Chapter 287 January 2021
NASA TEXAS SEASON OPENER
SCRATCHER SEES SUNSHINE! (Not sure if she likes it....)
Scratcher. I built this car with the help of friends ages ago and in Jan 2018 after the big win streak ended at this same track, I got lucky and stepped into Sledgehammer and the next whirlwind began. With SLJHMR and the GSpeed team, we won the 2018 NASA National Championships and then the 2019 Championships as well, setting many records along the way. Currently, the Costas/Sledgehammer tally for NASA events sits at 15 starts, 2 National Championships, 2 second places (one at NATS for a TT2 car forced to run TT1) and 1 third place. Not a bad run at all.
However it was time to get Scratcher back on track lest the newbs in the region think that this whole 'Scratcher' thing is a myth! Well kids, unlike the Chupacabra, Scratcher is real and she wasn't too happy this weekend. My frustration never really stuck during the weekend because after a long win streak, bad luck hits and paying the piper has to happen. SLJHMR was apart and might/maybe/should/possibly be ready for the March event at Cresson, but I'd like to qualy for Nats early and ensure we can make the trip. So, Scratcher was put back together with a key upgrade and off we went.
Checking dampers at Make's and also changed up the gearing for a short track (in the past I ran TWS gearing here and suffered).
Preparation for this event covered a good three weeks of some weeknights and weekends and in that time the fluids were flushed, the dampers dyno'd <foreshadowing>, tires were mounted and tons of small things got done/checked. Make let me come over one night and use his shock dyno to check out the AST doubles. We dyno'd the dampers because the rebuild place did not think they'd have them turned around quick enough, but they did great on the dyno, so I bolted them back up. I upgraded the springs on the car from tall heavy ones to smaller height and much lighter ones, taking about 12 pounds off the car(!!!). The adjustable collars had enough adjustment and I reset up the car while also changing the front roll center as well, courtesy of some spacers Louis whipped up when I was up there driving a car for them working on setups (see chapter 286, all about testing in 2020!). This was a change Neil (thinkfastengineering.com) had setup for me a few years back but I'd not taken the time to implement. Theoretically it would generate a good bit more front grip and I'd hedged on both the front and rear springs to try and guess what rates would work.
Above: Damper diagnosing. Rear: Louis throwing chips and making needed parts for front adjustable roll center
Friday, I unloaded at the track and got to work doing the final setup stuff and a lot of little things that didn't get knocked off the list. I was fine with that and had planned for it, and I had enough time to get it all done. I went to bed Friday night ready for the first session on Saturday and come sunshine the day was looking great. Rain was forecast for late afternoon but the morning was predicted clear and sunny (and they were right!!).
Sadly, there was a good-sized puddle under the passenger front Saturday morning that came from the damper and a few drips from one of the rears. I had no time to do anything about it, so I went to grid and suffered through a few laps of horribleness. Car was a hot mess. Hot. Mess. Power was good, brakes were solid, but turning was abysmal. I came in and got to work swapping the front dampers to my old Carrera backups that were on the car prior to the custom ASTs. I was still blowing mold release off the sticker tires (that were a few years old...but they were contingency freebies, so....) so I have no idea about the car, but had the dampers swapped and was ready for the race qualifying. With help, I wrapped that up and quickly went out for qualy and the rear was a mess, bouncing everywhere and so after a few laps I again came in. Rear ASTs came off (now both leaking) and the rear set of Carreras went on. Even setting ride heights by eye, I got all the corner weights very close and off I went to the next TT session. While the rear dampers were getting swapped, several folks came by to say 'hey, the rear of your car is bouncing halfway down each straight'....you don't say??
No no no....the fluid is supposed to stay IN the dampers!!! Yes, I know they are lighter like this, but no!
The next TT session ended quickly because the fuel pump died on the outlap. The car bogged out a few times (I knew I had plenty of fuel) so I pulled into the middle of the track on the service road and sat for a minute. I could see the starter checking me out and I was relatively safe, but still in the middle of the track. I cycled the fuel pump and it made the normal loud noise again so after seeing I had 30 seconds before the pack showed up, I quickly fired it up, scooted across, and into the pits. It was "hero or zero" time because I'd have been a zero had the car died on track, but I was a hero (I told myself) by clearing the infield and getting all the way out of the way. Yay.
Converting fuel into heat and noise. You can't hear the noise, but in this MohFlo pic you can see the heat!!!
Rick Ellis has an SU tube car as well and he and I have run together a ton, but he didn't have his car so he came out to watch. Thankfully he does not mind dirty hands because as I was getting other stuff figured, he swapped to my backup pump in a hurry and also helped with a few other jobs. Larry West, another SU driver who popped a trans on the racer warmup, was pitted next to me and gladly pitched in with fueling, parts swapping and helping as well. To round out the fun, Gary 'Alien' showed up too and helped out a ton as well. I was mighty blessed!!!
Rick works with his hands every day and I just fed him tools and stayed clear!
Grid results came out for the race and shockingly I was starting 2nd. Whaaa? A tube car bodied as a 5th gen camaro (#51) was on pole with a 1:36.5 while I put down a horrible 1:39.9 in traffic. I knew there was more time in the car as it sat, maybe even a 36 or 37, but my previous times here in the 33s and 34s were simply not going to happen today. <sigh>
Not even to the first race on Saturday and the table is full of broken crap. Ooof.
Car is topped off with fuel, pressures are set and I rumble to grid. We go out for the pace lap and I'm working the tires hard to get them hot. Clear and sunny with no chance of rain and we stack up the group around the carousel and side-by-side hit the front straight with the 51 setting the pace. Green flag flies and while I think the 51 has as much motor as I do, I think I was more prepared for the green and also my motor was more in the sweet spot to get a good jump. I pulled away just a bit heading into the right hand T1 and 51 slotted in behind me. Scratcher was clearly not listening to the same dance music I was and we struggled mightily during every phase of the first two corners. It was a struggle to get the nose to bite and rotate and then when it *did* finally dig in, any throttle application induced wheelspin and oversteer. Ug.
<Jenny's voice: Run Scratcher, Run!!!> <MohFlo pic!>
Only when I was practically going straight could I put the loud pedal down and my mirrors were absolutely full of the 51 car and Will (NASA TX owner, in the Hammer Down Motorsports' slick C5 ST1 car) who were right behind me. I stayed in the lead a few laps and then took too big a bite right before the hump and ended up going off, mowing a bit of grass, and coming right back on in P2. I stayed there a lap and saw the temps rising and pitted with a nose full of grass. DOH! In hindsight, I should have let them by and then tucked in and settled for a podium, but I was trying to find the limits and do some evaluation and....well.....oh well.
Neat MohFlo picture, but I didn't stay in front long.....
Next session was a TT, but I didn't make it due to the hot car. I got back to the pits and let the car cool as I got all the grass out of the nose and everywhere else. By the time the car cooled and we'd fueled the car, I checked the radiator and added a bit. I didn't have time to re-burp the coolant, but I figured (wrongly) that it only puked a bit. Had I had more time, I would have run the car and double checked but in the end I didn't. After going to grid for R2, the car got quickly hot on the outlap and I just came in. The point of this event was to put points on the board to qualify for Nationals and after Day 1, I only had 'credit' for 1 race instead of 2 races and 1 TT. Ug.
HAY!!!! The end of R1, but at least I got a race credit for it to qualy for NATS.
Saturday afternoon and into the evening the car was burped and ran several times, setup checked and the car was more thoroughly cleaned out. I double checked everything I could think of and *knew* I needed to get credit for both races AND for Sunday TT to make this fiasco worth it. I crossed my fingers and went to sleep!
Above: wrapping up Saturday on the pads. Below: Early Sunday and a warm shower of air for the lump.
Sunday dawned and off I went to race warmup. The drivers side valve cover gasket promptly decided it did not want to gasket anymore and it leaked oil on long right turns (carousel anyone?) and fogged the car. I could barely see the track and came in. Valve cover off, new gasket installed, valve cover back on and I was ready for race qualy but had to miss the first TT session. I've GOT to get TT points today. Ug.
Above: Valve cover gasket stopped gasketing! Below: Crack helpers are the only reason I got the points I did!!!
Head to grid for the race and I'm starting 6th and vow to simply finish the race wherever I can. In an uneventful race, I finish third in SU putting down a best of a mid 41 and happy to get another Nationals qualifier under my belt. I quickly go right back out in TT at the back of the field, do a single timed lap in that session and get right off the track adding another Nationals qualifier to the mix. I had one race to go and I needed the Nationals qualifying points and while it would be painful, so be it. Sometimes ya just gotta take your whippins and deal with it.
Above: Helped Weathers make adjustments on 480 Sunday morning while Scratcher waits for R3
Or DO YOU???? Weathers was there in his bad-to-the-bone GSpeed C6, crushing TTU and generally having fun. He won TT on Saturday (2 Hoosiers!) and was winning it handily for Sunday (another two!!) and so he offered me 480 for the SU race so I could at least win a pair of tires. I was shocked and told him to really ponder it over lunch, but I was very interested (and by 'very interested' I mean I really REALLY wanted to drive that car....)!!
Now, the 480 is a freaking dream car. It is a C6Z chassis with literally every GSpeed box checked. Huge AP/Essex endurance brakes. Bosch Motorsport adjustable gain ABS. 335f/345r Hoosiers. Emco sequential. Paddle shift. Motec's adjustable gain traction control. Penskes with "our" valving we pioneered with SLJHMR and Penske. HPR 468 with waaaay more power than Scratcher. The list goes on. The only hitch in the get-along is that I would have to start last. And to win Hoosiers, I would have to win. Oof. I double checked with Weathers and he was completely "game-on" with the plan he hatched and I was too excited to say no.
480 has all the cool gizmos and gofastgoodies!!!
In all honesty, I get to drive some serious machines for GSpeed and I'm entirely humbled and blessed that I do. In the last year, I've helped GSpeed setup a stable of seriously fast cars including a freaking BMW M4 Competition two weeks ago (on sticker Michelin slicks!) that immediately left for Daytona for the Roar! Mostly it is serious C5/6/7/8 machines that are also much heavier on the spend than I could ever afford. They each have their own personality and I love each and every one. Getting up to speed quickly, driving on the front side of the grip curve, finding those limits and the handling dynamics and working with the GSpeed team to make the cars better for their owners is a dream job and I can't thank them enough for it. 480, however, is near the very top of the list of 'capable cars'. It is a rocketship. I'm stoked.
I'm also concerned. It is semi-warm and 480 is on used A7s. And I cannot touch anyone. Or go off. And I'm not super familiar with a lot of the folks on the grid. Plus, I've never driven the car in anger. Actually, I've never driven it. Or sat in it. Or even opened the door. Oof.
Dis car? Dis car FAST car! (MohFlo pic!)
So, 30 minutes before the call to grid, Gary and I toodle on over to Weathers' pits and 'get acclimated'. Weathers and I are the same height and the seat position works. He shows me what most of the knobs and switches do ("yeah, I don't know if the high numbers are more or less on this one....just play with it"..LOL) and we get me all situated and comms figured. Weathers has two crew sets so Gary can have one and this is great news. Gary is fantastic on the radio, short and to the point, giving the needed info without any extra and he always seems to anticipate what I'm wanting. Plus his voice is nice and even, not excitable or hurried. Weathers will have the other radio and help spot as well.
We go to grid, and I'm last in the first group, with CMC and AMCM cars behind us. We roll out and I use my 'last' grid position to warm the tires and then play a bit with the traction control. I left the ABS alone in the second 'dry' setting and tested it once, but wanted the TC more dialed in since I didn't want to risk spinning the car trying to figure it out. While folks will say 'dear Lord, you had two 345mm wide Hoosier A7s!', I will quickly respond with 468 cubic inches of Koenig-power that will overcome their slip angle and grip faster than you can say 'oops'. We ran 345s on SLJHMR and I could hammer them, but we had HALF the power this car does. HALF!!! Doh!
So on the 'outlap' I play with the knob until it chatters juuuust a bit on a slight turning accel and I leave it there, focusing on the feel of the steering, the quickness of the pneumatic shift levers (right for up, left for down) and how awesome the brakes are. 480 stops 50% better than Scratcher with 20% the pedal force! We form up going to the last two corners and the green flies. I find myself on the outside carousel next to an X car (rookie) and I wonder if he has any idea I'm here. I back out just a bit in case he runs wide and as he's moving around a bit, I back off a bit more and we then run hard down the first straight. I wait till the next straight to scoot by him and then the game is on. I try and pass folks quickly without surprising them. As much as I want to win, you can triple that into how much I DON'T want anyone to touch 480. Still, for my first lap 'in anger' (first lap ever really...LOL) the car felt wonderful and on each lap I'd let a bit more leash out and 480 responded beautifully. A bit more revs, a bit later braking, a bit more speed into the corners, all the while passing folks and working my way up. After a few laps, right as I begin to wonder,
Got grip? <MohFlo pic>
Gary comes on the radio "10 seconds to the leader". I keep pushing, keep passing folks and now we're into the AMCM and CMC guys as well and I have NO idea about them. I don't push any bad situations, but I can't dawdle either. Finally, as I round the big carousel passing a car, Gary tells me the next car is the leader. Karl is a good 200 yards in front of me, but I run a fast exit and push hard down to diamonds edge, cutting into the lead. As we get out of the slow corner and head back up, I close a bit more, but I get lucky that he catches a CMC car that goes off in the tight section allowing me to close right up on him. Oh yes! I stay behind him the back half of this lap seeing where Karl's car is good and where he is struggling. We go under the SF line as the starter vigorously waives the white flag! #PefectTiming
RACE VID WITH FRONT AND REAR CAMS HERE: https://vimeo.com/508243857
480's autocross Hoosiers are tired. They don't have near the grip they started with. However, I've come to terms with 480 and I know how she responds. I know what the limit feels like and I know where I can push. I've driven tidy the last half lap behind Karl to gingerly cool off my autocross tires and allow them a short break knowing how they will respond because I've been there. I've done this. Never with this dance partner, but that won't matter. I know what she can do because I know how GSpeed does things. Karl and I rocket around the big carousel and I setup a bit wide to get a good exit. He seems to be overdriving a bit, and I'm betting his tires are hurt too. I feed in the juice and get a bit of a wiggle nearing the exit of the big carousel and I gather up 480 and then quickly pin the gas. As the revs come up we are about even and then I get to the upper RPMs and 480 gobbles up the few car lengths as we're rapidly approaching the pinch down part of the track. Had it been a LOT of other folks, I would have backed off but I've raced Karl for years and I know Karl runs clean. I get side by side and then a fender ahead as I'm on his right just as the track gets narrow and kinks right before it turns hard left. Karl goes for the brakes a moment before I do, and the pass is done. I get the kink done and really setup for a fast exit and glance back as I put the loud pedal down. I can see Karl's nose twitching a bit left and right as he searches for grip and fades back just a bit. I have two slower cars in front and I am determined to get past one of them before the slow section lest I give Karl a chance to catch back up. I jump a CMC car (who thankfully was keeping a good eye out) at the next slow corner and then I've got a little pad as I squirt through the rest of the track and take that glorious white flag.
Wait....what? White flag? I've already run under the white....what the....??? Gary radios they screwed up, and to go finish the lap, go go go. So....I go. And put down another lap and take the checker. Somehow (first weekend jitters?) the pass didn't get called and the starter thought Karl was still leading while T&S knew the truth, but the data told the story and I got the race win credit of course. Wahoo!!
Will brought me a trophy! From 2019.... LOL. Better late than never, and I LOVE this one!!! <clears spot for it up front>
TT DRIVER OF THE YEAR !! (not as good as family at the track, but close!!)
I thanked Mike a few dozen times and Gary as well for great spotting. While I was bummed about Scratcher, the last race of the day sure did make me smile the whole way home! Next up, NASA at Cresson and we'll see if I can get the dampers rebuilt before then! It'll be ugly if I don't!!