issues from getting some contaminated fuel at a station near the track that clogged up both of our hydramats (and another 5-6 racers as well). Lesson learned, but it was a bit painful. However, since all our schedules were now scrambled for the race, this ended up being a test session Sunday afternoon as both cars were wounded warriors frequently visiting the pits. The other three drivers in Burner were talking to Louis (of GSpeed, who was running the car for them) and there was some discrepancy on which way to take the handling as the viewpoints were not in complete agreement. I got to slide in the car and make a handful of quick laps and debriefed with Louis partly on the radio and then a bigger download when I handed the car over to another driver to finish. When the event was over, Louis and I both had to tow home but decided to grab some Waffle House to charge our internal batteries. Love me some Waffle House! Over some awesome breakfast-for-dinner, Louis shared that he wanted to throw together a TT car out of a C5 and really gut it down to low weight and tune the HP to match. Big tires, aero, his in-house Bilstein's, stock trans, stock diff, etc. He asked if I'd like to drive it and of course I said yes.
Oh-dark thirty high speed weapon of highway choice.
Now fast forward a few weeks prior to this event and I got to take Sledgehammer (the GSpeed in-house designator: "it's cheap, simple, and effective....like a sledgehammer") for some laps on GSpeed's home track (they are based in Cresson, the track is their front yard) for a shakedown. It was good, but we were running a square 295 setup on scrubs and the brakes were a little soft. Louis said we would jump to a 315f/345r for the event as well as get a brembo sport kit installed in the front (again, mix-matched wheels and brakes that were laying around the shop). A plywood splitter and a re-purposed wing (that has been repaired twice) completed the upgrades along with more weight coming out. Since the few laps we were running at Cresson were very competitive for our class, we were cautiously optimistic.
Sledgehammer was a 'work in progress' over the weekend. But we got faster. (Yes, that's Ian with a sawzall)
THE PLAN was to test on Friday before COTA, but Louis had several cars to get ready and as we all know, sometimes they fight you. Louis was in a serious fight and instead of heading down Thursday, it was late Friday before he got rolling. The silver lining to this dark cloud was...er....dark clouds! Yes, it rained a LOT at COTA on Friday and we would have learned nothing had we been there so, yeah, silver lining! Plus we saved the test day money! Talking to Louis we decide that I'll just come in pre-dawn on Saturday and we'll get going.
GSpeed brought a trans, diff, torquetube, axles, etc. (note red fender bits!). None were needed!!! Me and my weekend whip!
My alarm goes off at 0345, and I'm dressed and ready to walk out the door at 0355 as the car was loaded the night before. Kiss the wife and kiddos and scoot out into the darkness with a flat six pushing me along towards the race track. The car was filled with sleeping stuff, gear bag, fresh banana bread, clothes, stickers, vinyl, fabrication tools, sheet of carbon (#foreshadowing) gopro and SOLO boxes, and more. OF COURSE I STOP AT BUCEES and then push on to the track where the gates were supposed to open at 0600 but were welcomely open at 0550 and I scooted down to garage 12 to begin the weekend.
Perkins' ST2, Coopers ST2, and Sledgehammer. Troy's ST1 machine is next to Perkins. It's 6am on Saturday...lots to do! #LSXMafia
For an overall snapshot, this whole "chase TT3" thing is just a small part of what's happening in our garage. This is a big NASA weekend because NASA Nationals will be here at COTA later in the year so this is GREAT practice time for everyone here. However, in OUR GARAGE, we have Troy's white/blue C6 corvette RippieCar running in ST1 and TT1. Louis has done full MoTec and paddle shift and all kinds of electronic sorcery but this is more of a test-n-tune weekend to start dialing all this stuff in. Next up is Mike Perkins' yellow ST2 corvette that is pretty sorted (also paddle shift wonder!) but he's wanting test time too. Then we have relatively new racer Paul Cooper who is running a yellow GSpeed C5 in ST2 and chasing the season points and getting more solid every race. Finally, we have Sledgehammer, the red TT3 machine that I'm going to try and do some damage with. So, the entire weekend is filled with corvette-tetris as we move cars to the spots they need to be in for service, fuel and then before they head to grid. #CorvetteCentral
So, for the GSpeed side, Louis brought Corey and Ian to help out and they were a godsend. They were constantly busy helping/fixing/tuning/changing and had great attitudes about it. We could not have made this work without them, and it was a blessing they were there. Last on the #GSpeedEffort was Adam, who does a lot of shakedowns for Louis as well as coaching and has laps at COTA like I do at TWS. His insight will be invaluable to all of us in the GSpeed garage.
Corey and Louis playing electronic Battleship. Corey is about to lose his battleship. Louis is ruthless where naval warfare is concerned.
About 15 minutes before I went to grid, Louis paused from MoTec work and looked at the nose on Sledgehammer, declared it had settled on the trip down and asked if I brought my sawzall. Well, I never go to a race without power tools and a minute later red fender pieces were littering the ground. Louis ripped up one side and went back to MoTec land and Ian took care of the other and then got my seat where I needed it and strapped me in, cleared me of traffic and kicked me down to grid. Game on and fangs out!!
While the times from this session DO NOT COUNT for the day, the grid for the second session is set by times here, so you want to go fast. The problem was that it was still very damp on track and while we got a decent dry line going, it was not my preferred line and A7s don't like damp. Or damp paint. The good news is the car ran good and we got a few warm-ish laps before someone went off (shocker, NOT) and the session was cut short. Back to the garage to reset air pressures and the car was ready to go again.
Strut-less splitters are all the rage! Ian and Louis getting the rear wing juuuuuust right.
By the time we had cycled back to the TT group and let all the other groups have 20-25 minutes on track, the sun was just starting to burn off the cloud cover but the temperature was still pretty cool. I was gridded near the front in 4th overall (my warm-ish laps were faster than most others' warm-ish laps apparently) with a TT1 car right in front of me. The 1 car was on Michelin slicks and I know from experience that at these temperatures they will take several laps to come in and while I thought about asking to go in front of him, I decided against it. I didn't know the guy (out of region) and who knows, maybe he'll walk away from me and it won't be a factor. On the out lap, I was careful to let him get going a good bit before me and sure enough, by the apex of T1 at the top of the hill he had me by a solid 5 or 6 count. Coming down the hill through T2, I had a good bit of closure on him and my brain is saying "ruh-roh". By the exit of T5, I'm already having to slow up a bit and alter my line to fill up his mirrors, hope-hope-hoping he'll let me by because if he doesn't, he'll surely crush me down the straights and slow me down in the corners. T6 he sees me and steps right and points left and I'm gone. I had several seconds on him getting to the far corner, enough to keep him from re-passing me down the back straight and with that in mind, it was time to focus on the last half of the track. Nothing dramatic happens although this is my first time to drive the car in this configuration while I'm really pushing the car, but I was pretty happy with the finish. I knew the TT3 track record was a 2:27something and so when a 2:25 popped up on the timer, I tried not to get too excited. I needed a clear lap and it was time to do that. With a huge gap behind and in front of me, I focused on the track and learning the car and pushed it to a 2:23 on that lap and immediately started a cool down lap to save these tires. Wahoo!!! My lines were a bit compromised as the race groups were using "no track limits" and going completely in the dirt and dragging back rocks and such, but I felt good about the lap. Coming off the track I'm told to go to tech and after a quick weigh (legal!) I head to the garage.
Adam and I sat down to dig through data and we talked about the "you're doing as good as you can here", but also the "you're leaving bits on the table in these spots". Looking at video and data is one thing, but taking into account what the car is doing and capable of adds another dimension and Adam has thousands of laps driving really fast cars at COTA and his tips were very welcome. We went in-depth into approach angles, pedal work and where you can be a bit messy and it not matter, and where it is critical. Great stuff!!
The Vorshlag mustang, also in TT3 went damn fast on street tires. Car will be a contender on real shoes. Perkins and Messer on the right.
Post session there was apparently some issue with a TT3 car laying down a 23 and another car having some issues with that nearing protest-level. He ended up somehow knowing Adam through a mutual friend and Adam looked at his data and then showed him mine. Sledgehammer was, of course, getting slaughtered on the straights but absolutely *crushing* in the transitions/corners and keeping speed up on entry. There were corners where my minimum speed was over 10mph faster. Adam walked him through my vid as well. The guy was cool after that and dropped a LOT of time thanks to Adam. Huge thanks to TT director Chase for handling it well!!
In the debrief with Louis we decided to make some changes for tomorrow as we sat on our time for today. The nearest TT3 car was several seconds back, so tire conservation became the mantra. For the last session of the day, we put Cooper's scrub tires (oh look, my wheels match now!) on for me just to get another half-dozen laps in the car. At the end of the day, we had decimated the TT3 previous track record and took the win by nearly 5 seconds over the 7 car field. Terry Fair was there in the new Vorshlag Mustang but he was on small 200TW street tires. Still, he managed a 2:34 on those tires (!!!!!) and finished 5th. Looking over the results sheets, we also beat all the TT2 and TT1 cars. Wow.
End of Saturday....Winner's mug with COTA map and another WINNER sticker for the stack!
My buddy Corey (lives in Austin, different Corey than GSpeed Corey) had brought out an RV for him to use during the day so he got me the keys and I didn't even have to go anywhere once the cars were all turned around and ready for the next day. HUGE THANK YOU COREY! It had been a long day and I was exhausted, but as I laid down to sleep I could not help but think I'd just run a 2:23 on a car with only 282whp and running basic non-adjustable dampers, factory ECU tuned to pull out a lot of hp, basic aero, lots of weight loss, and shazam....track record.
My good friend Eric brought his C6 out to play as well! He had some electronic gremlins but should have them sorted soon!
Sunday dawns damn foggy and our first session is wonky. There is still some gravel from the afternoon races but as the sun rises the fog falls and so the track was not up to grip. I was gridded 5th since I had the 5th fastest time from Saturday (1-4 was TTU cars, the unlimited class where Scratcher plays), but only 1 TTU car shows up and he leads us out where I put down a 2:25 opener and follow it up with a 2:24.0 for lap 2 and I bring it in. Lap one was still damp and lap two I hit fuel starve twice because we're pulling so much lateral G the car is starving sooner than Louis expected it to. Doh!
SO FREAKING BLESSED that I get to enjoy the sport I love with my family!!
We honestly think that the 2:24 will take the win today, but Louis and I both know that there is time just sitting there and with about 2 hours to wait, we get to work making toe changes, a slight air pressure change, and GSpeed Corey and I reduce a spare carbon sheet I brought to tall triangles to make leading edge fences for the front tires and install them. With about 15 minutes left before grid, Ian dumps gas in the car and I putter on over to grid. The TT1 car from yesterday had picked up a lot of speed but was still on the Michelins. The sun was high in the sky, the track was hot and I was concerned about overheating the tires on lap 2 and didn't want to waste time behind this guy on lap 1, so I gingerly pointed out I was on "A"s and said I knew it would take a few laps for his tires to come in and would he be okay with us please swapping spots. He hesitated a bit and I thought he was going to say 'no', and so I pointed out my first lap would be a 23 or better and he then said "okay, sure". I could see his skepticism, but played my card anyway.
Corey and I got leading edge fences built between Sunday 1 and 2. Draggy, but more front DF. #SpareCarbon
And after all that, I gapped him a bit in the big carousel and took off, shooting for that 23. It was not meant to be. What _was_ meant to be was a 22!!! Yep, the coaching from Adam paid off, the setup from Louis paid off, the work from Corey and Ian paid off.....and when I saw that 22, I knew it wasn't perfect so I started lap 2 to lower it a bit and took a bit too big a bite in one corner with some gravel and I wobbled a bit and ran a 2:23.2! With that, I cooled off the car and brought it back in. I had just run my fastest two laps of the weekend and with the sun getting higher and the track getting hotter, I would not be able to go any faster. I pulled into the garage grinning and everyone already knew by watching live timing. Winner-Winner-Chicken-Dinner!! Icing on the cake was Fair dropping more time as well to a 2:32 (again...on STREETS!!!) and snagging 3rd place for the day!!!! #ChampagneFight
My fastest two of the weekend and the spoils of the victories! My daughter Rossi was ALL excited that she has champagne!
TT3 Podium on Sunday and Fair doing classic Archer!!!
All in all, a great weekend that my family got to come to, we had great results and the car heads back to GSpeed not to be repaired, but for upgrades! I can't thank Louis enough for the opportunity to drive this little car! We picked up a fresh set of Hoosiers this weekend so if we decide to do more events (*cough*NATS*cough*) then we've got tires.
After the TT stuff was done for the day I headed over to the tower to get snaps for the Blitz (Perkins, Messer, Cooper) race and oh-what-joy the elevator was inop. FYI: That's a lot of stairs! But I got up there and got some really good snaps of the race and such. Need to take a radio next time and help spot for the drivers! All the other drivers did really well with no significant issues. Everyone got faster and the GSpeed herd has good notes for the next one.
Want to see fastest laps video? Of COURSE YOU DO!!! https://vimeo.com/268628146
Gorgeous snap by Mohflo!