Chapter 272 - January 2019


"but it's been such a reliable car....."

    Winning a national championship felt fantastic and for me personally it carried even more weight for two very specific reasons. First, SLJHMR had precious little development time and it was a vastly different car every single time I dropped in the seat. The first quick test at MSR saw a handful of laps at record pace right out of the box. Then a lot of changes for the May '18 event, then a lot more changes prior to the Nationals test, then a ton of changes prior to Nationals. Each time I had only a handful of laps to learn the car and lay down the best time I could and simply hope it was good enough. For all the events and pictures, I actually have very few laps driving the car.

    Second, and honestly even more impactful, is we won in a class that was extremely competitive and NASA's most prolific national champion was in attendance in his very-tried-and-true win-all-the-time car. He was the hands-down pre-event favorite and was talked about extensively on the internet broadcasts and we still managed to lay down a convincing win. Winning is always good, but winning in a tough challenging situation is much sweeter. It wasn’t like the fast guys stayed home or the class was not attended well (which, still, you can’t control that, and a win is a win), it was just incredibly rewarding to get SLJHMR and GSpeed the victory. The achievement was grand, but the absolute fulfillment was on another level.


SLJHMR at COTA in happier times....when it would start!

    During one of our post-nationals debriefs Louis and I talked about 2019 and we figured we’d try some more events. As this season-opener event came on the horizon we figured we’d run SLJHMR in TT2 or TT3 along with ST2 or ST3 and see how it went. As the date got close, lots of monkeys were throwing wrenches in the plans (damn monkeys!). First off, SCCA had an event the same weekend in Cresson that some of Louis’ customers would attend. Second, Cooper  is going to run SLJHMR at this event in ST2 as his BMW is almost ready, but not there yet (side note: it will be ready for Cresson in March). Since Cooper was there for ST2 points and has no interest in TT, Louis and I decided to make this an easy weekend (foreshadowing or sarcasm??) and have Cooper run ST2 and I’d run TT2 in SLJHMR. Louis could keep his crew at Cresson supporting folks at the SCCA race and him and I could handle SLJHMR since that car has been pretty much bulletproof (yeah, now I’m just trolling).

    Sidenote, Louis and I take the time to register “Team GSpeed” with NASA with him and I as the drivers (you only get two). That way either of us can drive the entry, but also if I want to bring Scratcher I can enter as ‘Paul Costas’ and stay really busy for a weekend. 

Records prior to this event.

    So the week of the event and all is going well. Cooper will take the car down Thursday night and Louis will head down Friday and I’ll head down Friday after work. The fam decided to sit home this time as it was chilly and the family has had the sniffles and such. Friday arrives and the mid-day report is that Cooper is doing good and things are going fine. Part of me wanted to be there to get some seat time, but I needed to get work wrapped up first. At the end of the day I connect with Louis and find out that during the last session SLJHMR died abruptly and would not even turn over to try and start. Louis was almost to the track and would give me another update as I got ready to head south as well. I had actually thought about heading down at oh-dark-thirty to arrive at 7a on Saturday but the next report from Louis was that he’d been at it an hour with zero success. The Greek God of Racing Chaos, Raceaflais, is certainly in the house. He and I partied here at MSRH a few years back: and he got the best of me here last year. Ug.

    Friday evening I’m scooting through Houston but not headed directly to the track. Ben’s C5 “Burner” is at MSR-H as well, but in his private garage so I’m headed by Ben’s house in Seabrook to pick up a key since Ben is incredibly gracious and willing to help us by letting us parts-swap things to help diagnose this crippling issue. Ben ends up being one of many folks we’d be REALLY thankful to have in our corner.

Burner runs great and I was tempted to swap transponders with SLJHMR.....

    I arrive to a darkened track with SLJHMR’s garage light burning and Louis looking a bit frazzled. First thing I notice is that the windshield (!!) is out of the car and wiring is splayed out in places wiring should not be splayed out. Louis had already figured out a PCM issue was going on, and sourced another one from O’Reilly and flashed AND installed it and while SLJHMR then started once, it would not again. It would not even turn over. Doh! Louis briefed me on everything he knew and we mulled over possible root causes. The car is not can-bus, but is serial port driven and things don’t communicate in a circle, but more in a star with things originating from the middle. Calls are going on with Danny Popp (corvette racer and GM tech), Matt Peterson (Braunschweig gang) and Corey Brown (GSpeed engineer who specializes in electrical and he has the wiring diagram up on his big screen). Parts swapping is going on and we start to run out of steam at 2:30am and then we physically hit the wall 30 minutes after that.

    At 3am we leave. Car still wont even crank. At the hotel at 3:15 and I literally fall into bed fully clothed and fall asleep. Thankfully I had set my alarm on the short drive because it seemed to jar me awake about 30 minutes after I fell asleep. Damn.

    Back at the track early and we dig back in. Folks are coming by and they can tell that we’re behind the curve and not really in the mood to kid and joke. Cars take to the track and we keep working. Tons of calls to the C5Mafia trio above and finally about 11a I just want to hear the starter engage and turn the motor over and text Corey to confirm I can bypass all kinds of crap and jump the starter relay. Takes about 10 minutes and we’re rewarded with an engine that cranks <throws confetti>. The PCM will engage the fuel pump, however our dash is dead, but we try the bypass again with the PCM powered up and SLJHMR thunders to life. With a dead dash. <more confetti>

Sticker tires pretty useless when the windshield is out of the car and it won't start...

    Coming up on lunch time and we’ve not made a lap. Not even moved under it’s own power. Cooper has missed qualifying and I’ve missed the first TT session to set the grid and the second TT session ‘for real’. As lunch begins, the C5Mafia is coaching Louis on what wires to clip going into the BCM to try and get the dash to wake the hell up and do its job. We end up with 2 of the 3 big main connectors on the BCM attached after Louis played 'bomb diffuser guy with wire cutters'' and snipped seemingly random wires (not the red one!!!) and we end up with part of a dash. No oil pressure, but we do have water temp and oil temp and even a tach, so it’s time to send it!

    After lunch the next session for us is the third time trial session (there are four a day) and then it’ll be time for Cooper’s race. We start a small thrash to get the car ready for grid with the right wheels and tires, fuel, and putting covers back on and the windshield back in. With no time so far I have to start last and I’ll have to deal with traffic and still try and put down a decent time.

DANGER! This is Chet's C5....and it is really quick.

    The top three times so far are Feras in his TTU C6 (with a 468 HPR motor with WAY more power than Scratcher!!) at a 1:35.5, Dennis Clavette in his TT2 BMW with a 1:39.5 and Chet Mosely also in TT2 with his C5 running a 1:40.0. While Feras was a non-issue as he’s in TTU, Dennis knows MSRH quite well and I see Chet as the real danger to SLJHMR. He’s just learning the track as this is his first visit and he will likely get a ton quicker (spoiler alert: he gets a ton quicker). He’s also on dampers from GSpeed and his car has looked really good when I glanced out our garage to the second TT session.

    So I finally get in the car and get to grid just a few minutes before we launch. I warm the car listening for the tell-tale clatter of no oil pressure since I have no gauge. Sadly, if I hear it the damage is done, but I listen anyway. My brain is still in ‘diagnostics’ mode and pondering the electrical issue, however I do my best to focus and after the green flies I get to work. Mostly I pass cars and on my 6th lap I only have to pass 2 or 3 cars and throw down a 1:38.5 to take top time in TT2 and second fastest time only to the TTU car of Feras. Nice.

Feras' HPR 468 powered C6. Only has about twice the power of SLJHMR. Really!!!

    Just to get you up to speed, while the dash is mostly alive, pretty much every single warning light is on (some blink!) and I don’t have ABS. Now, I’m fine without ABS, but when the C5 ABS is inop, the dynamic proportioning valve sticks at 50/50 and that eliminates trail-braking. Spoiler alert: I’m a trail braking fool and I had to dramatically alter my style to try and go fast. The ‘autocross section’ is chock-full of trail braking and I lost a lot of time there. I had ‘busy hands’ for sure catching the car several times per lap as it tried to skate off the track as the rears would lock REALLY early.

Cooper working traffic while the Porsche driver is deeply regretting hitting another car and deploying his anti-drag-reduction-system.

    Next up, Cooper runs a good race and keeps his nose clean. He has a spin in a fast corner but keeps it out of the wall and continues pushing. Great job from him to drive a wounded car and bring it back without adding to our problems!

Cooper found the limit and gingerly passed it right on by (rears locked up just before the launch). No flat spot, brought it home!

    So for the final TT session we need to throw it down. The track record is a 1:37.9 and TT2 is a huge 10 car field (biggest of the TT classes and bigger than most everything but spec miata for the weekend) and it is time to do our best. I’ve had some time to think about the track and logically approach the driving style needed to get SLJHMR to the top of the podium. Thankfully I get to start P2 with my fast time and off we go. I quickly throw down a 38.2 then a 38.0 and finally get it mostly together to mic-drop a 36.9 and Louis calls me in. We’ve won TT2 for the day and captured the track record for Team GSpeed. Wahoo! #JustDoinMyJob

Doin work!

    Sadly (for him, LOL), Chet suffered a wheel bearing failure in the middle of the day and thankfully gave me a breather, but he’d be back full-on Sunday and he is by far our biggest threat. The actual TT2 national champ from COTA is at the event too, but since we were only .1 behind him with SLJHMR in TT3 trim at NATS I felt we’d be fine. Chet did not show his full potential at COTA because he’d gotten his car running 4 days prior and simply didn’t have time to dial it in. I watched Chet in the second TT session and his C5 and Clavette’s BMW were both the most composed and quickest looking cars hustling out of the carousel and over the bumps to the main straight. I watched those cars with that lingering “damn, I hope I look that good out there” touch of envy.

Chet hustling to the finish while Fair waits for the never-ending-carousel to end...

    Saturday night Louis and I stay for the BBQ and awards and to collect our trophy. The SU winner Karl (a good friend and solid racer) actually thanked me for leaving Scratcher at home from the podium! LOL!! We head to the hotel and after a quick shower I’m in bed early because I damn well need it.

    Again, back at the track early and VERY rested. First up is a TT session and Chet throws down a 1:38.3 to my best of a 39.3. Yikes. Team GSpeed is in 2nd and a full second back right out of the gate! OOF! Cooper goes out to warmup and has a big spin (he trail-brakes too!!). Cooper and I are really struggling to put down power and coupled with the inability to trail-brake it is putting us severely off the pace.

Pulling data off the SOLO to see where we can go faster. MMmmmmmm honey roasted peanuts from Bucees!!!

    Quick team meeting and we decide to do a focused thrash to try and get the ABS to work. Cooper skips qualy and I skip the second TT session as we call all our lifelines (thank you C5Mafia) and dig deep into the wiring. We take a quick 5 minute break to watch the TT session and the weather is perfect and Chet throws down a freaking 36.5 to take a huge lead in TT2 and take the track record. DOH! “Hey Louis, where are we on that ABS ???”.

    Chet’s car looks so damn composed over the small berms that you must traverse at the tail end of the lap and he is just flying through that section looking phenomenal. Damn.

Chet literally flying (at least half-way). Great snap by MohFlo!

    Again as lunch is wrapping up we get another milestone and the ABS light goes OFF on the dash. I quickly take the car to the street and back, testing the ABS on the approach road and it seems to be fine. WAHOO!

Tech-II in one hand, cell phone in the other, Louis forcing the car to straighten up and fly right!

    Cooper goes out for his race. He has new tires but elects to save them for me. On one hand he does not want to mess up stickers if the ABS is not really fixed and on the other hand he REALLY wants to see SLJHMR take back the lead in TT2. WAHOO! #Teamwork #ThanksCoop #BelatedChristmas

Cooper warming up and leading a pack of cars out of the carousel

    Cooper does great in the race, moving up the whole time and ended up near the front, keeping it clean the whole time. SLJHMR comes back and we put fuel in it, swap to new tires and it is almost time to make it happen.

Fair added too much power and ended up in TT2. DOH! I'm currently trying to steal these wheels... #MomoHeritage

    The weather is getting quickly hotter and likely the track is getting slower, but hopefully not by much. I now have ABS and can trail brake like a fool and hopefully get back to the front. We are over 3 seconds out of first and that is incredibly not cool. I’ve got the third and fourth TT session to make this happen but will the track be fast enough? It is quickly getting hot and that isn’t good for setting track records. We bolt on a set of brand new sticker tires, hoping the fresh dose of purple crack is enough. <c'mon Hoosiers!!!!>

    Louis and I have a quick pow-wow. We all know that it is a hard and fast rule that you only make one chassis change at a time and so we quickly ignore that rule and make three. All concentrated on the back of the car. LOL #LuckFavorsThePrepared

What? Your tires don't stick out of your fenders? Your tires are too small then....

    I launch right behind Feras (Chet sits out thinking he won’t go faster in worse conditions) and chase him on the outlap running a 37.1, grinning the whole time as I burn off mold release and brake impossibly late and trail it past turn-in. OH YES!!! Easing into the loud pedal reveals a back end that is much more resistant to stepping out. OH YES SOME MORE. Next lap is a 35.6 and then a 35.7 in traffic!! Louis calls me in and we’re now back to P1 in TT2 with track record. Chet is one of the first to congratulate me and Feras (whose pitted next to us) and I start a nice dialogue on lines, approach angles and driving style. While he’s trying to beat Scratcher’s TTU record, I’ll still typically help folks at the track (except the trolls…).

That second "Costas" should read "Team GSpeed"....I'll get that changed :-)  


    Louis ends up loaning our nats Hoosiers (very low heat cycles) to Feras for the last TT session (he’d been running used conti slicks) as we sit out to put Ben’s car back together, test drive it and put it away. Nobody touches our TT2 time and Chet keeps a close 2nd. Feras goes a high 34 (to Scratcher’s 34.1) but is super happy with his progress as he should be. I’ll need to finish the Scratcher update because he’ll likely beat that record at some point and I’ll need to be ready for a response.

#FLATOUT #GetSomeGlovesRookie

    One of the TAMU FSAE students that I helped who has also crewed on Scratcher finally did his first HPDE and I got to play instructor for a session with him in his 300z. Elliott did GREAT especially considering it is his first time on track and really took to it well. In his third session he was already hitting apexes properly, setting up passes and working the limits of his tires. Always good to get more people addicted to our sport and doubly so when they have skill!

9 of the top 21 cars are TT2. This is just before the final Sunday session. #Winning

    Louis and I slowly get ready for loading by getting all the tools and supplies organized and back in their bins and such. It’s been a LONG weekend and we don’t rush to get SLJHMR slipped back in the trailer and all the peripherals loaded. We have not eaten properly at all Sunday so we hit Chili’s on the way out of town to just sit down and exist quietly for a half hour before we each head our own way home. Killing some chips and spinach dip we both sit there mostly quietly with slight grins on our faces issuing many thank-you notes to our ‘family’ on social media. The competition was stout AND the car was fighting us, but never giving up and having an absolutely stellar network of support meant we recovered. And recovered damn nicely. I'm sure Raceaflais will sneak out on us another day and we'll battle him again. 

Jeremy (whose raced a lot of WRL too) CRUSHED the ST3 field in his GM alum-v6-swap-rx8. Beast of a little car!

    MASSIVE THANK YOU TO DANNY POPP, MATT PETERSON, COREY BROWN, BEN McNEIL and of course, HPR for great power (when you have your electrics right!), Hoosier for the grip, Cobalt for the stop, Penske for the dampers (custom valved by GSpeed), EssexRacing for the AP brake kit, Finspeed for the gorgeous wheels and Louis for letting me play in the SLJHMR sandbox.

    What is up next for Team GSpeed and SLJHMR? Not sure….at the moment we are fat and happy from snatching this victory from the jaws of crushing defeat….so stay tuned and we’ll see what happens.